Two blocks from where my father grew up, five from where my sister had been run down so many years back. And this Bulgarian witch doctor, her ancient hair covered in an old-world black kerchief, her wrinkled face half-hidden behind a glass shield, stands in a mailroom closet of an abandoned post office, now some kind of makeshift healing facility, and offers me a deal that could keep my COVID-positive elderly parents, and my severely asthmatic thirteen-year-old son off the ever-expanding list of virus mortalities.
No doubt, it’s a savage deal that would make the devil cringe on a good day, and this is about as bad of a day as they come, but what choice do I have? I can stand idly watching as the burning virus creeps deeper into my child’s lungs. I can sit passively as our pediatrician shares a detailed explanation of how the disease may well critically destabilize our son’s already compromised respiratory system.
I’m not going to do that.
I have the deepest respect for science and Dr. Fauci, but the scientific community has no great news to share. No exit. No hope. No cure. Just ventilators to die under and daily statistics of new hospitalizations and deaths.
Mermaid Avenue is eerie. Silent. The check cashing store with the fully barred windows next door is closed, as is the triple-locked Our Lady of Solace church across the way. But there is plenty of action going on here behind the curtains of the postal counter windows. Through the curtains, one can make out the large barrels 1 filled with fiery concoctions being mixed in the distance. There’s an urgency in the rising steam, and in the silhouettes of workers rushing this way and that; a dissonant melody of voices calling and responding.
Lelya Dorche and I maintain a good social distance and seal the deal with a mutual nodding, both understanding that if my wife Ivana were not Bulgarian (with lots of contacts back home), I would not have been given the time of day. Not here. “We’re a local operation,” she’d explained earlier in rhyme. “If your zip code’s not 11224, you’re not getting in the door.”
We don’t even live in Brooklyn.
As for my part of the bargain, I’ll need to find a way to breach the unheard of. Lelya Dorche’s demand seems impossible, at least on the surface.
We stand a good ten feet apart, she staring at me skeptically through her face shield, and I giving her my affirmation in the form of a full-on nod. This is life versus death. I will deliver.