Cassie looked at the atomic clock on the wall, one minute to eight. She waited till eight on the dot before opening the front door. It it wasn’t for Doris next door she wouldn’t step outside, but it was the highlight of the elderly lady’s week, banging her saucepan and clapping for the NHS. Now it was the tenth week and there was talk on the news of this being the last, going out on a high. Their little road had never reached a high, not compared with the lively streets shown on the ten o’clock news and later on the local news. They had no singing, dancing or pipers piping, no string quartets or even any NHS staff to show their appreciation to. The children across the road would miss it; the chance to come out in their pyjamas, bang on saucepans and delay bedtime. Apart from that, next door the other side would chat cautiously across the fence to their other side, Doris would have her weekly catch up with the family the other side of her. Not every house came out; several parents of the children would wave to Doris, perhaps wander to the middle of the road to exchange a few words. Who would decide if their road should stop the ritual?
Cassie stood on the front path, no saucepan, just a self conscious clapping, then relief as neighbours started to retreat indoors. Doris would come for a final chat before going in, standing the exact two metres apart; Cassie had even measured the distance across the flower bed and hedge to reassure her. Doris would then relay news gathered in the precious quarter of an hour. Cassie hardly knew any of her other neighbours; before Covid she had been busy at work or out exploring her new city and happy to close the front door on the world.
Apart from Doris, the only real people she saw were those who passed by while she was watering the front garden. She was still happy to work from home and that looked set to continue. The almost constant sunny dry weather had given a holiday feel to the whole experience, it made the garden a lot more work than she had expected, but she was still enjoying it thanks to Doris. Her poor neighbour was bereft at the closure of garden centres, not able to go for coffee and plant buying with her friends. Cassie had gone on line and found a nursery that delivered bedding plants; in quantities that required her to share them with Doris.
Doris admired Cassie’s front garden, it was almost restored to its former glory. Her new young neighbour had done a good job reclaiming it from the several years of neglect after Ken’s health declined. At least he didn’t live to see this virus business; he would have hated being called vulnerable and put into lockdown. Doris hated being in lockdown, but she had come to terms with her situation and she was lucky; lucky to be alive, lucky not to be sitting in a care home in pink fluffy slippers, like that clip she kept seeing of an old lady’s feet on every television report on care homes. Very lucky not to be in an intensive care unit, expected to use some electronic devise to communicate dying words to her family. Well her son and his lot wouldn’t be able to visit her in hospital anyway, not from the USA. He was very good, phoned her regularly, even offered to organise on line shopping, but she had told him no need. Cassie next door had got a vulnerable delivery slot for her with Sainsburys, they shared an organic fruit and veg box every week and her new neighbour even bought the Radio Times and newspapers when she went for her daily bike rides. It was a mystery what Cassie did at work, how she managed to do all that from home. Doris didn’t pry into her life, modern women didn’t need a chap, they were happy to live by themselves, though she apparently had a friend from work who happened to be a man, that she talked to every day on the internet.
They were lessening restrictions, but would that make much difference to herself Cassie wondered. She had no local friends to meet outside and socially distance from, not a group of two, let alone a group of six. James had suggested they could theoretically meet, but the ferry was still out of action, neither of them had a car and public transport was still to be avoided. He would safely remain on the other side of the water. But she still looked forward to talking to him. There was something missing from her life. She had relished living in a new part of the country, by herself; spending her free time as she pleased, wandering round galleries, going to the theatre or cinema, dropping into coffee shops, taking in the ambience, people watching. Now all that was taken away.