A Pandemic Pilgrimage by Kathryn Holzman

Kathryn Holzman’s fiction has appeared in online literary magazines and print anthologies. She is the author of a collection of short fiction, FLATLANDERS, Shire Press 2019. Her first novel REAL ESTATE is being published by Propertius Press in Fall, 2020. Links to her work can be found at kathrynholzman.com.

A Pandemic Pilgrimage

Last year, my screen porch was lush with unassuming house plants guarding towering pot plants grown from seed. Orb spiders built elaborate webs in the dark corners of my ceiling. When the thunderstorms broke out, the filament trembled but never broke down. We watched lightning strike the horizon and were not afraid.

This year, we use the porch to store our rubber gloves, disinfectants, and a box of quarantined groceries. If this year can be considered a pilgrimage, the evil forces are just outside my door.

My mentor, eternally optimistic, posts her status: Weren’t these supposed to be our golden years? Every pilgrimage requires a wise, older mentor to offer guidance to the hero, but mine is sequestered in her garden, posting pictures on Facebook of blooms flourishing in her green house. Only the full blooms. They wither away within days, but she withholds this information from me.

I suggest we cancel all pilgrimages for the time being. Too many hands to shake, too many difficulties to overcome. Nobody trusts a hero who stays to himself and no woman feels safe traveling alone. Besides, every time you cross a border, the governors require that you sequester for fourteen days.

But you answer: “this is fiction; there is always a way.”

If you insist, I’ll head out on this pilgrimage. It will have to be digital. Each pilgrim in their square on the computer screen, a hint of their hiding place visible behind them.

When the focus switches to the speaker, I see somebody peeking out behind a screen. A child? A magician? There’s my magic.

At least we have each other,” my partner and I tell each other, on those days when we’re not fighting. This will have to be my element of romance. Longevity trumps passion if you take the long view.

As for a hero, I am stumped right from the start. Even with magic, I can’t conger a vision. Who is my hero? What does he need? (She must have a flaw.) The earth? The first responders? Greta, blinded by passion? A shaman, a physician? The check-out clerk at the grocery store behind her plastic shield.

No one steps up. Not a single volunteer.

The villain, the obstacles, are easier to name, but peripheral. I make my list: the virus, the evil one with the MAGA hat, the politicians, the corporations, the corrupt judges, and racists, yes, my yogi friend, the oligarchs.

With nothing more in my arsenal, I suppose I must now begin.

Unmasked, I tremble as I open the front door, scanning the block outside for pedestrians, prepared to keep a safe social distance, gloves and wipes in my backpack. By necessity, I travel alone.