After the Pandemic. A short story by Gill Chedgey

Lucy checked her equipment and adjusted her uniform and PPE kit once she had stepped out of her vehicle and proceeded to the cafe entrance. There was one table outside so she started by checking that the two seats were the minimum 2 metres apart. Using her tablet she ticked the appropriate box. All premises, domestic or commercial, had temperature sensors in every entrance and exit. So that when you went through if your temperature was above normal the alarm sounded and you were denied access. The activation of the sensor alarm alerted the Temperature Control Officers who arrived as speedily as they could in their Sanitation Van and carted you off for further testing. It was an unpleasant sight to witness.Lucy went through the cafe door where the sensor remained green. Entering the premises she took an appraising look at the overall space. She could spot a potential anomaly fairly accurately now. Initially when she first took the job she measured everything. She’d been issued with a laser distance measure and for the first few weeks on the job it was her ‘go to’ device. But now she confidently assessed distances and when she felt the need to double check she was always surprised at how accurate she was.

This little cafe must have had at least twice the number of tables and chairs before the pandemic. The current regulation stated that each table must have a width of at least two metres, no more than two chairs, each to be placed at either end of the table. Service was performed with the recently invented social distance trolleys. Ordered food and drinks were placed on the trolley and the waiting staff had an extendable serving spade whereby they could serve the customer easily from the statuary 2 metre distance. Only one member of staff per trolley. Only one table to be served at a time.

The cafe wasn’t full. So it was easy to assess the conformity to the regulations. Lucy often wondered whether once the inspection was over there were any transgressions. She tried to make her inspections at different times each day so that none of her premises would know when she was coming. She been glad to get the job ultimately. She had been placed on furlough from her original position at an insurance brokers. After the first lockdown ended they had reduced the staff considerably. She was one of the last in so she was one of the first out. And now she was a fully fledged member of the Social Distance Police. It wasn’t necessarily a popular job. She saw herself in the same bracket as traffic wardens.

If she found a transgression. She had to electronically register it in front of the premises owner. On those occasions the individual had great trouble maintaining social distance. Once or twice Lucy had been quite frightened that the protocols were going to be ignored and she might even be physically attacked. If that happened she had to report it instantly and she then had to go into social isolation for seven days with testing. Just in case.

Everyone was anxious for a vaccine to be available. An effective vaccine. There had been many trials but none proved to be wholly effective. Until that time social distancing and PPE seemed to be the only weapon against spreading the virus. Many people lived in a kind of lockdown where they could. They felt safer. Communication remained in the domain of digital devices. There was an air of unease that punctuated the atmosphere like an electrical storm. Those people who had been blasé in the initial stages; those who felt it was ‘just flu’, ‘a lot of fuss about nothing’, those who believed every conspiracy theory going, were now possibly among the most scared as the full import of the virus’s deadly intent had become clear to them.

Lucy’s day was mostly predictable. Overall there were few transgressions. It was dull, tedious work. But it mean she could pay the rent and keep herself fed, treat herself to a Netflix subscription. She kept in touch with her family and friends using the usual methods, various platforms that enabled group chat. It was the best that could be done in the situation. Travelling was frowned upon by and large. Occasionally she had a “social occasion” with a friend. But if you went to a bar or a café and you were socially distanced you often ended up having to shout to make yourself heard. If premises were full, which was rare to be fair, Lucy found it almost comical that you were in a room where everyone was shouting at one another. It usually ended up being more trouble than it was worth. So people stayed at home.

All that made Lucy worry about the security of her position. If people stopped coming out altogether would her job be safe. What could she do if the employment was terminated. The desperate desire for a vaccine became overwhelming sometimes. People, Lucy included, scoured the news every day in the hope that some breakthrough would be achieved.

Lucy was approaching the last premises of the day. She left it till last because she didn’t like coming here. It was a bar. She found it a tad pretentious. There was always the feeling that they were trying to “get one over” on her. They rearranged the furniture on a weekly basis so that more often than not she would need to take actual measurements rather than rely on her visual appraisal of the layout. The owner was one of those men who believed himself to be irresistible. Lucy thought he was a jack the lad. He always communicated with a cheeky Chappy type approach as if it was all a big laugh. In truth Lucy envied him that attitude because for her it was all too, too serious.

As she went in she saw that the furniture had been rearranged yet again. She was measuring and she found one table was only a metre and a half apart. With a sinking heart she summoned the owner while she registered. Or tried to register. For the owner grabbed hold of her arm and the device and tried to stop her. It happened very quickly.

‘You really don’t want to be reporting me, you know.’ he said, the charm and smarm now disappeared,’ Trust me, you really don’t.’

It was then Lucy saw his hand go to the waistband of his jeans drawing her eye to the metallic glint. She gasped. He looked at her with gimlet eyes. Cold, hard, steel gaze. Lucy swallowed.

‘Okay, so let me just move this table a little bit. And then we’re all fine and dandy aren’t we?’

And so saying he moved the table slightly. He then patted Lucy on the arm and smiled showing his gold teeth.

‘So I’ll see you next week shall I? And we’ll say no more about this? You wouldn’t want anything unpleasant to happen would you? ‘

Lucy sensed that none of these questions were really requiring an answer. She backed out of the bar and returned to her vehicle shaking. It was some minutes before she felt able to drive back to her apartment.

For several days afterwards Lucy was anxious, withdrawn, The experience had unnerved her. It had caused her to question whether she should report him. Would he be able to find her? Would he carry out the implied threat?

But seven days rolled around and another visit to the premises was imminent. Lucy felt physically ill. She almost thought of calling in sick but knew that it would simply be delaying the inevitable. So she took a deep breath, summoned all her reserve and opened the door.

The noise was deafening. The alarm. Ear splitting.The lights flashing strobe red. Within minutes the Temperature Control Officers arrived in their van, full hazard gear adding to their threat. Lucy was shaking and crying and striking out in all directions as they restrained her and placed her in the van.

The bar owner shrugged, turned round and went back into his property.

Book blogger and scribbler

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