Essays

All Night in the Tuberculosis Room

By RENA J. MOSTEIRIN

Just before daybreak, the sky above NewYork-Presbyterian in Queens stiffens, and the nurse kicks me out of Abuela’s hospital room, because he needs to clean her. I don’t want to leave her room, and I don’t quite remember how to leave the hospital, but when I get out, the December night is a sharp blue and the cold air aches. As I stumble toward the lit deli on the corner I can’t even close my coat, my hands shake so much. I take off the mask. I see the air coming out of my mouth as a cloud of white, frozen mist. So this is God. God is the air going in and the air coming out and the sun coming up blue and the cold.

I am still holding the mask. I feel that I still need it, having worn it all night over my mouth and nose to keep the germs from coming in. Everything is glowing: the mask, my breath, my hands.

The man working the counter comes outside, muttering about it being too cold. He holds opens the door, gestures for me to walk into the light and follows me back inside. He holds a small garbage pail, he gestures for me to drop the mask. Just throw it away.

“How can I help you?” he asks. He repeats himself, because I can’t speak. I can see the yellow glow of sunrise in his face. Yellow omelets, egg sandwiches, golden bagels—these are the foods of heaven. Outside I was black and white, but somehow, in here, I am in color.

*

In the tuberculosis room, you must keep the door closed at all times. Wear a mask when you enter and throw the mask away when you leave. This machine will buzz all night, that’s the sound the laser makes. When air passes through this part here, the purple light that you see will kill the tuberculosis germs. We do this to protect you. Thirteen million people in the United States have latent tuberculosis infection. Are you sure you want to spend the night? Please do not remove the mask. The mask is light blue, for your protection. Press down on either side and the top of the mask will conform to the shape of your nose.

All Night in the Tuberculosis Room
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Intimations and Mercy, a Letter from the Bronx

By JUDITH BAUMEL

Image of book cover

“Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room,” I intoned solemnly when things were normal back in the BC days (Before COVID). “In truth the prison, unto which we doom/Ourselves; no prison is.” I winked at my “Forms in Poetry” class to let them know I felt their pain. It turned out to be our last face-to-face meeting for the semester. We were studying the sonnet and I’ve always used William Wordsworth’s love poem to strict forms as a pep talk for beginning prosodists. “And hence for me,/In sundry moods, ‘twas pastime to be bound/Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground.”

Easy for you to say, I tell my three-weeks-ago self. I had no idea what was about to hit us. I’ll bet my shrinking TIAA stash that you didn’t either.

Intimations and Mercy, a Letter from the Bronx
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Ticks in the Hedgerows

By AMANDA M. FAIRBANKS

Image of person running into grove

Last May, having exhausted all possible local options, my husband and I got into our car and drove one hundred miles west. We left home early that morning in search of two specific things: better medical care and a definitive diagnosis.

During that first drive into Manhattan, we held hands. Almost ten years into our marriage, it’s something we rarely do anymore — and certainly not for prolonged periods of time. Looking back now, I was holding on for dear life. 

Ticks in the Hedgerows
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What Matters Most

By RACHEL LAVERDIERE 

More than anything, I want to shrink down into the dirt like a tiny brown beetle. I cling to the Woolworth’s bag containing things I cannot bear to leave behind. Pushing through row after row of wavering wheat, I imagine sinking into the edge of the field where the sky swallows the sun at night. Trying to push from my mind the trail of bent wheat that betrays me, I trudge toward the line that divides gold from blue.

What Matters Most
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The Hold Steady Sets the Scene

By ERIC R. DANTON

Thrashing Thru the Passion, the latest album from Brooklyn indie-rock band the Hold Steady, begins with a striking description: “He shaved his head at the airport / In a bar at the end of the concourse.” The song is called “Denver Haircut,” and it’s an intriguing enough opening that you can imagine being there at the far end of Concourse C at Denver International Airport, watching some guy with a cordless Wahl clipper and a sense of purpose.

The Hold Steady Sets the Scene
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Hen Medic: Maude Abbott and the Dawn of Cardiology

By GABRIEL BROWNSTEIN

This piece is an excerpt from The Open Heart Club.

Cover of The Open Heart Club

October, 1931. Imagine that you’re riding a southbound train from Montreal to New York City. The woman across the aisle smells strange, a mix of rose water and formaldehyde. She has packages everywhere, on the seat beside her, in the rack above, bags, boxes, some wrapped in twine, some in brown paper. The paper looks stained, as though what’s inside is leaking. She’s got a portfolio full of prints and drawings. She keeps knocking over a big striped umbrella. 

Hen Medic: Maude Abbott and the Dawn of Cardiology
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The House on Altamount Road

By DIANE MEHTA

Rain pelted down onto Altamount Road below, the delicate en pointe technique of a thousand ballerinas rumbling across a stage. Earlier, the sun had exploded into full bloom for an hour, after which rain clouds shuffled in again. I was resting on a single bed as mid-afternoon light filtered through the darkening clouds and cast the sky in an impressionistic purple-gray hue. In this unfamiliar guest room with its pomegranate-velvet Victorian sofa, I listened to the soft violence of the monsoon shower through the flung-open windows. The same sound had been a steady backbeat to my childhood years in Bombay. Then, just as quickly as the rain shower had come, it disappeared.

The House on Altamount Road
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For the Experience

By ELLY HONG

It was a hot Los Angeles day when Dad took me to the Oaxaca Festival. As the women onstage twirled their colorful skirts, I could feel the sun sink into my skin and sweat drip down the sides of my face. The light fell directly on my neck and shoulder. I wished I’d brought sunscreen.

For the Experience
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New Eras

By ASHA THANKI

In the early 1990s, as fighter jets flew over burning oil fields in Kuwait, the star wars of the Cold War relegated to recent memory, astronomers questioned the apparent emptiness of the outer solar system. There had been a long-standing presumption that the outer reaches were entirely devoid of the matter—the planets, the asteroids, the moons—that existed in abundance closer to the sun. What if, instead, out in that deep and dark expanse, items existed but only fleetingly? What if the gravitational pull of larger planets cut the lives of smaller objects short? Was it possible that there were more beautiful things to explore? But without the technology or means to prove it, the presumed void remained just that—a void.

New Eras
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The Idle Talk of Mothers and Daughters

By DANIELLE BATALION OLA

A statuette of the Virgin Mary stood guard as my mother and I sipped from glasses of wine cooler on our living room floor. We’d propped our front door open to let in the breeze, leaving only a flimsy screen between our shelter and the world outside. Every once in a while, we’d hear our neighbor calling for her wayward son or the laugh track of a sitcom playing too loudly in the next house over. We’d echo it with giggles of our own, seated on faux mink blankets from the Philippines laid over ceramic tile.

The Idle Talk of Mothers and Daughters
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