It’s been a struggle to write recently.
The lockdown has caused me to have a curling in – it’s almost as if I mothballed myself and couldn’t access those parts of me that were freely creative.
All I could do was crochet and follow a pattern. I made a few things; a unicorn for my daughter, a dragon for myself.
I managed to do a rainbow window and a rainbow painting to go with it for the front room window… added a stuffie for people to smile at while they walk past.
Then I decided to make something that I didn’t have a pattern for. My youngest son loves Bubble Puppy from Bubble Guppies, so I thought I’d try to make him a Bubble Puppy toy.
Suddenly, I could create again. It was like a door had opened to all the idea particles that fly across the universes…
So I started something… it was on a sad path to begin with, then this morning, with a little more thought, I managed to cheer it up. I left the ending deliberately vague, to allow the reader to decide if it was a sad ending or a happy one…
Make your own mind up – here you go.
Who says it’s not Real Somewhere?
The ancient machine in front of her buzzed and hummed as it seemed to drag itself into the password screen. She entered a phrase only dimly remembered, hoping that she didn’t have to redo it yet again. She was lucky this time; the password worked, and she breathed a sigh of relief only slightly marred by the wheeze in her chest.
The video chat icon was flashing.
Who could possibly want to talk to her? For that matter, who was left alive to talk to?
The wheeze was accompanied by a hitch in her breath as she remembered the pain she’d been going through.
Why am I on here? In the hope that there might be someone out there? Someone who can save us.
She sighed and glanced out of the window behind her. All the houses were boarded up except hers. The gardens overgrown and teeming with feral cats, abandoned dogs and so many birds, bugs and nothing else. The road was covered with dust and moss further up, the grass beginning to encroach on it from the pavements.
It’s been so long since I saw anyone walk down the road or anything other than the robotic bin collectors moving around out there. There’s not even any helicopters or sirens anymore, not since they decided that the sirens were scaring people and all the pilots died. She stood there, watching the breeze stir the knee length grass on the front garden, the flowers amongst the stem’s bright spots of colour in the green. Maybe I should get the strimmer out and cut it? She coughed and the constriction reminded her why she hadn’t done it the last time she thought that.
A noise from upstairs made her jump.
They’re waking up. I need to get this done quickly or I’ll start falling asleep on the laptop keyboard.
A few taps on the keyboard and the food parcel site opened. Two weeks of delivery slots were free. A far cry from the early days when every single one would be taken for weeks ahead of time. She selected a slot for later that day, confirmed it and ran through the rigmarole of selecting the few items available in the list that popped up.
Just as she clicked the checkout button, a footstep on the landing made her smile.
“Mummy?” The young female voice had an uncertain air, almost as if she was expecting no answer.
“I’m here, darling. Stay upstairs please.” I don’t know why I say that every time, it’s been months since they installed the barrier.
“Okay Mummy.” the footsteps moved into the bathroom and running water told her that she would have a few more moments of peace.
She finished the checkout process and breathed another sigh of relief, this one tinged with satisfaction.
They’ll eat this week at least.
The video call icon was still flashing. She ignored it.
This time she opened another site, the one that told her what was happening in the wider world. She scanned the headlines and sighed. The progress was steady. More survivors than deaths for the third week in a row in the UK. The rest of the world appeared to have beaten the virus and the news from there was more upbeat, talking of rebuilding and conferences over treaties. Only the USA was still spiralling downward.
A shard of pain made her catch her breath, remembering how many of her friends and family over there that she’d lost. She blinked rapidly shut down the site, not wanting to be found in tears again.
The insistence of the video call icon irritated her, and she clicked on it more to shut up than to answer the call.
“Oh, thank heaven I’ve finally got you.” The voice behind the black screen sounded familiar; It’s my Keyworker, “Can you turn your camera on?”
She sighed, coughed softly and said “No. It stopped working with the last software update. I don’t have much battery power though so this will have to be quick. What do you want?”
“There’s a vaccine now and they’re delivering it with the next round of food parcels.”
She blinked. “That’s good. How many doses?”
“That’s the problem,” her voice sounded uncomfortable, “The doses are specifically named for the most vulnerable people of the household.”
“Don’t tell me… the youngest only?”
“Yes. You will probably get two though, yours are both under the cut off age.”
Tears flooded her eyes and she caught her breath again, “Then we’ll be fine.”
“Good. I’ll call you again later this week.”
She caught herself nodding even though they couldn’t see her. I won’t be here to take it. She didn’t voice the thought though and closed the link without saying anything.
“Mummy, is there anything to eat?” the voice from upstairs sounded closer.
“I’ve put the food in the usual spot, darling. Make sure that you save enough for the rest of the day.” She turned the computer off and shut the lid. “There’s going to be a delivery soon. You can come down and sort it out as soon as it arrives; I’m going to take a nap so don’t wake me. There’s going to be some special medicine in the box; make sure that you take one dose and that you give your brother the other.”
The footsteps stopped halfway down the stairs, and then moved back up the stairs slowly.
Good they have their day’s food. I don’t have to worry about them now, especially when the delivery arrives.
Outside a dog and a clowder of cats were engaging in their usual antics. She watched them for a while, then moved from the window to the other couch. The figure lying there was the stillest that he’d ever been, and she stroked one hand over his face. It could have been carved in marble; cold, solid and as handsome as the day they’d first met.
She crouched down and kissed the unyielding cheek, smiled and pulled the blanket up over his head. I’m sorry, my love. The vaccine won’t help us. She coughed and felt her lungs constrict hard as the ability to breathe left her for a while.
She wondered if her older children were okay. Both had volunteered to be frontline staff as soon as they had completed the basic online training and she hadn’t heard from them since. Surely the frontline staff will have been vaccinated, maybe they will be coming home soon?
She shrugged and moved into the next room. Since their house had been officially quarantined with police tape, she’d lived downstairs and the younger children upstairs. It had been a while since she’d seen the two of them, just spoken to them from downstairs, the barricade in the middle blocking any view of them.
She heard them playing and laughing though and it gave her hope. Nothing else did.
The kitchen was sparkling in the sunlight. She started the routine of cleaning and disinfecting it again though. Where her craft supplies had once cluttered the dining room, boxes of neatly packed items waited for selling. Not that it will be useful for a while yet, but the kids might get a little money from it. Stacks of filled notebooks covered the table, aligned neatly and arranged in order of suggested publication, along with a file with all her passwords and the will that covered everything in the room.
She finished cleaning quickly, drank her fill of water from the tap and used the commode they had been given, before taking the bucket out to the drain and emptying it, washing it out and adding the last of the bleach to the drain and the bottom of the bucket.
Returning to her couch, she eased herself into place and pulled the blanket up. I don’t think I have much longer to wait now. Her heart was beating fast and her breathing laboured with the exertion of the task she’d just done. A wave of fever and lassitude slipped over her and she closed her eyes, hoping that she would sleep before the tall, black robed skeleton came for her. That way it might be painless.
Sleep claimed her
* * *
She woke to bright lights and chaos.
“Mum, come on. You can’t just give up like that.” Her oldest son’s voice filled her with joy.
He’s alive… or am I dead and he’s dead and we were both wrong about there being an afterlife? She felt so confused as her heart constricted and a sob forced its way out of her mouth.
“It’s okay mum,” he hugged her, his arms strong and real, “We were in time for the both of you.” her son eased her up into a sitting position and the light became easier to manage.
Her eyes adjusted and she automatically looked across at the other couch… or where it should have been. Instead, she saw a strange room and a hospital bed occupied by him. He smiled at her and she fell in love with him all over again. Her oldest daughter sat beside him; she was smiling happily as well.
She coughed. No wheeze.
“I gave the little ones their vaccine and they are in another room while they finish their quarantine. You’ll be able to speak to them later.”
“How…?” she couldn’t finish the thought, but her son understood.
“He was on the edge. It took a lot of work, but the Doctor brought him back.” He smiled, “I had given up hope that we would get to you, there were so many to visit and heal, but the Doctor never gave up hope or stopped working. I think the ship’s Central A.I. stopped protesting after the fiftieth rescue.”
Disappointment flooded her and she sighed. I’m dreaming. Always the same one, of the Doctor sweeping in to rescue and heal everyone who dies.
She turned away from her son and cried into her pillow. I wish, just for once, that it was real. That our family was whole and healthy again.
“Mum. Stop that. You’ll upset the A.I.” he chided her.
That’s different. She took a deep breath. No wheeze, no pain. No fever.
A figure in a white coat entered, a stethoscope around its neck. “How’s it going in here?” The voice was different to the one that she usually dreamed, and she looked at it.
The woman had long curly red hair and sparkling green eyes above the mask covering her mouth. She wore the usual scrubs under the coat.
“Not Ten. Ginger.” she murmered and her son burst out laughing.
“I told you that she’d say that, Doctor.” he said to the figure.
The figure rolled her eyes, “I’ve heard it way too often on this mission.” there was a smile in her voice though.
“Mum, this is the Real Doctor. The one who inspired the original creators of the TV series.”
She stared at the woman.
“It’s okay, you’ll understand soon. My people have been looking after yours for a long time and it took us a while to work out how to fix that colossal fuck up that the govts of the world generally made of this particular pandemic.” the Doctor’s eyes creased at the corners and she just knew that the woman was grinning.
“Mum, you need to rest now, let the Nano biotics finish their job of fixing the ruin that the virus made of your lungs.” Her son smiled at her and she smiled back, happy to see him happy.
Then she slept again.