7.21 am, Monday 15th June – Day 85 of Isolation
I’m woken by a strange sound. Can’t quite place it. I lie very still for a minute, eyes closed, thinking that if I listen hard enough it will come to me. That noise. What is it?
Robert rolls over beside me and moans before pulling the duvet over his head. Hop out of bed and peer through the curtains. Cars, several cars moving along our street. And farther away, from the main road, the distant, gritty murmur of rubber on tarmac. So that’s what the noise is: traffic. My ears have grown accustomed to silence. And birdsong. Twelve weeks ago, they put the world to sleep and now it’s waking up again. I should be glad, I mean I am glad, obviously, but I feel weird, hungover. Not from wine. I eased back on the rose a few weeks ago when I realised it was making me anxious and tetchy (OK, tetchier). This is more like when you come round after an operation. You’re awake, but your fuddled brain is struggling to make sense of the time that it lost when you were under anaesthetic.
“Whassaatime?” asks Robert, his hand fumbling on the bedside table for his phone.
I don’t know. All I know is I feel nostalgic for the days when we were told to wash our hands and sing Happy Birthday and everything would be OK. Remember that? What innocents we were back then.
"Mu-um? We are going shopping this morning, aren’t we?”
“Course we are, love.”
Oh, God. Izzy has been nagging me to take her into town. This is the first day when non-essential shops are open. I’ve got so used to not shopping I’m not sure I want to reacquire the habit. The only things I’ve bought since mid-March are food for us and food for Max from Amazon. Can’t stand the idea of joining some Soviet-era queue and following a one-way system through a store stripped of its browsing pleasures. Still, I can understand why my daughter is desperate for any glimmer of normality.
She’s having two friends for a sleepover this weekend. I probably shouldn’t have agreed but as Isabel, who now has a Masters in Covid Studies (she certainly hasn’t been doing any other work), keeps pointing out this new “bubble” business doesn’t make sense.
“Even if Ella and Olivia could give me corona, which they won’t, because the virus is hardly here anymore, it wouldn’t harm me because I’m a child, aren’t I? We’d all get it and we wouldn’t even notice.”
I can’t fault her reasoning, but Melissa, Ella’s mum, is a lockdown fundamentalist. She’s one of those people positively longing for a second wave of the virus so she can feel superior to miscreants like us who bent the rules. To my breakfasting family, I read out the text I just got from Melissa: “Hi Carrie, Ella can come for sleepover but social distancing measures must be observed because everyone in our family has to stay ‘clean’ just in case grandparents get ill.”
“Ha! Bet she doesn’t know Ella’s sister Millie’s going to raves up the common,” said Harry with that new sardonic laugh of his. It doesn’t suit him.
“Raves?” said Robert, glancing up from his phone. “Who’s going to raves? They’re illegal gatherings.”
Izzy and Harry exchange eye-rolls. “Honestly, Dad,” sighs Izzy, “every teenager in town is going. It costs 30 quid to get in.”
“THIRTY QUID!” barks her father.
“Yes, but laughing gas is included in the price,” says Izzy. This is rather less reassuring than she intends it to be.
“Harry doesn’t have that kind of money, does he, darling?” Robert hands his plate to me for seconds of bacon. My skills as a short-order chef have certainly improved over the past three months. Maybe I can get a job in McDonald’s when the great recession starts.
“You don’t give me nothing, Dad,” says Harry shooting me a conspiratorial grin which is balm to the maternal soul.
“You don’t give me ANYTHING. Grammar, please, young man,” says Robert, who is both perfectly right to make that correction and terribly wrong at the same time.
I gave Harry the 30 quid. Even worse, I gave him money for the Uber to bring him home safely from the rave, which was held in a field near where I walk Max. We’d quarrelled. Badly, shoutily, hatefully. Never used to quarrel, my boy and I, until this bloody interminable lockdown. Harry’s frustrated and the frustration has started making him depressed. It was supposed to be Sports Day last week; a chance for him to shine. Another landmark in his young life snatched away. That’s when he lashed out at me. I understood, but it hurt. Instead of practising for the 4x 400m Relay, Harry plays Fortnite.
“Get off that bloody computer,” snaps Robert who is welded to his phone and laptop. Where else has our son got to go?
Harry isn’t the only one who’s gone lockdown loco. Truth is, I’m angry, too. I used to watch the daily Press Briefing from No 10 with respect, gratitude even. I felt that the men behind the podiums knew what they were doing. Now, I can hardly bear to watch. If I do, I curse and shout at the TV, at those big brains with their alert levels and their relaxing the two-metre rule “when the time is right”.
They’re not very alert, are they? Not to what’s going on in families like ours. May as well be living in a parallel universe. Do they ever think about kids like Harry, deprived of anything to do or look forward to? Or Izzy, who will have missed six months of school when they let her back in September, if it’s “safe”, that is.
Safe! I don’t feel my children are safe right now. With every day that passes, I am more convinced they’re the victims of some giant experiment and none of the clever scientists thought what would happen if the young mice went mad in the maze.
That’s why I paid for Harry’s rave ticket. Go on, judge me.
“Glad that Harry’s not one of the kids going to that dreadful rave,” says Robert.
“You know, darling, I was thinking once lockdown is lifted, I will work from home more.”
“NO!” It pops out before I can stop it.
“No?” My husband looks baffled.
“Er, I mean, no need for you to go into the office every day, of course, but…”
“That’s the thing, we’ll probably get rid of the London building. Can’t justify the rent. Need to find all the cutbacks I can make, frankly. Got to lose a quarter of the staff in August when the Government starts reducing their contribution.”
“Yes, but it does mean I can spend more time at home. I’ve rather enjoyed it. Very good canteen.”
Is he joking? Please tell me he’s joking.
“Plus I’ve saved a packet not eating lunch out. And you know what I like to eat, darling.”
He’s not joking.
I think it was at that precise moment that I realised something. That Covid-19 surge in divorce statistics you keep reading about? If he didn’t go back to work, Robert and I were going to be among them.