Alice switched off the TV. A few times a day she checked in, hoping for “hope” – a breakthrough, a stalling in the number of cases, reinforcement to the overtaxed hospitals. So far, it hadn’t come. The coronavirus brought a new and chilling vocabulary – “shelter in place”, triage, PPE (personal protective equipment), and frightening math. Resolute, she called to her dog Charlie, “Let’s go.”
Walking through the quiet neighborhood seemed a luxury. It was safe, uncomplicated. Charlie didn’t know anything was different. The same street, same houses, same trees, now leafing for spring. A few days ago, she had seen her first robins. Each time out, Alice looked for signs that spring was indeed coming. Like Charlie, spring didn’t know; spring was innocent.
Dogwoods were in varying stages; some just beginning to bud, others with the first traces of petals. As Charlie sniffed happily, Alice looked along the ground. There was something new – slight, delicate, a violet. Then more, sprinkled among some weeds. The city had redug the ditches. Lots of surprising things had sprung up.
The violets stirred a memory of a long-ago Sunday afternoon. It was late April, 1968. Nick was taking her back to school. They said little, lulled by the sunshine, and in their own thoughts. What could be said? They were grappling with the shock and anguish over the slaying of Martin Luther King. There had been mixed messages as to whether the spring formal would take place. Of course it wouldn’t, shouldn’t. He pulled the car over, stopping in a grassy spot along a stretch of woods. “Let’s walk.” They talked about their families. She told him her grandmother could walk along and spot four-leaf clovers, without even trying. He knelt in the tender grass. There were violets – “Heart’s Ease,” he said. His grandmother knew wildflowers, their botanical and their many popular names. He carefully picked a few and gave them to her. “You can take some back to school.”
Alice and Charlie continued tracking spring – in various greens, in birdsong, and in a shy, sweet flower – before it slips away.