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Tuesday, April 14, 2020


A Collection of Shorts on Close Confidants and Secrets Shared in Public Spaces Now Shuttered as Civil Liberties and Lives Lived in Previously Precarious Situations Ripe with Bitter Herbs that Burn Suddenly Collapse in Ruin. Coffee Shops Close. Close Confidants Cancel. Friend. Help. 

by Jen Schneider

Abortion rights advocates asked the Supreme Court on Saturday night to overturn part of the Texas governor’s sweeping ban on abortions during the coronavirus pandemic—the first of similar restrictions to reach the high court. Texas and several Republican-led states that have long led the legal battle to restrict abortion have sought to cut off access as the health crisis escalated in recent weeks, contending the procedure would drain medical resources. —Politico, April 11, 2020. Graphic: a frame from the comic strip “What We Do In a Crisis” by JB Brager at The Nib.

Three weeks late…

Can you talk? It’s urgent. 
Sure, let’s meet at 2. The usual spot.
Thank you, friend.

Secrets shared around tiny, cluttered wood tables. Laden with initials
etched as markers of time and trust, steaming mugs of cocoa—decaf, 
of course,—circular plates of rectangular toast, and square pats of butter. 
Nearby, glass cases protect cinnamon glazed pastries, petit-fours in pale
pinks, greens, and blues, and everything bagels with smears of chive
and onion cream cheese. Origami folded napkins stacked high. Ready.
All perfectly posed and poised for patrons, confidants, and shared secrets.

Public spaces 
pull necessary truths 
outward in shared spaces 
built of security and safety.

Steam soaked air shields salt-soaked tears and paves a path for pure 
talk. Honest voices pour over real options. Plans. Denim clad legs locked 
to silence shaking knees. Brown eyes close quickly as pent up breath 
releases pressing Truth: I need help. Now. A weekend away, one meant 
to heal wounds and smooth scars, turned soft tissue into hard calluses. 
Weak spots and weaknesses for lost laughter and sentimental talk, yield 
decisions with consequences. My regular clock stopped ticking. New life beats.

Now I know. I am in trouble. With bills already unpaid and tempers
that flare daily, I need help. A life in fear of daily taunts, weekly affronts,
and constant slights is a life mine own but not one I choose for the life 
that brews within when the capacity without is full.

As words whimper and fade, secret codes speak clearly. Pointer finger 
taps twice for Yes. Ring finger taps once for No.

Code conveyed on coffee-stained napkins as speakers stream classic rock 
tunes and patron chatter fuels and fires blankets that shield fresh wounds.

Have you told him? Yes. 
What did he say? No.
Are you sure? Yes.
I’ll go with you. 
Thank you, friend.

Three weeks later...

Can you meet? Please. 
I can’t. Nor can you. 
Are you safe? Can we meet online?
Let’s try. Thank you, friend.

Secrets mouthed over cluttered linoleum tabletop piled high with envelopes 
hosting bills overdue and pot-filled sink backdrops. Dog howls and television 
talk filter through climate-controlled air. Shadows loom and linger in adjacent 
room out of view—beyond reach and touch.

Private spaces 
push necessary truths 
inward in shared spaces 
ripe of insecurity and fear

Fingers fiddle chipped coffee cup—a gift from years prior—as laptop screens 
twitch and glitch. Friendly face emerges in pixelated view. Fingers lock and unlock 
in solitary fashion. Seek fodder, find fear. Newfound fears simmer like the skinned potatoes that drop, then boil, on the electric stove. Naked. Alone. Words mouthed 
in hushed whispers. When words endanger, secret codes speak clearly. 
Right eye blinks twice for Yes. Once for No

Procedures deemed no longer urgent as domains of urgency morph 
into spheres set for others to determine. Appointments stalled then paused.
Now ceased. Fears of drained medical resources drain safety nets—and sanity. 
Office shuttered. Governor said No.

Wait. What? Say that again. I can’t hear you.
Drained safety. Drained sanity. Don’t know what else to do.

Messages flick across digital screens. Internet connections also unstable. 
Now lost. Faces freeze. Blink. Blip. Disappear. Shadows from rooms 
adjacent loom larger. Closer. Close. Here. 

Three o’clock. Today.

As thoughts and lives beat on—consumed with an unplanned and uncertain 
future—the usual turns extraordinary and days marked by patterns etched 
in previously fine-turned moves and moods—turn unpredictable, close 
confidants and coffee shop camaraderie turn essential though forbidden.

Civil liberties in question. 
Threads fray as ropes tighten. 
Throats, Bellies, Hearts ache. Help.

Jen Schneider is an educator, attorney, and writer. She lives, writes, and works in small spaces throughout Philadelphia. Recent work appears in The Popular Culture Studies Journal, Bat City Review, Zingara Poetry Review, Streetlight Magazine, Chaleur Magazine, LSE Review of Books, and other literary and scholarly journals.