This is the fourth short story I’ve written that has the current pandemic as an underlying theme. The other three: Lost and Found (in five parts), Be the Change, and Gathering Storm, can be found by clicking on the category Short Stories and Poems, above.
I hope you enjoy it.
Who Needs Who?
The quiet, tree-lined neighborhood of single-family homes was just what Jen was looking for. After spending most of her 20s and early 30s living in the beach area, she had been ready for a change. The traffic, noise, and loud weekend parties—things that she energized her when she was younger—had started to wear on her. Then, Covid hit, and it all became too much. Her friends acted as if they were immune and continued to gather, unmasked and in large groups. She grew tired of complaining, and she knew that her friends weren’t going to change, so she decided to move to an area where she felt more comfortable.
The cute, two-bedroom, one-bath, bungalow she found was perfect. The house was big enough to have a separate work-from-home office but small enough so she could afford the rent by herself. The days of dealing with roommate drama were over. Her move in November was more than just from one abode to another; she felt like she finally had transitioned from her unmoored youth into adulthood.
Jen knew that she was one of the lucky ones. Her job as a project manager was easy to do from home; in fact, she preferred working there. The windows in her office allowed soft light into the room and offered a relaxing view of her front yard and the street. Although she hadn’t had a chance to meet any of her neighbors face-to-face, she was starting to recognize a few familiar faces as they walked by or worked in their yards. She was relieved to see that they were careful to wear masks and keep their distance when interacting with each other.
Jen was especially intrigued by the woman who lived directly across the street. She reminded Jen of her grandmother who, at nearly 80, was a tiny ball of energy topped with a puff of gray hair. The woman even used a cane like Gram, although, from what she could see, her neighbor’s brightly-colored cane looked to be as much of a fashion accessory as a walking aid.
One Saturday morning in mid-January, as Jen was cleaning her office, she glanced out her window and saw her neighbor walking down her driveway to retrieve her newspaper. Jen’s thoughts turned to her Gram and how hard the Covid restrictions had been on her; how lonely and isolated she said she felt. Jen kept in touch as much as possible, but she lived several hours away and Gram’s facility still didn’t allow visitors. Despite their distance, Jen was happy to have been able to help her grandmother get her first vaccine appointment the prior week. As Jen navigated through the convoluted and frustrating process, she couldn’t help feeling sorry for anyone who wasn’t internet-savvy and didn’t have assistance.
As she watched her neighbor, it occurred to Jen that she might need help signing up for her Covid vaccine too. Offering assistance to her neighbor would give her a great excuse to introduce herself and, perhaps, do a good deed. Jen figured that her neighbor probably felt as unsure of the process as her grandmother had.
Later that morning, Jen put on her coat and walked across the street. She didn’t know why she felt anxious, but she put on a big smile to cover her nervousness and knocked.
After a few moments, her neighbor opened her door.
“Hi! I’m Jen. I moved into the house across the street a few months ago.” Jen smiled brightly, before putting on her mask. “I haven’t had the chance to meet any of my neighbors yet, but I’m really happy living here. This is the first time I’ve lived alone and, although I miss my roommates, I’m starting to appreciate the quiet.” Oh, gawd, I’m babbling like a nervous suiter, Jen thought to herself.
“Oh, hello, dear. I’ve been meaning to introduce myself and welcome you to the neighborhood but, well, you know, this virus makes those things so complicated. My name is Cora.”
Cora put on her mask, opened her screen door with her cane, and stepped onto her porch.
Jen’s confidence faltered a bit as Cora looked at her with questioning eyes. “Um, well, I was wondering if you might need some help setting up your vaccine appointment. The online process can be pretty confusing and there are a lot of forms to complete. I was able to help my grandmother, so I’m familiar with the procedure.”
“That’s so sweet of you. That would be lovely. I’m anxious to get vaccinated but I understand it can be difficult to get an appointment.”
Jen breathed a sigh of relief. “Great! I can either help you on your computer if you have one, or you can come over to my house and use mine. You can enter all of your personal information yourself, so you don’t need to worry about privacy.”
After some discussion, Cora agreed to meet later that day at Jen’s house. Jen assured Cora that they could do the work on her laptop outdoors in her small backyard. As Jen walked back across the street, she was filled with satisfaction. Not only was she helping someone who needed her assistance, Jen was also hopeful that she had just met her first friend in her new neighborhood.
That afternoon, sitting at a small table on Jen’s postage-stamp-sized patio, Cora and Jen worked together to find a vaccine appointment at a nearby facility. With Jen’s help, Cora filled out all the necessary information and, when they got to the screen that announced her success, they both spontaneously let out a cheer and clapped their hands. They both felt like they had won the lottery.
As Jen walked her new friend back across the street, she offered to drive Cora to her appointment the following Thursday. Although she knew Cora had a car, she figured her apparent leg injury might make driving difficult. Besides, if there was a long line or any other complications once she got there, Jen wanted to be able to help. Cora accepted her offer gratefully.
On Thursday morning, Jen sat in her tiny kitchen sipping her coffee. She had arranged to take the morning off from work and was looking forward to spending an hour or two with Cora. Jen knew that her Gram enjoyed their conversations and she imagined Cora would also appreciate having someone to talk to.
A half an hour before they were due to leave, Jen went out to her car to tidy it up. She tended to use the passenger seat as a desk and there often were notebooks and file folders strewn about. As she opened the passenger door to grab her stuff, she saw a neighbor walk towards her waving.
“Hi, there! I’m so happy to finally have a chance to meet you. I’m Lisa, I live in the blue house two doors down.”
“Nice to meet you,” Jen replied, smiling. “Sorry I don’t have my mask with me, but I was just getting a few things from my car. I’m driving Cora to her first vaccine appointment this morning.”
“That’s so nice of you! She is recovering well from her bike accident, but I know she still has trouble now and then.”
Bike accident? Suddenly Jen’s perception of her new friend shifted. As far as she knew, her Gram never cycled, and, even if she had, it would have been well before Jen was born.
“Um, yeah. I helped her get her appointment. It can be difficult if you aren’t comfortable with the internet… you know, dealing with the various websites and forms. I helped my grandmother too.”
Jen was surprised to hear Lisa laugh. “You helped Cora get an appointment?”
“Yeah?” Jen didn’t mean for that to come out as a question.
“Cora and her late husband used to own a computer consulting business before he became ill and they had to sell it. She knows Macs, PCs, and the internet better than anyone in this neighborhood. In fact, if any of us have an issue, she is the one we go to for help. We are lucky to have our very own Geek Squad on our block.”
Just then, Cora stepped out of her front door and waved. “Good morning! I’ve been looking forward to this day. I’ll be over in ten.”
“Well, you two have a nice time,” Lisa said. “I envy her. My appointment isn’t for a few weeks.”
Jen went back inside her house to dump her notebooks and grab her purse and mask. When she came out, Cora was standing by the car. Jen opened the passenger door and waited as Cora climbed in and settled her cane on the floor. After closing the door, Jen walked around to her side, got in, and turned towards Cora.
“Lisa tells me that you hurt your leg biking.” Jen cringed a bit at the accusatory tone of her voice.
Cora sighed. “I should probably give it up at my age. My grandkids and I love to ride in circles around their cul-de-sac. It was a way to spend time with them outside. I fell several weeks ago and got a bit banged up. My son tells me that I’m nuts, and he is probably right.”
“Lisa also says that you used to own a computer consulting company.” There was that tone again. “That you are always helping your neighbors with their technical problems.”
Jen could see Cora winch behind her mask. “Oops,” she said with a slight giggle. “I guess my secret’s out.”
“You probably didn’t need my help making your appointment.”
“No, I didn’t. But I was so touched by your offer, I couldn’t say no. You also seemed a little lonely and I thought you could use a friend.”
Jen turned back and started her car. Her face flushed with indignation. She felt foolish. How dare Cora take advantage of my generosity? And, then to make it sound like she was doing me a favor?
As Jen drove a few blocks further, she began to reconsider her initial reaction. She was the one who made the offer, after all. She had assumed Cora needed help because her Gram did. Besides, she thought, I am lonely, and I really could use a friend.
As she waited for the light to change so she could turn onto the main thoroughfare, Jen looked over at Cora and smiled. “How about after your appointment, we stop for coffee? I’d love to get to know you better.”