I hear children playing next door, more than the usual couple. I hear adults talking too, and the soft thud of music.
I could go upstairs, look down on the neighbour’s garden, but that would mean removing the blankets from the window. That would mean being fooled by this illusion, my mind playing tricks on me.
Next thing, I’ll smell that barbecue again, and hear the ice-cream van’s incessant tinkling. If it’s not drowned out by the passing-cars sound that I know is some kind of tinnitus.
It must be, because there’s nobody outside. They wouldn’t be that stupid. They’d be stopped. There was a big thing about it on the news, last time I watched the box—police on some beach, telling people to go home, passing out fines. There was even a fight—hard to do when everyone’s supposed to keep their distance.
That was the moment I’d had enough. After watching the same footage at least ten times, I unplugged the television and hid it in the spare room. It still sits there, next to the computer with the fuse removed, and the radio and network rooter in a box on the shelf above.
It was astounding how relaxed I felt without the constant repetition of ‘no change’ on the news. The rash on my stomach faded, my churning guts eased, and the nagging headache finally sunk away. I even slept soundly for a few hours.
I shuffle on the sofa. It’s warm again, today’s post crackling in the fire, and the backs of my legs itch. I should probably shower, or change these clothes. I sniff myself, can almost detect something unpleasant. I’m probably used to the smell, though. And there’s nobody else here for it to bother. Just me, in wonderful isolation.
It’s one of the reasons I moved to this village. A couple of years, maybe more, of solitude, away from all the bustle and stress. I’ve got enough in savings to see me through, and the bills are all paid by direct debit. I get a standard supermarket delivery every week, same slot booked in perpetuity. If I need anything else, I’ll drive to another town, somewhere new.
It only took a few weeks for my neighbours to get the message. I was polite, but I didn’t take them up on their offer to pop over for drinks or anything like that. The couple to my right shove a Christmas card through the door every year, but they don’t expect anything in return.
I hear splashing water, wonder if it’s raining. But it sounds like a paddling pool, and I shake my head. Why do I keep hearing these things?
Then there’s that knocking on the door. Probably the wind. I thought the tree out front was too close to the house when I moved in, but I never got round to doing anything about it.
Bit late now. It’s not safe out there.
I push myself out of the sofa, stretch and groan. It’s important to exercise, so I wander around a lot.
I know my house intimately, so there’s no need for light. I can even make my breakfast in the dark, although I might have spilt some milk earlier. There’s a sour smell in the kitchen. I really should clean up soon.
The wind blows that branch against the door again, and I pause. I’m back at the wood burner now, the post little more than ashes, cleansed by the fire. The grabber—I don’t know the proper name—sits to one side, ready for me to pick up the junk the postman carelessly shoves through the letterbox tomorrow.
You’d think, with everything that’s going on, companies wouldn’t bother infecting houses with their begging letters.
At least the supermarket driver drops the boxes on the doorstep and leaves. Only when I hear his van pull away do I don all that protective clothing and disinfect everything before bringing it into the kitchen.
I wander through to the kitchen now, hear how the sound of my footsteps echoes off the hard surfaces. I run a hand along the counter-top, feel the dent from where I dropped that plate.
I brush past the calendar on the wall, don’t bother looking at it. It’s still on May, but I can’t remember when I turned the page.
With the windows blocked, there’s no night or day any more.
Upstairs, I pause on the landing. I don’t want to go into the bedroom, where I know there’s a thin film of dust building on the bedcovers. I wonder when I might sleep up here again, but it’s easier to doze on the sofa whenever I feel tired. Or take a nap in my reading chair.
A couple of days ago I fell asleep on the toilet. Only for a moment, but it worried me. What if I fall asleep while walking around? I could injure myself, and I don’t want to go to hospital.
The door bangs again, and the wind sounds like voices calling my name. Up here, the house smells of burgers.
My stomach rumbles, and I burp. It doesn’t smell good.
I climb down the stairs, one hand on the banister. I’m tired now, need to rest. I walk past the front door, ignoring the hammering, and my eyes play tricks on me again, shadows moving across the blankets against the window.
I try to yell out, tell whoever’s there to go away, but my throat’s too dry, and I cough, doubling over. The door shakes in its frame, and someone cries out my name again.
That spurs me on. I pass through the kitchen, fall onto the sofa. I close my eyes, and the darkness grows complete.
I push aside the banging, the clattering on the windows. I ignore the shouts. My aches and pains fade.
It Takes A Steady Hand
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