Kelsey lost her job as soon as the pandemic started. She was secretly glad because she could wear brightly colored skirts and blouses with embroidery that weren’t business appropriate. One of them showed off her only tattoo, a tiny rose, in her decolletage. Her curly hair grew long.
Grace, her sister, stopped by from time to time. She looked Kelsey up and down, taking in the vivid shades. “It’s different, but it’s cheerful,” she said, flicking up an eyebrow.
Kelsey began to read poetry at night, savoring the cadence, the hard and soft sounds. The words were so beautiful she wanted to put them away for safekeeping. She had read poems in college, though her mother disapproved. “Study accounting. It’s safer,” she said. Kelsey put the book away. Her mother must be right.
Armed with a CPA, Kelsey established a career. Working long hours, she felt serious and accomplished wearing her black suits. Now, during the pandemic, this was the longest she’d ever been out of a job. Her sense of pride was gone. What she wanted was poetry.
As summer ended, she started gardening in window boxes. When the weather got cold, she pulled them inside letting them soak up sun from behind glass. “What are you going to do with those?” Grace said. “Are they going to grow anything?”
Always the commentator, Kelsey thought. Always their mother’s spokesperson. Grace, too, worked in accounting.
Kelsey didn’t miss the spreadsheets at work. She wanted to keep her new life and resisted sending her resume to recruiters. It had taken her weeks to even prepare an update. She wanted to write a completely new one but couldn’t imagine what it would say.
She and Grace began to hike in in the park. It was exhilarating to walk the trails, to climb the rocky paths. Kelsey had on her teal green coat while Grace wore a black parka. Despite the chilly weather, moving gave Kelsey an energy she’d never had before.
Kelsey began to have trouble sleeping. Each night, at 3 AM, her eyes opened and she couldn’t fall back to sleep. Her life was losing its sharp edges. The snowed-in silence outside told her so.
One evening, when she was walking home from the supermarket, a woman crossing Prospect Avenue got hit by a car. The notion of getting entangled made her stomach tighten, so she began to walk faster. Then she stopped, skirt swishing behind her. No one else was there to help. It could happen to anyone.
The woman was on her back, shouting and crying. Kelsey punched 911.
Kelsey was grateful that the woman could stand up and walk. She sat on the curb near her, though not too close. Both were masked, at least.
For a moment, Kelsey thought of getting up and walking away. She was not comfortable with this. The paramedics might have questions. Maybe they would assume that she was the responsible party. When they actually arrived, she spoke calmly, deliberately.
When the woman was loaded onto a stretcher, she murmured, “Thanks for staying.”
Kelsey had never thought of herself as kind. Maybe she’d just never known.
Her job search took a different direction: homeless shelter, COVID contact tracing, soup kitchen. When she was in college, she’d disdained the helping professions. They were soft, irrational. Now, they seemed exciting. She’d felt worthy helping the woman who had the car accident. So maybe she could sign on for a social work or education degree. Maybe psychology. The state university had lots of courses. If that didn’t work out, there was always online.
While she was looking at catalogs on her laptop, Grace brought her a cup of tea, touching her shoulder gently. “Remember that woman you helped?”
“Wherever you’re going, you’re going to get there.”
Kelsey looked up in disbelief. “That means a lot,” she said.
The next day, Kelsey and Grace went to the park and began walking. Their footfalls shook bits of snow from the trees, and they just kept going. Kelsey’s green coat blended into the bareness of the snow. Miniature icicles dropped to the ground. The sky dimmed until the dark was thick and wondrous. Finally, they came to a clearing where three pines towered over them, and over all the other trees, which stood in shadow by the woods. Branches shimmered with snow, whiteness muffling sound. The Milky Way stretched overhead, like a boundless path. Kelsey had never seen anything so beautiful or so terrifying.
Elizabeth Morse is a writer who lives in New York’s East Village. Her work has been published in literary magazines such as The Raven’s Perch, Visible, and CafeLit, as well as anthologies such as Crimes of the Beats. She has her MFA from Brooklyn College and supports her writing with a job in information technology.