I keep wanting to write “A Journal Of The Plague Year”, which I gather is a novel by Daniel Defoe – though it has the appearance of a historical account – of the coming of the Great Plague to the city of London. The Plague came in 1665 but “Journal Of The Plague Year” was published in 1722. Defoe was only five – six at most – in 1665, which is why people tend to categorise it as something other than an eyewitness account.
Well, what is this? Strange times are upon us. I did rather hope for excitement (a gal’s gotta get her thrills where she can) but what has actually happened is, so far, depressing. Or maybe I’m depressed.
I have discovered it’s one thing to isolate yourself from your fellow humans out of choice, another thing to have to do it. And it’s all happening so quickly. The Home rang and told English Sister and Me not to visit our mother for a while. Mostly she’s in bed when we go anyway – way past lunchtime and her breakfast egg-on-toast congealing on the table beside her, her meds undrunk, her tea cold. Not only does she no longer recognise us, she has given up the pretence of recognising us – that fluty ‘anxious hostess’ voice she used to put on when we walked in – that’s gone. She stays lying down. She might open one eye, then close it again, shutting us out.
All the same, when your Mum’s ninety, and you are forced to abandon her for the duration, you do begin to wonder… will we see her again? Canadian sister is now trapped in Canada, more or less. By next year, when she might manage to get over – who knows whether Mum will still be there, opening one sullen eye.
Canadian Sister seems to be coping with sudden isolation better than me, which is a surprise, since until the virus hit she wasn’t doing so well, what with widowhood and all. She has been doing an art degree course at University, but it looks like this is going to be cancelled, temporarily. She was getting support from her local Seniors group, but that has closed down because of It. Yet she seems happier at the moment. She is waiting for a new armchair to be delivered. She is looking forward to starting work on a rug-making kit. It’s as if now nothing can be expected of her in the way of Adjusting and Moving On, she has breathed a mental sigh of relief, and relaxed.
I expected to be thriving in my increased isolation – after all, this new “life” is not that much different from the old one. I have no symptoms (long may it stay that way) but decided to “retire” from the rudimentary social life I had, on account of my age and dodgy immune system, and of course to protect elderly friends from me. Not only can I not visit Mum, I can’t visit Godmother either – Godmother is ninety-one. It occurred to me this morning that I love Godmother, and am more afraid of her dying than Mum, maybe because she has all her marbles.
Mum was a bit not there during our childhood – well, for most of her life – and we all three found mother-substitutes. Canadian Sister became attached to her mother-in-law – who unfortunately died a few weeks ago – English Sister spends – or used to spend – she can’t any more – a lot of time with her partner’s elderly Mum and Dad – and I had Nan, and then Godmother. It occurred to me this morning that you don’t actually, physically, feel the love you have for somebody until you are physically cut off from them. Somebody (else) I loved once described it as an invisible rope, or umbilical cord, from your centre to theirs. It doesn’t hurt until you pull apart.
I am struggling to get up speed, as it were. There are a lot of things I could be getting on with – like Canadian Sister and her rug kit – or English Sister who, plague or no plague, got the train up to London to see a Picasso exhibition today. So as not to waste the tickets, which she’d booked months ago. I did do two lots of washing, took delivery of my Tesco order (the man now signs the machine for you, so he’s the only one to handle it) and experimented with a double-layered cloth mask.
Masks are largely useless anyway, but I haven’t been able to get hold of any – all sold out – and I do have to brave the hospital for a blood test shortly. Hours, probably, of waiting in a cramped row of hard chairs, with a motley collection of sick people, coughing! So I printed a likely-looking Japanese pattern for a washable, cotton one on the internet, cut one out and sewed it up. It actually fits, but whether I will have the nerve to wear it in public is another thing. I made it in a neutral, medical pale blue rather than the lurid prints that seem to be popular in Japan. Also, it’s a bit like breathing smog.
Tomorrow I ought to make another one or two, and edit a story, and write the first draft of a new one. Whether I will or not…
Featured image: Picasso, 1905: Au Lapin Agile (Arlequin tenant un verre)