By Maya Khanna
These vignettes were all written based on the style of the New York Times series, “Tiny Love Stories,” which are written in response to a theme or idea, in 100 words or less. The vignettes below follow that same structure. Each describes a particular moment, memory, or realization from my experiences in quarantine, in response to the theme of “confinement.”
A Familiar Face:
The face on the tiny screen inches from my nose is comfortably familiar. Soft tendrils of hair framed by brown cabinets. Two eyes the color of ocean, alternately aquamarine and sea green, stormy hazel and ice-tinged grey. The ease with which these small details reach into this corner room comforts me; the hazy glow of my bedroom lamp casting a warmth to memories lived in another life. The broad strokes around the edges frame the portrait anew, dark formality replacing a formerly Pollock-esque border. Even so, the details remain the same.
Return to Zero:
We used to joke about the hot water, sitting bare in my mother’s mug. Accompanied in its unflavored melody only by a slice of lemon, barely squeezed, sitting patiently full on the saucer. Nervous laughter accompanied requests for the female beverage of choice in our family, invoking sidelong glances from waiters. No caffeine, my mother proclaimed with pride, by way of explanation. And No Calories. I never understood the appeal of the peculiar beverage, beyond a familial affinity for convention. Until one day in March, I did. If you take away the lemon, then there is nothing left.
Every day at two o’clock, I walk barefoot across the lawn to the mailbox, leaving prints in the last remnants of leftover dew. As I crack open the small, curved door, letters spill out like butterflies into my hands. Red notices, glossy magazine covers, the predictable march of black letters across white envelopes containing bills. And then, on the afternoons I expect them least and need them most, crooked lettering scratched out in purple pen. A rare species, wings folded over long letters and cards stamped with foxes. Words sigh as they brush against my loneliness, butterfly kisses from friends.
From across the fragile line, my client’s voice sounds rough and grainy, the way sand grates against unsanded logs in a rustic Northwoods cabin. The first time I speak to her, this woman tells me that she loves her calico cat Bebe more than anything else in the world. In the next moment, she explains that her husband broke five of her bones, completely sober. She states these two truths in the same breath. This is how I come to know her story, in four beats. Two of silence, one of pain, and one of joy.
Waiting for Sunflowers in Minnesota:
In the cool summer nights of the Upper Midwest, under the gentle shade of the ash trees that hang over our garden, sunflowers bloom slowly. Three months ago, the hairy, lime-green stalks that now tower over our heads cautiously emerged from small white-and-black striped triangles; purchased for 1.99 a packet at Home Depot. It was an act of faith to buy them, to place them into the ground, and afterwards, to wait. Then, one grey August morning, we awaken to find that in spite of everything, eight varieties of miracle have blossomed side by side.
We meet up every Sunday, my grandpa and me. A mask covers his thinning face, concealing the wide smile I know so well, but is unable to hide the bright eyes that brim with loving tears above the white seal. You know, I have a granddaughter; he always tells me. She is smart and beautiful, and I love her very much. Suddenly, the inside of my mask feels heavy and wet against my nose; I reach out my hand and reduce the space between us to five feet and eleven inches. I know grandpa, I say. I know.
Just Off the Highway to Rochester, Minnesota:
There is a west-ward facing window seat on the second floor of my parents’ house, upholstered in faded orange cushions and dreams of chasing the sunset all the way out of town on the rail-straight lines of Highway 14. The low whine of cross-country truckers formed a melody to my childhood daydreams; fantasies of fighting pirates on the horizon one day, replaced by collegial ambitions the next. As reliably as the sunset, that window seat was my springboard to a world beyond Rochester. The only possibility I never bothered to consider was the one in which I came back.