This story is by Jafman and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
‘Hey George, how is your garden today? Everything OK, I have not seen you for a couple of days. Hi Dave, No, some things are not doing so well, I have a lettuce ready though, would you like it?’ ‘No thanks, I think the wife had one delivered yesterday. With that George headed for the back door of his house, unusually not wanting to talk.
Dave went inside his house and said to his wife, ‘George was a bit different today, offered me a lettuce but I refused it, I knew you had one delivered yesterday. I asked how his garden was going but he did not want to elaborate, really unusual as you know he loves his Vegetable patch and talking about it’. Jenny said, ‘yes I found him a little pensive last Friday when he was near his letter box looking but not doing anything. I asked was everything OK?’ He responded, ‘yes I am fine just wondering what happened, I have not received anything lately’! Jenny then told George that these were strange times. They discussed the effects of what ‘lockup’ had inflicted on them. Additionally, George seemed upset about not being able to share his freshly harvested vegetables with his neighbours, especially the old folk in the street and while doing so, have a chat about anything. Now that everyone was ‘self-isolating’ he was unable to harvest, share and chat.
George was known in his street as ‘Google George’ as he would talk about almost any subject with some authority. He never talked about himself or what he did prior to his retirement but that did not stop him from taking a position on most subjects. The entire community had been in self isolation for almost three weeks and no one knew how long they may stay in this awkward lock-up. This had never happened before, adjustments had to be made, they had to survive such restrictions. Jenny and Dave agreed, they should monitor George and make sure he was adjusting to his/their plight.
The next day Dave did not see George in his vegetable patch at any time. This was most unusual. The following day, Dave saw George vigorously screwing up some paper at the letter box so he decided to gently enquire, ‘hello George, how are you?’. George responded belligerently, ‘why can’t you mind your own business, these useless real estate brochures!’. With that, George walked directly back inside his home. Dave went inside and said to Jenny, ‘I have never heard George like that, he went off at me saying ‘hello!’’ ‘something is not right.’
Since isolation was imposed, George had not often been in his garden. He ordered and had his groceries delivered. Other than going to his letterbox almost daily, Jenny and Dave did not see George. Whereas prior, he used to be out in his garden on most days, nearly all day, then delivering vegetables to many neighbours up and down the Street. All were thankful, all liked to talk with George, which he enthusiastically enjoyed. He would normally preface his conversations with ‘I was talking with Bill (or Don or Sue or Maggie), the other day’. Jenny and Dave decided that she should make a visit to George’s house as they were becoming more concerned every day.
The next day, now 16 days into isolation, Jenny kept track by marking off each day on a calendar with a big red cross. Jenny told Dave she intended to have a chat with George, to solicit his wellbeing. He liked Jenny as she always said hello and never pried into his life. He enjoyed Jenny being direct, quickly getting to the heart of any situation/problem then, providing succinct advice in a diplomatic manner.
Jenny knocked on George’s front door, gently. She preferred to knock and step back from the door. There was no response. She could hear the TV in the lounge room and thought she might knock a little louder, she did, the response was immediate, ‘go away, you are breaking the rules’! She said loudly, ‘this is Jenny from next door and we need to chat’. George then reacted a little differently but gruffly said ‘wait until I pause this Netflix thing’. While coming to the front door he said despondently, ‘what have I done wrong now?’ Jenny responded in a quiet and gentle voice, ‘George you never do anything wrong.’ He opened the door and peered out and said, ‘you know you cannot visit me with all these new rules’! Jenny said, ‘George you are more important than those rules, you and I need to chat.’
George stood and paused. Jenny was standing about 2 metres back from the door not wanting to put him off, she tried to make him confident with her presence. Jenny was then surprised as he said, ‘come in please, would you like a cuppa’. Jenny agreed to a ‘white tea’. They both entered the kitchen and she was guided to sit at the bench. Both were quiet, not a word spoken. George could not recall any misdemeanour that he had perpetrated. Jenny was thinking about how she might gently begin the conversation, without upsetting him.
The tea was delivered with a couple of biscuits from the pantry. He then sat down opposite at the old lime green tiled kitchen bench. During the tea making procedure, Jenny had surveyed the kitchen area, it was untidy and crumbs had invaded the bench and floor. This was unusual as George normally kept a clean and tidy house, front to back.
Jenny, as normal, used the direct route and asked George about how he was handling self-isolation. George, always honest, told her he did not like it, he could not deliver his vegetables and therefore could not talk to his normal crowd, what was the use having a well-kept garden. Additionally, his daughter was in Italy and could not travel. George worried about her. No-one wanted him to visit any more, ‘just in case’. Surprisingly, he said to Jenny he was sorry for being a little grumpy, and thankful that he had Netflix!
As this discussion proceeded, Jenny became more concerned. Carefully, when George took a break from explaining how his life had changed, she said, ‘George, Dave and I still need your garden, we can talk at any time and you still have your phone’. After finishing their tea, they parted with George telling Jenny that he appreciated the visit and that he would try to talk with her and Dave more frequently and sorry for being grumpy especially with Dave.
However, nothing seemed to have changed during the next week, Jenny’s concern increased. Dave mentioned that he had peered into the vegetable garden and sadly, it was missing attention, rotting vegetables and weeds starting to appear. Now almost four weeks into isolation and everyone was a little edgy. Phone calls were short, people not wanting to discuss “the Virus”. Some were “sick of it”. Jenny and Dave had seen George only twice since the chat in George’s kitchen. Both considered the need to talk again with George to see if Jenny could at least entice him into his garden. They could use some fresh vegetables! Later that day, after the postman had pushed something into George’s mailbox, Jenny was hoping he would check. He did not. Concerned, she decided to check on him again.
Jenny knocked on George’s old front door, no response but she could hear the TV. She knocked harder, still no answer. Jenny decided to go to the back door as it was always unlocked. Knock-knock, no answer. Now more worried and with some urgency, she entered the house through the back door onto the covered in veranda, George said, ‘Hello Jenny, what are you doing. Jenny most surprised, said, ‘George I was worried about you and came looking, you did not answer the front door nor my knock on the back door!’. He responded by telling Jenny that the TV was on and he was concentrating on the laptop in-front of him, as he had been for days!
Relieved, trying not to show obvious emotion she asked sheepishly, ‘what are you doing on that?’ George explained that his daughter was a little angry with him when he told her he was a little depressed, informed him strongly, over ‘FaceTime’, to get back into his garden. Make contact via email or SMS with his neighbor’s and set up a time when they could order and later collect his garden products from the front of his house. He continued to explain that this had taken him a long time to set up as he was not that computer ‘savvy’ but the spreadsheet was now done!
He then requested Jenny to explain to Dave that he wanted to get the garden back into shape, in a hurry, could he help please.