Volume 32, Number 2

The Little Things

K. Lee

Monday through Friday, he sits by the one big picture window in their home office between 9 am and 5 pm. He waters three potted money trees, enters orders, responds to emails and occasionally lets episodes of “The Wire” distract him from the day’s tasks. Bodie stands on the corner chatting with McNulty. Florescent lights from the corner store encase Bodie’s frame with an angelic glow and showcase McNulty’s scowl during simpler times. Yesterday, Omar, wearing a tattered trench coat, robbed Barksdale. “Omar’s a cold mothafuckah,” he says while entering invoices into QuickBooks.
He’ll be fifty next month. The grey in his beard has won; black strands are speckles in snow. His co-worker grumbles about the cancellation of their yearly birthday and anniversary trip. Last year, they stood in lines like imperial clones waiting to load into star destroyers. This year they are spectators staring at screens, reminiscing about the good old days when travel was a worthwhile risk.  His co-worker has asthma, and they are both a little overweight, and black.
“It’s killing us,” he yells at the computer after checking in on the day’s news. Months earlier, wearing his “#I Run with Maud” shirt, he yelled, “They are killing us” as a cop smirks and casually holds his knee on a black man’s neck. Like Maud, he was a runner. Back during his football days, he would run through neighborhoods in Georgia, ducking under moss-covered oak trees when the rain would appear then disappear like cops after a call. Maud’s hood was his.  His mother still lives minutes away. He would run through streets, t-shirt soaked with sweat; Maud’s shirt was soaked with sweat and blood. His childhood home is now a crime scene. A quiet oceanside town now linked to sundown towns and faux racial consensus shattered by truth, he thinks as he enters invoices.  
Monday through Friday, he sits on a cream upholstered office chair entering invoices, answering calls, occasionally chatting with family. Some days he talks to his younger brother, Malcolm. Malcolm says he’s not going to vote; his vote doesn’t matter. His sons need the gun range more than voting. “How can he be so delusional! If you don’t vote, you can’t complain!” Bodie, Wallace and Poot sit on an old sofa in the center of the courtyard after seeing some shit in the afternoon like wise old men watching the world do what it do after years of battle.
To him, acceptance is not quite surrender but apathy is the devil. He mailed his absentee ballot.
He sits at his desk entering invoices, answering calls, protesting in his daydreams. At the end of each workday, the season’s sun sets, the invoices sit in plastic black bins stacked on the desk, the computer monitor switches to screen save mode; the workday fades to black.

* * *

Monday through Friday, she sits on an old futon in their home office from 9 a.m. to 5 a.m., draped in her gray fleece blanket, responding to emails, working on projects and occasionally checking Twitter for trending news. Dressed in flannel pajama pants and a variety of black shirts, some formal for camera-ready days, she feigns normal. Between email replies and Zoom meetings, she orders groceries, planning meals like she used to plan trips, methodically considering options, discounts and quality. Instead of using Hilton points, she looks for digital coupons. Each week, the orders are the same. Her objective is to fill the pantry to keep it stocked, ensuring there’s no space.
Monday through Friday, she sits on an old futon and not at her desk in their home office, flanked by an assortment of pillows. Some days she sits in pain. She carries more than a little extra weight. She carries benign tumors few felt the need to research. “You should just remove it,” one cheerful doctor told her, referring to her uterus when she was in the emergency room after a day of unbearable pain. She wants the pain to leave, the pressure on her bladder to stop, the leg pain to stop, the energy drains to stop, the lack of empathy to stop.
“This is so wrong,” she says to her co-worker. “This Black doctor died because they didn’t believe she was in pain!” As the pain radiates down her leg, she thinks about Serena’s blood clots, Henrietta Lacks, her family legacy of cancer, her sister Keisha living with breast cancer, her aunt Angie who died of breast cancer. Angie’s daughter died of cancer at eleven years old.
When she was a teenager, she carried her cousin’s fragile body up and down the stairs during weekend visits. Her cousin’s death was a recurrent discussion between her aunts and her mother: “They waited too long to treat her. They didn’t care.” Her teenage and young adult years were on the pendulum of hypochondria and obsession with medical research. Most days she worries that if cancer doesn’t find her Covid will, so she stays at home, accepting pain as a permanent guest.

* * *

Monday through Friday, they share a 10-by-10 room and open the gray opaque shade to let in whatever sunlight each day offers. Their matching desks and chairs, new additions to their space, are like matching outfits. They occasionally chat about household matters. They have embraced their new ritual of entering the office as coworkers trying to motivate each other through the uncertain days ahead.
Most days when she looks over at him she’s thankful. She does not have to worry about whether or not he will make it home each day. Will he be stopped by the police? Will he fit the description?  She laments how a deadly pandemic in some ways has brought her some peace.
Monday through Friday, they sit in their home office appreciating the little things. Worries fall from trees like acorns easily gathered for winter.  McNulty and Bunk have a drink at the bar; “Better to be lucky than to be good.”