In these non-normal days of self-isolation, we believe sharing our stories and poems is the best way we can stay connected.

The Cure by Caroline Stevenson

Canine Quarantine by Connie Phlipot

The Cure

by Caroline Stevenson

We are living in a time which shall become folklore.

Retelling this point in history to our grandkids shall, to us, never be a bore.

To think our ears used to perk up at the sound of those three syllables,

we’d order them and add a slice of lime to the bubbles.

Time has slowed from a march to a dreary existential film score.

Why don’t I get the feeling we’ve been here before?

We’ve heralded the dawn when it’s aspirational to be a loner.

It’s jolly challenging, molto difficile, nicht ohne.

We’re in a scenario which just weeks ago sounded absurd,

a world problem not classed by first, second or third,

and which won’t be tackled en masse by flocking in a herd.

It’s a test of our mettle and a strain on our kettles

to wait indefinitely for the dust to settle.

Do we have stored within us the same altruism

as the residents of Eyam, making their plague village a prison?

We cannot be sure what else lies in store,

shall we enjoy mass gatherings never more?

Who could have predicted we would revel in

undertaking mundane household chores?

How much time shall pass until the sound of a cough

doesn’t make us jump or scurry off

to our domestic sanctuary?

Or until a sneeze doesn’t give rise

to a lump in our throats, making us ultra-wary

as a grandfather dotes

on his grandchild and must not second-guess

if showing tenderness

could be a knock at death’s door?

How much longer will this go on for?

How long will we financially be feeling the clinch?

Well that non-expert says wrapping this up by Easter will be a cinch.

I can’t deny constantly refreshing the internet newsreel,

wanting to be the first to pounce on the article which reveals

this was the most ramped-up and high-stakes April Fool joke ever,

during which we all came together

in socially conscious strands, albeit with strictly 2-Meter-Abstand.

Let’s imagine, or even sing the John Lennon song out loud,

if concerts and football matches are eventually once more allowed:

will we have still maintained that fervently-made vow

to never again take for granted the company of here and now?

How long till the gratitude bubble bursts and we once more start to groan

about how we never get to spend any time at home?

In times when good cheer is harder to procure,

we’ll have to use laughter as a makeshift cure.

It won’t banish infection, but it’s a distraction, sure.

We’ll just have to look forward to normal for one day more.

For now, it’s gone out of fashion, but as we’ve seen before,

trends always make a comeback, and staples do endure.

And through trial and error, through much endeavour,

remember and cling to the fact that it won’t be forever.

That, ladies and gentleman, signore e signori,

mesdames et messieurs, at least for now, is the cure.

Canine Quarantine

by Connie Phlipot

From the window frame, Laika watched the bespeckled birds pecking and hopping on the cornices of the building across the street.  Her tail involuntary flipped a few times in response to the birds’ motion.  Then a cat ushered its way across the balcony.  Laika shifted her weight and stretched, as if readying herself to attack.  The cat jumped onto the railing and sailed on the adjoining balcony.  Laika envied the feline’s movement and freedom.

Damn cats, they don’t have to rely on ineffective legal protection.  Laika had learned in obedience school that according to the Animal Protection Act a dog has the right to be walked every day.  She rejoiced when she heard that, but as she was learning to sit when commanded when she heard it, she could only express her joy with an almost imperceptible flick of the end of her tail.

People, even the somber Viennese, smiled at Laika when they saw her blue-gray eyes framed by dark lashes.  They seemed enchanted at the contrast of her light-filled eyes against the dark grey fluff of her face.  Other dogs looked contemptuously at her, a Siberian husky, a foreigner.  In their limited experiences, dogs have brown or black eyes.  That was fine with Laika.  She kept her distance from them.  She knew her comfortable life style depended on people, not dogs.  That’s how canines had evolved, snuggling up to humans, making them think you loved them.  Then they fed you.  You never had to go foraging in garbage cans or worse catching a rabbit and getting a mouthful of fur. 

She was aware, however, that the pre-domestication instinct was still present in her being.  Sometimes in her sleep, especially in the summer months when the breeze through the open window brought in the delectable scent of rotting rodent, she dreamed she was chasing something four-footed.  She would wake, her feet pedaling purposelessly. Her human partners would laugh at her when she did that, then throw a rubber mouse at her which she dutifully chased across the tile floor.

The strongest reminder of her wild roots was the desire, nearly an obsession, to take daily long walks outside, ending with a satisfying dump.  She prided herself on her success in getting the humans to accomodate her.  Each day, usually just before the humans engaged in their ceremony of sitting down to eat, she practiced her routine.  None of the door scratching or whining like other pups.  She walked over to the door and looked up at the handle.  Quietly.  If no one noticed, she walked over to the nearest person and looked up at her.  She could make her light eyes soften so they spoke to the human soul.  Then she walked back to the door — slowly, with dignity.

“Oh, Laika, is it that time already?  Let me finish chopping the carrots and I’ll take you.”  Within minutes Laika was strolling the canal on a long, strong lead.  Sniffing the funk of decaying voles, the humus of dead leaves and the acrid stench of duck shit.  She counted the magpies in the canal, noted the height of the water and spotted bird visitors.  Like the black cormorants with their wide wingspans and graceful necks.  She ran down the slope to “do her business” as the humans say, feeling the breeze ruffling the sensitive skin around her asshole. 

The other day, her human partners said, “We can’t go out for awhile.”  Did this mean a few hour delay?  It wasn’t raining.  Laika looked up, forgetting to soften her eyes.  The human said something about disease.  “I know you have to do your business.”  Laika pricked up her ears.  “but we will go out to the courtyard until this is over.”

The courtyard, that miserable place with broken-down benches where the humans smoked cigarettes that smelled like cat piss and made them act silly.  That awful smell masked all the good scents, like dead bugs and rotting cabbage.  After the unsatisfying toileting, that included the disgusting human habit of picking up her feces in a plastic bag, Laika jumped on the sofa and then carefully placed her self on the sill with a good view of the street.

A legal right to be walked.  How did she pursue this?  She couldn’t walk herself.  Even if she could escape from the fourth floor she would be doing something illegal, i.e. be unleashed and more importantly lose the trust of the humans who made her bourgeoise Viennese life possible.

She regretted not having been friendlier with the other dogs.  A spaniel walked by underneath her perch, his ears flopping to the rhythm of his loping four-legged walk.  A young man in a Race the Night T-shirt and a ball cap held the leash.  Both looked happy and unconcerned.  The dog’s too-large tongue flapping from side to side, the boy’s hat slightly off-center as if he had put it on in a hurry to be outside.  Seagulls flying in against the cartoon blue sky like angels.  Who could fear anything on a day like this?

Laika barked at the cocker spaniel to convey her despair at being inside, but the breeze threw her voice back into the apartment.  “Laika, dear, do you want to go out?” Laika tried to keep anger out of her eyes as she looked at her human.  She remained on the sill.  She wouldn’t go down to that courtyard until bodily needs insisted.

Laika pondered how to protect her rights.  She was like the babies in the strollers who had to endure strangers with hot, smelly breath peering into their faces and cooing what even she, a dog, knew was nonsense.  Like these children, she had to depend on someone else to defend her rights.  An advocate, an ombudsmen.  It would have to be a human, maybe like that young man in the ball cap, whom dogs could trust to advocate on their behalf.  Or the elderly man along the canal who fed the pigeons, magpies and ducks with his slightly senile grey-haired collie.  His concern for animals was palpable.  But how could she reach him?  He was always at the far end of the canal, nowhere near Laika’s home.  How could quarantined Laika on the window sill organize a class action and find a reliable advocate? 

Her bladder was full.  She jumped off the sill and started to run, then remembered herself and sauntered to the door.  Her human partner leashed her up to go down the stairs, then unhooked her when they entered the courtyard.  It was devoid of cat piss smell.  Laika inhaled the scent of decaying mice and took a few sprints around the yard.  That felt good, especially without the leash to restrain here.  She looked up at the sky, stretched her back and hind quarters.  The human clapped; Laika raced around again and jumped up in the air like a puppy. 

About Connie Phlipot

Connie is a retired U.S. diplomat, who has recently completed a novel based on her grandparents emigration from what is now Belarus.  She is now working on a novel or linked short stories focused on her fascination with Central and Eastern Europe.