Stage 1: Onset
Kept calm and carried on. Reported to work. Used the hand sanitizers only when someone was watching. Sneezed into my elbow, threw away contaminated tissues. Sent Dylan to nursery, telling myself it was important his immune system was challenged. Shopped in supermarkets, attended parties, went to routine appointments. Shook hands with visiting colleagues, laughed inwardly at those wearing face masks. Told myself it would not happen to me.
Stage 2: Progression
Worked from home when possible. Cancelled foreign holiday plans. Avoided public transport. Telephoned my parents on a regular basis, straining my ears for signs of wheezing. Maintained a safe inter-personal distance at all times. Finished all the decorating jobs I’d never had time for (my skirting boards had never looked so good). Shopped online. Stockpiled canned food and packet noodles. Tried and failed to buy face masks online. Kept Dylan home more frequently than strictly necessary. Told myself it wouldn’t happen to us.
Stage 3: Peak
Checked Dylan’s temperature multiple times per day. Shopped online for myself, my parents, my elderly neighbours. Claimed allowances for non-essential service workers. Kept quiet about my lapsed nursing registration. Developed an unhealthy addiction to 24-hour news channels. Smiled at neighbours in the street whilst giving them a wide berth. Rinsed all food items in diluted bleach. Sanitized my hand sanitizer bottle. Rationed foods that were in short supply. Queued outside supermarkets and pharmacies. Missed the funerals of friends, relatives and colleagues. Avoided explaining anything to Dylan. Told myself it could happen to us.
Stage 4: Remission
Arranged the funeral of my mother; a simple cremation with no wake in line with government guidelines. Burned her clothing and bedding in the back garden, watched the sparks float up into the black sky, wondered if the embers were contagious. Deep-cleaned her house and sold it for below market value. Moved my father into a bungalow. Spent seven days in bed sweating with a fever, praying to a God I did not believe in. Felt nothing when the news reported the virus receding. Told Dylan that everything would be okay. Told myself this could happen to anyone.
Stage 5: Recovery
Went back to work. Struggled to settle Dylan at school. Continued to stockpile household cleaners and medication. Attended counselling for post-traumatic stress disorder and health anxiety. Volunteered at a family support centre in our local church hall. Attended memorial services, laid flowers at the new monument, visited friends and attended parties. Drank from an unsanitized beer bottle in my local bar, bought cheese from a local food market, held my father close for the first time in months. Replenished my store cupboard of canned goods, just in case. Told myself that we had survived, this time.
Rebecca Field lives and writes in Derbyshire. She has been published online by Riggwelter Press, Spelk fiction, The Cabinet of Heed and Ellipsis Zine among others. Rebecca has work in the 2018 and 2019 UK National Flash Fiction Day Anthologies and forthcoming in the 2020 edition. Tweets at @RebeccaFwrites