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.