They hear me coming before they see me. I round the corner of the house, my entrance heralded by cockatiel cheeps and peeps and a call just for me. So quickly they have learned my new routine.

I pause at the window, press my face to the screen. Through double walls of mesh and cage bars, I encounter two sets of dark eyes. Ginseng gives a friendly chirp and edges closer, crest raised to reveal his bald spot. Elvis considers me with one eye, then the other, maintaining an icy silence now that I’m in view. He’s smarter, less forgiving of my quarantine outside. If I spoke cockatiel fluently, I’d share with him the irony that the viral flares and flu-like symptoms that once so frequently kept me horizontal, by his side, are now the very reason I’m out here.

“I’m sorry,” I say with a whistle. “It won’t be too much longer.”

I scan my new home: the tent at the base of the big maple; Dad’s improvised tarp structure protecting my bins of essentials; the card table workstation under the fabric awning. Down the slope, a zigzag of wash-line weaves through the garden.

I’m living in my parents’ backyard. Not quite what I had in mind nearing my thirtieth birthday.

“Dad’s making stir fry!” Mom calls.

I load my groceries into a cooler and walk down the side of the house to peer at her through the kitchen screen.

“Rice or quinoa?” she asks.

“Rice,” I say, then point at the back stoop. “I’ve got more containers for you.” It’s our trade: old peanut-butter jars full of urine for a hot dinner.

Out front a car door slams, announcing the arrival of brother-in-law Ian and little nephew Finnegan. I greet Ian through the kitchen screen. Finnegan, too short to see me, comes to the sliding-glass door and opens it with the weight of his body.

“Why are you living in a tent?” he asks.

How do I explain this to a five-year-old? “The house might be making me sick,” I say. “But isn’t camping fun!”

“Yeah!” he yells and runs to my tent awning, disappearing underneath. I rush to head him off, as he might be carrying mold spores that could contaminate the pristine sleeping space. I distract him with the vegetable plot, where we pick curling tromboncino squash to wear as jewelry before parading around our garden kingdom for laughs.

Later, after a neighborhood walk to pick blackberries and a picnic dinner, I steal away from the murmuring voices of my family to the darkening side-yard. I must decontaminate so my hair can dry before bed. Shouldering my warm solar bladder, I wade through the tangle of grape and kiwi vines to the base of the birch tree and perch the lamp on a cement block. I squat on the weedy sewer cover to fit beneath the shower nozzle, reveling in my two private minutes of hot water bliss mere feet from the neighbor’s house.

As I scrub my hair, skin goose bumped, Mom’s question from the morning plays on repeat.

“When will you come back inside?” she asked from the back stoop, a warm jar of urine in each hand. “Isn’t it time to see what happens?”

Arms deep in a wash basin, I squeezed my sudsy tank-top half-heartedly. “What if I react horribly?”

“Then you’ll know.”

The slippery cloth between my fingers suddenly transported me back in time to the river, during the first weeks of this mold sabbatical, and I could once again feel the current pulling at me, threatening to carry my bed sheet downstream.

“But what if nothing happens?”

Mom remained quiet. I knew we were thinking the same thing—that the search for answers would begin again.

The shower dries to a trickle, and I scurry to dress against the cold. Ian has bundled Finnegan into his pajamas, and I wave goodbye from the driveway. As night falls, I wander the paved streets barefoot, watching my neighbors through their lit-up windows. In the backyard, I whistle goodnight to the cockatiels as my parents close the blinds. I sit in the dark and watch their TV flicker against the curtains, listen to distant traffic, the Bewick’s wrens settling in for sleep. Maybe tomorrow I will go back inside. Maybe not.

Above me, in his hammock awning, the racoon rises to begin his evening prowl. The streetlights turn on. Two eyes reflect the glow; two eyes remain in darkness. I let the foliage consume me.

Laura Adrienne Brady is a writer, educator, and singer-songwriter currently pursuing her MFA in creative writing at Northern Arizona University. Her poems have been featured on King County public buses and in the journals Scribendi and Bricolage, and her essays on gardening appear in the book Our Food, Our Right: Recipes for Food Justice. Laura has released two albums of original folk music under her stage name, Wren. Her forthcoming project, Pink Stone: Songs & Writings from Moose Lodge, is a body of songs and a paired companion book inspired by her healing journey in Washington’s remote Methow Valley. Explore Laura’s music and writings at

Art by Jill Khoury