The Corona Chronicles are published on The Telegraph online every Friday. To read previous chapters, click here
Wednesday May 20 – Day 58 of Isolation
So I plucked up courage and asked Robert to move out.
“Don’t be absurd, darling,” he says, doing his best to swallow a yawn which only enrages me even more. “I’m not leaving you and the kids. Besides, it’s against the rules, isn’t it?”
“And I suppose it’s not against the rules to be canoodling with some woman in a public park.” (Canoodling? What the hell, Carrie. Why do we always choose ridiculous words from Barbara Cartland novels when we’re in awful, cliched situations like our husband having an affair?)
Robert has the grace to look uncomfortable, although his lockdown stubble has got so beardy recently I can’t tell if he’s blushing.
“Not much social distancing going on in the park was there, darling?” I can’t stop myself. Feel so humiliated.
“How many more times, Carrie? Jennie is a personal trainer who really needs the work because most of her clients are Nervous Nellies who won’t go through their front door. I was just trying to help her out when you saw us…”
“Resistance training. Which I thought you would approve of as you keep telling me to lose a few pounds so Covid doesn’t kill me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to give you a chance to calm down while I take Montie for a walk.”
Oh, yes, whatever. Max.”
One of the things I dislike about Robert is that he insists on calling Max by the name of our previous dog, who died eighteen months ago. Even hearing Montie’s name spoken aloud can still bring tears to my eyes. Robert says it at least twice a day. As if beloved animals were interchangeable. And women too maybe.
“Everything OK in here?” Chloe is standing anxiously in the kitchen doorway.
“Fine,” Robert and I both say together, rather too quickly, smiling brightly at our daughter.
Chloe studies us both quizzically before saying, “Alright if Paolo and I get a lift to the food bank later, Mum? We want to hand over money we made from selling our masks. Dan, the guy I spoke to, said they need all the help they can get. Demand has gone through the roof and the recession hasn’t even started yet.”
Robert gives a strange whinnying snort like a horse that had just seen a snake. “Well, Chlo, it looks like your father and his entire firm – or what remains of it when furlough ends - will be taking a salary holiday this year. So we may well be using the food bank ourselves. Glad you’re getting us in their good books, sweetheart.”
Funny, Robert hasn’t mentioned anything to me about not getting paid. We’re with each other so much – more than ever before in our married life actually. I always used to resent the long hours he spent at the office, but there’s such a thing as too much togetherness, I see that now. There was an article in the paper about how divorce proceedings in Italy are up 30 per cent since their lockdown eased. A lawyer said couples had realised they relied on the fact that they didn’t see each other very often or “they were able to see their lovers”.
That made me wince. How many faithless spouses are there in the country suddenly locked up with their own wives and husbands, feeing miserable and utterly bereft? You know, I almost feel sorry for them. If only I didn’t suspect one of the betrayed was me.
Gosh, it’s all kicking off today on the Neighbourhood WhatsApp group. Instead of lockdown recipes for vegan banana bread and top tips on how to make board games out of old wallpaper, the mums are at war over whether schools should reopen. Lovely Karen at Number 32 just got mauled when she said she was struggling to home-school Rufus, who has learning difficulties, and really needs his teachers. I caught sight of Karen during the last Clap for Carers and she looked gaunt and distracted. I know Rufus is a handful, but could she be ill?
Izzy is desperate to go back and be with her friends. My cheerful, incredibly grounded youngest actually used the word “depressed” the other day. I was shocked. As for Harry, denied the chance to take his GCSEs he’s been lost in Fortnite. The video game is his new reality, although I know he’s still pinning his hopes on being able to experience “results day” and go to the prom. Personally, I don’t see the problem. Harry’s sixteen. Kids his age don’t suffer from Covid. And Dennis and Ellen’s granddaughter, Katie, has been teaching the children of keyworkers throughout and she’s fine.
Make the mistake of mentioning that to the Corona Support Group and I get a stream of unsupportive abuse from Apocalypse Anna. “Really surprised at you, Carrie. Schools are simply not safe until they’re all Covid compliant. That won’t be by June 1, whatever our murdering government may say. Dear Izzy may well be missing her friends, but she’ll miss them a lot more when they’re dead!”
“Sorry, Mum, but that’s totally unscientific,” says Izzy. Anna’s, like, totally wrong. Covid doesn’t kill kids and we don’t spread it much either. In fact, only 10 per cent of the population is at any risk at all.”
“Yeah, old people,” says Harry unpleasantly. “I’m not doing stupid frickin’ lockdown any more. Dad says more people are gonna die because lockdown wrecked our country.”
“It won’t be much longer now, love,” I soothe, patting his bushy hair. I must give his fringe a trim, he’s shaggier than Max. “We’ll soon be back to normal.”
Will we? The reassurance tastes like dust on my tongue. What good is a prom if boys and girls can’t touch each other? And how do we get back to normal if people like Apocalypse Anna almost enjoy being frightened, seem to want lockdown to go on as long as possible and say that those of us who worry about the effect on our kids are heartless? Some days, I barely recognise my country any more.
Thursday May 21 – Day 59 of Isolation
Oh, no. Peter had a fall and Susan has been struggling to help him get washed and dressed. Felt really pleased I’d managed to track down a carer who had been in isolation herself so she posed no threat to Robert’s dad, who is on the extremely vulnerable list. Triumph was short lived.
“Sorry, Carrie dear, she really wasn’t up to it,” Susan sighs.
“Not up to it in what way?” I ask, thinking of the hours I spent on the phone begging the impeccably-qualified Janella to help my parents-in-law.
“Well, she had those gel things on her nails. Purple. Not at all suitable for someone carrying out nursing duties.”
Dear God, has Susan just rejected an impossible-to-find carer on the grounds of manicure? She has. Am about to say something sarcastic when Susan continues, a quaver in her voice, “You know we got a letter from the Government? They now say Peter must probably isolate until next year. Well, we did the twelve weeks and that was bearable. I don’t know, I really don’t know, Carrie dear, how much longer we can go on like this.”
For the first time in eight weeks, I don’t feel like joining in the Clap for Carers. Fi told me that the hospital is practically empty, they haven’t had any new Covid admissions for days. What they’re really worried about now is the lack of people presenting with other medical problems. Great. Everyone has been scared to death, and now many will die of that fear. Still, here I am out on the doorstep banging my saucepan, too scared of what the neighbours will think to give it a miss.
I really don’t know what’s going on when Robert takes the saucepan from me and puts a small blue box in my hand. I open it. “Wow, Mum, actual diamonds,” gasps Izzy.
“Diamonds and silver, of course,” says Robert pulling me towards him and planting a kiss on my forehead. It’s not is it? Can’t be. What’s the date? I don’t even know the date.
“Happy silver wedding anniversary, darling,” says my maybe faithless husband.