The house does not sit so silent as usual – there is the constant hum of activity vibrating from room to room: the creak of jagged soles placing stress on the cracks between the wooden floorboards, the slight brush of skin against 50% polyester 50% cotton, the occasional expulsion of phlegm from the back of the throat (which induces temporary panic before confirming it is not continuous and the body temperature remains below 38°), the muffled opening of a drawer, then the hurried rustling of papers and a frustrated “no” before it is shut again and another is opened, the light tick of fingertips dancing across a keyboard, the screeching of a chair as it rasps against the hard surface, the rattling of keys followed by the metallic click of a hinge swinging up and out, then the high-pitched whistle of someone beckoning a little cat and a disgruntled meow in response as if to say ‘I can’t believe you left me outside for so long’ before proceeding to purr excessively, and then the tiptaptiptaptip of his little paw pads as he saunters away, and sometimes, the ping of a device, a short pause, then a sudden outburst of deep laughter at something upon the screen, oh and the incessant echo of George Ezra’s ‘Shotgun’ on repeat, (I’ll be riding shotgun…underneath the hot sun..), followed by small voices flinging out irrelevant nonsense in alternating frequencies from the radio in the corner, which was supposedly turned on by the woman sat at the dining table in order to be listened to, but after a brief examination of her, it becomes clear that the small voices fall on deaf ears, instead she bends over the needy laptop in front of her, folding her limbs into a smaller mould (and in doing so, submitting to the machine’s demand), and every so often brushes a hand through her thinning (but still immaculately blow-dried) hair as she thinks to herself how she should have got it cut and highlighted before this involuntary cloister began, (..feeling like a someone…), and when asked why she insists on playing the damn thing all day every day despite the lack of interest in it, she meekly replies “because I don’t feel so alone” (for otherwise the silence spreads out like wallpaper speckled with sticky patches – too much glue in some places, others not enough at all).
The little cat approaches his bowl to check its contents (not because he is particularly hungry but just to fill the time) and sniffs at the remnants of last night’s jelly-laden chunks before turning away with disinterest, then scurries down the double-sided staircase overlooked by a grand chandelier (which is probably a more fit setting for a romantic moment in a teen movie than for the likes of this little cat), and pauses in front of the square flap in the door, seeming to contemplate whether he really does want to go outside, before resolving that, once again, he has nothing better to do than to fill the time with going out and coming in, out and in, out, taking a sharp left and then another, meandering through the clay-lined passageway, shimmying underneath metal, pausing briefly to rub his saliva along the length of a nearby branch, making his way along the full perimeter of the house before settling back into his original position within the glass frame of the back door, and after dismissing the human’s exclaims that they ‘only just let him in’, waddles happily back in only to repeat the cycle of going out-round-in, out-round-in, out-round-in over and over until he is interrupted from his pattern by a loud “Hello, gorgeous!” in a baby-like tone from above and, pricking his ears, leaps toe over leaf to find the source of the noise, discovering the girl to whom he occasionally decides to show affection (who had been watching him for a while, thinking to herself how the incredible thing about this little cat is that he exists, so miniscule as he is, in such a grand space, which unapologetically asserts its dominance and, well, practically engulfs him, and yet, even when confronted with all the evidence pointing towards the fact that he is only a little cat, he still looks at that space comfortable in the knowledge that he owns and controls everything within it), and when he skittles towards her, a small smirk gleans at the corner of her mouth, her pupils dilate and she cooes lovingly as she gently strokes his black fur, (which in turn clicks the often overworked amygdala in her brain to slow-motion and awakens the serotonin from their slumber, shuffling in their slippers and dressing gowns through the gooey, salt-ridden red fluid, shaking their stiff limbs as they go, while remarking to each other how that hibernation period was apparently the longest ever recorded in all the time they’ve been inside this particular human model).
She was up on the brick-stacked balcony at the front of the house, by the edge of the drive looking out over the overgrown river in full view of the people walking along the road. Dressed in a bikini top and blue denim shorts. She sat with her back leaning against the house and her legs swung out over the wall (which her mother had commented looked a bit dangerous but she didn’t care). She had come out here to find some quiet away from the ceaseless milieu of the indoors. It was late-March, the temperature was unusually high for this time of year and the sun glowed through the branches of the trees, creating lacey shadows. There were small birds softly singing and occasionally one would leap through the branches, momentarily disturbing the stillness of the scene before it quickly corrected itself and let quiet fall once more. She appeared almost at peace, tilting her chin slightly up to face the sun, her skin soaking up the vitamin D like a homeless man eating his first proper meal in weeks, reading a modest paperback, using one hand to delicately support the book with three middle fingers behind and thumb and pinky splayed across both pages, the other hand resting behind her head, wetting a finger to turn the page from time to time. Passers-by would often shout to her from the road, commenting on the perfection of such a resting spot with a slight tinge of jealousy in their tone. She would have felt smug about it had she not grown a little irritable over time. There was a perennial ringing in her ear (or was it a whooshing tide?) She was very still and immobile and looking past the river to the road and its atypically untrodden tarmac. Currently, the only other individual was rounding the corner by herself, carrying, with two fingers hooked under the plastic, a bright orange bag with the word ‘Sainsbury’s’ printed in white across the front. Presumably on her way from the state-allowed essential stock-up. The girl wondered whether it was the overbearing heat of the sun’s rays that was causing her headache or (more likely) the intermittent reminder of why she was there at all. She had heard the news of what was to come in late January, her friends had read her the daily death tolls for each infected country, but she had dismissed it (as most others did at the time), carrying on with her daily life confident in the “fact” that it probably would not extend to this area of the world, internally mocking those who were overreacting to such news. The plastic dipped so low that it periodically grazed the gravel of the pavement. Sometimes when alone and thinking or struggling to reject a matter from her mind, she would find herself pulling back the skin at the side of her thumbnail and pressing it slightly to produce a simultaneous sharp and dull sensation that radiates out from the epicentre. She did this now with a hanging sense of guilt for indulging in her power to give and take away pain (which many others do not possess at this current time). She couldn’t shake the feeling that she recognised the older woman as she waltzed by, and looked also out of place with bright neon crocs and a big purple hat with two hand-cut pink felt flowers on the side. It dawned on her that she had seen her before, only a few hours earlier and a couple before that. She had been walking up and down this road all day, humming an indistinguishable tune, mindlessly holding the same plastic bag, unaware that she was being watched. She must be doing her grocery shop one item at a time. It is incredible the things that people do to fill the days.
One thing the girl did was pick up her overheated phone to check her newsfeed, lightly stroking the warm glass as she scrolled: Getting my daily allowance of one exercise a day. <div>< She hadn’t taken advantage of that today and probably wouldn’t this afternoon for she is far too tired from laying out in the sun all day. ><scroll> UK coronavirus: Edinburgh festivals cancelled amid Covid-19 lockdown </div>< This transported her back to last summer when she had attended the festival, the Royal Mile packed with buzzing tourists, advertisers handing out an abundance of leaflets for various shows taking place across the city, a collected experience of expecting the unexpected, and she remembers running from one event to the other because her scheduling had been laughably poor. That was a simpler time. <scroll> As soon as I get out of here I am camping in the pub and never leaving. </div>< It does not occur to the owner of the comment that everyone will crowd with him, sticky with sweat, slightly disgruntled expressions on their faces at the amount of people crammed into one space, and he will raise a hand over the mass of heads, desperately trying to make eye contact with the bartender so he can order the drink that he had been waiting half an hour for, but even still, riding on the unmatched ecstasy of freedom. ><scroll> ‘Sponsored’ Sims 4 – your world, your rules, your story – 40% Off </div><scroll> Day 9: I am going insane. </div>< She chuckles – ‘aren’t we all?’ <scroll> Coronavirus death toll in UK hospitals rises by 381 to 1,789 </div>< She bowed her head sadly. Even though she was aware that the daily death toll in the UK is usually around 1,500 anyway, there is no way of knowing whether these deaths were naturally occurring or pressed on before their time by the dreaded virus. ><scroll> You Are Not Stuck At Home, You Are Safe At Home. </div><scroll> A 13-year-old boy with no apparent underlying health conditions has died after testing positive for coronavirus. </div>< Oh. ><scroll> I am so damn borreeeddd. </div><scroll> I feel like we’re all living in some kind of grand dystopian narrative. </div><div><br></div> The girl dwelled on how it does, in fact, feel as though we’re trapped in one of those films you could only watch once, all waiting for the punchline. She looked up briefly from the screen, jolted by a nearby bird erupting with a jarring squark, which sounded like the scream of a morphed cross between a woman and fox, before returning to her thoughts. And there on the balcony, neither frozen nor yet moving, the girl dreamt that this was all a simulation, and was moved with pseudo-relief and also something more, something without any name she knows, that was given to her to feel in the form of a question that never once in all of this long black week’s rumination had even so much as occurred – what if at 8:30pm tonight Boris Johnson will announce to the nation that this was all one big joke, the virus was actually fake and all the statistics were forged, revealing the master-plan for some kind of world trust exercise? What if he says something like “We just wanted to bring the global community closer together”? And we’d all jump up from our sofas in outrage, but after a month or so the disgruntled chattering would settle down and normality would resume. Would it really be so bizarre for us to wake up from this already incredibly surreal reality? For it was just now that the nearby bird made a noise that no real earthly creature would ever make. Maybe if she wished hard enough for this insane dream of hers to come true, the bird would disappear and everything else with it. Then it occurred to her just how much she truly despises birds of any kind.