Sanctuary

May 14, 2020 § 21 Comments


By Melissa Ballard

In this strange season of face masks and fear, my living room is my sanctuary. Books, music, photographs, a wall of windows, a lumpy brown couch, flowers.

The dried hydrangeas my friend pulled from a cardboard box in her garage. We had just finished walking, before we began distancing. “These are extras,” she said. “Take them.” I had tried several times to dry my own, without success. This bunch is a perfect fit for my green and black pottery vase, thick and round, with a small neck. They last and last. I think of giving my friend a hug the next time I see her, but that will have to wait.

The orchid plant my husband and I bought January 27th, the last time we went to Trader Joe’s, not long before the last time I wrote any words I thought were worth revising. At its peak, twenty-three white flowers with pale yellow centers. Usually, they pucker up one at a time, day after day, until the plant is bare. This time, a few have fallen, but the rest have stayed. And there are two new buds. Nothing else remains from that shopping trip except a box of unbleached coffee filters and two bottles of wine. It seems too far to go now, too much of a risk.

The rose my husband buys me every Friday, this one a pale pink. The slightly puckered, but still beautiful, yellow rose of two weeks ago has been moved to my home-office windowsill.

A shot glass of violets, picked from the scrap of garden beside the garage door. We brought these from the last house we lived in, where they grew under a tree at the side of our driveway. They came from the house before that, where they were part of a rock garden on a slight hill that flanked our front steps. After the first day inside, they begin to crumple into fists, but they are still a bright spot of purple among neutrals.

I sit down to read a library eBook. Anchorless, with no pages to touch, no covers to study, I drift through novels and memoirs, not entirely sure what I’ve read when I reach the end.  Still, I can disappear into someone else’s words. Maybe if I ingest enough of them, I’ll be able to produce some of my own. I keep an old notebook nearby. I jot down words, phrases, anything I think might eventually turn into an essay.

When I’m done reading, I set my device on the coffee table, next to a small glass vase that holds the last of the daffodils. I’ve been picking them twice a week for at least a month, while staying at home. They are some kind of lovely hybrid: Cream-colored, with centers thinly outlined in orange. At first, the petals were delicate and opaque, now they stretch and wrinkle like onionskin. Like my skin. Maybe tomorrow I’ll add them to the compost, along with the violets. I’m ready to let them go.

I carry my notebook to my desk, open Word, and hit “Create.” This time, I will not move my draft to “Trash.” I will choose “Save.”

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Melissa Ballard has written for the Brevity Blog, Full Grown People, Belt Magazine and other publications. You can read her post-retirement essays here.

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