Here in a Jiaxing hotel room for one more week, I am studying patience. My second quarantine site has everything I need and most of what I want. One friend called this my “forced writing retreat,” though I have actually been drawing more than writing. Our middle son, Dylan, compared my suddenly narrowed life to that of a cloistered nun. I look out into the world from my 21st floor window, but I am not part of it. From this angle I can see down into some long courtyards between a block of row houses. The view reminds me a little of Richard Scarry’s Busytown. From up here I see tiny people riding motor scooters, and I imagine them with cat faces. Construction workers in hardhats might have the face of a bulldog. Tonka trucks and Matchbox cars run up and down the roads. I chat with my fellow quarantiners about our view using a phone app. Yesterday I discovered that we could use the basketball hoop below our window as a sundial and predicted that at high noon the shadow of its pole would point to center court. I was not far off: it was dead on at 11:48. Every day I notice something new, and I can’t believe I missed it until now. Today it was what may be magnolia trees blooming in the courtyard, and in a row on the busy road that borders the pretty park across the way, trees full of white, exuberant blossoms.
I have seen a few of the birds with striking black and white markings that I saw by the canal at the last place, but they don’t get close enough for a real look or a picture. They strut below, around the basketball court. Yesterday a white moth fluttered higher and higher and came close to my neighbor’s window, bringing me joy. I watch the busy activity of the construction below. They are pouring concrete into the ditches they were digging just a few days ago, and a neat pattern of squares and triangles is taking shape in the dirt. How many times have I mistaken the sound of the jackhammer for the knock on my door announcing my meals or my temperature checks? When they get behind schedule, the workers dig through the night—headlights illuminating a bright apron of light in front of the tiny backhoes.
In the dark, the buildings turn on a light show—chasing patterns of lights making bright silhouettes—of dolphins jumping, ballerinas fluttering their legs across a stage, colorful clouds passing across a sky at sunset. How many times a day and night do I stop at the curtain to gaze out the window? I take good advice from Dedric, who told me that naps are important. I take them religiously every afternoon.
I’m happy that I thought ahead a little, about this time of retirement from the world. I brought sock yarn, of course, but then I thought I needed a basket in my little room to keep my knitting. I had packed a crochet hook, and when I realized that my meals are delivered in plastic bags, I found my little scissors in my suitcase and cut the bags into loops. The bags are the crunchy, transparent type that makes good “plarn” (plastic yarn) for crocheting. It works into a pearlescent white. In the evenings my drink comes in a white bag with deep crimson writing. Those alternate, so the red comes up in spots. My sister asked me if it was roses when I showed her on our videochat, and if you squint, you could imagine those red blotches as roses. Every meal makes my basket a little taller, and every evening makes my socks a little longer. I just turned the heel on one, and I may be finished with the other heel in the next few days. If I finish too soon, I’ll have to find something else to keep me busy.
Wait in Beauty; Construct Peace; Blessed Be
Mary Lucille Hays is visiting China. If you’re missing your weekly dose of Birdland Letters in the News Gazette, you can still read them every week in the Piatt County Journal Republican. Consider subscribing to support your small-town newspaper. You can see pictures about this week’s post on Instagram @BirdlandLetters. Mary can be reached at email@example.com or via snail mail care of the Journal Republican, 118 E. Washington St., Monticello, IL 61856. She wants to thank her friends for writing and will answer you all soon.