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Short Story: Windows

Short Story: Windows

During lockdown, the members of one community undergo their own struggles and challenges from the endless monotony of Zoom calls, to the loneliness of being apart from friends and family, to home schooling, and weathering crumbling relationships.

Short Story: Windows

 

DOUG

Doug squinted at the alarm clock: 3.30am. Time to get up. His back and shoulders protested. He showered quickly, brushing his teeth in the shower, washing the remnants of his sleep down the drain. He boiled the jug, spooned the Nescafé and two sugars into his stained travel mug and poured in a dollop of milk. He grabbed his lunchbox from the fridge on his way out the door.

At the depot, trucks were already purring to life.

“Morning Doug, no rest for the wicked.”

“Morning, yep, you can say that again.” He lit a cigarette, dragged the smoke into his lungs as the smoke drifted away on the cold early morning air. He hopped up into the cab to write up his log. He’d stayed late last night to get sorted. He started the engine, flicked on the low beam, sat in his seat, leant back and shut his eyes. Another big day. He wrote the date and time, the odometer and his first destination, demisted the window and stared ahead through the windscreen at the pools of gold light flooding the depot and be yond that at the dark night.

Doug released the handbrake and put the truck gently into gear. He eased the truck into the depot driveway and indicated left . “No – one to indicate to,” he thought wryly. The headlights lit up the road ahead of him.

He moved his backside into the seat and started to go through the gears.

 

ELISE

Elise woke up and stretched. No one was awake except her. The sun was sneaking into her room around the edges of her blind. She picked up her bunny, pushed off her duvet and padded down the hall to Mum and Dad’s room. The door creaked when she pushed it. Mum and Dad were lying squashed together in the middle of the bed.

“Hello?” Elise whispered, “Are you awake?”

“Well, we are now,” Dad smiled as he opened one eye. “Come on, up you get you little alarm clock. Good morning.”

Elise got hauled onto the bed by the back of her pyjamas.

“Mum …”

“Errrgh, I’m still asleep. Go to the lounge and count how many people go by. Count the people and count the dogs. Go to the loo first or you’ll burst.”

“Okay, I’ll count them and then we can have breakfast.” Elise slid down the side of the bed and ran.

“That was a crafty move … I’m liking this lockdown … are we meant to be enjoying this quite as much as we are? How much time did you give us?”

“Enough, I think.” She smiled back.

 

SIMON

The sound of the next-door neighbour’s radio started up through the wall. Simon’s rent for his bedsit wasn’t paid. The landlord was understanding – so far. Simon walked to the window and looked out at the flat’s backyard. Hedges hid the neighbours and the sun cast morning shadows onto the dewy lawn. He lit a joint and dragged deeply and lay back on the rumpled, fusty bed. He shouldn’t have started this early. His text went off. Shit, it was Mum.

“Hope all okay over there. We’ve been on our walk – the first one today, that is! Lol!”

“Hey, not much to report here,” he replied.

“Do you need anything? I’m cooking far too much for two … I can drop off multiple frozen portions!” Mum said.

“Yes, great. I’m still asleep now, so how about tomorrow?”

Simon took another deep drag and closed his eyes.

 

MARGARET

Margaret was on the toilet when the phone rang. She wiped herself and pulled up her pants and stockings. Her walker was in front of her and she hauled herself up from the raised toilet frame. She ran her fingers under the tap. The phone stopped ringing. She sighed. Hobbling, she opened the door to her room as it rang again.

“Hello?” she gasped.

“Look out the window, Nana! We’re at the fence! We’ll speak on the phone so we don’t have to yell and you sit in your chair.”

Margaret looked out at the street at the iron railing beyond the manicured native planting and her window ledge of family photos and the small brown bear perched looking out the window.

Beth and the children were at the fence, smiling and waving in the sunlight. Emmie and Maisy were dancing and jerking their straight arms side-to-side and Jack was jumping up and down. She put the phone in her walker’s carryall and manoeuvred her way to her chair. She eased herself onto the air cushion on the Lazy Boy and leant forward, breathing heavily as she picked up the phone again.

“Hello, what a sight for sore eyes you all are.” Margaret smiled and picked up the bear and waggled it side-to-side.

 

THE PARATA-CAMPBELL WHANAU

“Would you all just settle down? Enough now – if you want to carry on with that, go outside! I don’t care if it’s a cold wind – all out! I mean it.”

Kayleigh opened the fridge and stared. Man, this lot could eat. Macaroni cheese. She started getting things out and put a pot of water on to boil. She scrolled through Facebook. Another family had put up a dance routine. We could hardly be in the same room together, let alone do 500 takes of a TikTok routine, she thought. Cute talking dogs, comedian Tom Sainsbury’s impersonation of politician Paula Bennett, endless scrolling of photos of homemade sourdough and people shooting ping pong balls into cups. She checked Worldometer. The statistics had their own life – of waves, lockdowns and of 14-day delays until death statistics.

Her next Zoom was at 2pm. It was set up in her bedroom so that she could shut out the chaos of the kids. Caleb hadn’t been doing any schoolwork and spent most of his day laying on his bed playing that bloody game. Sam’s hours were reduced and they were running low on food already. Tears smarted and she wiped her hand across her face. How do you apply for a food handout?

Kayleigh walked to the sliding door. They were shooting hoops and happily goofing around. She opened the slider. “Lunch in 20 minutes!”

 

WARREN

“Kia ora koutou katoa, and welcome to this afternoon’s briefing. Today I’m pleased to report that there are no new cases …” Warren exhaled with relief at health official Ashley Bloomfield’s words. The tide was beginning to turn. Like the rest of New Zealand, one o’clock every day was one of Warren’s ‘new normal’ routines.

He sat on the sofa and listened to the full bulletin, but switched it off before the reporter’s recap. Time to get out in the garden and get a bit of fresh air. More pruning – the garden looked spick and span. Warren put on his Swanndri gear, took the pruning shears and the bucket around and filled it up. He got some silver beet and a couple of carrots out of the veggie patch. He spotted his neighbour, Val and gave her a wave.

He put the veggies in the sink and caught a glimpse of the bedroom door. He walked in and sat on the brocade bedspread, looking out the window at the rose, ‘Loving Memory’. He moved his veined hands over the brocade, then placed his hands on each side of his chin, fingers over each eye and smoothed his cheeks with his fingers as he dropped them.

He stood up and walked out of the room and closed the door behind him. It had been a year. “At least we got to say goodbye properly,” he thought and Peter had been able to come over and he is safe in Perth.

Maryann would ring soon.

Grocery day tomorrow and Maryann and Dan would need a complete list.

Three thirty. The hardest part of the day. He put on RNZ. It was good to think about something else.

 

JAMIE

Jamie was on his last shift. The mask was making him sweat. His pimples were worse now. He’d squeezed them this morning. At least no – one could see them. He stood in the door of PAK’nSAVE and let people in after they’d scanned. Every time one went out, he let someone through. The wind was cold today and people were fed up. The queue was long. It was right around the block to the May fair theatre. He’d seen it on his lunch break.

He moved to ease his feet. No flour again today and no yeast. So people came back because they needed the food.

“Stand on the dot, please,” he said to an old lady, who looked back at him, bewildered. Jamie looked out at the car park through the front window. More people arriving, fiddling with their rubber gloves and their masks. They all would see the queue and shake their heads and disappear around the corner.

 

JACOB AND ADELE

“Come on, shut it down. You’ve been on that computer and phone all day! Time to relax. Chicken cacciatore tonight.

“I’ve already shut down. My last customer was unbelievable. Shut the door of the room and leave work.”

Adele cracked open the Rabbit Ranch pinot and poured it into the Riedel bowls. She swirled the ruby wine, sniffed and took a first sip. Delicious spice and herbaceous notes.

“Thank God the Food Bag was considered essential,” thought Adele as she broke the iceberg leaves apart. And Freedom Wines were doing contactless delivery. She whisked the oil and lemon together with a twist of pepper. Rice into the cooker and the recipe was straightforward.

“Amanda wants to meet up for a girls’ Zoom tonight,” she said. “I don’t think she appreciates the time I’m already on it! How were your patients?”

Jacob stood looking out at the wicker furniture, concrete table slab and spa edged with greenery. He ran his fingers through his hair as Adele put some Marlon Williams on. Clouds were moving in from the south. The weather was starting to turn cold.

He picked up his wine and drank deeply.

“They are okay but it’s hard to know really from a phone call or a video. They don’t like how we ask about their mental wellbeing. Makes them defensive, makes them think, and me actually – how am I really doing?”

 

SARAH

The ventilator was a steady rhythmic drum beat. Sarah stood looking out of the ward window at Dunedin below and traced the streets with her eyes. The streetlights spilled spots of light and the quiet intersections shone green for the few cars on the road, while a lonely empty bus with a masked driver trundled slowly by. Empty restaurants, closed shops, barren streets and bolted doors. The distant hills were hidden in grey clouds. Her shift was halfway through. Thank God there was only one person in their care tonight. She was grateful when she knew the reality overseas. The mask and gown made her feel faceless – once removed.

Sarah noted the man’s stats and tapped them into the computer. She went and stood by him and smiled down as he opened his eyes.

 

ALEX

Alex grimaced as she woke. Thoughts scattered around her with the madness of the night as she slipped out of the bed. She didn’t turn on the kitchen light as she gulped freezing water in a cup from the dish rack.

She stood at the sink with feet cold on the tiles and began to see shapes in the garden beyond. Dark still, but now the darkness was layered: from coal, to indigo, to charcoal. The sky was dark. Trees loomed over, shrubs crept up from the edge of the garden and crawled toward her on their bellies. Drizzle touched the window. Teardrops began to join and run down the pane.

“How can I make this right?” she thought.

“Come back to bed, you’ll freeze out there. I’ll warm you up.” Layers of black came back with her into the bedroom and blanketed her as she curled into a ball.

“Jesus, don’t be like that. I said sorry, didn’t I?”

 

About the Author:

Henrica Schieving lives in Dunedin. Her parents emigrated to New Zealand from The Netherlands in 1953 and she is one of seven brothers and sisters. She is married to Paul and the mother of two grown sons and has two (nearly three) grandchildren. She is a primary school teacher and literacy facilitator who loves to write and teach writing. She is a member of the Dunedin Writers’ Group. Her writing delves mainly into the perspectives of children and memoir.

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