April 2020: Quarantine, Week Five

By Magdalena Bartkowska

PROMPT—During Covid-19 ...

Today, I yelled at my eight-year-old son

for doing a math problem wrong and refusing to try it my way.

My four-year-old was banging pots and pans in the kitchen and

when I told him to stop,

he blew a raspberry at me,

so I yanked the pot from his hands and yelled at him too.

When my toddler wouldn’t stop crying while I tried to change his diaper,

I stood by the changing table, crying with him.


But what really did me in was packing the kids in the car

to go get the ten pounds of flour I’d ordered online

from the local coffee shop.


A few others were there to pick up their orders, too.

Everyone in masks.

The entrance roped off.

The owner, in gloves, setting out brown bags and cups of coffee

on a table outside.


With my stomach in knots I got out of the car,

careful not to get within six feet of anyone else,

and waited my turn to approach the table.

I tried to get a glimpse of the shop’s dark interior,

where I’d once sat with a mug of hot coffee and a lemon poppy-seed scone,

writing, and a friend happened to walk in and said hello and we chatted.


I grabbed my bag of flour and rushed back to the car.


“Where to now, Mama?” one of the kids asked.

“I don’t know,” I said,

and tears slid down my cheeks.


We drove into town and parked by the library, and for a few minutes

the kids ran around the side lawn and threw sticks in the river.

Then we went home.


Later, when my husband came back from work,

I escaped to my attic studio with a glass of wine and a novel I was aching to finish.

My oldest came up to join me not long after.

Together we sat in front of the electric fireplace,

its soft hum filling up the silence

as my son read his book and I read mine,

and the light outside the window slowly faded.


Gdańsk-born and Massachusetts-raised, Magdalena Bartkowska is currently working on a collection of vignettes about moving to the United States from Poland at the age of seven. Formerly she has taught third grade as well as an English language class for immigrants. Magda’s work has been published in The Tishman Review and Wow! Women on Writing. She lives in Western Mass. with her husband and three sons, and you can find her at www.magdalenabartkowska.com.