Saturday Short Story – Lockdown Two

Vivienne looked out of her front window, the road was quiet, empty; Saturday, day three of the new lockdown. At least in the first lockdown it had been spring, a spring as warm as summer and she had not been living by herself. Glad as she was for the peace and quiet after her divorced, inexplicably homeless son had left, you could have too much peace and quiet. She was used to living by herself since Geoff died, but that was without a pandemic; going to her groups, lunches out, friends round for coffee. Now the clocks had gone back, the nights were drawing in, dark by five o’clock… a month was a long time, but there seemed little hope that it would be only a month. It made little difference that Julia had been stuck in Tier Three, no one was going anywhere. If James drove her up there for Christmas they would be the exact limit of six people, but she presumed that was another rule that had gone by the board. Now her son was talking about helping cook Christmas dinner for the homeless, no doubt because Cassie had also volunteered. Vivienne felt like a statistic, vulnerable because of her age and pitied as a one person household. Could join a bubble or was that just lonely old people who needed help, certainly not her. Meet one other person for a walk, hmm, Sonya down the road had said she must pop in for a cup of tea a couple of weeks ago, after her ex husband had departed from Sonya’s life and his own… but her new friend had been busy with the funeral and both daughters returning from abroad and now it was too late.

A morning walk would be good and the autumn weather was pleasant, a newspaper was all she needed, with James still insisting on doing her on line shopping, but it gave a little purpose to the outing. As she passed by Sonya’s front gate she was pathetically grateful to see Sonya coming towards her with the dog.

‘Oh I’m glad I caught you Vivienne, why don’t you come in for that cup of tea, I’ve still got cake left over from the funeral, I’m sure no one is going to tell on us.’

Vivienne didn’t take much persuading, she was rather curious to see inside the house. Their front gate chats had really only been about Covid, the dreadful ( Vivienne’s opinion ) dying ex husband Sonya had taken in for his last two months that had turned into seven and Vivienne’s trials and tribulations having a son in his forties back at home.

Inside, the house was bright and tidy, not at all the gloomy hospital scenario she had imagined from Sonya’s descriptions.

‘The girls did a great job helping me put the house back to rights, once the hospital bed and all that equipment had gone. Glad to get rid of all those things with wheels and brakes, the number of times I banged my ankles. It is a bit strange without him; they rang me up, the cancer charity, in case I wanted to talk. I felt like saying I would be more upset if the dog died.’

‘But you might benefit from someone to talk to, it must have been very stressful.’

‘I feel sorry for our daughters, nothing much was really resolved, especially as he was dead by the time they got here.’

‘Oh dear, I’m sorry, but it must have been good for the three of you to be together.’

‘Yes, they decided we must celebrate the good times; all those photos I had up in the loft have been digitalised and you wouldn’t believe what you can order on line.’

Vivienne could hardly miss the large framed photo in the hall. The young man bore no resemblance to the withered scowling figure Sonya pushed in his wheelchair.

‘He was very good looking.’

‘Yes, unfortunately lots of women thought so.’

Sonya led her into the front room where a large framed collage of photos took up one wall; babies, holidays, happy days by the look of it. Turning away Vivienne supressed a smile as she saw heart shaped cushions scattered on the large sofa, each bearing pictures of young Sonya with her beloved.

‘Goodness…’

‘Wait till you see the dining room, I’ll put the kettle on.’

On the dining table was a colourful jigsaw in progress, as Vivienne tried to make out the picture her friend came in with two mugs of tea and slices of cake.

‘Only his cousin actually came to the funeral, so we didn’t have to worry about numbers or getting much food in – do you like the jigsaw, that was when we had the caravan.’

Vivienne picked up the large bright mug, disconcerted to look into the eyes of the deceased ex. She thought of the one family photo and picture of she and Geoff at that dinner and dance displayed in her living room and wondered how many items in this house were dedicated to Sonya’s husband.

‘Did you see on top of the piano?’

A very blingy metal frame contained a picture of an impossibly glamorous Sonya leaning against the muscular loved one, who in turn leant against a huge shining motorbike.

‘That was before we had the children and how about this, I ordered it from Amazon, my family tree.’

On the other end of the piano was a gaudy metallic tree with heart shaped frames hanging from its branches. Tiny babies and aged people peered out.

‘It was a very reasonable price, for real silver. But I still like this best.’

Vivienne followed her gaze to a large family portrait, two little girls swamped in frills and their father gazing adoringly at his wife and daughters.

‘We won a free studio session, though it turned out you had to pay a fortune if you actually wanted to keep any pictures, but I’m glad we had that done.’

‘I wish Geoff and I had thought to do something like that, you can’t beat a professional photographer.’

‘Yes, that was taken just before he deserted us.’

Friday Flash Fiction – 700 -Two Months To Live

If Sonya had known her ex husband would survive a good deal longer than two months she would never have let him come back. If Sonya had known a pandemic would come along and trap him in isolation with her, two weeks after he moved in, she would never have let him over the front door step.

When he had phoned her early in March and told her he only had two months to live, she was shocked. Sonya hadn’t seen him for years, didn’t even know his second wife had booted him out and kept the house. It seemed a Christian, a human thing to do; she imagined the alternative, the father of her children found in two years time, mummified in his dreadful bedsit. To care for him in his last weeks would bring closure to both the good years and the bad. One of her daughters said she was insane and on no account must she let him anywhere near her home. The other daughter said of course she must help him, he was her father after all and she would soon be back from Thailand to help. The kindly daughter was still in Thailand and the sensible daughter still in New York.

At first he did a few DIY jobs, they Facetimed the girls together and he made a good job of settling his few possessions in the back bedroom and making it homely. He assured her various medical teams and charities were on his case and all she would have to do was a bit of cooking.

Then he got his letter from the Prime Minister telling him he was very vulnerable and must not leave his house. Her house Sonya pointed out to him. The letter reminded him how frail he was and he couldn’t even help wash the dishes. His medical support teams could not visit because of Covid 19 and he no longer qualified for help from the charities as he was no longer homeless.

A new routine was soon established, as if they had always been carer and invalid in the midst of a pandemic. Sonya was heartily grateful for her rescue dog, the perfect excuse to get out of the house for exercise and a chance to have socially distanced chats with neighbours and other dog walkers. Vivienne down the road she had hardly known before, but now she and the dog would pause by the front gate when Vivienne was in the garden and discuss on line shopping. The other woman would complain about her divorced son who had moved back in and Sonya would regale her with the latest domestic dramas.

Her ex husband had his good points, well she vaguely recalled he did in the early years of their marriage, sense of humour, carefree attitude to life. That young man was long gone and his most irritating features were enhanced by illness. The husband who had once been glued to the television with football, war movies and endless crime dramas involving noisy car chases and shootings, now complained about the noise if she listened to Jeremy Vine on the radio and griped that the television was doing his head in if she tried to watch Celebrity Chef.

When he received another letter from the Prime Minister saying he could go out and about on the first of August, he showed a rare spark of life and decided it would be good for him to come out with Sonya and the dog. This was how she found herself today, plodding wearily back down their road, trying to hang on to the dog’s lead and being told to mind the bumps as she pushed his wheelchair. She had not seen Vivienne lately, only to be expected as Vivienne’s daughter and family were staying. A large camper van was parked outside her friend’s house and the door suddenly swung open as they passed, just missing the wheelchair. Two children tumbled down the steps and flew through the garden gate to the front door, yelling to be let in.

 ‘Bloody children, bloody camper vans’ said Sonya’s ex husband in a loud voice, just as Vivienne opened her front door and waved to her friend.

Friday Flash Fiction – On The Radio

Sam always had the radio on when he was in the hotel room, just to own a radio and have somewhere to plug it in was a luxury. It was more than entertainment, he was catching up with what had been going on in the rest of the world while he had ‘been away’. By the evenings he was physically tired, but his mind could not rest, he did not want to be alone with his thoughts. Science programmes, current affairs, the arts, he lapped them all up; he was interested in everything, like he used to be in the old life. Perhaps he would have been a polymath by now, talking on intelligent programmes instead of just listening in.

Her voice caught him off guard, was it her, yes, the presenter repeated her name. Sam tuned into what she was saying.

No, I had never thought of being a writer, too busy living life, just an ordinary wife and mother, then my marriage broke up.

Broke up, like dropping a glass on a tiled floor, broke up… she had left him, taken the child… left him for no reason he had ever figured out.

It was just me and my little boy, it was hard, but after a while I realised I was happy, I could survive on my own, not just survive, make something of my life.

Sam felt his chest tighten; had she ever been happy, was that not a life they had? He was happy, she made him happy, Lucas made them both happy. He had everything, the new research project, promoted to senior lecturer, getting the mortgage for the little house that was the home of her dreams; when had her dreams changed? She was still talking, bright and confident, a mature woman now of course. He felt the physical blow of being left all over again.

…when Lucas started at the village school in Scotland I started writing and trying to run the smallholding I had inherited with the cottage…

And that is a story in itself and inspired one of your novels?

Yes, I was tracked down by the programme Heir Hunters and I wanted to find out more about this fourth three times removed cousin who was a recluse.

Sam found himself almost smiling, you couldn’t make it up, his suburban London ex wife in the wilds of Scotland, maybe she had made it up …  but then anger flashed through him, his son should not have been living in a dilapidated cottage hundreds of miles away, no wonder he had lost touch completely.

Now your fifth novel comes as people question why so few people own so much of the land in Scotland, your heroine comes from London on holiday to the highlands and ends up marrying the local laird. What gave you that inspiration?

I must emphasise that it is not autobiographical, my own laird Duncan is nothing like the haughty landowner in my novel. And actually Duncan and I are writing a book together about rewilding and good husbandry.

So your life now is very different from your dreary life in suburban London?

Yes I have the big family I always wanted, with Lucas, Duncan’s three and our son and the twins…isolating has been like a family holiday for the nine of us, teens and pre teens all getting  along  together.

Sam switched the radio off. She had everything and he had nothing. He had lost everything in the divorce and he wasn’t  even sure how, house and son gone, his own mother never forgiving him for letting her grandson be taken. But he must not descend into darkness again, think first. He turned on his lap top, the other vital possession the Big Issue had furnished him with, navigating the internet was still awkward for him. She must have been famous, just entering her name, or rather his name that she published under, produced results. Up popped her author website and a colourful blog about her highland life. Thousands of followers, perhaps he was the only one in the country who had not heard of her books. He tried to stay calm, at least in the interview she had not denigrated him, not even mentioned him, was that worse?

He needed to talk about this, not internalise, that’s what the counsellor told them when they had the ‘help’ during lock down. Most of them only put up with the do-gooders’ waffling to keep their hotel room, but some of it was helpful and he knew he had rights, a right to contact his son. But he had to stay off the streets and build some sort of life, even then it was unlikely his son would want anything to do with him. There would be no sleep for him tonight, but tomorrow he would tell his story for the first time.

Friday Flash Fiction – Vivarium

Vivienne stood in her little back garden taking in the stillness, a feeling of holiday bliss swept over her; perhaps it was the wonderful sunny weather and strange atmosphere of this unique time. If she had to be imprisoned she was grateful to be at home and very thankful that her bossy daughter had not persuaded her to downsize after Malcomb’s death and move into one of those dreadful McCarthy and Stone flats.
After two years she now had the house just as she wanted, but that didn’t alter the fact that her independence had been swept from under her feet, transformed overnight by Boris Johnson from a fighting fit recycled teenager into a vulnerable over seventy. As if that wasn’t bad enough, her son had moved back in ‘for a week’ after his divorce, just in time to find himself locked in, locked down, or whatever they called it. Left to her own devices she would have sneaked out, but James was on guard, no doubt on instructions from his sister.

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Of course she had seen it coming, the divorce; she didn’t dislike her daughter-in-law, there was little about her to dislike or like, James deserved so much more. She never said any of this to him, just pretended to be surprised and she was surprised that he had managed to come out of it with nothing except his bicycle and computer.
Vivienne relished the peace of the garden. It was just her luck that James’ company was letting everyone work from home, so now her ‘ancient’ computer had been relegated to the dining room and inconveniently updated to Windows 10. She only went on line to be in the Facebook groups for her crafts, book club and bridge society.
Her friends sympathised with the loss of her sewing room as James commandeered it for his bedroom, but pointed out she had gained someone to do the shopping and a free handyman. What they actually meant was she was lucky to have a son who they all thought utterly charming, with a great sense of humour that would brighten up the dreary days ahead.

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Vivienne heard the back door open and realised her moments of solitude were over, James was back from his daily bike ride.
‘Hey Mother, talking to the plants again?’
‘You don’t need to worry until they answer back.’
‘I’ll just put the Tesco order on line then I’ll get us something nice for lunch, I popped into the bakers.’
Vivienne gritted her teeth, wondering which items she didn’t want would arrive on the Tesco van this week. At least he was keeping the bakers going, it would be awful for them to close and the high street lose their lovely coffee shop.
‘Look at this, Cassie sent a picture.’
He marched down the path with his mobile phone aloft and her curiosity was aroused. He kept mentioning Cassie, who he had met in the queue for the chemist and turned out to also work for MPJ. James spent a lot of time chatting to her on the computer, Zoomtime, Scope or whatever it was when you could see the other person. Vivienne wondered what she looked like, but in the bright outdoor light she could make out nothing on the tiny screen of his phone.
‘Is that her?’
‘No, it’s a picture of her vivarium, remember I always wanted one.’
‘I don’t even know what a vivarium is.’
‘A complete environment in a glass tank, in Cassie’s case a huge tank. You keep reptiles in it.’
‘I certainly haven’t forgotten that tarantula you had. What does Cassie keep in hers?’
‘Lizards, fascinating.’
‘You and Jane never had any pets.’ Or any babies, she refrained from mentioning the topic that was never spoken about; whether by choice or if not, whose fault it was. ‘You could have had a vivarium…’
James just smiled, they both new Jane would not have liked her pristine lounge taken over by a tank full of scenery from a David Attenborough documentary.
‘So now you have a girlfriend who loves lizards.’
‘Mother, she’s not a girlfriend, a friend, on her own, glad to have someone to chat to about work, but mostly not about work. You would like her, great sense of humour and loves cycling.’
Vivienne smiled. ‘So if this virus business is ever over, you could meet up with her for bike rides and talk about lizards…?’