The Corona Chronicles: A tale of non-domestic bliss - part five

Our columnist and bestselling novelist continues her series documenting the imaginary world of a family dealing with life in lockdown

Premium
In which Carrie gets a worrying call from her mother...
In which Carrie gets a worrying call from her mother...

The Corona Chronicles is published on Mondays and Fridays every week on Telegraph.co.uk. To read previous installments, click here

Tuesday 14 April - Day 22 of Isolation

8.47am

Not again. During breakfast, my phone rings. Mum.

“Your father’s gone walkabout. I was just in the bathroom and I came out and the front door was open.”

Oh, no. Dad has dementia. Every time my mother reminds him there’s a lockdown, he is both amazed and indignant. “What, are we living in Communist Russia?” he thunders.

“Have you called the police, Mum?”

“Yes, but the lady says they’re very busy at the moment. The neighbours are looking for him. I’d go myself, but we’ve been told to stay in for 12 weeks. Do you think it would be breaking the rules if I went out, Carrie, love?”

My mother sounds wheezy, her voice has a serrated edge. “Please stay exactly where you are. Is that a cough you’ve got?”

“Oh, it nothing, just a cold. There’s a lot of it about.”

Only my mother could say “there’s a lot of it about” during a global pandemic. After she’s put the phone down, I think how unfair life is. My parents have got enough to cope with at their age, and now this. Dad’s carer, lovely Irina, willowy as a siver birch, who comes in to get him dressed every morning, is in isolation. One of her other old gents was rushed to hospital with corona. Who does the caring when the carers can’t?

“Robert?”

“Yes, darling.”

“I’m starting to think maybe I should just get in the car, drive to Mum and Dad’s, stay there to help them. And to hell with the rules. What do you think?”

“Carrie, what I think is it’s high time your father went into a care home,” my husband says scrolling through his emails and not bothering to look up.

I brush past him on the way to the fridge, bend to place a peck on the top of his head while sneaking a looking at his phone. Amid a thicket of work emails about Corona Crisis, I see one from a Jenny Clarke. The subject is Meeting xxx.

“Da-ad, don’t be stupid! Grandpa can’t go into a home,” Chloe puts down her knife with an angry clatter. She and Paolo are eating pancakes at a small green wrought-iron garden table at the far end of the kitchen next to Max’s basket. It’s a feeble, almost certainly doomed, attempt at social distancing.

“Don’t you understand? Grandpa will die if he goes into a home. If Covid gets into one of those places, it’s like a serial killer is on the loose.” Chloe has been permanently in, or close to, tears since she got home. Can’t be easy living in the sitting room with a boyfriend she’d only known for five weeks before the music stopped. It’s like a Covid forced marriage.

“At some point,” says Robert, “we are going to have to let herd immunity develop, young lady, or this ludicrous lockdown will go on indefinitely, the economy will be destroyed and we’ll be back to the Stone Age, with you wearing rags and out foraging for berries in your bare feet.”

“No change there for Chloe, then,” says Harry cheerfully, “sounds like Extinction Rebellion’s perfect world.”

“Mummy, you can’t go and stay with them,” protests Izzy. “Do you know that in Iceland, half of those who tested positive were asymptomatic.”

“A what?” says Harry.

“It means Mum could have the virus without knowing and infect Nana and Grandpa.”

Oh, God, this is impossible. I escape from the clamour of voices through the patio doors into the garden and sit on the bench under the lilac. The tree’s pink candles lend the air a dense, heady sweetness. Breathe in… and out. It’s that cruel corona conundrum, isn’t it? My parents can’t cope alone, but no one can be with them. Do I let them die of loneliness and neglect, or show up and potentially kill them? You choice, Mr Bond.

I was shocked when my friend Fi said she was glad that her mother had died last year so she’d been spared all of this. There are some days when I know what she means.

9.57am

OK, stand by, everyone! Here comes your daily WhatsApp of Doom from Apocalypse Anna: “Friends and Neighbours, I thought you’d like to know that some researchers now think the coronavirus may spread as an airborne aerosol and can survive in the air for several hours in fine particles. Some of us are baking our own bread and living on home-cooked meals wisely prepared in advance and put in the freezer. But clearly this has worrying implications for those of you who are still venturing outside and braving the supermarket!”

Great, so we just give up breathing. No problem. Who needs air?

10.11am

I have a meeting this afternoon, my first on Zoom. Consult diary. Haven’t opened diary for so long, slightly surprised to find it’s not covered in moss. Really must make an attempt to get my bearings in the vast, featureless desert of lockdown. I had a bit of a shock on Saturday. At two o’clock, I realised it wasn’t Saturday. It was Friday. Who could have imagined that we would all end up like the Dowager Countess of Grantham asking: “What is a weekend?”

Three kisses. How many kisses is a normal amount to put in the subject box about a work meeting? Two would surely be excessive. Need to stop obsessing about woman called Jenny and her relationship with Robert. Far more important things to think about. Like can I get away without wearing make-up for my demanding American client?

“Do you think I should wear make-up for my meeting, Izzy?”

“You need to look pretty,” Izzy says appraising my current state with a frosty Anna Wintour glare.

She has a point. For three weeks, I have been showering and brushing my hair every day, but maintenance has otherwise been minimal. Looking at graphs, I don’t understand about infection rates has replaced looking in a mirror. (Did you think you’d ever look at a graph again in your whole life? Me neither.)

This is such a bad time to have a female body. Give it the slightest opening and it reverts to its natural state within days, making a mockery of the hundreds of pounds we spend on haircuts and manicures and tweezing and tinting and waxing. Left untended, that carefully cultivated patch soon returns to jungle. I put on a skirt for the first time because it was so warm on Saturday (Friday, obviously), and I glanced down at my bare legs. The hairs hadn’t just grown back, the little devils were vertical, sticking up as if they were in a wind tunnel. As for the hog’s bristles sprouting from my chin, they’re conspiring to make a beard. There’s a line I half-remember from when we did Hamlet at school: “Fie on it! ’Tis an unweeded garden. That grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature. Possess it merely.”

Gross, unweeded garden growing to seed, that’s me. Just think about the lengths women will have to go to to make ourselves presentable should we ever be allowed to do something unimaginable like going out to dinner. It would be less effort to get a horse ready for the Dressage event in the Badminton Horse Trials.

3.19pm

Thank God. Mum says Dad is back safe. She puts him on the line. “Carrie, love, is that you?

“Yes, Dad, it’s me. You mustn’t go off like that. We were so worried.”

“What have they done with all the people? Is it the Russians?”

“No, it’s the lockdown, Dad. We’ve got to stay indoors until they’ve got the virus under control and it’s safe for you and Mum to go out.”

I can almost hear my father willing his brain to make sense of it.

“Are we at war? Carrie, love, is that you?”

Part 5 of The Corona Chronicles will appear in Tuesday's Telegraph. Read previous chapters at telegraph.co.uk/coronachronicles

© Allison Pearson