Below is a text-only version of “To Know a Neighbor” by Tanuja Devi Jagernauth, March 2020. In its original form (re-published within this interview with the author), Jagernauth hand-wrote the micro play in black ink on textured white paper, which she watercolored with rosy reds and rusty yellows of varying intensity.
“To Know a Neighbor”
Tanuja Devi Jagernauth
Aggie slowly and carefully writes by hand a letter to her neighbors — none of whom she’s ever met. In the letter she invites them to email her if they ever need anything like a cup of sugar, toilet paper, or you know — help — during this time of social distancing. When the letter is complete she stares at it.
Aggie: (to Sharpie, her cat): What if…weirdos?
Aggie: (sighs) Fine.
Aggie grabs her Scotch tape and exits.
Hank, a stocky, stubborn retired teacher, slowly, painfully heaves open the front door to his apartment building. A hand-written note stops him. He puts down the bags of groceries in his hands. He puts on his reading glasses. He reads the note and frowns.
In her apartment, Aggie waters her plants, re-counts her toilet paper and estimates how long it will last. She scrolls through Facebook for cat videos. She checks her email. It’s been days. No new messages from any of her neighbors.
Aggie: (to Sharpie) How ’bout a snack?
As Hank is leaving to visit a former colleague, he stops in front of the letter written by one of his neighbors. Aggie, the letter says; that’s her name. He wonders if she realizes that she misspelled “quarantine” — Did she leave it misspelled because she was in a hurry to post the letter? Was she nervous? Or did she just not notice? Hank contemplates fixing the error. Instead. He pulls out his phone. He photographs the letter. He leaves.
In her apartment, Aggie is having a panic attack. This time her entire arm has gone numb on the left and she can’t breathe. Sharpie licks her paws and observes. Aggie remembers the GIF a friend posted — a simple line drawing to help you breathe INNNN…and OUT…. And INN and OOOUTT… It helps.
After thoroughly washing his hands Hank sits down in his favorite chair by the south-facing windows, where the light is magnificent before dusk. Watching the light change and the sky grow dark, Hank dozes off.
Some time later.
Hank wakes with a jolt from another bad dream. They haven’t been this bad since he returned from Iraq. He sighs. He pulls out his phone. He observes the photo he took of the hand-written letter.
He opens his Gmail app and begins to write.
The next morning, Aggie wakes to Sharpie purring on her chest. She reaches for her phone and checks her email — she knows she’s not supposed to check her email as soon as she wakes up, but —
She gasps. She bolts upright, sending Sharpie flying out of the room. It’s an email. From…Hank, a neighbor!
Dear Aggie –
My name is Hank…
So great to meet you! …
Dear Aggie –
I just made a big pot of black beans…
I’ve been reading…
…And when this is all over…
…It’s so good to know a neighbor… Just in case… Yes. Yes it is. Just in case.
End of play.