We are still in what-appears-to-be the beginning of the quarantine.
The neighbor emerges from her house, across the street. We exchange waves and mouth pleasantries, but it is too far for the words to travel. She takes a step and I take a few steps until we are just divided by the road, both held back from crossing by the social distancing directive and general fear of the virus. Everyone is a potential carrier. Its our new paranoid reality that keeps conversations separated by six feet.
“Y’all holdin’ up ok over there,” the neighbor asks and shoves one hand into the pocket of her jeans. She leans her weight on one leg and waves at Little Legs with her free hand. The people of the South are sweetly cautious like this, always under the influence of their sugary tea.
“Oh yes, we’re doing fine. And with plenty of toilet paper to last this thing out.”
Little Legs doesn’t understand the distance, he doesn’t care about the virus, and he doesn’t appreciate being held back from darting across the road to the big, friendly blond woman who is waving at him with an equally big, fluffy white dog barking from the fence next to the house.
He gives a squeal of displeasure and tries to escape towards the dog. I scoop him up with one arm, glad to have secured my offspring, I am reminded to inquire about the rest of her family.
“How are your son and husband?”
As I yell across the road, it occurs to me that I have not seen her spouse in at least a few weeks.
If only I could suck the words back into my mouth and swallow them down into my growing belly to be destroyed by stomach acid and save her from whatever she is about to relate. The grimace on her face tells the truth before she says a word.
“My son is fine, doing well in school, but my husband died in January,” she explains with a shrug meant to be careless but looks pained, a defense mechanism to roll off and away from emotion.
“I had no clue. I am so sorry…” I trail off and mean to say sorry for not knowing and for not being a better neighbor, but instead say nothing.
She shrugs again and says simply, “He was in a lot of pain and now he’s not.”
“Well, don’t be a stranger,” she says. “I’ve got to be on my way to a doctor’s appointment.”
She leaves and as we shuffle through the grass back towards the house with the promise of a snack for Little Legs and a pledge to be a better neighbor.
As it stands, the distance between us is far greater than six feet.