by Mark Readman
Gerald made his way upstairs. The stair lift was a blessing now. Originally put in for Delia, when her cancer treatment had sucked away all her energy. That was thirteen years ago. It was at times like these he really misses her.
He doesn’t mind being alone in the house, isolation was not new to him his nearest neighbour was half a mile away at the end of the track. In truth this is his driveway but the unmanaged hedgerow meant most people drove past without seeing the house sign or his post box.Being too tired to shower, he cleaned his teeth and went to bed; out like a light. Woken up by the telephone and grabbing it from its cradle he sat up.
“Hi dad you okay.”
“Mathew for god’s sake when will you get to grips with the time difference, it’s after midnight here.”
“Sorry dad, I’m sitting in the car, while Lian is shopping, I thought I should check you’re alright with virus being global.”
“Well you know how isolated I am, anyway I hope Lian is buying plenty of toilet rolls.”
“What are you talking about? Toilet rolls?”
“Look it up on the BBC news you’ll soon see what I mean, anyway I’m very tired and need to get back to bed, ring again at the weekend at a better time.”
“Hang on; I just wanted to say how sorry I am, not getting home for the holidays.”
“It’s okay; I understand why you couldn’t come. Now I’m going.”
There is a ringing sound to bring him out of his sleep, taking that minute to realise it’s someone at front door. Throwing on a robe, running down to be greeted by Mrs Kramer, the local busybody (councillor) and active member of any organisation you care to name.
“Gerald how lovely to see you, I only said to the ladies of the W.I. the other day, we’d not seen you in the village lately.”
“That’s possibly because I’m in isolation.”
“Well of course you are! That’s why I’ve brought you a food parcel, and toilet rolls.”
He gave a big sigh and muttered what is with people and bloody toilet rolls. “Thank you but I’m well stocked, I’m sure there’s someone in more need then me.”
Mrs Kramer had that enquiring look about her, she of all people would want to know how and why anyone would refuse a food parcel. Gerald’s quick thinking to avoid telling her of his stock pile of food for the next year in his secret place.
“I received my monthly delivery from the supermarket two days ago so I’m okay for now.”
“But you’re on my list for a parcel every week Gerald.”
“Mrs Kramer please! You’ve got me out of bed and I need a pee, now leave your parcel on the step this time, should I need any help or something, I have the leaflets with all the numbers, I promise to call, now will you go.”
The door closed as she lifted the box out of the boot, getting herself as close to the lower glass panel as possible to see inside, only to see the back of Gerald as he hadn’t closed the closet door. This was of course on purpose as he had seen her in the village looking into people’s windows before knocking on their door. Duly washing his hands he returned for his box of essentials, there was a moment of delight seeing a bar of chocolate tucked in between the bread and the milk neither of which he needed.
As he sat at the table with toast and tea he couldn’t help feeling he’d been a bit hard on his son then Mrs Kramer this morning. There wasn’t a name for the way he felt, least not in his book. Mathew had a good head on him for all things high-tech. He came home one day saying he was going to Silicon Alley California. After his mother died he didn’t come home so often, then he married Lian, he was very much settled in the States. They were due to come over for Christmas, and then Lian’s father suffered a stroke so they cancelled at the last minute.
He glared at the list on the fridge, a daily routine of things to do; something to be getting on with at all times to encourage him not to sit around. Otherwise depression will set in, not a good thing when in isolation. It was strange how memories just popped into his head, silly little things triggered the past. How he and Delia had been on holiday here in Devon, when they saw this house for sale. Being exactly what he termed an ideal candidate, she at the time had no know idea why he’d said that.
They went and found the estate agent, made a cash offer and bought the old farm house tucked out of the way on Dartmoor. Delia had so many plans for the interior; Gerald had bigger ideas, an extension on the rear. In the bureau he found all the old paperwork, back at the kitchen table, he spread the contents of the folder out. This brought a smile to his face, as he remembered the man from the planning office saying he could build whatever he liked within reason as the land was still listed as agricultural. With the plans for the extension passed he set about his masterpiece, Delia was carrying Mathew at the time when Gerald had a very large hole dug about twenty feet deep and the size of a small bungalow.
The nineteen seventies was an unsettling time, as the cold war was coming to a head. Even the government was worried about the nuclear threat from Russia. He had a fascination for all things made of concrete, ever since he learnt at school the Romans were the first to use it. Of course this had been reason he had to be in isolation; those early years of inhaling cement dust had damaged his lungs.
He made a coffee and crossed over to the pantry door, that’s what the enamel sign said but behind was the stairs down to a nuclear bunker, which was under the garden out of sight.
After a brief moment looking down the stairs he went back to the table. It seem odd now that he spent all that money and time planning to protect him and his family and for what? If the war had come about, there would have been nothing left to start a new world. he science said there would have been a nuclear winter and the planet would die anyway.
When Mathew was about two years old, they spent ten weeks down there just to see what it was like. As he remembered it was okay but they didn’t concede to each other if they could do it for a year. He was still replacing the food down there refreshing it all the time. That’s why he didn’t need food parcels. He had enough food for a family for a whole year, it had become an obsession to never be without supplies.
He had considered spending the next three months down there. As he had to stay at home anyway! The intention was of updating his information papers for the future generation.
Yes a hand written log of everything, because it seem to be the only thing left you didn’t need to replace the machine every other year to do it for you. Of course with Mathews help all the modern technology had been installed over the years.
Ironically his thinking is different now to how it had been back in the seventies and eighties when he built the bunker, back then all he thought about was saving their lives he never took in to account what they would do if one of them had tooth ache or suffered an illness that needed hospital treatment. As he pondered theses thoughts one of the many leaflets he’d saved fell to the floor, retrieving it he was compelled to read this information and make the comparisons of what the government had said of what you should do if a nuclear attack was imminent, with what we should do now to avoid catching coronavirus.
NUCLEAR ATTACK. 1 Protect & Survive. 2 You should stay at home. 3 Have a safe room (build a shelter using doors). 4 Have enough food & water for fourteen days plus strong disinfectant & toilet rolls, essential hygiene. If not at home lay in a ditch and cover exposed skin, head & hands. 5 No part of the U.K. is safe.
CORONAVIRUS COVID19. 1 Stay at Home to Protect the N H S. 2 Wash hands often Essential Hygiene. 3 Stay indoors if you show signs of the Virus, Isolate for up to fourteen days (food needed). 4 Non essential travel ban, to stop the spread of the Virus. (No part of the U.K. is safe).
After sorting the papers into some order replacing them back into the folder, he made another coffee and went out to the garden. He indeed felt Delia’s presence near the old potting shed, quite often he openly talked to her taking advice on the plants. The garden had always been her forte; recently he’d been having forty winks on the bench in the warmth of the sunshine, waking up with a start asking Delia if she would like a cup of tea.
In some ways he was glad she wasn’t here, her body wouldn’t have coped this bloody virus.
He went back inside to look at the list again, reading through the days tasks, deciding that they could wait, feeling an anger that he had to be alone, at a time when he needed to let it out, to put his point of view over and get into a debate how things are all wrong.
Delia had been very good at listening and having a view on all matters; quite often ending with I’m sure it will sort itself out! Back in the garden the wood pigeon watched him take the watering can to the tomato plants. The can was thrown to the ground; quick strides brought the bench back into view, like an angry child throwing himself down hard with head in hands.
“Help me! Delia I have to vent my frustration, of all the bloody wars, and the near destruction of the planet, melting the polar ice caps, holes in the ozone layer, oceans filled with plastic, even down to children telling governments how wrong they are is beyond me!”
Delia didn’t answer; in fact he couldn’t feel her presence this time but he carried on.
“The one thing that separates humans from the animals is the ability to talk, communicate in any language and live together, which is what this virus feeds on and could be man’s undoing, well I’ve got that off my chest, now I’m going to lock myself away and do some paperwork.”
Mathew spent most of the weekend ringing; the phone was never answered, so he contacted the police in the nearest town telling them of his concerns.
Their return call wasn’t encouraging though they gave a contact number of a Mrs Kramer for some reason! It wasn’t going to be easy to make arrangements to get home.
About the author
Mark Readman lives in Essex near Maldon, being retired has taken up writing short stories, having now two published stories on the Cafelit site, he is quite pleased with himself