Home CoronaLife CoronaBlog Death, Syringes, Instinct, Survival, and the Socially Distant Easter Bunny

Death, Syringes, Instinct, Survival, and the Socially Distant Easter Bunny

Yes, My Week was a Rollercoaster

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The pungent odor of rotting flesh has been overwhelming the shed behind my house. I leave the door open to air it out with hopes that the smell of the hidden bodies doesn’t arouse suspicion from the neighbors.

I didn’t want to kill them, but I had to. I let them live as long as I could. But it was time. So, at my direction, Jim slipped them poison.

Then, just when I had just gotten over the guilt, she died. This time, the death was not intentional. And my heart broke, just as it always does when the Grim Reaper steals joy from my life.

That morning, she was right there. Full of life. Vibrant. Healthy. Then all of a sudden, she was gone; just a stiffening, lifeless shell of what she once was.

But I didn’t cry. I don’t even know if I can cry anymore. I used to cry all the time, but that was years ago. I cried when I was nervous. I cried when I got a flu shot. I cried when the lion caught up with the wildebeest on Wild Planet.

Now, not so much. It’s a different world with different circumstances. This new wild planet requires strength. Strength to turn off the news, take a deep breath, and do what you have to do to mentally and emotionally survive.

We wrapped her body in trash bags and carried to the shed with the others. Tomorrow we will bury her body in the Everglades.

* * *

It’s 6 a.m. Friday morning, and because teachers are now on four-day work weeks, it’s my weekend. But I can’t sleep. The appeal of getting up before the sun to enjoy the stillness of the darkness before anything strange could happen overwhelmed me as I was staring at the ceiling reflecting on the rollercoaster that was my week.

Last Saturday, we had our groceries delivered for the very first time. Six days earlier, we had ordered groceries through Instacart (God knows what that means; online apps are Jim’s department). And just like a gruelingly slow magic show that’s you’re forced to watch even if you’ve got better things to do, the former bartender-turned-grocery-delivery girl showed up on Saturday five hours after the originally scheduled delivery time. (Whatever. We’re on CoronaKeys time, which means “Keys time” times confusion, plus quarantine, divided by the exponential ratio quotient of the new world adjustment factor. So five hours late was just about right, if not “early” in CoronaTime. Who really knows?)

Then came Easter Sunday. But, probably like several more holidays to come, this was no ordinary Easter. This year, the Easter Bunny had been ordered not to spread Corona from house to house, hiding all the handled eggs. Plus, the stores were (and still are) out of eggs, so we had given a dozen and a half chicken eggs to our neighbor so her grandkids could paint them… or whatever kids do to eggs on Easter. She graciously traded me, giving me some monster zucchini and cucumber in return.

I liked the ancient-school/CoronaWorld, pilgrim/indian trading system. 1620: I give you copper; you give me beads. 2020: I give you Easter eggs; you give me overgrown zucchini… from a socially acceptable distance and with latex gloves. It was cool.

So Easter took a little creativity. If this was a normal Easter, Jim and I might have gone to Snapper’s for mimosas and brunch by boat, then chased the sunshine into the bay until it disappeared beyond the horizon. But nothing is normal anymore.

Still, I had to make our first Easter together special. I woke up early and designed an “egg” hunt with 10 clues that eventually lead Jim to my Avalanche where I had packed beach towels and a cooler with champagne and brunch for a picnic by the bay.

Finding the picnic location, though, was a task. Every beach and restaurant with access to the water was closed. We drove the entire length of Islamorada until we turned around at Anne’s Beach in the middle of the trafficless road. We had almost given up, when Jim thought of the one place that might not be roped off. And he was right.

So we enjoyed our picnic brunch of scrambled egg burritos on the dock at the O.V., listening to ’80s music on our portable Bluetooth and playing with the mangrove snapper, parrotfish, and even a small reef tip shark weaving among the pilings and waiting for our leftovers.

Then, while enjoying the fresh egg burritos and the Vitamin D warmth on my skin, Van Halen’s “Jump” came on the BlueTooth.

I stood up, took off my bunny ears, and in a cannonball pose, I launched myself upward then plunged into the warm salt water.

And just like that… holding my breath… with water above me, below me, around me… with salt on my skin and sunshine above me… my life in the Florida Keys was perfect again. And, on this Easter Sunday, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, I emerged from the water reborn from a world of death into one of salvation and new life… full of hope and promise…

…for about an hour.

* * *

When we got home, we noticed that Pearl looked sick. Pearl is my small, fuzzy, white Silkie chicken with big, feathery feet who has been the entertainment of the chicken coop for us since we got her and three other egg layers from our hen dealer a couple months ago… pre-Coronavirus. She was being lethargic and even laying her head down and spreading her wings to look like just a big, white marshmallow puff in the nest.

We brought her inside, thinking it could be the heat, but she still wasn’t herself. Braving the stench of the dead rats in our shed, Jim grabbed an animal cage and brought it inside for her while I made an appointment to go to the mobile vet in Key Largo on Tuesday afternoon.

I don’t care how much it costs, I told myself. I just can’t lose her.

* * *

The workdays Monday and Tuesday were long. I kept busy teaching from my computer in my now-home office. But I was worried about my little, fluffy ball of joy.

On Tuesday afternoon, we loaded up Pearl and her cage in my truck and headed north with our masks and latex gloves, not knowing what to expect.

When we finally found the vet’s mobile van (it had moved), we weren’t sure what to do, and the vet was with another patient. So, watching for movement from the door or from within the van, we put on our masks and gloves and waited in the truck like bandits staking out their next hit. (We actually had a power-walker pass by and do a double take and laugh, relaying from afar that she thought we were about to rob somebody.)

When it was our turn to enter the vet van, we tried to keep our distance, but it was to no avail. We resigned ourselves to the fact that we were going to be up close and personal with Dr. Claudio, and focused on the health of our sweet, little bird.

Dr. Claudio treated Pearl for worms, then gave her antibiotics and other medicine so she could once again become the vivacious watch guard of the coop, squawking at doves and anything that could threaten less nibbles when I opened the doors for the hens’ afternoon freedom hour to roam the yard. After treating her, he showed me how to administer her daily medication with syringes, which I have done faithfully now for two days.

We left with lighter minds. Our baby was going to be OK in a week or so. There would be no more death in our lives, I thought as a tinge of guilt surfaced from ordering a hit last month on the rats chewing holes and defecating on everything from Christmas wrapping paper and car covers to boxes of photos and yard care supplies.

I was right… for about 24 hours this time.

* * *

Yesterday Summer died. Summer was a gorgeous, brownish-gold, black-laced feathered Welsummer hen who laid beautiful brown-speckled eggs. She was the alpha hen, and, from time to time, she wasn’t the nicest of gals. She wasn’t a domineering alpha, more of a lead hen who the others just treated with a reverent respect; any other behavior would result in a swift peck to the head and a lesson learned.

I don’t know why she died. She had laid a masterpiece of an egg just a couple hours earlier. Then shortly before her death, she had been squawking at something outside the coop (since Pearl was now an indoor chicken and Summer had not yet appointed new perimeter security).

So I moved her from the coop and pet her feathers. Her head was cocked to the side, and the claws of her feet had curled inward. With a heavy heart, I examined her to determine what could have killed such a healthy chicken.

Nothing.

I wonder if there’s anything I could have done. My mind swims against the current of a river of “what ifs.” Then I take a deep breath and remember — just like forcing medication down Pearly Pearl’s throat everyday — I just need to do what needs to get done. I swallow my emotions and I focus on gratitude. I am grateful for the time I had with Summer. I am grateful for the eggs she has given us. And most of all, I am grateful Jim is here to help me.

We wrapped her in plastic bags, placed her into a pet carrier, and moved her body to the shed with the dead rats, in hopes that what killed her wouldn’t affect the others in the coop.

Then we socially distanced the two outdoor Silkies from the other hens. I’m not really sure why. We just did. It’s like instinct now; survival means being as isolated as possible. That’s what we’ve been living for the last three or four weeks… has it been a month, now?

I wonder when it will end. I wonder if it ever will.

Dr. Michael Claudio treats Pearl at his mobile vet clinic.
Dr. Michael Claudio, a veterinarian, treats Pearl.