23rd April 2020
The air is pulsing.
A base resonance at the edge of my dream wakes me. Faint dawn light creases the edge of darkness.
I push back the blind. A vibration shakes the house as the shape moves heavily above. I imagine those inside looking down onto the stilled city streets. I watch until the dark outline of the chinook helicopter passes.
The stillness of first light re-settles. Close by the twit of the female owl calling her mate a brief pause then his long twooo reply.
I head to the garden to do my morning yoga, the precious single daily exercise is saved for my evening walk with David.
At the back door I capture a flash of movement. A brave blue tit teasing strands of cat hair from the heather, her mate keeps look out from the sliver birch. I imagine tiny chicks nestled in the soft grey underbelly of cat fur in the still cold nights. There’s a purposeful urgency to the birds movements. Bright eyes attuned to the soft shape of moss, fur and feathers – as they build their nests.
By midday an exotic April heat fills the car. I arrive early and wait behind the uneven queue.
We sit precariously pitched at the edge of the road, swaying slightly when another car speeds past. On the hour the guard unlocks the gates, the procession crawls forward patiently. I glance in my rearview mirror and see the snake of vehicles behind me.
The cars in front, turn left toward the new sections of graves. I watch them weave forward to the bright shapes of flowers spelling mum, dad, grandad that sit amongst the fresh turned mud and grass.
I follow the curve of tarmac right, toward the older section. It’s deserted.
I park up my car and trace the simple rituals - a well laid habit. I kneel on her ground to trim the grass with my kitchen scissors. Replacing faded flowers with the yellow roses.
I hear her car door shut, as mum gets closer, we smile behind our masks. Reading each other’s eyes. I’ve already set the rugs at a social distance. 3 metres to be extra safe, not 2.
Just close enough to hear her read poetry to me and my sister deep beneath the earth.
We walk single file, keeping our distance as we trace the twisted path of wood chip to the newer graves. I’m surprised by so many people. The cemetery is rarely crowded, even at its busiest - a Sunday in the hours just before and after lunch and Mother’s Day. I’ve never seen it like this. I scan the scattered crowd. Taking in the tears and clasped hands.
Groups of mourners form a dance of distance. Standing apart, moving forward to touch and hug. Then pacing backwards. Grief breaks rules and boundaries cannot hold.
Some wear masks, slung precariously over their ears - that slip off. A man waves over to us, but from a distance behind his mask we don’t recognise him.
We gaze at dad’s grave – our own brief dance as mum places the bunch of gysophila on the grass and steps, backwards, then I retrieve and place them in the small plastic vase of remembrance.
We return to our cars and bow goodbye. I feel her eyes hug me for a moment. For her safety. We wont meet again for many weeks.
I hear my husband’s alarm pulse through the wall. I lie still for a few moments cherishing the time of not rushing out to the day: to a long commute, motorway traffic and the business of doing.
The trilling chorus of birds gossiping in the morning sunlight, is broken by the distant rhythmic shrill of an ambulance.
We’re sleeping separately. A simple plan: if one of us is infected (or re-infected) we can delay transmission and hopefully ensure the care of the other.
We’ve found a new rhythm to our days, simpler than before. Slow sipped morning tea. Lunchbreaks at the sunlit garden table. Each evening we walk through the traffic stilled streets and zig zag from pavement to tarmac to loop around other walkers. Some seem wary, eyes cast down.
Most folk are friendly, an almost conspiratorial smile as we pass. A blitz spirited let’s get some air what else can we do- kind of shift in the shoulders.
I spot two pigeons courting in the tree, tenderly cooing and tapping beaks above the quietened street. As I glance upwards, the blue Spring sky seems
larger than usual.
David and I speak as we walk. Our conversations have started to form a similar shape: fears for our shielded parents, sit with the unexpected joy of less doing.
The global pandemic is a gift of sorts.
It’s the longest time I have not worked since I graduated. Freed time for baking, making, growing, and watering.
I nestle courgette seeds in trays of earth and days later tiny strands of green push back the soil. The lilac flowers of beans give way to tight tender pods, that click between my teeth. The cucumber grows steadily, tipping outside its pot, a green tuber of sweet water. Neat chucks fill our evening G&T.
Each night I ease the ridge of earth from under my nails. And each morning I watch the new sliver green shoots emerge into the Spring sunlight.