In Isolation with Erika Veurink

Location: New York City, USA

Crate of Oranges

Today when the oranges arrived from Florida or California, the boys opened the crate with butter knives. They slid the perforated edges through the packing tape and smiled at the sight of the colour.

We are quarantined in Brooklyn. Our days feel like holes we crawl in and out of. I am their nanny and they repeat back to me, “for the coronavirus, you’re our family.” I know I’m lucky. My refrigerator is plastered in their drawings, photobooth strips of our outings. My work is my joy. Outside, the virus tears through the city. We watch the pigeons land and lift out the window. The boys and I build forts big enough to forget our fear.

There are reasons to be afraid. There are unseen, airborne enemies. The crash of empire is as local as the avenue out my window. Pounding protests and resilient cow bells and screaming infants. Catastrophe is a symphony. There is no hiding, no touching. There are nights I feel relief in nightmares.

The crate of oranges came through a restaurant supplier. It is the size of the smaller of the boys. Acquiring food has become an act of creativity (it feels like living itself is an artistic pursuit). As I pull the lid off, I’m struck.

These wrinkled oranges with reaching stems are still growing.

The three of us carry the crate to the kitchen table. I peel the fruit for me and the boy who will eat them and we get back to school. When I tell T on the phone that night, he tells me those oranges—those wildly hopeful things, all the way from California—are him.

Loaf of bread

Today I am too grief-stricken to leave my bed. A friend who loves me like a mother sends food to my apartment: an iced coffee, a dark chocolate cake, French bread. I slice into the loaf, coat it in butter and land it on the skillet. Even toast is an act of resilience. I leave it on the counter table, retreat to my bed, into the sea of blankets.

If T could have died so abruptly, then everything feels immediately important. I try again: taking the toast to the table with a napkin and knife. I imagine hunger. I project the feeling of needing sustenance. I eat the bread. I fall asleep. I dream about the sourdough starter T left on his windowsill.

So much, in sadness, is wasted.

Box of fruit

Today a package arrived from my mother in Iowa. I called her the night I found out about his suicide. I was hysterical, speaking without words. She said she was coming to get me. My best friend called her and told her to stay, saying she would take care of things. All day, my best friend calls to be sure I am eating. Her voice is a steadiness to me.

The box has air holes. I imagine it holding a live bird. But it’s just unripened apples and pears in a perfectly aligned grid. The leaves are attached. The note says she’s sorry. I leave them on my window until the pears topple and bruise on the floor. The apples seem too loud. I eat them in thin slices, quietly, as I re-read every email T ever sent me.


Today is the same as the day before. I know the one after will be similar. I walk to work. I pass three or four people. We all wear masks. I am driven home. I watch movies projected on my white wall big enough to slip into. I fall asleep before anyone in California has even sat down for dinner. The light out the windows is blue.

When everyone claps for the essential workers at seven o’clock, I stick my head out the window. I am lost in something. No, I am a part of something. I slice a grapefruit seven ways and leave the peelings in a mug until the morning.

Most weekends, I walk the graveyard or into the centre of the park where the swans swim. I walk past the Camperdown Elm. I lay in the centre of the lawn—only green, only me.

I walk as long as it takes for me to be lost. Then, I navigate home with the voice of the map system in my ear. It feels like homecoming, the way she tells me to turn, the way I listen.


Today someone is cooking for me. He leans over the stove, reaching for the salt, chopping thyme on the cutting board. He moves without hesitation. I sit on the bench next to my table with one feeling, that if hunger is a language, I am willing to be its student.

The farro softens in the pot. He works, mostly, as I attend a reading online at the kitchen table. I am listening, the best that I can. I write down the words of the poet in my notebook. When I look up, he looks over. I try to take it in stride but the feeling is spreading over every surface in the apartment.

He brings me sage and rosemary from his garden. I buy flowers from the outdoor stand that just reopened. We are in a garden, it seems. The dirty dishes he cleans are proof of something. Everything I feel toward him seems experimental in its newness. I am too close to call it love. The clapping starts at seven. He and I lean out the window together. There are reasons to be afraid. But now, there are breakfasts on the beach, sunny afternoons in the country, picnics in the car. Crackling candles and something simmering and the thrill of the doorbell—this wildly hopeful thing. There are nights I feel relief.

By Erika Veurink