This, like all my short stories, is a work of fiction. It was inspired by a newspaper headline prompt on the theme of lockdown in a creative writing/flash fiction zoom class hosted by the author SJ Bradley. Thanks also to Comma Press and North West Libraries Reader Development Partnership.
It’s not limbo. It’s purgatory. No, it’s hell. He’s all I think about. I should be baking sourdough or banana bread, or getting through that pile of hardbacks, painting watercolours, or even doing jigsaws like every other saddo, but I can’t focus.
Every day it’s the same. I start getting properly ready about 4pm. At 5:30, give or take, he goes for a run and rings me. I imagine him all hot and sweaty. If he doesn’t ring me on time, then I know he’s not alone. He says he sometimes pretends he’s listening to his voicemail, so I only get a breathless “hi”. Then I have to wait until he gets home. That’s the best bit of my day. The muted zoom call while he’s in the shower. We have about fifteen uninterrupted minutes to watch each other.
Oh God, what if he’s recording those and putting them on the internet!
I don’t think he knows that I activated his find my phone app, or he’d have said something. I keep thinking that I might drive to that woodland area where he runs, just so I can bump into him accidentally on purpose, but what if he’s got his kids with him? It would be just my luck to get questioned by the police for going out of area to exercise.
It’s not fair. He’s stuck in a loveless marriage with two ungrateful teenage kids and a fat nagging wife, while I’m here all alone, in this flat, wasting one of my hot years. Every other woman stopped wearing a bra months ago, and slobs around all day in pyjamas, eating what they want. Not me. Full make-up and matching lingerie, just in case he facetimes me from the supermarket car park.
I can’t stop worrying about whether he’s cheating on me with his wife.
I need to walk off this nightshift or I won’t sleep. I can’t sleep anyway, so who am I kidding? Last night was brutal. Three came in and we lost two more. 7:00am used to be when this town began to stir into life. Now it’s dying. Before, I’d see white delivery vans. Now, Deliveroo bikes. Shutters going up not staying down. Whistling shop window cleaners flicking water. Walks of shame. Free newspapers thrust into my hand. Drops of dried blood on the pavements from people I patched up a couple of hours before. I know that muggings have increased because there are fewer people to beg from, so I now keep an emergency fiver in my coat pocket. Cyclists are breeding and they’re getting faster and braver. No-one cares about takeaway coffee cups anymore.
I see him, near one of those cruel anti-social designed benches. A sleeping sailor swaying on a washing line. His eyebrows raise when he hears a rattling Nourishment can clink against an empty bottle. I watch this underwater marionette conduct an invisible orchestra in one smooth tai chi arc, then stumble onto the pavement. A passing car swerves and beeps which is his cue to spring up and swing a punch, but he’s too slow and falls as solid as a tree. Fortunately, he’s wearing everything he owns and his padded shoulder hits the ground first. I run to him. He’s shaking and the freshest smell is his loss of bowel control. For my efforts, I get a mouthful of abuse then he tries to kick at me. He’s alright. I don’t know whether to call an ambulance or the police. I doubt he even opened his eyes.
We’re both coming down from last night and neither of us wants to do this anymore.
👀 in other news…
You know how the algorithm is always watching? That supercomputers know more about us than we do? How it’s too late now and we’re too far gone to even try to live off-grid, under the radar? (Yes, I am terrified of those Boston Dynamics robot dogs.) Well, it was only a matter of time that twitter recommended someone I used to know (pre-internet) as someone that I should follow. But what I want to know is, how did it know?
This is a video of his band, The Boy Tate. They are delightfully northern blokes and are really quite good.