The Fate of the Crowned
Patricia J. Boyle
At the turn of the year, an army of microbes
invaded the food chain, becoming
entrenched while we remained blind.
The minute invader is regal and elegant,
a smooth globe of protein around RNA,
enveloped in a crown formed of spikes.
A battle now rages, but only our forces know
of the war. The microbes themselves have a singular
goal; not death and destruction, they aim to survive.
With lightning speed, the contagion fanned out
from bats to a second host species. Human behavior
spread the disease, a pandemic of fever and fear.
We’ve learned many lessons from Black Plague
and Zika and 1918’s vicious flu.
We’ll use our discoveries from MERS, SARS,
and Ebola, in our battle with SARS-CoV-2.
Even now, across nations, researchers offer
a promising cure for the future.
They labor each day, questing for a vaccine,
to eliminate COVID-19.
While they fight in their labs, in their way,
the rest of us battle alone.
Hygiene, quarantine, masks, six-foot distance,
protect us outside and at home.
United in purpose, we’ll conquer this enemy.
Slow down the transmission and flatten the curve,
while a pipette-wielding army brings down our foe.
(Published in Voices of the Valley: Through the Window, 2020, an earlier version won honorable mention in Livermore Science Poetry Contest, 2020)
First Storm of the Season
Patricia J. Boyle
Thick, pewter clouds hurl rain
at the windows in slanted sheets.
The wind twirls leafy branches,
frenzied partners in a gyrating dance.
I read a book while the dog
sleeps in the corner, deaf
to the neighbor’s drumbeat
seeping through the walls.
The drumsticks chatter in muted
conversation with the rain,
a wordless euphony that complements
the measured rhythm of my heart.
In that silvery hour,
the world and I become one.
At last, the rain whispers farewell
to the silent drums. A weary sun
blesses the cloud tops, sculpting
luminous, ivory confections.
Beside the glistening apple tree,
a ray of sunlight warms
my face as cool air caresses
Rain-dappled ginger beckons
from the garden. Blazing tangerine,
a solitary beacon awash
with miniature, reflective worlds.
(honorable mention in 2017 Las Positas anthology, Beyond the Window)
Wild Geese on a Gray Morning
Patricia J. Boyle
The geese fly low overhead, calling
to each other with trumpeting blasts.
They flap in rhythm, heading east
in ragged formation, two lagging behind.
The still air feels damp and cool on my skin.
A thick sheet of cloud hides the rising sun.
Void of color, the honking silhouettes
rise and fall beneath the ashen sky.
I gaze at their retreating forms, held in
place by undulating motion and lonely cries.
The melancholy sound sinks into my bones.
In silent communion, I yearn to fly.
(Published in Voices of the Valley: Word for Word, 2015)
Patricia J. Boyle
“THE DEAL’S SEALED,” JACOB SAID, as he shook my hand with a firm grip. “Nick, you’re now part owner of The White Foam.” I grinned, thinking of the sleek yacht in its slip at Pier 39 and the adventures to come when we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge.
Jacob tucked my check into his pocket. “Is your wife excited?”
“I haven’t told Margie yet. I’ll spring the news tonight.”
“Sweet. Got some champagne?”
“Good call. See you at work.”
I stopped at the liquor store on the way to our small apartment in Pacific Heights and tried to anticipate Margie’s reaction. My only regret was that my share of the yacht had eaten up my entire bonus. Thoughts of maintenance fees and ongoing expenses passed through my mind, dulling my euphoria. Maybe I should take the promotion my boss offered me last week. But that job came with more responsibilities; I’d have less time for sailing. What was the point in getting in on the yacht if I couldn’t use it? A quick text to my father with the news brought an enthusiastic response (“Fantastic!”), restoring my excitement.
I parked the car near our apartment and grabbed the champagne, eager to surprise Margie. Leaving the elevator, my thoughts shifted to dinner as I inhaled the mingled odor of a half dozen ethnic dishes. I’d completely forgotten it was my turn to cook. I quickened my pace, then came to a stop outside our door. I could hear Margie playing the piano. Rats. She only played Moonlight Sonata when she was upset. At least the music was better than the scent of incense and the flicker of candles, Margie’s other favorite ways to soothe herself. Taking a deep breath, I unlocked the door and stepped inside.
“Dinner’ll be ready in a snap,” I said, pitching my voice to be heard above the piano. I closed the door, and shut out the dinner smells, only to have them replaced by a strong cedar fragrance. Great. Incense and Beethoven. Margie’s day must have been tough.
I walked into the living room, and blinked rapidly, adjusting to the glow of numerous candles that occupied every flat surface in the room. “Jeez, Margie, what’s wrong?”
She looked at me while she played a few more bars, then rested her hands in her lap. Her posture however, remained rigid. I stared at her in concern. In spite of the frown that creased her brow, she was as beautiful as the day we wed fifteen years ago. The candlelight burnished her honey-colored hair with golden highlights, and the heat of the flickering flames gave her cheeks a rosy flush. At least I hoped the bright spots of color were due to the candles and not anger.
I softened my tone. “Did you have a rough day at work?”
She shook her head. “No. It was pretty routine. Some sophomore boys lit a fire in a bathroom trashcan during second period. I had to put the algebra test off till tomorrow. On the bright side, the girl I was concerned about in fifth period geometry found out she’s not pregnant. She literally danced into the classroom early just to tell me.” Margie’s face relaxed a bit.
“So work didn’t bring this on,” I said, pointing the champagne bottle at the candles, incense burner, and piano in turn.
She took a deep breath, then spoke in a rush. “Nick, my student may not be pregnant, but I found out I am!” She smiled, and sat motionless, waiting for my response.
My legs no longer supported me. I sank into the nearest chair and gaped at her. “We tried for twelve years then gave up, and now, at thirty-seven, you’re pregnant?”
“Don’t sound so excited.” Margie frowned and twisted her wedding ring around her finger.
“I’m sorry. This is great news. Really. It’s just — unexpected.” I blew out two candles on the table by my chair and set the champagne down. “How do you feel about it? How are you feeling? I haven’t noticed any morning sickness.”
Margie closed the piano then crossed the room and sat on my lap. “So far, I’m feeling fine.” She ran her fingers through my hair and kissed my forehead. “I’m happy about it, hon.”
I patted her flat stomach. She whispered, “It still doesn’t feel real — that we can make a whole new person.”
Gathering her in my arms, I rested my head on her shoulder. I murmured into her sweater, “So, if it wasn’t the pregnancy, what upset you today?” She stiffened, and I felt her shudder.
“I’m due around Thanksgiving. I thought I could take the second semester off next year and stay home with the baby. I figured we could save your bonus, and use it next school year to replace some of my income. Money would be tight, and our place is small, but the baby could sleep in the study, and the bonus should last until your next one.”
I felt my muscles grow taut, and forced myself to relax. I wanted to hear the rest of Margie’s story before delivering my news.
“That’s logical,” I ventured, waiting for her to continue.
“Then I heard the message your dad left on the answering machine this morning.”
“Oh? What’d Bill have to say?”
Margie stood up and paced. “I told you he was crazy to move to Vancouver after your mother died. Running a pizza place and playing the sax in college do not qualify him to manage a rock band. The Titanium Flies have folded their wings. Bill’s out of work. He says he can last two, maybe three months on his savings, then he’ll have to move in with us.”
I thought it odd he hadn’t mentioned it in his text, but if he’d called this morning, he was probably waiting for me to bring up the subject.
Margie gave a hollow laugh and stopped pacing. “There is an alternative. If we lend him some money, he says he can probably live on his own long enough to get a new job.” She looked at me, her gray eyes stormy. “We have to give him your bonus, Nick. He’d drive us both crazy, and with a baby on the way, we don’t have space for another person. I’ll just have to return to work when my maternity leave runs out.”
She sighed and picked up the champagne bottle. “What’s this? Did you get a raise?”
Her voice held a hint of hope that caused me to choose my words carefully. “No, I raised our standard of living. I have good news. Or, it was good news until I heard yours.”
“What d’you mean?”
I winced. “I bought a share in a yacht. Babe, the bonus is all gone.”
“You, what? What were you thinking? We always make decisions about money together. Besides, I get seasick. I can’t go on your stupid, mid-life crisis yacht!” The pink spots on her cheeks had reddened.
“Don’t shout. You get seasick? How do you know? We lived in the prairie. There weren’t any lakes for a hundred miles.”
She sighed. “My parents and I vacationed in Maine when I was fourteen. A family friend took us out on his yacht for the day. He had a dreamy sixteen year old son. I threw up all over the son’s top-siders, and spent the remainder of the trip below deck, puking and crying.”
“Ouch.” I crossed the room and held her close. “I wanted to surprise you. You’re always worried about money, but we make plenty. Things cost more here, yes. But tech thrives in San Francisco. My salary proves we aren’t in Kansas any more. And you earn nearly twice what you made back home. We can afford more here.” I buried my face in her hair, feeling its silkiness and inhaling the scent of her shampoo. I could barely get the next words out. “We just can’t afford a baby, a boat, and Bill.”
The next month and a half was a blur. Morning sickness set in, and Margie struggled to get to work on time. I supplied crackers and ginger ale and searched for someone to buy out my share in The White Foam. In view of Margie’s story and her rocky condition, I didn’t have the heart to even set foot on the boat.
One day I arrived home from work to hear a Scott Joplin tune fill the apartment. A good sign. I headed straight for the living room. “Hey, what’s up?”
“Your dad left a message on the machine. A woman named Cherry owns the apartment building where he lives. Apparently, she was a fan of the Titanium Flies. She blames the band’s breakup on them, not Bill. She wants to hire him as manager for the apartment complex. I detected a romance. Bill wants to bring Cherry here this summer to meet us.”
“Incredible.” I gave Margie a hug. “I’ll make dinner if you’ll play The Maple Leaf Rag again.”
The phone rang while I pan-grilled the chicken. It was Rob, from work. He and his brother Eric wanted to buy my share in the yacht. I said I’d talk it over with Margie and call him back.
“It’ll take them three or four months to get the money together. What d’you think, Babe?”
“Go for it. But get it in writing.”
After dinner, Margie and I celebrated with ice cream sundaes at Ghirardelli Square. As we walked home, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the city, I felt relaxed for the first time in weeks. “See, things have a way of working out,” I said. “With my father settled and the yacht off our hands, you can take the spring term off next year.”
“You’re right. You escaped disaster this time. Now, no more surprises.”
The following Friday I drove to Margie’s school to pick her up for her first ultrasound appointment. The morning sickness was abating, and she’d been happy in recent days. I hated to break her good mood, but there was no helping it. I kept my eyes on the traffic as I spoke. “I went through the mail when I stopped by the apartment this afternoon. The landlord’s raising the rent next month.”
All Margie said was, “How much?”
Margie tucked her hair behind her ears and stared straight ahead, lost in thought. After a few minutes she patted my arm and said quietly, “Our money will last if we’re careful.”
We spent the remainder of the trip in silence. Once we reached the imaging center, Margie headed to the bathroom. While she was gone I got a text from my dad. My heart pounded when I read the screen: “Cherry threw me over. On the train. I’ll be in SF in two days.” I sighed, slipping the phone in my pocket. I’d better ask my boss tomorrow if that promotion is still available.
Half an hour later we were settled in the examining room, the blurry image on the screen our sole focus. The technician paused her scanning when Margie said, “We’ve had our fill of surprises lately. I don’t think I can take any more. Can you tell us the sex?”
The technician looked up, grinning. “I’m afraid it’s too early to say. But I can tell you, you’re having twins.”