Janet lives on the North Shore of Auckland, and is a developing writer, who relished the isolation of the COVID-19 Lockdown to spend many fruitful hours immersed in writing. Since attending Deborah's Memoir and Biography course in 2017 and embarking on a biography, she has been honing her skills. She finds the regular sharing and support of her writing group immensely motivating and the topics they write on provide stories for her own personal memoir.
The day dawned. Already two days in and I'm starting to forget the date. Good to stop after multiple trips to the supermarket and Mitre 10 garden centre. Yes, I did buy extra toilet rolls and paper towels along with extra fruit and veges and I set up my 96-year-old Dad with food, etc.
The dark autumn morning was sooo QUIET. No car noises, neighbours’ curtains still drawn, no-one up and about. The day stretched ahead but I had my priorities. The list of 'to dos' was well formed in my brain but quickly relegated to a cold, rainy day. Usual routines were carried out: turf Audrey the cat off my bed; feed the cat, (she's now returned to my warm, empty bed): savour cups of tea; eat breakfast. As the sun rose, the weather warmed, and gardening tasks called. I had checked the moon planting calendar the night before, so I knew that I was on target for planting and preparing the ground. I prepared my snow pea bed with recycled bamboo poles (freshly released from shrivelled tomato plants), spread some worm laden compost of my own and then bags of compost. All observed by Audrey, now arisen.
Under the spent sprawling courgette plant, I found a couple of silver beet plants. My friend Chris, up the road, wanted one for extra greens during lockdown, so that was dug up, along with garlic chives and basil plants that needed her green fingers. We did a two-metre spaced exchange later in the day which doubled as my solo walk. My grumpy neighbours, also walking, surprisingly said hello from the other side of the road. I transported my plants in a non-returnable plastic bucket and placed them on her steps. She had left me a bunch of parsley in a paper bag, camouflaged in her avocado tree.
Next, I decided to water some new celery plants and citrus trees, dry from the preceding months of drought. Done. In the process I spotted neighbour Clare, laboriously wire brushing her basement concrete blocks. I proffered my water blaster. From beyond the two-metre perimeter I instructed the novice water blaster in the art, on her driveway. She needed a review a few days later when I spotted her almost gouging out the mortar! But she was grateful, and it felt good to help her. She had thrown some chive plants over the bushes earlier in the week. Sitting on the deck later in the day, hearing kids play over the fence I felt comforted by knowing there were people around me. This distancing feels so strange.
Later, the onslaught of Covid-19 statistics and strategies on TV got a bit too much. In an attempt to distract myself my viewing dropped to a low when I hit on the Kardashians for ten seconds. The next day my daughter added me to her Netflix account. Took all of five minutes! Why did we not do that years ago? Thanks Anna.
I have felt the need to talk to other friends living alone, my Dad, my daughter and my son and family in Switzerland. They were two weeks ahead in lockdown with a young baby (first grandson who'd been due to visit in April). Bryan must have a weird view of his Nana, her moving face framed in a small black frame singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star! I so wanted a big hug.
As I head to bed — no housework done today just talking and gardening — it is interesting to contemplate four and potentially more weeks ahead. The garden looks good and Audrey is thrilled to have so much attention.
Ruth Bonita, a public health academic, is currently working on a journal-memoir, ‘My Dream Year.’ Her initial intention was to capture her joy of having the whole family in New Zealand for a year with the arrival from Scotland of her daughter, son-in-law and their two young boys to live just down the road. She had no intimation of what was to come, that the journal would soon become, as well, a chronicle of the impact of coronavirus on the world.
Thursday, 23rd April 2020
Only 2 new cases (but 2 dead – both from the same rest home)
Total cases in New Zealand: 1,454; 12 deaths
Total cases worldwide: 2.75 million; 87,000 deaths
As the news items roll off the screen, I can barely contain my disgust at the litany of lies and the ensuing damage caused by Trump. It’s endless. A constant barrage. It’s said that he tweets, on average, every 7.5 minutes to millions - up to 80 million - of his followers although undoubtedly this is a talk up to a large extent; more than half, it has been estimated, are fake. Each tweet is worse than the previous. In a recent interview he muses about injecting disinfectant – or “somehow” getting light into the body as a deterrent to the virus. Meanwhile, the Justice Department sides with plaintiffs against different states’ stay-at–home orders; Trump places a For Profit Insurer in charge of hospital Covid-19 funds; $300 million of the funds allocated to small businesses are eaten up by corporations; the public social safety net is not working and millions of American citizens are denied access to stimulus packages because they are married to immigrants. And Trump continues to plunder for his own benefit: a Trump hotel in Manhattan seeks rent relief from the Trump administration. A new US Relief Bill of $500 billion lacks funds for food aid, rent relief, postal service, or election protection. 26 million have lost their jobs in the last 5 weeks.
There are rapid increases in cases, 835,000, and deaths, 43,000 in the USA. A few key papers explain how these figures are likely to under represent the true picture. I stand by and watch in disbelief. Trump blames it on the Chinese, saying “no one was warned”. I could go on, but I must stop obsessing about Trump and the train wreck that the USA is about to become.
Much as I revile Trump, I was reminded tonight, as we watched the Netflix film Sergio, just how awful GW Bush was as well, unbearably so. And how Paul Bremner, the face of the US presence in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussain, set in motion an illegal occupation of the country by American troops, refusing to allow the UN to broker arrangements for fresh elections. I remember, in 2003, when I was working at the World Health Organisation in Geneva, the shock and horror that rippled through United Nations offices around the world, when Sergio De Mello, head of the UN office in Iraq, was killed in the bomb attack on the United Nations building in Baghdad.
Sergio was meant to be a tribute to a remarkable man, but it was just too syrupy and too long with far too much focus on his fling with a breathless young woman in the international NGO sector: steamy scenes in hot tropical places. She was inappropriately clad as a foreigner, thin backless dresses, the plunge line dropping so far as to barely cover her nipples. It was embarrassing to watch her walk arrogantly through street markets in East Timor, the locals turning away from such a sight; she was oblivious of her impact on anyone except her prey, Sergio, married father of two boys.
Putting the doom and gloom of the global picture aside, all seems good in New Zealand. Simon Bridges has been firmly put in his place after an appalling Facebook entry attacking the government’s decision to delay re-entry to level 3 by five days. As it is kindly put, he “misread the room, made a poor judgment of the mood of the country …” clearly oblivious to the huge support for Jacinda’s actions throughout this pandemic.
And it was a lovely day, if windy. Robert, on his usual long low tide walk to Takapuna and back, came across a fisherman who was being questioned by an official. Not because he had broken lockdown rules by going out with his kayak to lay the net, but because he was over his limit: he had netted 35 fish. He gave Robert two large Kahawhai fillets, which, later, pan fried, were fresh and strong in taste. They filled our plates. Fresh lemon added the perfect touch. What an unusual lockdown treat!
Estelle was born in Australia and is a long-term resident of Aotearoa. Her formal qualifications, of psychologist and psychodramatist, have allowed her to practice over decades, mostly working with women, in groups or as individuals, focussing on trauma recovery. In her eightieth year, her focus is shifting away from being ‘the professional' and more towards involved mother of three, grandmother of seven, and almost great-grandmother of one. Of the many other ways she might describe herself, she has selected; loving partner, concerned responder to climate change, and emerging journal writer.
May 18th 2020- Lockdown Level 2
I have been behaving a bit like a Bower Bird, fancying a wide variety of titbits with very different characteristics, picking them up and storing them until I am ready to place them in some new configuration in the journal, working them over, tossing some out, gathering themes together, and sometimes upending the lot. Sometimes I discover surprising configurations, and then I want a visitor to my bower to share them with.
Here’s something I heard about on the BBC. It touched me deeply and is such a contrast to the accusative rants of You Know Who against the Chinese. The young doctor in Wuhan who raised the alarm quite early on, later contracted CoVid-19 and died. A fellow doctor reflected on being there with his friend, and the profound grief he and his colleagues felt. What astounded him, though was when he walked outside to explore a sound like a lamentation. Hundreds had gathered outside the hospital and were gently blowing whistles- just s few repeated notes, piercingly beautiful. Tonight I heard that the Chinese Premier said that if they found a vaccine, they would share it with the world.
Another titbit- my youngest son has just had his 48th birthday. He knew I was doing this workshop and to my delight asked me to write something, so I did and it was well received. Now my other two both in their fifties, will get a birthday letter at the appropriate time. All over the world, as well as the horror stories, I hear about people deepening their connection with one another. Perhaps a new foundation for valuing ourselves and the planet.
Today has been another lovely day- sunny and still. Enjoyable for us, as it is a rare treat to sit in the sun with my partner during the week. But there is a shadow.The reservoirs are very very low, and outside watering is banned. We are bucketing grey water and spreading it around the garden. We are both Aussies and long-term residents here, and this bucketing is something we have both done in Australia, but in mid-summer, not mid-autumn in the North Island. I am reminded of the apocryphal story of a billy full of frogs being cooked up on the stove, so slowly that they fail to notice until it is too late to jump out. Can we still jump, and to where?
There has been a deluge of writing during this Lockdown, considering this question in many forms, too much to read. So, Bower-bird that I am, I have assembled quite a range to browse through, wisdom, music, science, humour-some to share from my bower, some to treasure for myself.
Ruth is a retired Jewish lesbian lawyer/legal academic. She grew up in the Bronx, New York and came to New Zealand about forty years ago. Ruth has three children, nine grandchildren and a wonderful partner. The wisdom she lives by is a statement made by the anarchist Emma Goldman, "If I can't dance I don't want to be part of your revolution."
Where I live, in a retirement village, the residents and all visitors now have to pass through a cordon of road cones in order to drive into, or out of our street. The security guard makes notes of our goings. Name, apartment number, time, sometimes even the reason for our travels. Those of us on foot, the ones who exercise at a nearby park, we are often waived through but sometimes the uber-bureaucrats among the guards collect the same data, though clearly, especially for those of us using walkers, we won’t be covering much ground once we are allowed out, into what I now call freedom land. I myself have never been stopped from leaving but two older, more enfeebled women, have told me how they have been, their reasons apparently invalid, not good enough to pass some unknown test which has never been communicated to us.
I have a name badge that’s often asked for by the guards. It’s become a sort of passport required to be shown each time I want to go out or in. Given its apparent importance, over the last few weeks, I have managed to lose the badge on repeated occasions. Sometimes it just gets caught up in my jeans or in my bag but recently I have really lost it. I have had to backtrack, retracing my steps from home and around the park, increasingly anxious to find it. Today was the worst of all. I had walked three times around the park’s perimeter and then back towards home but when it came time to show my badge to a new guard, it was unfindable. Back I went, round and round but it was gone. I gave up hope. It was only when I enlisted Jan, my eagle-eyed partner, that it turned up, hidden among the tall grass.
Jan has now devised a simple solution to this ongoing hassle. She’s tied a long crimson ribbon to my badge and it can no longer just inadvertently fall out of my pockets or bag. Knowing my ingenuity at misplacing even larger objects, who knows, but at this moment, I feel that this too will become just another example of my craziness that I’ll repeat to my friends to elicit a little giggle, a way to demonstrate to them, for the millionth time, how neurotic I am.
On other days, this name badge experience has felt much more sinister. Since childhood I have heard a myriad of stories about what could happen to someone/anyone/me even who didn’t have the right papers to get in or out of a cordoned off village. It takes me back to when I was a kid in the Bronx, to the apartment where I grew up. We had a walk-in closet there. I knew better than to venture beyond the rack of clothing hanging in it. I was certain that there was a one-way tunnel in it that led directly to the camps where my family had been murdered. Once in there, without proper papers, there was no way out. It wasn’t a game. You couldn’t pass go. You just became a nobody, another nameless no one, lost, unremembered. In there, anyone/everyone/me even fell off the edge of the earth, gone and alone.
Today I realise I don’t need to go there, The closet, whatever secrets it held, is no longer in my life. There are new stories I can tell. Slowly. quietly, without even realizing I’m doing it, I begin to subvocalize the words of that 1940s hit: Don’t Fence Me In. For today, I refuse to be another Jew on the run. Instead I will be someone totally different, a cowgirl, just like my childhood heroine Dale Evans, riding the range.
“Oh give me land, lots of land, and the starry skies above…”
Whew! A lucky escape! Long may it last.
Elizabeth is an actor and a poet and finds the two not dissimilar. A blank page is like a first rehearsal.
- dedicated to the “women in squares”
I want my journal to be personal but have the usual fears that it might be too trivial and boring. Who am I writing it for, anyway? But then I do want to document the period of covid19, the lockdown in this weird and extraordinary time. I want to thank my daughters, their partners and two of the granddaughters. I have been living with them for two months. I’m hugely grateful for the care, the meals and the loving atmosphere. I anticipate living alone again with some trepidation.
On the other hand I do need my own things around me.
I have attempted keeping a journal before — during the celebrations for the centenary of women’s suffrage, documenting a rehearsal process for a play, surviving my first year in a new soap opera (this became too libellous to continue) and holidaying with a group of friends at Mimiwhangata. I admit to finding these sorties into journal writing quite diverting and at times sobering to read through.
I would also like to document this process of growing old. How is being eighty-three different from being sixty-three or twenty-three? I have no answer to this. It’s reassuring that when I write about the past memories rush into my head and it’s quite a job to marshall them into coherence.
When I go back home and other events crowd into my life, will I keep up with this journal? I have enjoyed the weekly zoom and the company of the women on the course. I treasure their personal disclosures and the laughs we’ve had together. My heartfelt thanks to Deborah for guiding and shaping a coherent and interesting programme.
View from my Writing Table
this morning the sky was golden
“shepherds warning,” they say
my delight to see such light
over snow topped Kaikouras
and tiny island in the bay
bright foam on waves
breaking on sea-weeded rocks
wind shivers the cabbage tree
long grasses bend and wave
I breathe in the air
so clear in the crystal light
Elizabeth McRae April 2020
During lockdown Anna was in a bubble of two with her partner Max and random tui in Waitakere West Auckland. Anna's mother passed away in Christchurch during level four and Anna was unable to return at that time. These two journal entries were written during the journal course ‘In Extremis: Writing a Journal in the Time of Coronavirus.’
Saturday 18 April Level 4
My Writing Space: Settling in and self-discipline
I have never used a dedicated writing space. Sometimes I have set up a lovely clear desk with a view somewhere but I have found that I rarely use it. Usually I write wherever I can be on my own whenever I feel like it; inside, outside, mornings if I’ve had a dream I want to record but for many years I recorded my day at night although sometimes there have been big gaps.
The curious thing is that although that has always worked for me in terms of it being an ongoing phenomena, what I want now is a sense of order, a discipline, a requirement. A commitment. And yet the reality is that I have actually been achieving success in a random way for many years so maybe I don't need to discipline myself. Maybe that’s just my internal critic, when in terms of consistency I really have been busy. Over the years I have created endless screeds of open-ended journals. Random topics, random times but have never taken the time to go back over them or reread them.
So if the feeling is that I need some structure to my writing, what is it that I am after? In terms of the discipline I feel I am waiting for something finite, a dedication to specific topics, a review and a finishing of it.
Wednesday 29th April 2nd day Level 3
Writing Exercise: Danger and Safety — what does it mean to be living in the time of coronavirus?
The world changed almost overnight. It seems a cliché when I write that, that an invisible threat has had such a gigantic global impact and has altered every decision, all perspectives.
For me the flight back to Auckland from Christchurch just as the international borders were closing captured precisely that feeling of danger and safety. Even taking into account my misgivings at leaving Mum when she was obviously unwell, although not uncommon in the last few years, I recall that Sunday evening flight as being strange. The plane was full of tourists from North America. I know this because when the plane landed there was an instruction to all those passengers not attempting to make connecting flights to Houston and San Francisco to remain seated. Maybe more than half the plane arose, and made their way forward. But the strange thing was the silence on the plane. It was totally silent. For that whole hour and a half there was an odd silence, not a cough, not a sneeze, a really awkward self-consciousness, a palpable tension in the air. People were not friendly. Everyone seemed drawn back into themselves, locked away, avoiding eye contact.
:Pamela Gordon is currently in a ‘bubble of one. She lives on an organic farm near Puhoi. This poem is a snapshot of her thoughts during alert level 3 of Covid-19 lockdown.
My Intentions: In the Time Beyond Covid-19
‘Accepting what is’, is a good start.
It is futile to put up a resistance against ‘what is’.
Non-acceptance is a denial of life.
It is good sense, to say ‘yes’ to the ‘isness’.
I remember the serenity prayer,
‘To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference’.
The past has gone, the future never arrives,
.......except as the ‘now’. I am consciousness.
I shall consciously try to live in the present.
The ‘now’ is the only time I am actually alive.
I am my life.
I am life.
Staying connected, through my words, art, and music,
and sharing my talents, time and energy, is vital for me.
Pain and suffering will continue.
More awareness is needed in this uncertain future.
During this global pandemic, we continue to retreat
within our borders, our cities, our towns, our street.
I need to become more self-reliant and resilient,
and our farm, be more sustainable, self-sufficient.
My wider concern is for the health of the planet,
the well-being of humans, other living things,
and ecosystems... to avoid environmental collapse.
Coronavirus is only temporary.
Within this collective liminal space, I’m emptied.
Now, room for new ideas, my consciousness is changing.
Hopefully, I will emerge with new insights,
ways to create and be, in a healthy society.
Writing is my mid-wife to this transition and transformation.
Within this liminality, I need a focus, need direction.
I shall ‘follow my bliss’, find my place of joy,
stretch, and do what makes me feel most alive,
I shall nurture a sense of gratitude and humour,
harmony, peace, awe and wonder,
a sense of the sacred,
I shall honour life with unbridled vigour.
4 5 2020
Anissa has called herself a writer since she was six but has only just learnt to prioritise her creative work. She has called many countries home, but her birth country, New Zealand, won in the end.
I was fiercely anticipating my figs ripening. I’d been looking forward to them for months. Figs reminded me of bucolic sunny days on a Balkan island. To taste them was to be transported back. I liked that. We were in coronavirus lockdown so being transported anywhere was a treat. I hadn’t been into town for weeks – I was craving fresh fruit.
Our fig tree was a picture of abundance. Metres from the house with frequent foot traffic, I had thought it safe from the birds. The Morning of the First Figs finally arrived, and my heart sank before I stepped off the deck. The two plump and purpled figs I had earmarked for eating had already been sampled by birds. Savaged might be a better word. They lay gaping their pink plundered innards to the skies. I had woken to the gleeful sounds of silvereyes. Now I knew why.
I had spent the previous year teaching my son’s cat not to hunt birds but that morning I put her in the fig tree with instructions to deter any birdish foray with no qualms. I had lent bird netting to a friend the previous season and after a flurry of texts, ventured down the hill to retrieve it. An everyday act made oddly clandestine by the lockdown rules. It went up that night.
It's a big tree. The netting covered about a third of it. The peep-peep-chatter continued but I figured between the netting and the cat we’d still get some fruit.
I started picking the next day. I had asked around my garden people and discovered the trick was to pick them with the stalk intact when they were big, soft and just starting to blush. They ripened beautifully on a sunny windowsill – a glorious thing in the mouth fresh, Rachel-from-down-the-road's honey was the perfect accompaniment.
I abandoned a few figs higher up the tree to the birds. An offering. I came to love the chatter of them, the flit-flit-dip of wings out the corner of my eye. The netting obsolete as the birds found their way under and around. I resolved to take it down when I saw two juveniles standing on the netting, pecking through the holes to feast.
I was doing the daily check for ripening figs when I heard the PEEP. A tiny scrap of olive green was upside-down, hanging and utterly ensnared. After rushing back in for my dainty embroidery scissors I climbed up into the green and cut a swathe of net free to remove her. She was panting and had been trapped long enough to fight herself tightly knit into the net. It was around her neck, wing and legs. The black of it disappearing into her feathers at multiple points. I sank down onto the grass under the tree and held her firmly but gently in the cradle of my fist. All other thought fled as I trimmed and cut, terrified of hurting her, talking to her all the while. There was more tangle than bird.
I worked fast, my heart dipping as her eyes fluttered lower. It was intense micro-surgery trying to work out how she was tangled and where. When her head lolled, I thought I had lost her, and my heart sank. But as the last piece of netting fell free, she revived, peeped and we talked about the joys of figs and flying while she gathered strength. Finally, standing, I opened my hand and she uncurled her legs and claws and sat, featherlight and trembling on the palm of my hand looking around, calling. I held her up to the tree, away from the net, and eventually she stepped out onto a branch and sat peeping (I had placed her next to a fig in case she needed sustenance). She sounded indignant so I stepped back, pulling the netting down with me into the shadows of the bay tree and watched. They came in minutes. The flit-flit of wings a tickle then a flood. Raucousness of bird lungs tiny but loud ensued as the clan came together, a dance of fast-moving sound and whispering feathers gathering around their lost one.
She stayed, flitting from tree to tree, her brethren coming and going as I commiserated from the deck. I too was unable to go far – the coronavirus casting the invisible net of lockdown. I worried (for no reason I could see) that she was too hurt to fly properly and was scared for her alone in the cold of the dark. I worried too at the morepork’s hunting call that night but when I shone my torch into the fig tree, the light reflected off a row of silver eyes, shuffled in close on a branch up high, each no bigger than a fig. Her clan had come.
They were all gone by dawn’s chorus – a steady flow fading into the morning's light, flit-flitting from fig to branch to sky and lost to the greater green of the world. I threw the net away.
Dunedin based Diane Brown is a novelist, memoirist, and poet who runs her own creative writing school, Creative Writing Dunedin. Her publications include two collections of poetry - Before The Divorce We Go To Disneyland, and Learning to Lie Together; a novel, If The Tongue Fits; a verse novel, Eight Stages of Grace; a travel memoir, Liars and Lovers; a prose/poetic memoir, Here Comes Another Vital Moment and a poetic family memoir, Taking My Mother To The Opera. Her long narrative poem, Every Now and Then I Have Another Child, was published by Otago University Press in lockdown. 'The Worst May or May Not Happen' is non-fiction but Diane has chosen to write from the third person perspective in this instance. It just seemed to work best in that voice.
It's unusual for her not to sleep, but these are extraordinary times, the whole country in home detention, but with privileges granted for the time being, if they all behave. They can go to the supermarket, the doctors and the garage so they can get petrol, but they can't drive to the park or the beach to get away from each other and yell. She feels for her friend who's awaiting the birth of her first grandchild. And for the people whose loved ones are dying who can't visit to hold hands and reassure them they are loved and who know after the worst has happened, there will be no funeral, at least for a while.
At the supermarket yesterday, she found herself glaring at anyone who came too close. Most were not looking at her, so intent were they on getting on what they could, although even the Prime Minister was urging people not to stockpile. There was plenty for all. She eyed the last lonely jar of yeast across the aisle, but before she could reach out, a woman going the other way grabbed it without even looking at it. The woman did not look like the sort who baked bread. She was the sort, although since she'd discovered the artisanal bakery not far from her place, she'd put the bread maker away in the garage downstairs. The bakery had closed abruptly. They didn't want their staff to catch their death.
She didn't have it in her DNA to be one of those oppressed women in scarves standing in a queue for bread for hours, prepared to knock any queue jumpers on the head, and not knowing if she'd be rewarded with a loaf or not. But is that true? She has been known to tell people off for pushing in. It has always ended badly for her. The pushers denying her view of things, because that's the kind of people they are, rude. Perhaps she is a grumpy old woman, jealous of their nimbleness, to suddenly appear where they were not a minute ago.
For a while, she mulls over the scenes in the supermarket before her mind takes her back to where she'd rather not look. Her son in China where this virus mutated and disrupted even the powerful nations. Her son in Kaikoura who currently has nowhere to sleep but a shed, and the money she had been saving for years, suddenly absent in the bank.
Her husband pointed out they had much more than others, with their warm freehold house, and their fortnightly superannuation and so much less to lose than others with millions. Still, she was shocked by how quickly she reverted to her mother's way of thinking. Her mother lived through the Depression and World War 11 and was forever counting her money to check she had enough to reroof the house and hearing aids and even her funeral. There had been enough. Now she is lying in the dark, as her husband breathes steadily. She reminds herself he was born in England just before the war, and grew up accepting the randomness of bombs, and the way mothers could take off to London leaving their children behind. A few years ago, they were on a luxury cruise ship. Her husband was giving lectures, so their passage was free, although he said it wasn't free for him. He had to sing for his supper. 'I have to be nice to the guests who voted for Trump,' she said. In the middle of the night the ship was rolling violently in Foveaux Strait. 'Please tell me we aren't going to die,' she said when her husband turned on the TV, and the words, Danger, Hurricane slipped across the screen. 'We aren't going to die,' he said and turned off the TV. In a moment, he was asleep. She lay awake all night prepared to run for the lifeboats. There are no lifeboats in their house and even her husband is not so sure they will survive if the virus finds a way to get in. Still, he sleeps despite knowing the worst can happen more than once. All you can do, he says, is breathe, in and out, in and out.
Brian has worked as a cook, a carpenter, a technical writer, a computer programmer and a university lecturer. His work has been published in ‘The Helix’ Journal of Central Connecticut State University and JAAM: Just Another Art Movement from Victoria University of Welllington. He currently occupies himself with writing, editing, and bicycle repair.
Ray got sick a couple of days before lockdown. He’s three and goes to day-care and three-year-olds at day-care get sick. The manager had been sick a week before, so I figured that was it. I tracked three days behind Ray, same sick as him.
It’s not the virus.
Overnight you’d hear him sniffle and cough. Daytime he’d have a bit of a fever, maybe a short nap after lunch. Three days later, same for me. Overnight, I'd wake and these thoughts would arrive and take a seat and listen to each other calmly for a while, but then they’d interrupt one another and separate from my volition and suddenly a cacophony, competing to keep me awake, and I’ve been lying here two hours now arguing silently, and I’m wheezing again.
There’s no way it’s the virus. It’s just the dust from the house painters. Don’t panic.
The virus comes with breathing problems, reports say. Shortness of breath. But we’re already locked down and won’t see anyone for a month so whatever this is it’ll pass before we’re unlocked; it doesn’t matter. The virus doesn’t matter. I can breathe. Test. Yes, I can breathe.
Today the weather is fine and the kids and I are out in the reserve. The gates are locked, the park is closed except for those lucky residents of The Independent Republic of Cambria who have direct access; we took possession over lockdown. We’re flitting around the stone paths hunting beautiful specimens of flora; berries and seeds and we built a secret nest to hide them and it’s a regular natural history museum by now, for the children to return to and add to but it suddenly occurs to me that I’m touching things and I was awake wheezing again last night.
Could be the virus, couldn’t it?
Reports say kids are usually asymptomatic. Maybe Charlie, age ten, has it too. Maybe Tanya has it. Someone at her work had it. And I always get everything the kids get, since I spend the most time with them, the at-home dad. Focus: it’s lunchtime and today I made chicken nuggets, my home-made ones are one of my most popular dishes with the kids. I’ll add spaghetti and I drizzle a pizza sauce I’d made over their plates and we’ll make pizza tomorrow. This is good; keeps my mind busy.
Home for lunch and I’m not hungry today. Could be the fever again suppressing my appetite. Did Ray have a fever three days ago. I check my notes – I’ve been keeping notes on both of us, our symptoms, times we feel good and times we feel bad. Keeps me from losing track in case I need to say what happened in case in case in case in case. Keeps my mind busy. Have to keep busy. Should get tested.
But I don’t meet the criteria for a test.
Never mind. It’s not a fever: it’s panic. Today I read the world news and, again, a hundred died where I was born and today I can’t smell anything (write it down), but I had the same thing after sinus surgery last year, so that’s not so strange. Is it? I sniff things around the house. Nothing. Panic. Should I get tested?
Thought: they should broaden the criteria or we’ll never get out of level four.
Thursday: Ray’s okay now. I’ll be okay within three days. Should be anyway.
Friday: text from step sister. Mom in hospital. Seventy five dead back home in Connecticut. Finally flattening.
No symptoms for a while. No fever. No panic today.
A week of the same. The same distractions. A week of the same. No symptoms. Every day the same. The same news. The same death tolls overseas.
Sunday: text from step sister: Pick up your phone.
Later they determine the virus was a contributing factor and we’ll still be at level three when they have the funeral next Monday, nine thousand miles from home.
Only fifty eight died today.