by Jenny Palmer
gin and tonic
People had this annoying habit of ringing just as Marlene was about to settle down to her favourite television programme. It was uncanny. She never rang anyone in the evening for that very reason.
And another thing. Why did everyone have to parrot that ‘Stay Safe’ slogan at the end of every conversation these days? What was wrong with the customary endings. People had adopted it wholesale, as if your safety were purely in your hands. It was just one of those meaningless phrases the government had come up with. What it really meant was ‘don’t you be going out getting yourself ill and becoming a burden on the NHS.’ They didn’t really care what happened to you once you were over seventy. Your working life was over. You had served your purpose.
Stay alert. That was another one, as if you could do anything but stay alert if you were compus mentus. Marlene might have been classed as vulnerable, but she still had a mind of her own. She was quite capable of taking care of herself, thank you very much and was only thankful she wasn’t living in a care home. Careless homes she preferred to call them. The people in there were truly vulnerable. How were they supposed to stay safe?
In normal times, one of Marlene’s golden rules had been to never answer the phone after six o’clock in the evening. But this wasn’t normal times. It was lockdown. So, in the spirit of good will, she had relented and made herself available for phone calls in the evenings as well as during the day. It hadn’t taken people long to cotton on. The phone never seemed to stop ringing.
Tuesday was the best night for television. There was Spring Watch and Holby City at any rate. She could probably get them on Catch-Up but it was difficult finding time to view them. It put her schedule out. And it was important to have schedule in times like these. Otherwise the days all just rolled into one. Besides, watching in your own time wasn’t the same as watching along with the rest of the nation, which gave you some semblance of communality, a bit like in the old days, when there’d only been the one channel. ‘We’re all in this together.’ Wasn’t that what the PM had said?
The phone rang. She was glad of the Caller Display feature that she’d had installed after that last scam attempt. At least she could vet the calls now. It was only Denis. He would be wanting her to commiserate with him. He’d recently lost his wife. Well, not that recently. It was over a year ago, but he was still grieving.
‘Hello,’ she said, in as sprightly a voice as she could muster.
‘Is this a good time?’ the voice said. Truthfully, it was never a good time for Denis. He would want to bare his soul. Unable to get a word in edgeways, she would be required to sit on the other end, making comforting noises in appropriate places, until such time as he was ready to ring off. By that time, her programmes would be over.
‘Well I was just going to watch…’ she tried feebly.
But already he was well into his first sentence. There would be no stopping him now. An hour and a half later, having overrun the allocated hour and she’d almost lost the will to live, he was finally getting round to his goodbyes. She tuned back in to catch hear him uttering those two words.
No sooner had she put the phone down when it rang again. She’d better answer this one. It was Teresa who lived in sheltered accommodation. She’d managed to get accepted on health grounds to get away from the neighbours who had been making her life a misery. There wasn’t much wrong with her health but then Teresa had always been able to swing things in her favour.
‘I’m supposed to be going on a cruise around South America,’ she said. ‘It’s the cruise of a lifetime. Well, my lifetime anyway. I booked it up months ago.’
‘So, what’s the problem?’ Marlene said.
‘The foreign office says it’s okay to go but what if there’s an outbreak of the virus on board and we get stuck on the ship. Should I cancel? What do you think?’
‘I really couldn’t say,’ said Marlene. ‘I’ve never been on a cruise in my Iife. I prefer dry land, myself. And who’s to say you wouldn’t get the virus if you stayed here?’
‘Well, thanks a bunch,’ said Marlene and rang off, without even saying goodbye.
It wasn’t two minutes before the phone rang again.
‘I’m in a right dilemma,’ said Josephine. ‘I’m supposed to be having my cataracts done this month, but I don’t want to go anywhere near a hospital with this virus going on. Do you think it is safe?’
‘I really couldn’t say,’ said Marlene. ‘It depends how desperate you are to get them done I suppose.’
‘Well, I’m not that desperate,’ said Josephine.
‘There you are then,’ said Marlene and this time she rang off, without going through the goodbye formalities.
If this lockdown went on much longer, she’d end up with no friends at all. She wanted her normal life back again, a life when she could watch her programmes without fear of them being interrupted, when she could say her goodbyes without having to listen to people telling her to stay safe, when that was exactly what she was doing anyway, as best she could.
From now on, she would limit her communication to email. Too bad if people didn’t use it. The good thing about emails was you could take your time answering them and express yourself as you wished. She posted out a Round Robin to all her contacts,
‘Unfortunately, my phone is currently off, but I can be contacted in the meantime by email. Wishing you well. Take care, Marlene.’
About the author
In June 2019, Jenny Palmer published her first collection of poetry called ‘Pendle Poems.’ She has published two memoirs, called ‘Nowhere better than home’ and ‘Pastures New’ and a family history book called ‘Whipps, Watsons and Bulcocks.’ They are available from the Pendle Heritage Centre, Barrowford and from No 10 Literature and Lifestyle, Clitheroe. Her collection of short stories ‘Keepsake and other stories’ was published by Bridge House in 2018 and is available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle . Many of her stories are on the Cafelit website. A 59, Fatal Flaws and The Visitors are in Best of Café Lit 3, 5 and 7. The Visitors is also in ‘Citizens of Nowhere’ and ‘Magnetism.’