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.

Silly Saturday – Sensible Shopping

All of us are under quarantine, but some are more quarantined than others. We’re all isolating, but some are insulating – a combination of being insular and isolated and some of us are incarcerated. Wherever or however you may be, you still have to eat and if friends or neighbours have offered to ‘get a few things’ for you don’t turn down the offer, they may not offer again. Here are a few handy hints to make it easy for you the shoppee and they the shopper.

When they say ‘a few things’ they actually mean at least two hefty bagfuls of shopping.
If they say it’s no trouble, they mean it’s a whole load of extra fun which will fill their empty hours of isolation.
Do be polite and grateful for their help with such phrases as
‘I never shop at Tesco.’
‘I never shop on line, I like to see what I’m getting.’
‘Wednesday’s no good, couldn’t you make it Tuesday?’
‘Make sure they don’t put anything in plastic bags, I’m a plastic free shopper.’
‘Make sure the Sainsbury delivery van doesn’t park outside my house.’

You will need to make a list and it is important to remember that on line some items may not be available and if they go to the real shops, some items may not be available. Make your list clear, it’s not easy shopping for someone else. Here is an example of a helpful shopping list.

One loaf of Happy Fields medium sliced multi grain organic gluten free bread.

One pack of BRITISH butter, unsalted from Daisy Dairies, Somerset.

Two outdoor reared ( in Dorset or Surrey ) pork chops, the ones without the bone in.

A free range chicken, woodland, not corn fed, between 1.5KG and 1.74KG.

A bag of Lincolnshire potatoes, not too big, not too small either, potato size, not the bag…

Bunch of bananas, green, so they will keep.

Ten tins of Heinz Tomato soup, must be HEINZ.

Six tins of Ambrosia rice pudding – full cream NOT Lite.

Two packs of Green Grass Farm Extra Strong Mature Irish Cheddar, the pack with the green stripe and picture of black and white cows, not the red stripe and picture of auburn cows.

Three packets of Fair Trade breakfast tea leaves, NOT tea bags, not the supermarket own brand, the blue and purple box, not the green and red.

Seven packs of Tassimo L’OR Latte Macchiato Coffee Pods, not Costa latte and NOT caramel latte, six or five packs will do if they haven’t got enough.

 

When the day of expected on line delivery arrives, don’t forget to helpfully remind your kind neighbour that some of the shopping is for you by phoning or texting every hour to ask if it has arrived yet.
When at last they phone or message you to say the six shopping bags are now outside your door, reply quickly with a grateful message such as
‘I hope they are not too heavy for me to carry inside’ or ‘I hope they had everything.’
Finally, they may be too embarrassed to mention payment straight away, so don’t you mention it either.

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The View From Here

Week Four has started, week four if you happen to live in the UK and hadn’t already started self isolating because you had symptoms or that dreaded term ‘underlying medical conditions’. I’m sure those with medical conditions wish they were underlying rather than a feature of their lives that cannot be ignored.
But whether you are fit and well, or one of those ‘vulnerable’ ( another overused word ) folk who received a letter from the NHS telling you to stay indoors for twelve weeks, your experiences will differ and prove again that life is not fair.
Different countries have evolved various sets of rules and ways of enforcing them. Here in the UK a lot has changed in the past three weeks; while the number of deaths has increased, we are no longer just hearing numbers but hearing the stories of those who have died. Many people have recovered, but any of us could lose family and friends. Most of us probably now think we should have started this sooner; letting the virus run its course and building herd immunity now seems a ridiculous idea.

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It doesn’t feel right that most of us have to stay at home doing nothing, while medical and essential workers hardly see their homes, but we have to keep as many people as possible out of hospital. So the routine for most of us is leave home only for vital shopping, to help our vulnerable neighbours and for daily exercise. For those of us with a vulnerable person to care for at home we have to accept we should not go near shops.

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My view from my home is good; the house across the road is on a corner plot and has a lovely garden with cherry trees in blossom; just to see people and dogs in a garden is a welcome sight in a deserted road. In our back garden the new peaceful atmosphere is highlighted by blackbirds and our robin singing their hearts out. The next door neighbours have been bringing shopping and as they are working from home and the children being home schooled it is much livelier than usual on weekdays and we have chatted more – at a safe distance or texting. The children have started writing stories, inspired by me giving their parents a paperback copy of one of my books; they also write notes on paper aeroplanes to fly over the fence, all good activities for home schooling.

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Our road is not completely quiet; families go past on their daily exercise, Mum jogging while Dad and children pedal furiously to keep up. Couples who never considered ‘going for a walk’ now have a new routine.
For writers, bloggers, gardeners and retired people who have plenty of hobbies and are used to being at home, so far so good. But what of those in cramped flats with children, nearby parks closed, or people living alone in one room who need the space and company that come with being out and about working and spending time with friends.

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If we have had a chance in the past to choose where we live, how could we have foreseen that downsizing to a ‘convenient flat’ or being adventurous and buying a run down stone cottage on a remote mountainside, might be a mistake?
How is the view from where you are?

Sunday Short Story 720 – The Queue

The ringing startled Cassie, nobody ever called her on the landline, few people called her mobile either. She was tempted to ignore it, but the sound penetrated the calm of her little house.
‘Hello Dear, it’s Doris.’
Cassie was slow to react.
‘Doris next door.’
‘Oh, of course…’
In a rare moment of neighbourliness, when Cassie moved in a year ago, she had given the old lady next door her number, just in case…
‘You said to call if there was an emergency.’
Had she really said that? Cassie pictured Doris lying on the floor with a broken hip. That would be the end of her pleasant Day One working from home.
‘Yes, yes of course, what happened?’
‘Nothing yet, but I can’t get out to collect my prescriptions. Boris said I had to stay indoors with my lungs.’
‘Well we all do…’
‘Yes, but you’re not vulnerable dear, you could cycle down to the chemist.’
Relief that she would not have to apply first aid lifted Cassie’s spirits, she brightened her voice to what she hoped was a caring tone.
‘Of course, I’m going out anyway for my one permitted exercise of the day.’

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Self isolation was what Cassie practised most of the time, why she had moved to that quiet road, but neither did she want to be stuck indoors all the time. As she turned her bike into the high street, what looked like a new Antony Gormley art installation filled the pavement outside several shops. Suddenly every figure moved two paces, perhaps it was a flash mob; she waited for them to break into song and dance. She wheeled her bike a few inches towards a woman now rooted firmly to the spot. The woman backed away a few inches.
‘Excuse me, what’s going on?’
‘Queue for the chemist, one out, one in.’
‘Oh god, how long have you been here?’
‘Thirty minutes, you’d better get to the end of the queue.’
Cassie padlocked her bike and took up position outside the closed card and gift shop. The woman six feet in front of her turned and smiled. Cassie groaned inwardly, not one of those who liked to chat…
‘Nice day for it, I was here yesterday, but I don’t mind standing out in the sunshine; it’s for my dad, didn’t have all his meds yesterday. He’s got OCD, or is it COPD and diabetes, you wouldn’t believe how many different tablets he takes… he had a funny turn yesterday and I was worried it was the Coronavirus, but he didn’t have a temperature, at least I don’t think he did, we couldn’t find a thermometer…’
‘Oh well it must be…’
Cassie glanced up ahead, four more shops before she was even near the chemist. She glanced behind and noted three more people hovering. One chap looked vaguely familiar.
‘Is this the queue for…
‘The chemist.’
‘Ahh, not how I planned to spend my first day working from home.’
‘Me neither, it’s not for me, the old lady next door.’

‘Same here, shoot me if I ever end up collecting a bag of medicines every week.’
Cassie laughed, someone with the same sense of humour. ‘Let’s hope we have nice neighbours if we get like that.’
‘Well the old lady isn’t exactly a neighbour, it’s my mother, I live with her.’
Oh no, a chap in his forties who still lived with his mother, not what she needed. Well standing two yards away from a bloke hardly rated as being chatted up, though even at that distance she had noted his piercing blue eyes. She realised he was still talking.
‘I know, sounds a bit sad, you get divorced and instead of freedom your sister expects you to take your turn at responsibility, it didn’t help getting transferred here… speaking of which, I’m sure you look familiar, you don’t work for MPJ as well do you?’
She could say no, but then if she bumped into him at work… if they ever went back to work, how long was this virus thing going to last, would her job even survive. He was still talking.
‘So we can hardly go out for a drink with everything closed, but it might get lonely working at home, perhaps we could link up on line.’
‘Okay, I’m Cassie…

Getting Out

One Saturday morning at 7am I got up and looked out of the bedroom window to see our next door neighbours standing across the road in their dressing gowns. I then noticed a fire engine standing outside their house. We had slept through the fire and the arrival of the fire brigade. A fire in their loft had prompted the hasty exit of three generations.

I sent Cyberspouse down in his dressing gown to bring them into our house, while I put some clothes and the kettle on. Over the next couple  of hours, other branches of the family, who luckily lived close, arrived and we chatted more to all of them than we had since we lived there.

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Fortunately ‘getting out of the house’ for most of us, most of the time is less dramatic, usually accompanied by cries of ‘Are you ready yet?’ I wonder why it’s so hard to get out of the house in time. I always end up rushing. If you were told you had five minutes to leave the house, leave the house forever because of imminent war or natural disaster, would you be ready, could you decide what to take? It takes me longer than that to get ready to go to the shops.

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It is a wonder that anybody ever gets to work or school. Here is a handy list of items you need before you set off from home; delete those not currently applicable.

Door keys, car keys, keys for bike lock, watch, ID for work, bus pass /season ticket, lunch box, homework /briefcase, bottle of water, reusable coffee cup, mobile phone, phone charger, tablet – electronic, tablets – medicinal, inhaler, reading glasses, sun glasses, shopping list, shopping bags,  book/kindle to read on the bus /in the canteen, coat, umbrella, PE kit/gym kit, dog, children, baby. If you are a writer add pens and note book.

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If you are a citizen of the the USA and believe in the right to bear arms you may have even more to remember. When Team G were coming back from Las Vegas for their visit I asked them to bring some magazines – think craft, gardening, cooking, lifestyle, culture – What I got was ‘Guns & Ammo’, I turned the first page to see this handy advertisement..

You say it to yourself every time you leave the house ‘Phone. Keys. Watch. Wallet. SCCY.’ You’re not fully dressed unless you’re carrying concealed.

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I would be even slower getting out of the house if I had to remember my firearm.

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Perhaps this one would fit in my handbag.

But even if you’re sure you have everything and your easy to conceal gun is loaded, it’s not easy to leave the house. Did you put the bin out for the dustmen, are all the doors locked, lights, gas turned off, toilets flushed, dog in, cat out, goldfish fed, plants watered. Interior doors closed in case fire rips through the house, burglar alarm set. We don’t have a burglar alarm, but I’m sure that would add more minutes and stress to getting out the door.

And as you finally close the front door and turn round to look at your home you realise there’s a window wide open upstairs. There’s  a big black cloud looming and you haven’t got your umbrella, but that’s okay, because as you re-enter the house you realise the baby is still in the high chair, so the cat must be in the pram.

Happy Hypocrisy

‘I’m giving the money to charity instead’ – ‘We’re not doing cards this year are we?’ – ‘Come and see the card Bill and Bev sent, I’ve got it up on the computer screen for you.’

Are you doing cards this year or have you gone totally electronic? I can’t imagine many households where not a single cardboard card is written; cards for the children’s teachers or your elderly relatives. Perhaps you are writing out cards for everyone at work and all your clubs, people you are going to see on Xmas Eve or Boxing Day…

How many have you received? The Round Robin Xmas letter that became popular with the advent of home computers and printers has now become an email attachment; as long as you can figure out how to download it, you will receive a year’s worth of news and a dozen colour pictures from your neighbour three houses ago who emigrated to New Zealand.

The electronic newsletter is not to be sneered at if it comes from family or friends you enjoy hearing from; imagine the price of postage if they sent out photo prints to the forty people on their e-mail list. But whether you are composing an upbeat letter about all six members of your family plus the dog, or scribbling a few words on the charity card, what will you write?

‘It’s been a strange year here, I’ll e-mail you in the new year.’ – ‘Annie’s moved back home again, Tom went through a rough patch earlier this year and Bill’s been back in hospital…’ – ‘Must meet up in the new year.’ – ‘Charlie graduated with honours and has landed his dream job in New York … Tim and Tilly presented us with our first grandchildren, adorable twins weighing in at seven pounds each, boy and girl; luckily they have finished renovating their Victorian villa near Hampstead Heath.’

If you are still writing your cards you will be in a dilemma how to downplay your reasonable year in reply to cryptic messages and bad news, or how to make your dull year sound brighter to the family who have everything. In many households there will be conversations such as ‘Are you going to ring your brothers/aunty before Christmas? Okay, I won’t bother writing any news in the card.’ The phone calls never happen, the brief greeting is sent and the next day you receive a card filled with handwritten news from your sister-in-law.

So what are you going to write? It’s the last posting date and if you are an author you are finding it harder to write a Christmas card to the wife deserted by your husband’s brother than to write a whole novel. Happy Christmas when ill health and family problems make that unlikely?

And then there are the cards you send out to people you are never likely to see again, or want to see… or the cards we receive every year with never a word of news, so all we know is that they are still alive. Is it all hypocrisy? Happy Christmas has the moral high ground over Merry Xmas. Being merry is very different from being happy, a condition on a higher spiritual level. Happy Christmas suggests you hope the receiver has had a good year rounded up with satisfying festivities, or a Christmas that will turn out well despite a difficult year.

Best Wishes for 2018 or Happy New Year? However little we know about how 2017 has gone for the people we’re no longer interested in, we would surely wish most people to have the next year go well, or better than the last…