Front Window #4: Notes on Fear

Monday 30 March 2020

An empty day. Blissful, even. I read or wrote for all of it.

Tuesday 31 March 2020

I called the NHS hotline on 111 this evening. My girlfriend has had her dry cough for a week but that’s not what’s worrying me. After two days of it seemingly receding, her fever came back — and hard.

The nurse’s advice on the end of the phone was simply to take paracetamol, which was slightly anticlimactic. As I relayed her symptoms she said, “Yep, that sounds like Covid.” I could sense the adding of a line to a tally on the desk in front of her and a sudden urgency to get onto the next call.

It’s not that I wanted an air ambulance sent to whisk her to the field hospital at the Excel Centre but, to my mind, a fever this high that lasted this long would be more of a cause for concern under normal circumstances.

I suppose these are not normal circumstances.

It was good to have some sort of confirmation though. It’s also slightly surreal that this crisis has hit home like this. We’ve been sensible and disciplined, and anxious about the virus sooner than most people we knew. We haven’t left the house in over a week regardless of symptoms. In truth, we didn’t expect to get it but feared more for others than ourselves. And now it’s in here with us.

It’s still the boredom that is overwhelming. I’m keeping myself occupied but she doesn’t have the energy to open her eyes to watch TV. I’ve been reading Jane Eyre to her instead. I think we’re both enjoying it. I’ve read it before but not out loud. Out loud the poetry of it sings, and the existential turmoil of this young child in the opening chapters is so lucid and beautiful and witty. I’m left wanting to re-read all the classics out into the air. We might have the time on our hands to do so.

It feels like a miracle right now that I don’t have it too. If we both caught it simultaneously I think we’d waste away into nothing. Already the fridge is empty. We’d planned a trip to the shop tomorrow but I’m not sure that’s on the cards anymore. We’ll need to figure out a workaround.

Wednesday 1 April 2020

April’s fools are suddenly everywhere.

I wake up groggily to the blaring sound of our fire alarm. My girlfriend was already up and ready to go. I was less convinced and panicked by the situation. I work from home a lot. I am used to the false alarms.

The alarm was shut off before we made it through the front door, much to her frustration. A message later went around the building’s WhatsApp group that explained some plumbers had set it off.

I was surprised to hear plumbers were even allowed in the building but that was when I caught a glimpse of the developing hysteria. A plumbing issue can’t wait. Nevertheless, I felt afraid for those two men on the job. They were working on our floor just a few doors down. I felt like maybe we should put quarantine tape on the front door or something, just to warn the neighbours. It’s stupid, really, but I had these thoughts regardless.

With it being so early in the morning, and with nowhere to be, I decided to go back to bed. Once horizontal, I picked up my phone only to find a text from a man saying he was in the area to carry out some pre-booked energy efficiency testing. It was something the landlord arranged a few weeks back. We’d forgotten about it — him included when I text him to ask about it — and we were all very surprised to hear that the tester still planned to go ahead with the testing. Plumbing is one thing but I don’t think checking the efficiency of our flat’s insulation is all that pressing. I text him back saying so.

“We are still working under the current safety guidelines,” was the response.

The next thing I knew he was calling us from inside the building. “What’s your flat number?” he kept asking. I told him my girlfriend was sick with the virus and that it was unlikely he had enough PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to put our minds at ease.

“So you’re cancelling?”

Err, yes…

At around three o’clock I started to make a late lunch. We’re moving around so little that we barely have any appetite and the shocking deficiency of snacks in the cupboard meant we were spending more time talking about food and driving ourselves crazy.

There are plenty of people in the local area we could probably call upon to help us out but neither of us has the nerve to collate a list of comfort foods to get us through the boredom. We’ll just keep using up what we’ve got until her symptoms pass.

We’re not struggling yet anyway. I made some pasta and we sat in bed. My girlfriend put on the news which we’d decided to more or less ignore for the past week. The forced updates of social media apps are about as much as we’d like to know at this point

The BBC newsreaders were going through various reports and they all kept talking ominously about … The Peak. Just like that as well. They’d take a slight pause — dramatic but not melodramatic — right before they said the words, which were in themselves also slightly emphasised. The Peak. We are approaching … The Peak. How long is the government estimating it will be before we reach … The Peak. The death toll is rising daily — how bad is … The Peak … going to be? Then they start talking about plateaus. After … The Peak … the death toll will begin to plateau. “Plateau” is said with a little more urgency, with a certain relief. Peaks and plateaus. Plateaus and peaks.

We eat quickly and turn it off.

Despite the media’s dramatics, there is a sense that the government is trying to soothe people’s anxieties in the wrong way. They report on the numbers but with this tone that says, “Hey, you know, things don’t look too bad… Statistically, it’s mostly all fine… People die everyday… Things could be getting better sooner than we thought!”

It’s hard not to witness this and watch activity pick up again outside our window. We watch the frequency of cars passing increase with a certain terror. Some non-essential works are still going ahead without anyone taking the time to figure out the risks. Everyone seems to want to get in our building or into our flat to carry out works that can wait.

I feel like we have had too many close calls today, too many opportunities for the virus in our flat to spread through our building. Everyone seems eager to get back to work or get out of the house, and that’s understandable, but I can’t help but think it’s moronic. Although I don’t blame anyone. It’s like they are been pushed through their front doors by some unconscious kick — the myoclonic jerks of a capitalist system being told to go to sleep. Nevertheless, I wish everyone would stay indoors as stubbornly as we are.

We’ve got the fear today and the fear is real. It’s that same fear that used to emerge on the last day of the summer holidays. The fear that still emerges on a Sunday evening as you stare down the barrel of the week ahead.

“No more miserable Monday mornings” was Mark’s dream for himself and the world at large. In the introduction to Acid Communism, he took up this same phrase to write about the Small Faces’ “Lazy Sunday” — a song through which “the fog and frost of a Monday morning [is] abjured from a sunny Sunday afternoon that does not need to end…”

We’re living through a very long Sunday at the moment and, the longer it goes on, the more monstrous the Monday to follow seems like it will be. Because it isn’t the dream of no work that keeps us in bed but the dream of no illness — or, now, not spreading the illness any further — and that seems like a drive worth listening to.

The lazy Sunday is over. Now we’re back to thinking neurotically about the correct use of soap…

Thursday 2nd April 2020

My Dad is texting us for daily updates now. He’s concerned but it’s nice. We usually only drop each other an email every few months. Today he rang me to see how we were getting on. A mundane gesture but unusual for him. His fear has been real for over a month. I laughed about it at first. I’m not laughing now.

I even had a somewhat wholesome chat with the landlord about how he’s talking this opportunity to potty train his kid (“That’s brave”) before he offered to relax the rent if things were getting tough. It was quite the relief.

I went outside to take the bins out and bumped into the neighbours. I think they’re new. They woke us up at 4am the other week whilst having what I assume was a house-warming party. I went round like a grumpy old boomer and asked them to keep it down. The walls in this building are very well insulated. You wouldn’t know anyone lived around you if it wasn’t for the occasion noise from the corridor passing under the front door. The fact they made enough noise to wake us up was saying something.

They looked pretty sheepish but I smiled and said hello. Everyone is different newly awake at 4am than they are during the day. Water under the bridge as far as I’m concerned. Maybe they weren’t sheepish about that though. Maybe they’d heard my girlfriend’s incessant coughing through the walls…

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