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.
Liz was born and educated in Scotland and has lived in Aotearoa for most of the past fifty years. She is gradually edging her way into retirement.
28th April 3 new cases, No deaths
I sometimes think that I have been waiting for a global cataclysmic event all my life. I knew, as a wee girl growing up in Scotland, that life was a risky business. So coronavirus has not come as a great shock to me.
While we are leading confined lives in COVID-19 Lockdown in our homes here in Aotearoa, I hear the voices of my Scottish forebears saying that a wee bit of isolation never hurt anyone… In comparison to their generation’s experience of two World Wars, the Spanish Flu Pandemic and a Great Depression crammed into a thirty year period, our experience of COVID -19 seems like a walk in the park. My parents, who were at university during most of World War 2, spoke of dancing, overnight fire watching at the Hunterian Museum and outrageous escapades. Of their reality: bombing, evacuation of children, conscription, menfolk away fighting, injury and death, the Clydebank Blitz and rationing: they said little.
The spread of coronavirus is currently under control here and we in Aotearoa seem relatively safe for now in Lockdown Level 3 — well sheltered from the danger of contracting the virus compared to most other countries in the world. I feel very safe at home cosseted in my bubble. I feel unconcerned about my lack of ambition to come off Lockdown trusting that safe decisions will be made at the correct time.
The way ahead, as we gradually access less restricted lives, seems a careful balance between safety and danger — the safeguarding of the health of the nation while attempting to open up the economy again.
Currently Jeanette is living in a ‘solo bubble’. Together with Marilyn Eales she attended Deborah’s life writing course and belongs to the same life writing group. Jeanette has had many different occupations but the best one by far is writing. Currently she is writing a family history.
Saturday 18th January 2020
It was a typical warm sunny January day when I walked across the road to my hairdressers to have my hair cut and blow waved. I wasn’t getting my hair done for any extra special occasion but it needed cutting.
That afternoon I watched the televised men’s doubles final of the ASB Classic tennis tournament at the Stanley Street stadium— tennis is my favourite spectator sport. The match can’t have been very exciting because I fell asleep while watching.
Later that afternoon I drove to my friend Sue’s place in Glendowie. We sat on her patio and enjoyed a glass of chardonnay. We were having dinner together but Sue wasn’t cooking as she had had joint replacement surgery on her shoulder a few weeks earlier so we fetched a meal from a nearby Thai takeaway. It was delicious and accompanied by another glass of chardonnay.
After dinner we watched the singles final of the ASB classic. Two Frenchmen, Paire and Humbert were competing. Humbert won.
After the match we had coffee and I drove home.
Saturday 4th April 2020 Lockdown Day 10
It was cooler this morning but I soon got warm vacuuming my apartment. Ouch! My right shoulder was sore as I hauled the vacuum cleaner around. I’m fortunate that I have cleaners, Tommy and Natasha but not while we’re in lockdown. Like many others, including my hairdresser, Natasha and Tommy have lost their livelihood. Fortunately, Tommy’s mother who lives with them has enough funds to support the family of three adults and two young children in lockdown level 4. I gave them double what I usually pay.
After lunch I had my usual siesta, read and listened to the radio. When I got up, I walked to the dairy down the road to buy myself a Saturday night treat, a trumpet. I took an insulated bag with me to carry it home so it wouldn’t melt. Usually I’m not good at delaying gratification but this day I was.
At six I sat down to watch the News with another Saturday night treat, a glass of my favourite beer, Asahi. Mostly I cook myself a good dinner each evening but on this evening I didn’t feel like cooking so I opened a can of tomato soup and heated a bread roll and had that.
Later in the evening I watched two episodes of “The Crown’ while enjoying the Trumpet. Of course, it didn’t last through the entire viewing, but while it did was scrumptious.
Marilyn Eales (currently in a bubble of one) is a retired Medical Laboratory Scientist and
member of a Life Writing Group ( all previous students of Deborah) who have been meeting
monthly for ten years and in that time have each covered over 100 different topics. Lockdown
prevented a meeting this month so stories on the topic “Connections” were circulated by e-
This quiet eerie period in Lockdown is providing ample time to reflect on events in my life.
Around my home nearly everything my eyes alight on remind me of the past; the artefacts
collected in Papua New Guinea transport me back in time to the 1970s when I was appointed
as the first Laboratory Manager of the newly opened Faculty of Medicine at the University of
Papua New Guinea. The Tibetan teapot on the bookshelf takes me back to Nepal trekking
towards Mt. Everest and meeting delightful Tibetan traders enroute selling their carefully
crafted wares. The calligraphy on the hall wall of St Georges Church In Bloomsbury dated
1868 brings back memories of the years spent in London rooming in a quaint ancient house
adjacent to this church. A memory surfaces of a London friend calling to visit and boldly
parking her car in the small church courtyard. This earned a polite and very English
reprimand on the windscreen,” You have parked in the Bishop’s Special Place”. The wooden
carvings on my living room walI of a Fijian fisherman and his wife were carefully ( and no
doubt painfully) crafted by a Leprosy patient as St Elizabeth’s home in Suva. They transport
me back to Fiji allowing me to relive all the happiness and inevitable frustrations encountered
with my Pacific Island friends and students. I was at the time on an assignment under the
auspices of New Zealand Volunteer Service Abroad as Laboratory Tutor Technologist for
students at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva.