She checks the time and jumps up in a panic. Dad’s scuffle while preparing for early morning walks to loosen up his arthritis is her trusted wakeup call. But her crippling anxiety kept her awake for most of the night.

After watching back-to-back episodes of her new favorite show, she finally settled down for the sleep that would never come. It didn’t take long for her racing heart and noisy eardrums to prompt her eyes wide open.

She consumed the dark with sweaty frustration, until the welcomed distraction of her favorite Pandora station calmed her nerves enough to seduce dreams that came too late for completion.

The morning ritual of a Buddhist chant is rushed to avoid forecasted rain showers that will commence before she’s able to complete the three miles of brisk walking.

As she massages her knees she’s reminded of why she can longer resort to running like the good old days, when she was young enough to enjoy it without wincing.

She exits the small bathroom she shares with her parents in the modest one-bedroom apartment, featuring eye-popping views of imposingly large trees with greenery hanging like chandeliers. She briefly notices through the slightly open door that her father is still in bed.

She knew the pain in his joints was getting worse, but now it’s clear he needs another evaluation, regardless of the deadly virus devouring the country.

She sprays the nasal spray in each nostril with practiced precision while checking the weather on her phone. Thunderstorms won’t arrive until midday, and the delay allows her to sit still for a little longer.

Deleting emails and quickly scrolling through Twitter and Instagram is the exercise before the real thing. Then it’s rounding up trash bags before grabbing iPhone and apartment keys to avoid making mom scramble out of bed when dad is still in the shower.

The muggy air greets her face and neck with seething fury. The awful smell from large garbage disposals gets worse when she’s close enough to disturb the flies with her deposits.

As she walks away and begins programming her Nike app, she wonders if the nationwide shutdown is responsible for the unsightly display of overflowing waste that screams gross neglect.

She arrives at the starting point near the bottom of the hilly road. Her focus is immediately directed to the task at hand. At least there’s no blazing sun to contend with, and her stroke of luck encourages her to pick up the pace. She has to take advantage of the grey clouds providing shade.

As she passes the locked up gym attached to the rental office, she’s hit with the brutal reminder of why her 35-minute sessions on the treadmill have halted. There’s a pinch of guilt when she contemplates how worse-off she could be. She and her parents have managed to avoid the worst case scenario, during an unprecedented time.

Her daydreaming is loudly interrupted by the voice of the Nike app, informing her that she’s completed a mile with a pace that sounds faster than usual. She turns down the volume and notices that she’s almost in the middle of the road.

The fast approaching car speeds away before she gets a glimpse of the driver, and immediately she lasers in on something as she slows down her steps.

She suddenly recalls how L.A. drivers would aggressively mow down cats and dogs. Whenever she happened upon the sight of a fleshy carcass, sizzling from a distance in the dry heat, she would mentally prepare for the torturous task of looking straight ahead, while running across the street.

She sees the squirrel digging into the road and her sigh of relief alerts her to how fast her heart was beating. She loudly stomps her feet and the noise prompts the furry ball to scurry back into the bushes.

She stands there, in the middle of the road, gazing at the spot where the rodent was blissfully unaware of the the high risk. She’s fascinated by the unintelligence of a squirrel versus a dog, that instinctually comprehends why hanging out on an open road will end badly.

She’s hears voices and looks up. It’s young couple making their way down the hill. She’s struck by how appealing they are, and when they walk past her she smiles, but they don’t notice her.

She turns to see the squirrel on the road again, and this time a car is carefully making its way up the hill behind her. She moves to the sidewalk and stomps her feet. The animal doesn’t respond until she yells, and that forces it back into the fortress of green, barely avoiding the fate of being road kill.

The rush of irritation at this unwanted distraction leads to scanning iTunes for the soundtrack to her continued workout. She’s in the mood for everything on Aaliyah’s final album, and as Rock The Boat blares in her ears, she looks up and sees the sun, blazing with vengeance.

Her smile is in reaction to her inner thoughts of how forecasters consistently take chances with predictions that could easily go the other way.

The warm wind takes her back to the beaches in Miami, back when socializing meant laying in the sun connected to multifunctional devices, alongside friends, sipping colorful confections from Wet Willies. The delicious dips into the warm ocean glistening with promise.

Another round at the top of the hill acquaints her with a well-fed deer. The casual grazing is interrupted by the fast-walking human heading its way. It looks up and diligently retreats behind leafy branches. Even deers are alert enough to not to take chances, so why do squirrels lack common sense?

The trip back down the hill feels like a breezy sprint. Her good mood dampens when she sees the couple. She thinks about switching to the other side to avoid another encounter, but doesn’t. This time she won’t look their way. But she still sees the guy wrapping his arm around the girl as she happily bursts out laughing.

She starts walking faster, and steps out to the road to make room for them. The impossibly narrow sidewalks weren’t designed for the safety of pedestrians, but rather for the freedom of impatient drivers.

The lovely girl sporting thick, extra long black braids, and short shorts to show off long, toned brown legs, turns to her when all parties are in the moment, and sweetly offers a greeting, while her taller companion silently flashes a smile of recognition.

“Morning Ma’am!”

The volume wasn’t high enough to block out interference. As she continues down the hill, she turns off the music and wipes the smile still plastered on her face. Her emotions take her breath away with each step towards the bottom. She’s compelled to push herself onto the path of an incoming car to knock out what she can’t shake off.

Once the car goes by, she sees a squirrel hop across the road, and then stop just shy of the sidewalk.

This time she could care less. She has more important things to be concerned about. Coronavirus halted her plans to give New York another try. Planning for an uncertain future is now the torturous endeavor bursting with crippling procrastination.

She has too much time on her hands to contemplate how the odds will continue to be stacked against her. And even maintaining her daily regimen of workouts, clean eating and non-alcoholic drinks can’t reverse aging or present a clean slate to compensate for a squandered past.

Damn that pretty bitch and her hot boyfriend with smooth dark skin and lively eyes. Her walk back up the hill feels exhausting despite rapid tempo. She wants to listen to music, but she’s bruised. She appreciates the haughtiness of the thick gray clouds looming ahead as if to cheer on her defiant trek.

She drops the house keys, and when she reaches for them, she notices a squirrel near the middle of the road guzzling between cracks.

What does it matter if a silly squirrel gets splattered by a car?

She resists the temptation to shoo the animal away. If furry critters want to transform a busy street into a playground, why should she stand in the way?

Reaching the top of the hill was a lackluster feat. There are two men seated on the curb next to a parked truck. She knows if she were at least fifteen years younger, they would’ve made eye contact and acknowledged her presence.

She doesn’t have time to ponder another assault on her weakened ego because of what’s unfolding a few steps away.

It feels like slow motion, when the minivan comes into view, itching closer to the squirrel, and for a split second, there’s a window of hope. She’s bolted to the ground, watching in awe as the bushy-tailed rodent tries in vain to escape the wrath of big wheels, effortlessly reducing it to a reddish-pink pulp.

She can’t believe it’s over. She runs to the scene of the crime and can’t stop staring at the gross mutilation of the brainless creature who lived dangerously.

Before she can hold it, her chest heaves with laughter, so loud and powerful, it thunders through the quiet neighborhood. A truck cautiously drives by, and the bewilderment on the faces, at the sight of unfathomable hysteria over fresh road kill causes her to scream louder.

Through blinding tears, she accepts the inevitable. They will do this all over again — soon.

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