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Karen Regen Tuero


Landscape with Bluebirds by Paul Klee

I went to the Met for the Water exhibit but ended up in Cubism. My husband’s choice. He did his poky scrutiny of trompe-l’œil paintings while I sped through, landing in the sculpture garden. I took a seat and watched a little girl with her father. Her cotton dress and black rubber boots made her look like a middle-aged farmwife.

The guard let me know that our favorite cafe, which was cordoned off, was indeed closed. Sad because I had skipped lunch. He said it was open mostly on Date Nights; things had changed since the pandemic. I did a double take, noticing he wasn’t wearing a mask. He was older – a shock of gray hair; uncannily bright eyes. Worried for him, with all the international visitors, I recommended wearing one. But he told me, with great enthusiasm, masks were unnecessary for anyone who got proper nutrients. He shared his theory, referring to his career in medical stats before starting this retirement gig. Did I know PubMed? Opening his phone, he showed me the many scientific papers on nutrient deficiencies in COVID patients, studies the public didn’t know of, which could be saving lives. This research wasn’t funded by our government. Where were our tax dollars going?

A patron asked directions to the “Water” exhibit. The guard scratched his head. “That’s a new one to me.” He looked it up and I, hungry, went to pull my husband out of the exhibit on 18th Century French parlors.

Madison Avenue had a new deli – more of an upscale market. We went in and ogled the goodies. The chocolate layer cake looked great but it was dinnertime. Could we sit down and eat there? We walked to the rear, turning into the L, but there was no dining area. The deli seemed to have popped up after the pandemic. Was that why?

Defeated, we walked to the car but on the way got pulled into a skincare shop by a man promising that magic drops of stem cells would solve the puffiness under our eyes. Before we knew what hit us, the puffiness was gone, leaving an annoying tightness prickling our skin. “Give it six hours.” Handing us a mirror, he asked what we thought.

“It looks great,” we said, but the deal – the $1300 product, ours tonight for $150 – wasn’t for us. It was more than we had planned to spend during this pay-what-you-wish outing to the Met. I did, however, feel bad for the salesman, who had to grab customers off the street. So many shops on Madison had been shuttered. I worried he’d be out a job.

Crossing the Queensboro Bridge, I wondered if closed cafes, delis with no seating, and skincare shops with desperate hawkers were normal now.

We got home and my Amazon order of Apple wireless headphones had been delivered to our stoop. It was a perk from work – a $500 home-office credit for 2023 because I was still WFH twice a week. My husband wanted to open the box – he knew about these wonderful wireless headphones – but they reminded me of work, and it was still the weekend. So, I let the box sit on the counter and my husband bug me to open it.

The next day, Monday, I brought it upstairs to my office, using scissors to break the seal. A second brown cardboard box was inside, again, requiring scissors to break the tape. Nestled inside was the white Apple-product box with its photo of the sturdy headphones. I was nervous about learning to use the headphones. I hoped I would be able to figure it out. The box had no seal, and was light I noticed as I lifted open the tight corners. Nothing was inside. There was the indented space where the headphones were meant to fit. A small instruction booklet. That was it. “Holy shit.”

Naturally I was annoyed. I’d have to deal with Amazon. But I was annoyed at myself for feeling annoyed by a first-world problem. Secretly I was relieved I wouldn’t have to battle technology and prove my worth.

My husband heard me and started hollering about how I shouldn’t have dillydallied opening the box because it was the delivery people who stole stuff. This, he said, was why everyone used Ring. It was a good thing he had updated our model. He would figure out who was responsible.

“The box was sealed,” I said.

But he still carried on, so much that I had trouble hearing the Amazon rep who had come on the line.

I explained the story. She ordered a replacement. “Have you seen this a lot?” I asked.

“It happens.”

I didn’t understand. Weren’t Amazon shipment centers surveilled? How could some worker pocket headphones? But in a way, I found this miraculous. In today’s surveillance state, pilfering remained possible. I also realized it could just be my limited experience ordering expensive stuff. This could be normal now. Like the closed cafe, the deli with no seating, and the skincare hawker yanking customers off the street.

What else was normal that I didn’t know about?

I soon found out. I happened to go on Facebook and a former colleague had posted that her mother died. I knew that this colleague’s world had imploded at the start of the pandemic when her elderly mom was standing in a country highway one winter night and was hit by a car, landing her in the hospital with little hope of long-term recovery. An investigation determined it was an accident. Today’s Facebook post included the obituary and when I read it, my jaw dropped. There, in the lede, was an account of her mother’s catastrophic injuries and the full name of the driver responsible for her death.

Is this normal now? I thought.


I added it to my list.

About the writer:
Karen Regen Tuero is a Pushcart-nominated writer whose work has appeared in Glimmer Train, North American Review, and many other journals. She has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and makes her living in long-form TV.

Image: Landscape with Bluebirds by Paul Klee (1879-1940). Opaque watercolor on paper, mounted on board. 8 1/2 x 11 1/8 inches. (Cropped here to purpose.) 1919. Public domain.

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