Last month, Literary Cleveland invited everyone in the city to participate in a collective writing experience documenting what happened in greater Cleveland on May 12. The response was overwhelming: 140 people from all across the city submitted a combined 95,880 words and 346 photos. In other words, Clevelanders wrote the equivalent of a novel.
The following piece contains excerpts from select submissions collected into a single essay containing birthdays and weddings, herons and haircuts, Zoom classes and telemedicine and forgotten masks, plus a centipede named Cedric. Each individual joy, sorrow, frustration, love and loss combines to form a mosaic that speaks with more beauty and complexity than any one person could accomplish alone. Our hope is that the range and intimacy of experiences described here will provide a unique account of this historic time for those in the future as well as an opportunity to bring all of us closer together today.
After reading this essay, we encourage you to visit the chronological, interactive map we created featuring all 140 submissions from this project. There you can explore everything that happened in Cleveland on May 12 by location, by time, or even by keyword. Please enjoy.
The City of Cleveland passed 1,000 cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday.
Cleveland reported 33 new cases, bringing their total to 1,011 cases. There have been 41 deaths from the virus in the city.
— Courtney Shaw | May 12, 2020 | News 5 Cleveland
The way Americans shop has shifted with social distancing measures and safety precautions in place for the foreseeable future.
Retail stores in Ohio opened for face-to-face business Tuesday with modifications like one-way aisles, distancing markers on the floor and hand sanitizing stations throughout the store.
Governor Mike DeWine is requiring all retail employees to wear face coverings and customers are strongly encouraged to do the same.
— Emily Hamilton | May 12, 2020 | News 5 Cleveland
It will be a cold start, with frost in some areas, but temps will warm to the mid-50s with mostly sunny skies. It will be clear overnight with temps in the upper 30s.
— Cliff Pinckard | May 12, 2020 | cleveland.com
Part 1: But here in the darkness
12:00 AM - 5:00 AM
12:12 AM, North Collinwood
Ray steps out barefoot on the cold slate stoop. On overcast nights, fairly often due to the proximity to Lake Effect fronts, the leaden sky acts like a lid, so Ray can hear the linkage clank of the connecting train cars echo. But not tonight. Just the drone of I-90, 1/8th of a mile south. For it is clear. And windy. To his left, northwards, he can hear Lake Erie waves crash on Wildwood Pier. The flagpole rope clasp clangs in the wind in front of St. John’s School across the street. The strong wind riffles through the new cottonwood leaves. The wind shifts around from the Northeast. Cleveland set a record for measurable snow yesterday due to a polar vortex. It was warmer in Alaska. The membrane of the arctic circle is weakening, sagging, the ice melting, pole shifting. “Time is out of joint,” Hamlet worried. One street over Ray hears the distinctive thrum of rubber tires on red bricks. He locks the doors.
12:18 AM, Fairview Park
Will Haley make ends meet this month? Will her single month’s worth of savings be enough to protect her and Elena from the volatility of uncertain income? What will happen if she can’t pay the bills? How long will this last?
1:10 AM, Kinsman
John was born 12 years after the Spanish flu outbreak took out folks like dominoes falling. Today he wakes, puts his shoes on the wrong feet, throws on his cargo shorts over urine-soaked adult diapers and cautiously opens the window shade.
It’s pitch black outside, much darker than the spring pall over Cleveland. But that doesn’t register with the old man with a wizened grin. He’s living at home with a disease that robs his ability to be logical, analytical, conversational and functional enough to live alone in the neighborhood. After staring into the early morning darkness, focusing on nothing, he pads his way to the kitchen.
If you pay attention to the paper calendar from church with Jesus on the cover, it’s officially Stay-at-Home Day 50 of the novel coronavirus pandemic. So far, John is spared. He is not a statistic in the nursing home numbers playing out in Northeast Ohio and beyond. It’s some kind of blessing.
3:23 AM, Van Aken
Annmarie is tucked into her beat-up yellow armchair to reread The Great Gatsby. The Spanish flu killed over 600,000 Americans in 1918 and 1919. Then the 1920s roared and folks bobbed their hair and swilled champagne and Lindy-hopped in teeming masses. Will we do that, too? Annmarie wonders. Will we swing and flap and groove? Will we kiss strangers? It’s hard to believe any of us will ever dance again.
With immunocompromised family members, sheltering-in-place has seemed less a choice than a necessity. It may be right, but it is also scary. Stay inside to keep other people alive; wear a mask so nobody sickens a friend; wash your hands so you don’t accidentally kill your grandma.
Days are full of esoteric activities with her children. They muddle through homework lists and Zoom calls. They dribble basketballs left-handed or sing vegetable names in Spanish or compose workout routines with two chairs and a Chinese jump rope. When the daylight comes and the sun shines, this seems more manageable. Annmarie can dribble. She can sing.
But here in the darkness, she flails. She feels woefully unprepared to face any of it. She is fighting a pandemic with chairs, a basketball, and a jump rope.
4:00 AM, Gordon Square
Shelley dreams that the government decides to allot five gallons of pudding each month to every citizen. In the dream, Shelley chooses the pistachio flavor pudding and worries that she won’t be able to change flavors in the future.
4:04 AM, Lakewood
The gasp, thud, and pound-pound-pound of swift little feet raise Brandi from consciousness. Her husband groans. The four-year-old is not quite coherent, not quite awake, but capable of lifting one foot above the other, hoisting himself onto the platform where they choose to sleep, covered in blankets and snoring pets. She doesn’t remember her husband, Matt, coming to bed, but he’s speaking now. “Are you scared?” he asks their boy and the boy says yes, and Brandi winces because Matt was right again: turning out the boy’s orange light does cause fear and a boy in their bed. “Daddy,” the boy moans and then pleads, demands: “Covers.” Brandi places the blanket around him. “Is he still sick?” Matt asks. She lifts the boy’s shirt and runs her palm up his back, along his torso, a torso that is just the size of two hands. For a moment, Brandi remembers what it felt like when his whole body fit in one hand, his feet dangling onto her wrist. She remembers when he fluttered around inside her abdomen, swimming and kicking and creating space for himself, as he does now, shoving her to return to her side, a sliver in the bed. “He’s not hot,” she replies, but her husband has already drifted back into sleep.
4:30 AM, Kinsman
John starts to fidget. It’s a universal activity for those with dementia. He handles big, round tins of loose coins with no particular order. The pennies and dimes are just as scattered as he. And, he is lining up a slew of coveted baseball caps neatly on a kitchen counter. They were gifted to him by friends and family who are all now hunkered down across the city, state and country. All of them in REM...sleeping.
The daughter is dozing off at the table. Both doors to the house are locked and have bells around the knobs—like jingle bells in May. She will wake with a start if she hears John trying to leave. After all, he does have the urge to move from this place to a destination unknown, even to him.
The virus is so tough that it is more than likely that John would never survive it. So, all caregivers have been asked not to come to the house. Too risky. The daughter doesn’t want to take the chance; she pays dearly for her sacrifices.
4:45 AM, Brecksville
Who likes getting up before dawn by a dog pushing her body against the bed? Carie heads out the door with Kita, poop bags in hand, hand sanitizer bottle clipped to her pocket, face mask around her neck in case they meet someone on their walk, unlikely at this hour. All is quiet in the condominium complex. The old girl wants to sniff out every smell before doing her thing. Kita likes routine so, as they have since the stay at home order, they walk by various units bringing the newspapers left on the edge of drives to the doors.
Part 2: Accumulation in the body
5:00 AM - 8:00 AM
5:30 AM, Woodmere
For the grocery store crew, the day starts at 5:30 am. The mates (managers) have been at the grocery store since 4:30 or 5:00. First, the truck. Pallets, bulky towers wrapped in plastic, are removed in the pre-dawn stillness by trained crew working with jacks and rollers. They are wheeled onto the floor and broken apart by the crew. It used to work like an ant hill. Don’t just stand there—grab a box. Now only two crew members are assigned to a pallet, to maintain social distancing.
Crew members wear masks at the request of the company. There was some back and forth about this in the beginning. Same for gloves. Now everyone clocked in needs to have a mask on, except when they’re eating or getting water. Gloves are up to individuals. Most people wear them as needed—cleaning but not stocking; working with chemicals, but not at the cash register.
The crew works to stock fresh produce, dairy, deli, meat until 7:30 when the floor is cleared of boxes, overflow and trash. The team huddles—everyone carefully six feet or more apart as the mate or captain ticks off updated information. A packing plant has shut down, so packets of chicken are limited to two per person. The store has plenty of paper products but the hand sanitizer is spotty. They sell it when they have it—again, two per customer. If there’s a problem with someone not cooperating, get a mate to help. No one is alone in this.
This store was probably the first grocery story in Greater Cleveland to act on recommendations from the Governor’s office. Six foot distancing is marked out. Only 25 people are allowed in the store at one time. Crew must practice social distancing from each other as well as customers. Difficult because so much of the work is collaborative with people standing shoulder to shoulder, lifting boxes, passing product, looking at lists and searching computer screens. No longer. If someone approaches a crew member a little too closely, the recommendation is to back up. People don’t really get it at first. Maybe they just can’t believe it is happening at all.
6:00 AM, Beachwood
The first bird to greet the day with song is a solitary House Wren, warbling his cheerful tune atop a birdhouse in the garden behind the house. In between songs, he picks up small twigs and disappears into his house to build, sometimes carrying a stick so big he spent minutes finding the perfect angle to fit it into the hole. His mate has not arrived yet, but he keeps up his song.
6:25 AM, Cleveland Heights
5-year-old Lucy wakes up in her Cleveland Heights home in the Noble neighborhood at 6:25AM to the new routine. First, run to wake up Zinnia, her two-year-old sister who is still wearing yesterday's clothes. Then, go downstairs to find dad washing dishes and mom rocking Augie, her always fussy 5-week-old baby brother. Finally, make it to the dining room table to open up mom's laptop and start doing kindergarten work.
6:37 AM, Shaker Heights
Grief hangs in the puffy morning clouds and even emits from the budding apple trees across the street. Anita is feeling a new grief today. She just found out that her art teacher from her high school in Ashtabula had died over the weekend.
This man had inspired the trajectory of her life more than anyone else from her youth. He was the first person who challenged her to answer the question, "What is art?"; who made her see that being an artist starts with a way of looking at the world, a curiosity and empathy that leads one to explore all angles of the human experience. He wore silly ties and always chose a specific color palette for his wardrobe as though to display walking examples of monochromatic or complementary color schemes. He was also a stickler for craftsmanship and diligent practice, instructing, "You have to paint 300 bad paintings to create one great painting."
Anita wants to attend his funeral, but there wouldn’t be one because of the pandemic. He had contracted COVID-19, among a host of other health problems. Anita wonders if this time COVID had been a merciful angel of death, as the lung cancer had been when it carried away her mother’s last breath and freed her from the insidious grip of relentless forgetting.
There will be a vehicle procession in one week from today starting from her old high school, to commemorate her teacher. Putting her coffee down, Anita decides she will go.
6:45 AM, Mentor
Danna is dropped off to get her gallbladder removed. Finally.
In Mid-March, right about that time the pain became often and intense, the pandemic hit and suddenly, surgery was no longer an option. They expected the ERs to be overrun. So she waited. On the phone they gave her tips. Tylenol. Apple Cider vinegar. Stretching. The pain would come and go. She went almost two months with pain. So intense sometimes it stopped her in her tracks. The last few weeks were just the constant dull wraparound pain, waiting for the world to open up a little bit more. The entire time there was no complaining. There was no arguing against the system. There was simply: this is what’s happening, and we deal with it. Because it’s for the good of the people.
But then, miraculously, the hospitals held up. Mitigation seemed to work.
As elective surgeries resumed, Danna got her appointment right away. She got tested for Covid-19 on May 9th. It came back negative on May 11th. Ready to go May 12th.
Now at 6:45 AM, Danna arrives for surgery. By 3 PM she will be home, the surgery completed without incident. And with a momentary procedure, the pain from the past will finally be relieved.
7:00 AM, Shaker Heights
Morning brings clothing selection and the game Jacqi has created about choosing The Daily Mask. Lined up by the front door, TDMs are upcycled scarves, handkerchiefs, t-shirts, pant legs, cloth napkins and even one fashioned from an old paisley ironing board cover. One or two to match almost any possible combination of work-appropriate outfits. TDM also has to match the droop-n-drape scarf which keeps her from having to put on man's most thoughtless invention: the bra.
7:05 AM, Cleveland Heights
Jing twists to snooze her muffled pinging iPhone alarm and feels a familiar sharp tug just above and inside her left hip where the scar is still fresh. A pinhole where tissue was taken from her second surgery graft two months back. Jing had been asking herself what her own new normal might be since her surprise double mastectomy and first surgery last Thanksgiving, well before the pandemic arrived at everyone’s doorstep and town. She was already living day by day, wondering if a sole white blood cell was hiding, refusing to leave her, its host. Or if the other “C” word, Covid, might be looking and lurking not too far behind. Today she wakes to find herself in a once-in-a-lifetime personal and public health crisis perfectly timed when no one was watching. A ticking time bomb or pulled grenade looking to land in any weak spot it found. She has one more surgery to go.
7:12 AM, West Park
The sun is shining. It looks like it will be a lovely spring day in Cleveland.
“We should be having lunch,” says Ken.
“Should we? It seems a little early,” Susie replies.
They’re playing their new favorite game called “We Should Be Doing This.”
Susie checks the time and quickly adds six hours. It’s just after 1pm in Italy. She checks the weather in Sorrento. Seventy-three degrees and sunny. It would be the perfect last day of vacation.
7:30 AM, Twinsburg
A chickadee perches and taps on Marion’s kitchen window. Her husband has named the chickadee Bob. There’s nothing on the calendar for today. There’s been nothing for weeks. Many of the calendar’s squares have been Whited-Out, disappearing events, appointments from the previously busy, multi-scheduled days. Each cancellation, a let-down. Each let-down accumulates in the body. Marion checks the weather report: freeze warnings are over, the weird May snow gone, so it looks okay to buy annuals.
7:31 AM, Hough
Bruce is trying to survive.
He isn’t luxuriating in the past or thinking about positive outcomes for this or that project. He is simply trying to survive in 6-12 hour blocks of time. The daily news is crushing. Businesses are failing left and right. Major corporations and companies are filing for bankruptcy. People are losing their jobs. Even a month from now seems hard to imagine.
Bruce worries about meat shortages and the rising cost of medical care. He might run out of money before too long. He was constantly on the edge even before the pandemic. Now, he waits for the phone to ring or to read on social media that someone he knows died from the COVID-19 virus. It is just a matter of time.
From his window in the Hough neighborhood, he watches an older woman standing on the corner waiting for a bus. She has a blue grocery bag pulled tightly over her head with holes poked in the bag for her eyes. She wears oversized skiing goggles to protect her eyes and a homemade cloth mask to cover her mouth. The plastic bag is fastened around her neck with masking tape. Clear plastic bags with more tape around her wrists cover her hands. A long sleeve winter jacket covers her upper body; loosely hung drawstring sweatpants are tucked into her rubber boots. He feels a pang of guilt in his heart for her.
Bruce has paper grocery bags, too. He once had a cat that liked to play with the paper bags, crawling inside and running around the house bumping into walls and chairs but she died last fall. Rather, he put her down. Kidney failure killed her.
He regrets he never collected her remains.
Part 3: Liberty and justice for all
8:00 AM - 12:00 PM
8:00 AM, Litchfield Township
Laura carries trays of seedlings from their warm mats and grow lights to the porch, their daily lesson in hardening off to life’s challenges before being planted. On the way back in she catches sight of Cedric, friendly indoor centipede. She offers a greeting. Cedric waves a few legs.
8:15 AM, Tremont
Lori is a few blocks from home, starting the drive to work, confident she will be safe; because of the staggered shifts, she will be the only one in the office. A few miles down the road, she gropes for a mask and in dismay realizes it is not draped around her throat as usual.
8:45 AM, Rocky River
Waiting. Not in a waiting room, but in front of a cell phone, before the doctor attempts to connect on the telehealth platform. The doctor explains an antibody test may not be accurate. There may be false positives. There may be false negatives. It could be better to wait until there is a better test. But wait too long and the antibodies may be undetectable. In any case, a positive result doesn’t change precautions that still need to be taken. “We just don’t know enough yet.”
9:00 AM, Lyndhurst
Resisting the temptation to absorb more of the news that had stiffened both hips and aggravated her four month post-op knee replacement, Leslie dons her Covid-19 uniform: gray sweatpants, sweatshirt, socks and her inside tennis shoes. Only she is responsible for her post-op rehab, since the gym and therapy location chosen for the job both closed almost two months ago. Determined to do as much as she can, using her standard seating bench in the foyer of her home as her workout platform, she stretches out her knee with her ankle placed over the middle of a sliced pool noodle, cut for the task at hand. Leslie uses both hands to apply weight over her tender scars to help flatten her new knee, afraid that scar tissue inside has continued swelling. It is making this rehab experience difficult and painful. A silent wish for guidance as she peers at the dust bunnies gathered under the bench and chair in the adjoining room. “Not in the mood for cleaning today,” she thinks as she finishes her third repetition and moves on to the next exercise.
9:30 AM, Solon
“Are you ready?” Levi asks his wife Chanee and their three kids, Mendel, Berel, and Chaya, as he boots up his computer. “The Zoom wedding starts in five minutes!”
With COVID-19 dictating their lives, only a few family members are allowed to attend the wedding. On the computer screen, they can see the rest of their family popping up in little boxes from all over the world. In Ukraine, the bride, groom, and parents are in one square awaiting the start of the ceremony. In another square, their German cousins are watching the wedding on a giant projector in their living room, with tables decorated with white roses, blue napkins, white tablecloth, and blue cups. Across the world, their grandma watches from Israel, their cousins watch from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, more cousins watch in Wichita, Kansas—their three girls dressed up like mini brides.
When the ceremony begins, everyone mutes their microphones. The bride sits in a decorative chair in a long sleeve white wedding dress, a thick veil covering her face. Behind her are long white drapes and an arch of pink, yellow, and white roses. Tall candlesticks stand proudly over her left shoulder, shining yellow and bright.
“Mendel, Berel—look how pretty it is,” Chanee whispers. Chaya gurgles in her arms, unaware. The wedding itself takes place in an alley surrounded by white stone brick, under the cloudy white sky. There is a matching flower arch of pink, yellow, and white outlining the clothy white chuppah that the bride stands beneath.
They watch the ceremony as the groom circles the bride seven times. They watch until the wedding’s end when the groom takes a small glass cup and smashes it beneath the heel of his shoe. They even sing hava nagila when the party begins, watching the bride as she is lifted on a chair into the air. The entire Zoom wedding lasts three hours—they sing, dance, kibitz with family. Everyone is smiling and laughing from across their screens, across continents.
9:50 AM, Shaker Heights
Andrew’s younger daughter screams from upstairs, “Can somebody bring me toilet paper?!?”
10:00 AM, Westlake
The child forgets why she is in the dark space under the futon. The quiet darkness reminds her of her cat, Lucy. She looks for the cat in the living room. And she sees the sunshine. In the dusty space, the sunshine brings her the fond memory of a school routine in the morning. The child begins to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Loudly. Solemnly. Exactly word by word.
The child, born American, says that she misses the school very much. The mother is nodding to her while reading an article about anti-Asian violence at the time of COVID 19. Two women attacked Chinese students in Australia, punching and kicking and yelling “Go back to China.” A man with a knife attacked a Burmese family in Texas. With her beautiful almond eyes, the child might see the mother’s fear. On her undeniably Chinese face. People assume what this family “really” is without asking. Permanent foreigners. Last April, the child lost her great-grandmother to this virus when it ravaged a nursing home in New Jersey where she died alone. Still, to some people this family carries disease. To blame for their own failure.
“With liberty and justice for all,” ends the child. The mother kisses her little face beaming with pride.
10:22 AM, Lakewood
There’s a rabbit in Dana’s yard and he has eyebrows. A dark patch of fur rises above his eyes in a comically inverted V, giving him a quizzical, bemused air. She has been following him again today as he goes about his routine. She trails across the morning room windows, enjoying how the lead glass casts rainbows on his sleek fur as he enjoys an early morning snack under the boxwood hedge. She uses the edge of her flannel nightgown to polish a square of glass and press her nose to it, flaring her nostrils in time with him. He raises one eyebrow and she wonders what she has communicated to him as he moves on to a patch of clover under her sycamore tree.
10:30 AM, Larchmere
There are three staff people and one customer in Loganberry Books, open to the public for the first time in eight weeks. The checkout counter has been barricaded with chairs in Les Miserables style, trying to maintain that precious six feet of distancing. Harriett suggests that the Health Shield ™ was purchased for their protection, and they need to be a little friendlier if they intend to serve our customers. A compromise is reached. Passing the spring occasion cards, Harriett arrives at her roll-top desk back in the Sanctuary, discovering it covered with notes from two months ago. Everything is a time warp.
11:00 AM, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
Alfred the Andean bear happily digs into a bearcicle, fruit frozen into ice, using a rock as a table. His keeper Cheryl explains to the audience that Alfred and his Cleveland Metroparks Zoo exhibit mate Caymbe are given these treats as enrichment, a chance to work for their food. Sometimes called “spectacled bears,” these animals have a ring of light colored fur around their eyes contrasting with their dark coat.
“They’re wearing masks just like us. At least for a while we’ll have something in common with them,” Cheryl says, looking into the camera.
But the audience, of course, is watching Alfred and Caymbe remotely. The zoo has been closed for about two months and administrators are scrambling to figure out a safe way for guests to visit.
Cheryl explains that the zoo partners with the Andean Bear Conservation Alliance to preserve these fascinating animals. A portion of a guest’s admission goes to this organization. But with no guests, there are no funds being raised at the zoo.
11:00 AM, Rocky River Metropark
Disturbing news. Barbara gets a call from her dear friend, aged 70, a transit driver in a neighboring county. He has been exposed to a passenger who has tested positive for the coronavirus. He isn’t telling anyone including his family, but he says he needs to be tested now. Barbara is officially worried.
11:13 AM, Slavic Village
It looks like a giant puddle at the bottom of a 50-foot-deep valley. From her perch on a wooden platform that sits in the middle of the water, Monica sees more. Much more.
“There are some cool little tadpoles down there,” she says with a captivating smile.
It’s been two months since Monica has been able to take her kids from the adjacent Boys & Girls Clubs to this valley, a 4-acre urban oasis called Morgana Bluffs Nature Preserve.
The Club’s outdoor and environmental manager is producing digital nature content for members. But she’s the first to admit it will never take the place of helping kids experience the outdoors.
“I’m a hands-on person,” Monica says. “I need to look you in the eye. Right now, it just feels weird. I know I’m still serving kids (with online programming) but there is definitely a disconnect.”
Today, she is taking note of changes at the preserve, including blooming wildflowers, the spread of an invasive plant species called Japanese knotweed and, of course, the cool little tadpoles. The Euclid native says she is most at home when she is in nature and teaching children.
“I feel I have a special opportunity to connect kids and the outdoors,” Monica says. “I like that I don’t have four walls hemming me in. I’ve had outdoor jobs since 2013, so being inside is not my norm. I need air.”
11:55 AM, Brecksville Reservation
The pandemic has driven Joe back to this park recently, finding hour-long gaps in his days that would have inevitably been taken up by other activities in his pre-COVID schedule. Despite having grown up in the Brecksville area, it’s been so long (decades) since he spent this much time in this park that he’s forgotten its pulse, its own way of marking time. What he notices today: how the leaves of the maples start to unfurl at the beginning of May, right when the bluebells paint themselves across shady patches of low ground miles away, near the river. He sees a blue heron flying high above, its long legs trailing behind, likely seeking fish for its newly hatched young. He notices that Meadows Drive is still blocked off to vehicle traffic, to protect the salamanders. Every spring, at night, the salamanders migrate from their hibernation caves to the same swampy breeding pools their ancestors used. They have been doing this since before there was a Brecksville Reservation and a Meadows Drive, and they’ve continued through a civil war and world wars and great depressions and last century’s version of pandemic, all those other dark episodes that eventually found their ends.
Part 4: Learning how to walk together
12:00 PM - 5:00 PM
12:30 PM, Cleveland State University
A young man in a green cap and gown poses in front of the engineering building. His friend, a young woman dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, takes pictures of him with her phone. He sits on the top of the steps, elbow to knee, and laughs self-consciously. His friend, the photographer, scoops her hand through the air and tells him to move a little to the left.
12:34 PM, Mount Pleasant
A shrine outside the gas station at East 140th Street and Kinsman Avenue honors a homicide victim. It includes two teddy bears, a few artificial flowers and a rain-wrinkled Bible opened to 2 Corinthians 6:18: “And I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
Inside the station, Stephanie is making fresh sandwiches for the lunch crowd when a stranger approaches and asks about the murder. She lowers her mask and points to a back office.
“The detectives are in there right now,” she says.
Five days earlier, Jason, a well-known figure in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, was shot multiple times at 11 p.m. in the gas station parking lot. He was taken to University Hospitals, where he was pronounced dead. Witnesses said Jason and the shooting suspect were in separate vehicles, and the suspect’s car was found after it crashed into a tree a mile away. Police found a gun in the car but not the driver.
Ryan grew up in Mount Pleasant. He’s known Jason and his family since he was in kindergarten. As a kid, Ryan would ride his bike a few blocks down to Jason's home, where he and his friends would play games in the street, including football and any-bounce, a baseball hybrid sport. Ryan long ago moved out of the neighborhood, although he still has a rental property there.
Yes, he says, it’s always a shock when someone you know is killed. But homicide itself? On Kinsman? Not so much.
“I don’t think murder in the neighborhood is surprising anymore,” Ryan says. “I hate to be blunt about it, but it’s almost expected.”
12:55 PM, Wallace Lake
Terianne parks at Berea’s Wallace Lake, where the quarrymen used to cut and haul huge unwieldy blocks of sought-after sandstone for only a few dollars a day. Now, she watches a man pull a peanut out of his pocket, shell it, and toss it to a nearby squirrel. Several older men are gathered around him talking and laughing and petting the friendly collie mix that belongs to one of them. A mother with three little ones carries a plastic laundry basket of toys to the lake’s sandy beach, her children dressed in jackets and warm hats as they toddle around carrying buckets and sand shovels.
1:00 PM, Olmsted Falls
Everyone is hungry. Sujata is ordering Pizza from Uncle Al’s because Wok-of-the-Falls, their favorite carryout place, is not picking up (even though Google-maps says they are open).
“Can I have a vegetable calzone and a large pizza with pineapple, mushrooms, and pepperoni?”
“Sure, what would be the name on the order?”
“Sujata.” Spelling out each letter by habit. “S.U.J.A.T.A”
“Okay Fujata, it would be 20 minutes”
“Well it is not F...err…“ Sujata wants to say ‘FU’ but realizes how it might sound. “It is S as in Sam.”
Laughter. The guy is transmitting orders to the cook, but is not on mute, “That is sooo weird-ass…is that Indian or something...haha.” Sujata hears a girl laughing. She girl’s voice saying, “Dork…haha.” It is unclear who she is referring to.
Sujata has a mask on when she picks up from the curb-side but forgets to bring her own pen to sign. In spite of the belittling conversation she heard she gives them a good tip. But she can’t resist saying “I am here to pick up for the weird-ass name Sujata.”
1:01 PM, Solon
Robin’s mother contracted polio when she was a toddler, the virus hitching its way from person to person, or floating in water until it found her three-year-old body in a tiny coal mining camp in
Kentucky. It wrapped itself around a piece of her spinal cord and paralyzed her left arm and leg. The newly acquired skill of walking had to be learned again, and the use of her arm. She was lucky that the only real vestige of the disease is a bony shoulder, where her deltoid muscle wasted away, and an inability to lift her arm over her head.
What went through her grandmother’s mind as she and her children were quarantined in a tiny bedroom in the shack where they lived? Only one person would come by to visit with Mammaw through the window screen as she sat with Robin’s mom day after day. Extended family had to come and take care of the other three kids, the food, and housekeeping while Pappaw was in the mine. The United States had a new president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the world was in limbo between world wars, in the financial and human ruin of a depression. Her grandparents lived in a place where the Great Depression would not begin to lift for decades. Uncertainty was the air they breathed.
Robin is sure the birds were singing in that holler 85 years ago when her mother was sick and isolated. The wind blew, warm or cold at the dictates of whatever season and weather pattern was dominant. The sun still lay a blanket of warmth on whatever it touched. And people, in their ancient and grooved habits of survival, got on with life.
Today, walking her Solon neighborhood under a half-gray, half-blue sky, Robin’s world is comfortable. But still, there is a fog of anxiety, not knowing how this will turn out. How everyone will survive and go on without the ones who have been taken from this earth by the virus. Will parts of us be atrophied and weak? Will everyone have to re-learn how to walk together?
1:04 PM, Tremont
It's a brief trek from the house to freedom. Two parents, three kids and two orange howling hounds follow the path to a place that has become magical: The Mounds.
They watched them rise as dirt and rocks, along the Towpath Trail, mimicking their earthen Native American forebearers or perhaps piles of salt or ore that rise upriver. Then, as they sprouted like giant Chia Pets.
From the top of the tallest of the urban mountains, a person can see for miles in all directions—the downtown skyline through a haze, the steel plant that never sleeps. The first time the family hoofed to the top, the littlest girl spun around until she fell down dizzy and declared she was going to have her birthday party right there, chocolate cupcakes and all. At Christmastime, a small lit tree was placed there, anchored with wires, dotted with ornaments and battery operated lights. On July 4th weekend, they could see a dozen fireworks displays create a panorama of sparkles in all directions.
But during this time, the time of quarantine, is when they have grown to relish The Mounds most.
Today it is windy, and they just finished school for the day—online classes for the teenager, paper packets lined with fractions and sight word sentences for the kiddos.
As the destination comes into view the dogs are unleashed. Auggie bolts so quickly his hind legs threaten to bypass him. Pico, the old man, lazily stops to munch on blades of fresh grass. There’s a flattened trail snaking to the top of the tallest mound, and they head up single file as the sun plays hide and seek behind pillow-ish clouds.
Why do you like it up here? A question to a kindergartner. “I don’t know. I just feel happy.”
What about you? A question to a pouting, obviously annoyed teenager. “It’s not our house.”
1:47 PM, Cuyahoga Heights
Bam! The sound of railroad cars being suddenly pulled taught echoes through the valley as a train starts moving slowly across the massive trestle spanning the Cuyahoga River. Walkers quickly glance to the sky as bicyclists on Towpath Trail whiz by anglers trying their luck in the canal.
Victor isn’t catching anything. He is not complaining.
“I’m enjoying this day in the sun,” he says. “Aren’t you?
Victor speaks with an accent that hints at both where he was born (New Jersey) and where he spent most of his childhood (Puerto Rico). He is sitting on a plastic bucket as he casts his line into the Ohio and Erie Canal, which once connected Lake Erie to the Ohio River. Today it connects people like Victor, who lives in Cleveland’s Lee-Harvard neighborhood, to the outdoors.
Victor has not worked since being laid off March 23. The hotel where he is employed has 364 rooms. Only 20 of them are now occupied due to the coronavirus pandemic. He’s waiting for unemployment benefits.
“I know everything is in God’s hands,” he says, smiling. “I do think you have to keep things safe not just for you but for everyone around you. It is too soon to be reopening things. I think they are risking people’s lives. And if you don’t have life, you don’t need money.”
Headed home are retail manager Joe and his daughter Paige. Paige is carrying a net holding a pair of 12-inch rainbow trout, and she is not at all ready to call an end to this father-daughter fishing trip. “She’s grumpy right now because I said we have to leave,” Joe says.
Victor is staying, even though his luck hasn’t changed.
He tugs at his stocking cap and tells a visitor he believes some good has come from the pandemic. He thinks people appreciate each other more and recognize their own mortality.
“It has opened our eyes,” he says.
1:48 PM, Independence
Ellen returns to her desk at the immigration law office. It is covered with files. This client, Ellen notices, is the same age as her little brother. Lived here 20 years, has six kids, a construction job. His story is so similar to so many others, similar but different from her own, from her little brother’s. The photos he’s provided to prove to the officer that his family is real - bona fide in legal speak - show baptisms and birthdays, a selfie with his wife at the lake. Ellen looks out the window and sees a prehistoric looking Blue Heron cross the sky headed toward somewhere with frogs to catch.
2:00 PM, Shaker Heights
Dr. Amy Acton, Director of Ohio Department of Health, reports that Ohio has 24,777 confirmed cases, and 1,357 deaths. Dr. Acton stresses the value of every Ohioan creating safe communities by physically distancing and wearing masks. Acton closes with a quote from the Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan: “Wearing a mask is a sign of responsibility, respect, and economic encouragement and a sign that I will do my small part.”
2:00 PM, Solon
“Oy, Levi, look. Mendel really needs a haircut before we leave the house today,” Chanee says.
“Okay, how about we give him one after the upsherin?” Levi responds.
When a Jewish boy turns three, he has his first haircut, called an upsherin. In Missoula, Montana, their cousin’s son had recently turned three. Usually they cut the hair on his birthday, but because the 49 days of the Omer is a mourning period, they had to wait until Lag BaOmer, when they weren’t in mourning. Family and friends normally gather together and snip a piece of the boy’s hair. Because everyone is quarantined, though, a Zoom call is the next best way to celebrate.
Chanee combs Mendel’s hair with her fingers. “Good idea, he needs one.”
“Hey boys, come sit down for the Zoom!”
Levi opens Zoom for the second time that day. On camera, their nephew stands tall and proud in a pink t-shirt, white and blue tallis over his shirt, and a turquoise kippah on his head. His mom takes the first snip of hair while his older brother enjoys an orange lollipop behind him, grinning.
“Mazel tov,” Chanee and Levi cheer. They all sing as they watch more locks fall to the floor.
When they finish the Zoom upsherin, Chanee’s favorite part of the day arrives. “Mendel, come here, it’s time for a haircut.” Mendel sits down beside her, and she trims the ends of his hair. He will look so cute now before they began the final festivity of the day—the Lag BaOmer drive by celebration.
2:02 PM, Puritas RTA Train Station
Three cars occupy the parking lot. Three. Susan masks up and boards the train. No more than two passengers get on or off at any of the stops. She gets off at the Tower City station.
Tower City used to be called Terminal Tower until someone figured out how creepy that sounded. Today, the station does look terminal. It’s apocalyptically quiet. The backlit informational kiosks are devoid of any messages. She takes an empty escalator out of the belly of the building up to street level and steps outside, where pigeons far outnumber people.
2:09 PM, Lakewood
The weather is beautiful today, cool but sunny. As Vincent goes into his front yard to mow his lawn, he notices that someone—presumably a friendly neighbor or passerby—has tidied up the books in the Little Free Library in the corner of his front yard. One book’s cover has been placed in the library’s window, as if to highlight its message for the next visitor. The cover features a big red heart, and when Vincent looks closer, he sees the title: The I Love You Book. He smiles and starts up the lawnmower.
2:17 PM, Westlake
As Laura pulls up to Dean’s Greenhouse in Westlake, her phone keeps buzzing. It’s been that way the whole ride over from her home in Parma. She knows why, but hasn’t wanted to look while driving. It’s the end. Just 45 minutes ago, the Plain Dealer News Guild—of which she had been a member for 20 years and officer for three years—had ceased to exist as the last four reporters on staff were laid off. She knew it was coming, but it is still hard news to swallow.
As she pulls into a spot in the crowded lot, Laura finally looks at her phone; the screen is filled with Twitter notifications, Facebook posts and texts. She doesn’t get back to any. Instead, she dons her mask, gets out of her Nissan Rogue and gets in line at the table set up near the front of the parking lot, six feet behind the customer in front of her. Though she has been trying to save money after being laid off a month earlier, she has found something worth buying: tomatoes and herbs and salvia and geraniums. A portion of the proceeds will go to support the horses at Valley Riding in the Cleveland Metroparks. The horses, like the rest of Cleveland, are now unemployed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Lessons and therapeutic riding were Valley Riding’s main source of income, the way they made money to feed their animals. Some have been sent off of other farms to be cared for during the pandemic, but many are still in the stables. Horses like Bumper and Merlin and Dude and Peanut.
After a brief wait, an older couple wearing masks brings out her flower order. Laura places it in her trunk and heads out, her phone still buzzing. She decides to wait until she gets home to see what people are saying. But the first thing she does when she gets out of her car and walks to the front door is to hang up her new “Who Knew Orleans” basket, a gorgeous affair bursting with red and yellow and salmon flowers. As she looks up, she smiles. There is beauty in every day.
3:00 PM, Middleburg Heights
Nina finishes her application for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, available now for freelancers and 1099 workers like herself. Now she waits, and hopes. It is sunny again, but when she opens her patio door, it’s too cold. A blue jay lands, looks at her, and flies away. She wonders what it means; what anything means.
3:00 PM, Bedford Heights
Leslie’s mother is ready, and so are the cupcakes; packed in previously used to-go containers and bagged for easy delivery. Both women masked for the task at hand venture on their way, driving Mrs. Price’s car because it has been sitting too long. The first cupcake drop doesn’t go quite as planned: Leslie has no intention of getting out of the car and being reminded of the pain in her knee, while Brenda comes to the apartment lobby dressed only in a robe and a mask, balancing herself with a cane, waving for Leslie to come in. Eventually Leslie does. The remaining two deliveries go off without a hitch or the need to exit the car, masks donned as precaution and keeping the exchanges brief with air kisses and a resounding THANK YOU FOR THINKING OF ME – HOPE TO SEE YOUR FACE SOON!
3:09 PM, Old Brooklyn
Emily comes home with a birthday cake and Bloody Mary ingredients from Giant Eagle. Today would have been Jackie and Emily’s grandpa’s 99th birthday. He passed away last July. He was a master storyteller and was known to start them off by saying “Incidentally…” Then he’d talk for at least an hour without taking a breath about growing up in the Depression or fighting in World War II. The cake says, “Incidentally, let’s have some cake!” The sisters are Zooming with the rest of their family tonight for a toast to him (Bloody Marys were his favorite drink).
4:07 PM, Lakewood
David and his brother take a break from sorting through boxes. Their mother died in January and the plans they’d made to sell her things, her house, had been put on hold when the pandemic started. Now his brother and family have driven all the way from the Twin Cities in one day to stay at that house, and go over their mother’s things.
In the backyard, in the garden behind their mom’s garage, they stand apart and drink beer and talk about family. David’s Mom grew up here, in her house in Lakewood, one that had been in his family since 1940. Eighty years.
A neighbor comes over to the fence to say hi. David and his brother are sorry/not sorry about not shaking hands. The neighbor tells them he remembers the day their mom came over shortly after he and his wife had moved in, with photos of their house, the neighbors', from back in the day.
Through the afternoon, David and his brother go through photos, so many photos. Some very old photos.
He misses her every day, but he is grateful she isn’t part of this.
4:48 PM, Shaker Heights
Melissa, from eight feet away, watches a daddy and daughter feeding the fish from the bridge at Lower Shaker Lake. The little girl, maybe three or four, wears a wool cap with two pom-poms that stick up like the ears of a woodland creature. Melissa wonders if the girl is young enough that she won’t remember this as being the odd time it is, unless of course this time continues for longer than we are hoping/expecting.
Part 5: A time where stillness is possible
5:00 PM - 12:00 AM
5:37 PM, Detroit Shoreway
During a neighborhood walk, Mary realizes there is a ghost sign painted on the rear brick wall of a building she’s passed on countless occasions. She has wondered about the structure since moving here, as the façade seems commercial, though she understands its current use to be residential. Turning the corner of West 54th Street onto Franklin Boulevard, she notices decorative tile spelling out “English” at the foot of the building’s entryway. Upon returning home, a quick search reveals it was once a pharmacy.
Mary perches on her couch and wonders if she will once again hear someone practicing what seems to be a trumpet this evening. Several times within the past couple of weeks, the brassy notes of the instrument ring out for a spell after sundown. The source remains a mystery. When she’s ventured outside to investigate under the guise of taking out the trash, the sound has ceased.
6:10 PM, Rocky River Reservation
The trails near the Cottonwood Picnic Area in the Rocky River Reservation have been brightened with bluebells. A carefully carved bench overlooking the river, all light and babble this evening, shows a comforting sort of intention. Here in the forest there are no masks, no reminders, only lush and beauty and earth and birdsong.
6:25 PM, Lyndhurst
Jackie pulls into the MarLou Shoes parking lot, where about 15 cars are lined up for the birthday parade. Her coworkers, Jen and Shannon, are standing outside their balloon-decked cars. It’s the first time she’s seen them in more than two months. They greet each other from a safe distance and Jackie tapes the signs to the windows of her Corolla. Then, the procession of cars makes its way towards Erica’s house. One of the signs flies off Jackie’s window as she turns onto Erica’s street. Masking tape was not the best choice. A car blares “CAKE CAKE CAKE CAKE.” A group of deer have conveniently gathered outside Erica’s house, and her roommate has led her outside to look at them. Erica is in shock when she sees the cars start filing by with posters, streamers and balloons. There are happy tears.
6:32 PM, Lakewood
Almost every day since she’s started working from home, Becki has seen a couple who lives in the building next door go outside. She can’t make out much about them from her apartment—maybe they’re in their early 60s?—but around 5:30, they typically emerge with a pair of red canvas folding chairs, set up the chairs in their building’s backyard, and sit down to talk while they stare out at the lake. Becki has started looking forward to seeing them in the same way that she’s started looking forward to other events that include little to no actual socializing: being greeted and encouraged to “Stay healthy!” by the smiling, gray-haired powerwalker she sees around her neighborhood, getting a peace sign from a mask-wearing gentleman when they each veer to opposite sides of the walking path at Edgewater, and reading every encouraging message that neighborhood kids have written in chalk on the sidewalk.
The red chair couple doesn’t come outside today, which probably isn’t a big deal, but it leaves Becki feeling a tiny bit disappointed. Even though they’re likely unaware of her creeping on their afternoon ritual, witnessing their peacefulness, their enjoyment of the outdoors, and their togetherness adds a little bit of happiness to her daily routine. Hopefully they’ll be back tomorrow.
7:20 PM, Chagrin Blvd.
Jordan calls her mom who is enjoying a third happy hour from her mason jar of Manhattans, a mother’s day gift from her sister Jenny. They had wrapped it and delivered it to the guard booth of her elder living community, along with a bouquet. Her mother, who is 87, admits to being “a bit tipsy.” She deserves this, having been cooped up even longer than most.
7:30 PM, Cleveland Heights
The fat woodchuck who probably lives under the porch goes running when Ellen opens the back door. Darting to the garage he squeezes under the door, it seems an impossibly small squeeze for his fat body but he slides right under and turns around to peek out, his black nose visible as he observes her like a nosey neighbor peeking through the curtains. The yard squishes under your feet out here. If you listen closely you can hear the air finding its way back into the earth after being compressed by your feet.
8:01 PM, Cleveland Heights
One news story from yesterday haunts Renée: the New York Times reported that children in Neustrelitz, Germany are returning to school. They have testing. A beautiful young girl with mermaid hair (do they all look like that there?) stood before a mirror, pondering a long blue swab poised just below her nose. Another picture of a white school corridor, empty and pristine, with open red classroom doors—made her think of blank-faced soldiers ready to protect and defend. Children are returning to school in Germany, Australia, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
Hope flared hot in her chest. Will her son be allowed to attend summer school? He has withdrawn into an imaginary world to cope with anxiety and she fears she cannot pull him out.
But today that hope has been extinguished to at best a warm ember. She has spoken with several parents who “just don’t see it happening.”
The truth is: Renée doesn’t see anything in particular happening.
She is exiled in the present tense, with no past to draw upon to imagine the future. Which is why the flowers, the bird song, and the sunshine tie her to the world as nothing else can. She is alive and a lust for summer heat runs through her veins, and that’s all she can know for now.
8:21 PM, Lakefront Park
Vince notices the sun as it races towards the horizon. From his house, he can only see it as it descends over the Enterprise Center at Glenville. Some days he goes to the lake to see it kiss Lake Erie. On the 12th day of the month of May, it needs to be documented. Within minutes, he is standing on lakeshore rocks staring through his lens at the real corona.
He encounters a young lady who is observing the sun as a chilled breeze wafts across the waters. Moments into their conversation after taking the photos she says, “I needed this.” He asks if she is going through something. She responds affirmatively. His advice: envision the place you desire to be. Meditate on it before you go to sleep.
Tears follow. She tells him there was a reason for their encounter. He’s thankful he could offer encouragement. It made her day. The sun disappears.
9:00 PM, Olmsted Falls
Coming across a large, fully intact although dead Mayfly in her baby kale forces Linda to take a minute and re-evaluate her commitment to eating organic food. Eat local. Eat fresh. That is the motto. Vegetables and fruits grown nearby will always be fresher, tastier, and provide more nutrients, so local organic gardens are always the best choice. Especially now, when everyone needs to build their health and aim for that “herd immunity.” She knows that Mayflies exist on Big Ag fields too, though maybe not in the same numbers or with such robust sizes. Big Ag mayflies are probably mutants, though, poisoned and still flying. No, organic food is needed now more than ever. She tosses the Mayfly carcass into the compost.
10:00 PM, Old Brooklyn
Ria turns on the kettle, then brushes her teeth, dons pajamas and a shawl. With bedtime tea on the nightstand she settles in for the night with some ancient goddess fiction.
10:09 PM, Old Brooklyn
Jackie and Emily listen to a recording they have of their cousin interviewing Grandpa about his experiences in WWII. They laugh and cry and eat cake. Van Geaux licks the frosting. It’s the best day Jackie has had in a long time. She feels loved and connected and hopeful.
10:15 PM, Larchmere
Getting ready for bed, Harriett accidentally catches sight of herself in the mirror. Something’s amiss, aside from the bags under the eyes. Oh, it’s the moss creeping onto her cheeks, threatening to infiltrate her ears. Picking up a pair of scissors, she shears those sideburns as close as you can get with ordinary scissors, and as recklessly as a child with a vision. There, that’s better. She can weather another month without a haircut.
10:30 PM, Lorain
Gail thinks that, always, in the background of life these days, there is the possibility of sickness, of landing in hospital, in the morgue. And yet, in many ways, this is a time of grace, an in-breathing, a time where stillness is possible, where thoughts roam free.
10:50 PM, Concord Township
Kelly turns off the lights in the family room. Max, Toby and Deeter are asleep.
On her way to bed she thinks about how many times since March, while working from home and now furloughed, she’s said, “I wouldn’t have seen that if I’d been at my work office…”
Evening came and morning followed. The 51st day.
Edited by Matt Weinkam. Contributors in order: Ray McNiece, Haley Steinhardt, Deborah Moore, Annmarie Kelly-Harbaugh, Shelley Andrews-Hinders, Brandi Larsen, Deborah Moore, Carie Kemenyes, Rita Kueber, Melissa Burovac, Cara Byrne, Anita Dacanay, Mathew Huested, Jacqi Loewy, Jing Lauengco, Susan Beech, Marion Starling Boyer, Bruce Checefsky, Laura Grace Weldon, Lori Ashyk, Lisa Judge, Leslie Price, Zoe Felber, Andrew Watkins, Jewon Woo, Dana McSwain, Harriett Logan, Sue Botos, Barbara G. Howell, Ken Wood, Joe Kapitan, Megan Wagner, Ken Wood, Terianne Hannibal, Sujata Lakhe, Robin Caruthers, Rachel Dissell, Ken Wood, Ellen Euclide, Sheila Alease Ferguson, Zoe Felber, Susan Oelbracht, Vincent O’Keefe, Laura DeMarco, Nina McCollum, Leslie Price, Jackie Mitchell, David Hansen, Melissa Hintz, Mary Defer, Lisa Judge, Jackie Mitchell, Becki Robards, Jordan Brown, Ellen Euclide, Renée Sentilles, Vince Robinson, Linda New, Ria TerraNova-Webb, Jackie Mitchell, Harriett Logan, Gail Nyoka, and Kelly Donahue.