Yoked to Time – Rekha Valliappan
December 18, 2021
‘After all, we are nothing better than interlopers on the earth, disfiguring and staining . . .’
–Walter de la Mare
“Nana I touched my face.”
The day I first heard those words was the day I saw the corona shape floating through the
geraniums. On my way to Cattitude Cafe and there it was, waving its hoary green
tentacles at me in a familiar way. I swear! I did not need three eye glasses and three
hearing aids and a nose as straight as a bamboo cane to tell me its attitude was menacing.
In my town it is remarkable what the librarians and mailmen could make you want to
believe. Corona mutations was big on everyone’s ticket to. But even the virus had their
cardboard cutout glitters.
We were taking a break, our group. Our usual read out of books had changed to
quilting. The last book we’d inhaled from floral scented page to page was a new best-
seller climbing the charts ‘The Return of the Unburied Lilacs.’ It painted a picture of a
comatose corona with a pearly glow. That’s it! No more gloom-doom. The lockdown
scenario was dissipating. “People, it’s prudent to prepare, if you value your lives,” sang
the clubbers. That did it. Chatty Cattitudes immediately reverted to quilting.
The book added to our immaculate collection filed under ‘Short Tales of Longevity’ –
whose? virus or ours? –deciding the options for us older folk–quilting. We just had to
figure out how we would manage our village-born, settled circa 1960s homemaker
households, with one loving husband and oodles of hip, change-loving children and
grand-children. Push anyone’s buttons and we could all find ways beyond the corona of
shadowed shapes. The year that was had changed more than our reading habits. It had
altered the shape of our spines, augmenting my tail bone.
We zoned in on quilts—safe, snug and cuddly things even our doggonit cats could
comfortably snuggle in. Nothing dire could ever come out of a quilt, except cat hair
adding to its soft texture. Too bad the nasty virus type varmints didn’t eat dung heaps, or
swamp ooze, or putrefaction from plastics clogging our oceans, storm drains and
“Wash your hands if you did, you know the drill,” I yelled back, between gasps of
breathing deep through my wired mask, my twin bellows I had for lungs seizing up as
usual when in hurry. I had been chugging along. I was late. First, quilting. Then hair
salon. Then, séance. Oh, happy days!
“But, Nana , forty leven times, soap sudz oozing out ma hair follicles . . .”
“No buts in you go. Now wash up.”
“But, but, the bubbles, outta ma face . . . here touch. See?”
“What is, child?”
“The jelly squish.”
“Child I’m late. Now I know it’s the season of horrors and all. Folks dying all over the
world from fright alone. My heart’s not what it used to be at your age. To be sure you’re
gonna see a lotta more pranksters and ghouls than you can handle. Stay away from treats.
Even those in virus garb. However tempting. You hear me girl? My heart can’t undertake
foolhardy spectacles. The walruses at the paper mills call it a pattern. Them things are
dematerialized–for good. Because, at the end of the day we live in old homes. Because in
old homes that’s what they cannot do, out-prank old ghosts. Here, let me look, there’s
nothing growing on your face, now run along.”
“Look, Nana, look! Here’s more!”
I sprinted down the gravel drive to my parked car, no mean achievement given that the
pelting leaves from the gusting winds were doing their damndest to impede my every
stride. I slammed the car door shut, started the engine when CRIKEY—
“Get off my windshield you blood-sucking baboons . . . you!” I hollered, turning on the
sweeping blades to whip them away, as I inched cautiously forward in a purple blur. My
views were distorted by a multitude of fast-moving tiny shapes. It was like I was solving
an advanced Rubik cube variation. I couldn’t tell the difference from the wind-whipped
leaves. In this manner with several stops and starts, vigorous shaking head and yelling
and panting I made it to Blanche’s house, our Cattitude Café meet-up for the day.
I must have looked a wreck. I felt worse. Like a multi-episode migraine in full flux.
“Mellie, you poor dear, you look like you’ve seen a ghost!” Blanche was our grand old
dame librarian. She knew every scent. Her grandiosity came from her maternal grand-
daddy, a grains merchant in his heyday, who maintained various plant almanacs. The
crowd of seven half dragged, half carried, half sat me in a comfortable armchair, near the
fireplace, where the wood smoke and searing heat of logs soon rendered me to my usual
“What is it you saw? Once more, oh, do tell!”
“Broccoli-like barbed lancets, millions! They filled my windscreen!”
“And did you carry our old relic, the snow globe?”
“Of course not!”
Yokai had had some luck with a snow globe. She was in-training for voodoo priestess-
hood, some of us feared. “Works same as steel points, oh Mellie, you forgot!”
“Girls! Girls! Let’s not overdo the jib-jab. Given the world is recovering, that means our
own little Colson Cove, first let’s redirect our superior house squires to verify all new
tidal tales of fresh blood-suckers making the rounds in our heretofore unencumbered
Mrs. Doilby the oldest in our group with a firm grip of Colson Cove complexities gripped
my hand extra hard. In less than twenty minutes I was sipping contentedly at a mug of hot
jasmine tea cheering with the rest “To the House Sqires, may their feathers morph.” Well,
not exactly, but seemed to me that’s what we were cheering about.
“Mrs. Doilby, seems ludicrous, but even The New Cove Times is calling it ‘the ultimate
parasite.’ How weird! Does that mean we take their word for it? Wasn’t that the same
dog whistle when the first fangs struck?”
“Now, now Mellie, no need to distress yourself. We’ll get to the centripetal root of the
problem in no time. Describe once more for the benefit of our intimate circle what
exactly you saw spooling into your bed of geraniums and onto your windscreen.”
“Dirty little despots dominating my views, attacking my baby girl’s face! If they start
congregating we’ll not be able to gather anymore.”
My seven eldritch adventurers dropped their stitching and let out a Herculean gasp.
“Girls! Girls! No need to over-excite or piggy-back on other people’s writings. Didn’t our
forefathers survive on hygiene rules? Let’s track and verify–see if new parasitic
effulgences can qualify for vampiric anomalies. Blood-sucking, indeed! Blanche, you go
first, then Corda. What have we got?”
Blanche blanched in varying stages of yellow to puce put on the spot by the suddenness
of the task at hand. Corda, a knackered grand-parent herself, who tried her best to
maintain a wide frame of reference had recently retired as nurse. Combination of quilting
and reading had vastly expanded her medication brew beyond the boundaries of the staid
life she was used to.
“Mrs. Doilby the vaccine packaging looks the same, like pre-packed ramen noodles, all
plastic-y, and citrusy, only smaller than the first shipments. Nothing’s changed. Our
supply is from overseas. Bob says ‘tis the road to Busan.”
My crowd of seven collectively groaned. Husbands would be consulted. Then, children,
including those scattered ones wandering Europe for permaculture farming.
“Don’t take my word for it. Point of the matter is we’re no longer being pummeled by
vaporish existential critters. They exist—they don’t exist! They’re real—they’re not real!
We no longer have to brace for winter. Let’s cross-stitch starfish. I rest my case.”
Yokai, the voodoo priestess wannabe who went by the same name as Mrs. Yokai, both
having met at a Green Earth Convention for the world’s blue-wattled bulbuls, reacted,
“You mean let’s make pretend they don’t exist? Cases are rising worldwide. Is it because
some people can’t count?”
“Not a priority. That’s why. The world declared two winters ago that we’re morphing
into bigger, better super-cultured, super-kinder kind, not for lack of the viruses, but
because of them. We find life’s treasures beautiful. Now isn’t that super-nice? I hear
Colson Cove has a vast influx of folks flocking to country sides, to breathe clean air, to
hug trees. There’s a positive for unrelenting viruses, if you ask me.”
“Will a flyswatter work?” Mrs. Yokai our yoga-practitioner was hallucinating. In her
lucid moments she meditated. Her puny mandibles had stayed masked so many months
her olfactory organs had practically atrophied. Unconstrained, she breathed hard. Fact of
the matter is the newness was altering our lives.
Corda our in-house nurse scrolling on Twitter invoked the dark eddies none have
forgotten “If you cut an infected one’s lung cavity and peel back the pleura, what do
you see? Quick! What??”
“Will you let me complete?”
“Oh very well, but do try to remember after riddles we have quilting, then casseroles and
“There’s a family of blood-suckers living inside, same as before.”
“So, we die, to try?,” Mrs. Yokai mumbled tiredly, bending over like she was attempting
“Corda none of us here is a neuropsychologist. What we don’t need is another medical
thriller. We read plenty of those for three years. Molecular structure never age, never die.
They’re united forever and ever Love Story like.”
“I’ve often wondered about it . . .”
“What will happen to us, to them?”
“They’ll morph and morph, gazillion times. It’s a creepy numbers game.”
“Perhaps if we understand earth invasions, their genetic material, why they love earth so,
how to make them less hospitable to our atmosphere, so they could populate Mars?”
“This will sound crazy, but won’t work, which is why it’s no longer a priority. Some
breakouts here and there now and then which we must expect, as the one Mellie saw, no
worries, we have it under control, don’t we, girls?”
No one said no to Mrs. Doilby. Seven pairs of eyes bestowed loving looks on quilts.
“In the meantime we continue to be optimistic. Why? Because history says so.
Remember Kobe? Nothing happened. And Transylvania? Still nothing. Saved by
doornails, flowerberries, and garlic stalks. It’s proven.”
I jumped up with a start. I had lost track of time. My hairstylist would give up waiting.
The lady had blocked half the store at my behest for my appointment. I would just make
it if I hurried. Transylvania indeed! Lockdown mixed with grand-mummy-hood did not
sit well with us. I left, wondering about my grand-daughter, paying scant attention to the
whirr of the blow dryer and my hair being set. The city-woman was new. My usual lady
had closed shop for good. I missed her endless chatter.
Three hours later she was done. I was a new woman. Nothing I could do about it. Color
change and all. I had asked for the nightshade power of dandelion to remove its natural
muddy silver grey state like brackish water after rain. Looked like the woman overdid it.
I was purple heather high school glamour. Must have been the rage when she left
Brooklyn. Looked cool. My grand-daughter would love it! Looked unrecognizable.
Cattitudes would be horrified.
What’s that new word Blanche had picked from the Merriam-Webster I liked so much?
Trans—trans—mogra, that lovely flower? Oh my yes, if that didn’t sound alien enough,
those darling little sweet-smelling cottony ftuffs we had block printed lavish designs on
our quilts, mogra, mogri, mogra—vacation, I badly needed one, staycation, needed that
too! Nah! Try another, –transmogrification, got it, like the new state in our world.
I wafted out in a cloud.