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In the Strangest Places



     It was the kind of day you wait for all winter. The blue sky seemed to rise up forever, and little white puffs of clouds silently said, “Hello,” to the horizon. I pulled open the sliding glass door and stepped onto the back deck, drinking in the forest beyond. The faintest hints of green peek-a-booed at me from behind large tree trunks. Birds chittered and sang to each other.

     I pulled the lounge chair out of storage and unfolded it, taking in the gentle warmth of the air. From a place deep inside me, I felt the last of the winter’s cold dispel push up and out through my skin. But the low humming dread in the core of my being was still there, ever present.

     Positioning the lounger to face the sun, I climbed in and kicked into recline mode, adjusting my white tennis skorts upward to let my pale thighs take in the much-needed rays. As I lay there, drinking in the magnificent spring day, I wondered how my wooded forest could be so beautiful while out there in the wider world people were sick and dying by the thousands. This new pestilence – this scourge – was wreaking havoc while I sat in the midst of nature’s abundance, both renewed by the spring day and terrified by the uncertainty of the future.

     Get a grip, I told myself sternly. This panic won’t serve you well at all.

     I recalled how I thought my generation was fortunate to live in a time of such ease and abundance. I had remarked many times to friends and family that we really lucked out, not having to face terrible hardships like some of our older relatives. My grandmother had weathered the Great Depression as a young child, and carried on alone through World War II as a young mother and wife, waiting through years of uncertainty and limbo. How had she done it?

     Grandma was one of the most courageous people I knew. She had faced depression, war and can- cer with unwavering positivity and a refusal to give in. But she’s not here anymore. I couldn’t ask her how to find courage and optimism in this present situation.

     True, I thought, there are people now who are behaving in very brave ways. I see them on YouTube, celebrating each other’s fortitude and courage.

     But I didn’t know them before the pandemic. I didn’t know if their courage was innate or if they were acting brave because they were not in touch with the reality of this danger. And so, I could not personally authenticate their courage. Nor did I know how to find it inside myself, sitting here alone in my forest.

     I squirmed and wriggled in the lounger. Lately, my thoughts had taken an alarmingly realistic turn. The awareness that we are all on a path to death, however twisting and turning that path may be, had become a loudspeaker in my brain. I already knew this truth philosophically, as everyone does, but the cataclysmic world scenario spiked up the volume, and the dial now seemed jammed.

     I’m not a brave person, I admitted to myself. But I really need to get a grip. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.

     I jerked my body forward in the chair, unconsciously seeking a change in emotion through a change in posture. I raised my torso straight up, with my legs still straight out in front of me.

     As I shifted, a glittering reflection bounced off my upper left thigh. I peered at the shining string of light that stretched from the outer to the inner thigh. Another glistening line crisscrossed it, this one beginning at the inside of my leg. It was anchored on the chair fabric and ran up and over my thigh to the outer side, where it was tethered down again.

     I leaned my head sideways, allowing the sun to run the length of my leg. Four slender, shining silk ropes were revealed, crisscrossed neatly over my skin. As I watched, a tiny tan spider the size of an apple seed sent her fifth hoisting line sailing across me. Her intensity and determination were obvious in her streamlined maneuvers.

     I burst into laughter at the sight. I felt like Gulliver awakening on the beach, trussed up by Lilliputians. This tiny arachnid had captured me and was wrapping me up to store away for the future. The magnitude of her optimism overwhelmed me, and my heart swelled with relief. Here, in the tiniest of creatures, I found the largest example of true positivity.

     This little spider is doing what I should be doing, I thought. Taking one day at a time, living life to the fullest, and concentrating on the here and now. Showing no fear, simply living the life she was meant to live.
     “Thank you,” I whispered, picking her up gently and moving her to a nearby plant.
     I went inside to begin my chores, lighthearted for the first time in weeks.

C. Francesca Helms writes both fiction and creative non-fiction short stories, often drawing from experiences in everyday life and world travel. Her story “In the Strangest Places” depicts how one small creature dramatically changed her perspective in the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic. When not writing, C. Francesca Helms lives in Virginia with her husband, cat, and numerous forest animals.

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