If I close my eyes

If I close my eyes

Image Credit: Henry Wright henry.c.j.wright@gmail.com

If I close my eyes, I can pretend that it is an ordinary day. If I close my eyes, I can pretend it’s a Sunday afternoon, any Sunday afternoon. The four of us are on the beach: me, Jean- Pierre, Chloe and Michel. The children are building a sandcastle. Michel waddles to the water’s edge with his blue plastic bucket to get water for the moat. He takes a couple of steps into the sea, hesitates, a wave breaks reaching his knees. He retreats, falls, sits on his bum and cries. Jean-Pierre goes and picks him up, sets him on his feet, takes his hand, and helps him fill his bucket.

Later, Jean-Pierre goes to the café for beer for us, cola for the children; their Sunday treat. Fizzy drinks are forbidden the rest of the week. I should have let them have cola for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I spread out our picnic, baguettes filled with butter and hand carved ham, tomatoes, cucumber cut into half moons as Chloe doesn’t like the seeds. If I close my eyes I can feel Jean-Pierre brush sand from my back. I can feel Chloe squirming in my arms as I try to drag a comb through her tangled hair.

The door bell rings and I have to open my eyes to the stark reality of my apartment. I press the door phone.

“Madame Sabine. Your food delivery. I am leaving the box on your doormat. Please wait thirty seconds before opening the door.”

I don’t recognise the voice. Rashid has been my delivery man for the last six months; I wonder what has happened to him. I count to thirty and open the door. The delivery man nods, ticks my name on his tablet.

“Where’s Rashid?” I ask. He doesn’t reply.

I still have some of the food left from last week. I can’t put it in the waste bin as they check what is thrown out. Survivors have a duty to maintain their physical well-being. It can’t be a nice job, sifting through rubbish bags but it’s a job and they’re hard to come by. Madame Auguste told me that her nephew had started working at one of the tracing plants. He said it was okay and paid reasonably well. Madame Auguste moaned that he was a bright boy and could do better.

I check the contents- six fresh tomatoes, three eggs, a tin if ham which I detest as the meat is too pink and the jelly too slimy, two tins of peas, pasta, a tin of potatoes, two tins of sardines, a tin of cassoulet, long life milk, coffee beans, oats. I will trade some of my tinned goods with Madame Auguste for tobacco. She has another nephew who can get most things. Madame Auguste has a lot of nephews. I make some porridge for my dinner, flavour it with cinnamon and nutmeg.

I open the bin to throw away the plastic seal from the box and see the card that Monsieur Le Brun put through my letter box yesterday. He wished me a happy birthday and carried on to state that now was the time for survivors to start looking towards the future. To think about providing the next generation. He finished by saying that “One can only grieve so long. One must start living again. We would make a successful couple.”

Monsieur LeBrun must be in his sixties, about twenty five years older than me. He has yellow, crooked teeth, bad breath and a large belly. I could put up with all that if he were a decent, honest person. He is one of those types who does well out of a crisis, his sticky fingers in the black market, holding back supplies to push up prices. Everyone knows what he does, moans about him and then buys the hard to get stuff like fresh fruit, tobacco and alcohol from him. I pick up the card and tear it into small pieces.

My phone beeps with the results of my monthly heath monitoring check. My status is green. No traces of the virus or any other contagious diseases. If my status had been amber I would have to go for further tests. Red- the ambulance would be on its way.

I’m in the A category of survivors- antibody tests show that I was infected but only suffered mild symptoms. They have taken numerous blood and tissue samples. There are many theories about why some people succumbed quickly and others shrugged it off as if it were no more serious than a cold. Each time the experts think they’re making a breakthrough, they’re knocked back. It’s as if the virus is playing tag – you can’t catch me.

I roll a cigarette. The evenings are even worse than the days. 6pm is when I should be making dinner, running baths, pouring a glass of wine. Instead I pour my cup of tea, add two spoonfuls of sugar, light my cigarette and go on to the balcony.

Sitting there, I can see our car in the parking lot - a flat tyre causes it to tilt to

one side. I can see the children’s’ play area with the faded closed notice. I can see the sanitation workers in their shabby tracksuits and face masks hosing down the pavements. I can hear my neighbours’ TVs. I can hear police sirens. I can feel the curfew. Madame Auguste calls to me, I break the regulations and climb over the partition to her balcony. I give her two tins of ham from the back of the cupboard, one is nearly a year out of date but she doesn’t mind. She gives me a packet of tobacco. She talks about growing up on her grandparents’ farm and how her grandmother made the best roast chicken she had ever tasted. “I took it for granted. It was what we had every week. What I would give for that chicken now.” She says. As she talks I can almost smell the chicken and garlic roasting, releasing their juices, I imagine picking up a chunk of freshly baked bread to wipe the plate clean.

Later, back on my own balcony, I open a photo album. I hardly need to look at the pages, I know every photo by heart. It is my comfort blanket and my well of despair.

When it is too dark to see the photos, I go to bed. I touch my breasts, a pale imitation of Jean-Pierre’s caresses. My fingers move further down my body but trying to pleasure myself feels like a betrayal. I hug his pillow even though any lingering scent of him has long been washed away. Sleep does not come. I get up, pour a glass of wine and go into Chloe’s bedroom. I curl up on her bed, pull her pink princess quilt over me and switch on her night light, watch the Little Prince go round and round his tiny planet.

I close my eyes, I can no long pretend.

By Faith Walsh