In a normal time, Kassandra would take her friend Louise into her arms. Enfold her in a warm, sturdy hug, letting her tears soak the shoulder of Kassandra’s paint-spattered sweatshirt.
This summer like no other, Kassandra has to restrain herself, keep her arms to her sides. She hugs herself, unconsciously mirroring what she wants to offer her friend.
“No,” Kassandra says, after hearing Louise mention her sister Penelope’s name. “No.”
“It was so fast.” Louise’s voice is flat through her fabric mask. “I saw her right before they put her on the ventilator. They let me in for a few minutes. We… “ Now her voice breaks. “We’re okay, Pen and me. Between us, I mean. We made it okay.”
“Oh, Louise. I’m so sorry. So, so sorry.”
“I got the call a few hours after I got home. Her lungs…” Louise turns her face away. “I needed to tell someone. I haven’t told Douglas, yet. He’s doing okay, you know, but I don’t want to tell him, not yet. I saw you were here, working, and I’m sorry to interrupt. I just needed to tell someone that my big sister is gone.”
They stand together, a few feet apart, and weep. This moment lasts as long as it takes for the world to turn on its axis, as long as it takes for summer to turn to fall to winter to spring and back to summer, as long as it takes for civilizations to rise and fall and rise again.
Kassandra exhales, long and slow, and shakes her arms gently. “What can I do, Louise? Do you need anything?”
“I just don’t know. What do you do? There won’t be a funeral, or life celebration, or whatever. Nothing to plan, at least not yet. What is there to do? Some paperwork, I imagine. I’m sure the hospital will call about the paperwork.” Louise turns back to Kassandra. “I just don’t know.”
“Then let’s sit here a while, together.” Kassandra pulls two folding chairs into the open space between her garage-studio and Marilyn’s house. We all still call it that, she thinks, absurdly. “Imagine me holding your hand, Louise. Imagine that, because I am.”
The sun emerges to warm them as they sit.