Five year old Danny looked around his bedroom, and sighed in boredom.
He had played with his dinosaurs. He had coloured in his colouring book. He had built a spaceship with his Lego, played Super Mario on his Nintendo, watched Spongebob on his TV. He had done all of these things for absolutely ages.
It was 11.09 on March 13th, the first morning of the school closures.
Danny realised, to his surprise, that he missed school. On most weekday mornings he would have to be dragged from bed at eight (in contrast to Saturdays, when he would get up at six, brightly demanding Coco Pops), would argue vehemently about wanting to wear his Spiderman outfit rather than his uniform, and would be driven to and deposited heartlessly at the school gate, despite his lurid descriptions of the sore throat, or stomach pain, or toothache in his big toe, that would render any learning impossible.
But this week they had been learning about St Patrick. They had made rocket-cone shaped cardboard hats, and croziers from cling-film cores, and snakes from play-dough, and today they had been going to play at being St Patrick himself, and vanish the snakes from Ireland (Miss Buckley had said “banish”, but Danny was pretty sure she’d got that wrong).
That was before the Ka-nora-virus made them close all the schools.
Danny had heard a lot about the Ka-nora-virus, on TV and on radio and in urgent conversations that would stop when he walked into the room. He had seen pictures of it, a big ball with little spikes on it. What he had seen scared him, and what he had heard worried him. He had heard that it came from china, which is what cups are made of. He had heard that the Premier League had been postponed, which told him that you could get it from footballs. He had heard that the shops had run out of toilet paper, which told him that it made you poo. A lot.
He had heard that old people could die. This worried him most of all, because Mum was thirty-eight.
Mum was downstairs in the kitchen now, sitting at her laptop and yelling at their broadband. Danny gathered that she had been told to work from home. This concept worried him too, as he couldn’t see it being adapted to any of the careers he had decided upon for himself when he grew up. Train drivers do not work from home. Firefighters do not work from home. Power Rangers do not work from home.
He had been downstairs to see Mum twice, the first time to ask her what time it was, and the second time to ask her what time it was. The first time she had answered him shortly. The second time he had come into the kitchen just as she was saying “stupid shitty spreadsheet” and she had looked wildly up at him and shouted at him to go to his room.
He had run to his room, sat on his bed and adopted his annoyed pose, arms tightly folded and lower lip stuck out, until it had occurred to him that, like a tree in a forest, the pose is wasted if there are no adults there to see it.
Now he looked around his room, and sighed again.
He wondered what time it was.
He climbed off his bed and went downstairs to the kitchen. He opened the door, then screamed.
Mum rushed to him, arms embracing, hugging him tightly as he burst into terrified sobs. “Danny, what’s wrong?” she asked frantically.
“It’s the Ka-nora-virus!” wailed Danny, pointing.
Mum looked at where he was pointing, under her chair, then laughed, relieved.
“Oh, Sweetie,” she said. “That’s a stress ball.” She picked it up and squeezed it. “See, it’s rubber. Want to try it?”
She held it out but he backed away. She hugged him again until his sobs subsided. She pulled gently away from him then, a move that left a trail of snot along her sleeve. She left it there.
“Come on,” she said. She took him into the sitting room, put on the TV and started Toy Story. She watched it with him for fifteen minutes, then stood.
“Mummy has to go back to work now,” she said softly.
Danny nodded and Mum went back to the kitchen.
Buzz and Woody bickered on the screen but Danny wasn’t listening. He was thinking, imagining how tense Mum must have been to have coughed up a ball of stress that big.
He got up, went to the hall to his schoolbag, and took out his little maths book. Mum looked up, frowning, as he walked into the kitchen.
“I’m going to do homework with you,” he said.
He climbed onto the chair next to her and opened his book. She looked down at him and smiled, blinking back tears of boundless love.
Their two heads bent together over their work.
Alan Owens is from Greystones. He writes humorous short stories on his blog, Worth Doing Badly, (https://tinman18.wordpress.com/) )