Oct 23, 2020, 06:29AM

Death is No Voyage in the Valley

Rooster gets a COVID test and remembers friends and acquaintances suddenly lost.

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Pictured: a well-intentioned but nevertheless offensive depiction of my species.

“But they’re birds of a feather, after all…” That expression always bothered me. As a winged one, a winged thing, I resent being the subject of colloquialisms. The phrase isn’t rooster-specific—but what’s the salient point here? Birds have feathers. I don’t know what the rest of it means, but it’s obviously negative, and therefore disgusting and wrong in my eyes. I’ll always protect my body because I didn’t choose it.

The menu at the makeshift stable had been reduced—half-price knishes from the Bay Area peregrine couple, donuts from Little Big Bird of Tennessee, and cake by Maggie, the stork that laid a baby for real. “Don’t tell, don’t tell, Rooooooster…” No, never. Certain names in this article have been changed for the privacy of the individuals involved. Not that birth is anything to be ashamed of—Maggie was part of a miracle. But her son didn’t survive, and none of us forgot, but none of us talked about it ever again. I suppose it’s too hard to say goodbye when you spend so much time in the sky together. I never learned to fly, but we dream. We dream. Birds dream, too.

I didn’t dream that I thought I was exposed to COVID-19 recently. I felt mild symptoms, perhaps psychosomatic, but nevertheless I woke up yesterday and decided to get tested for the first time since this pandemic started. I put on my “virus boots” and trudged up the road to the pharmacy by the curlicue burger restaurant, an early success story in this purgatory present: outdoor BBQ, all-year-round. Vegetarian, of course. Must I stress this? You can put more things on a grill than meat. Like foxes. They may bleed, but they are not innocent. No—neither are raccoons. Time waits for no one, and death comes for us all. Choose the life you want to lead right now.

When I walked into the clinic and checked in, I was swabbed and put into a bubble room with drawings of human beings doing stupid things: starting wars, inventing drugs, exploring outer space. Sometimes the animal kingdom doesn’t let you down. I had to fill out a form identifying where I thought I’d been exposed to the virus, and I answered honestly: from the curlicue burger restaurant next to the pharmacy, when I ate some rancid raccoon meat mixed with some coyote-dijonnaise that I’m pretty sure had gone bad before I bought it. No matter: a couple of days of agony lead to seven days of work, and that’s a price I’m willing to pay as an artist. But maybe not as a bird.

I was reminded of death yet again when two more birds from our parish perished from the virus on the same day—yesterday. I’m uneasy about how much is crumbling and how much familiar flesh is burned and ripped from bone. I know it’s inevitable and I’ve seen it closer many times before, but when it comes in clusters when the seasons are changing, you remember you’re getting older and life gets lonelier as people move on into the past. They recede while you stay on, beating heart or not. I try and keep mine ticking.

The nurse came back in with a nose swab and told me to wait 15 minutes for results. No phone service, no problem—silence is necessary for a published writer like myself. I should avoid technology even more than I do. I’m no addict, and I’m certainly no Jeffrey Toobin, but computers and cell phones are bad for us. End of issue. It’s not worth talking about anymore. I remember these people but I can’t talk about them, for I knew them too little. But I loved them in their way. Their work, their words, and their actions have filled me and they will not leave.

I waited a few more minutes and the nurse came back in and told me I was negative. I smiled, smoked a cigarette, and put a Starburst in my mouth—yellow. It was always my favorite color. The sun shines bright on New England tomorrow.

—Follow Rooster Quibbits on Twitter: @RoosterQuibbits


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