Canned Artichokes in the Attic, Baked Beans in the Bedroom and Packs of Pepper in the Porch
Act 1: I Lockdown – Two Weeks Early.
Dee’s taking her Dad cruising. Says she’s determined to escape, not understanding viruses have passports too. I hope it’s not an attempt to euthanise her ancient parent.
“Sally’s bed-bound,” she’s says cheerfully.
I flinch. They co-habit.
“It’ll be flu,” she says. “I wouldn’t endanger you.”
My co-morbidities now come with a Covid-death guarantee.
When I visit the loo, she coughs, Woodbine-Willie-esque.
Easy-Ship text-cancels the trip. She scowls.
“Vulnerable…people… should self-incarcerate, so …normal people… can be free.”
I’m quick. I’ve been oppressed before, although never over my pancreas.
“Scientists, artists, inventors who’ve underlying conditions? Should they hide forever?”
Act 2: Covid’s Fake, Isn’t It, Sir?
Adolescents closely-pack M’s classroom.
Distance from colleagues.
Students shouldn’t mask.
Mask to teach.
Leave doors open.
Conversing with colleagues is a disciplinary.
Students must mask.
Most don’t. I suggest M resigns. “We need the money,” he replies.
Salary Spent: PPE
Paper cotton adjustable three-ply filtered FFP2 FFP3
Gloves Spray Wipes Visors Goggles
Late December, M, (older BAME male with co-morbidities) is risk assessed: Mask. Wash. Distance. Ventilate.
M sends gingerbread as apologies.
“You must attend,” complains HOD.
“I’d love to,” M says. “But I’m scared.”
She swishes out.
Act 3: The Desolate Funeral.
It was a freak accident. We longed to visit the hospital; say goodbye; hold her; make tea and cook. Instead, we messaged sad emojis; grieved long distance; organised the funeral remotely.
“It’s sorted,” we said.
No undertaker could collect her body and graveyards were full. Death was the new black in London. Eventually, a mortician relented, and a cemetery released one final space.
Endless coffins left the mortuary before hers. No sexton arrived to fill the grave. We few relatives, the exhausted cleric and the apologetic funeral-director scooped soil with our hands. Then wetted it with tears.
Act 4: Thanks Jenner, and NHS.
Meaning: The gradual return to feeling after shielding.
Synonym: Dappling (Sunlight dappling my face.)
Antonym: Jeopardy (Please don’t infect me with Covid, it puts my life in jeopardy.)
Vaccination was an unnumbing. Ours was Pfizer. Developed by Muslim, Turkish immigrants, Drs Sahin and Türeci. We felt weepy, grateful to volunteers who managed every detail with grace and humour, and to Nye Bevan (who began as a miner when 13), for his vision, heart and effort birthed the NHS.
What did we do with our freedom?
We visited the grave; undertook a charity walk; saw our sons in the flesh.
Act 5: Kintsugi Hearts are Stronger.
Our learnings are many. Our friends fewer. Some passed from Covid and others faded. Those left are greatly valued. Artichokes, beans and pepper, lockdown rations, have been eaten. Our skills have grown like the flowers and vegetables we learnt to plant and cook. Our waistlines are larger. We have a fishpond and the wood pigeons, wrens and song-thrush have a watering hole. Forgotten by family an hour’s drive away, we have bonded with relatives in Chicago. Our Zoom phobia conquered; we have launched a website. We have been workshopped and workshopped others. We have published a book. We have hope.