This story is by Janine K. Bryant and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I sat in the garden, sipping the cold glass of Prosecco. I wanted nothing more but to feel normal again. My whole life was now restricted to an area of a few thousand square feet.
At least I had the garden. The sun was hot and penetrating my bare skin. My flimsy nightdress did not offer much protection. Any normal person would have gone to find the factor 50 sun lotion, but today, wisdom did not prevail. The bubble of self absorption kept me trapped in a stupor of no motivation.
My only companion was the very large , purple monster that followed me everywhere. His name was fear and he was made up of myriads of invisible microbes.
Yesterday had been a nightmare. I had sat and held the hand of my closest friend as she had slipped from this world into eternity. We had worked together as nurses in the ICU department for five years.
Kerry was the life and soul of any doctors’ mess party. She always found something amusing in the most dire of situations. On one night shift we found ourselves on the same break. She had painted her eyelids so that when they were shut it looked like she was awake. On another occasion she had poured the urine from a patients bottle into her cup and drank it. Of course she had previously replaced it with apple juice. She was very compassionate to every patient.
Covid 19 in the world was greatly feared. In the unit it just had to be dealt with. We had lost some of our most diligent workers, and now Kerry. I sobbed uncontrollably. Under normal circumstances I would have been sent home, but we were short staffed.
All of the patients were getting on my nerves. The life support machines bleeped and whirred forcing oxygen into non functioning lungs coercing the patients to stay alive. The conscious patients were very impatient and demanding. Did they not realise we were in the middle of a pandemic? Everything took twice as long because of the extra, stringent safety rules. Fear and death hung heavy and low.
The porters came and took Kerry to the morgue. They too were visibly upset.
I had started with a cough and an uncontrollable high temperature. I was told that I should isolate myself away from my family. My husband had been furloughed from British Aerospace so he was able to look after the children.
I went to stay with my brother Dan. He was a paramedic and had recently recovered from the virus.
A butterfly silently flapped by my face. I caught a momentary glimpse of its perfect blue symmetry. “Here’s to you Mrs Butterfly!” I raised my glass as I slurred my words. The alcohol was beginning to take effect. Oh how I missed my children! I would have to drink gallons of coffee before I face-timed them. Alcohol could numb the pain, but it also made me hyper- sensitive and emotional. I didn’t want my children to see what a mess I was. I wanted to present myself as a brave mama who was holding it all together, even if this was so far from the truth..
I began to scroll the the photos on my phone. The day Angelina was born. Me looking exhausted and dishevelled, and yet my smile said it all. I was such a proud mum. She was beautiful and perfect. Chris and I glowed with happiness. That was five years ago. Adam was born two years later. He emerged from the womb in a rush of emotion. Loudly announcing his arrival. Chris was elated to have a son who could share everything in his man cave. The family was now genetically balanced.
I scanned the album of my life. Tears falling onto the screen of my phone. My mother hen instinct just wanted to gather my chicks and put them under my wings for safety. Then I saw a photo if Kerry holding both my children on her knee. The tears increased as the pain overwhelmed. I threw the phone on to the table and decided I had to pull myself together. I had exactly one hour to drink a gallon of coffee and turn myself from an out of control drunk into a responsible adult. I felt hot and sweaty and so tired. I was beginning to feel nauseous. Chris would be able to tell I had been drinking. In an attempt to make myself more presentable I went to have a shower.
Chris was the love of my life. The emphasis is on the word was. Before lockdown he was always working long hours. When he was at home he didn’t seem to be fully present with us. I questioned him about my suspicions. He turned the tables and said it was me that had changed. I was always so absorbed with the children.
One evening when Chris was due to leave work, I drove to his place of employment and parked opposite the exit. I saw the dirty rat emerge with his arm around a young long haired beautiful redhead. She was wearing a very short skirt and over the knee boots. He was laughing and looked very happy and relaxed. My heart shattered into pieces. After bedtime stories with the children I confronted him about the new love in his life. He didn’t deny it. Infact ,he had the audacity to tell me that he loved her and he had found true love! He intended to leave us and go and live with Poppy, his beautiful, young secretary. She looked like a poppy.Tall and leggy topped with red hair. Then he was furloughed and he agreed to take care of the children until I had recovered.
I brushed my wet hair off my face and attempted to cover the red blotches with concealer. I sat on the edge of the bed and tried to calm myself by breathing slowly. I realised I had lost some lung capacity and was struggling to breathe. After a coughing fit I managed to compose myself. I selected Chris’ number and pressed FaceTime. The children were so pleased to see me and I was ecstatic. I gently eased myself into the lie that I was holding it all together. I knew my children’s love would gently pull the pieces of my heart back together.
“Mummy I have painted a picture for you” Angelina held up a scrumpled piece of paper depicting Chris and I as two very blobby people. It crossed my mind that one of us should have been a big, fat lying toad. We were holding the hands of our tiny offspring. I choked back the tears. Adam held up his tatty beloved toy dog aptly named scruffy. He told me he had been a very bad dog. “What has he done? “I enquired.
“He has wet the bed.”Adam looked very annoyed.
“Oh never mind, accidents happen!” I imagined Chris having to change the bed for the sixth time this week.
I could not bring myself to even look at Chris, the traitor. When death brushes close by you change your perspectives. I had begun to do an online course called Alpha. It is about finding God in all of this mess. I suddenly realised I was struggling to breathe. I was not sure if it was emotion or the virus. I managed to squeeze some words through my constricted throat.
‘Remember I love you cherubims so much and I can’t wait to come home.”
“We love you mummy.” They shouted in unison as I pressed the disconnect switch.
As I stared at the blank screen of my life I suddenly felt overcome with weirdness. My breath was short and extremely painful. The huge monster called fear was beginning to overwhelm me. I was being sucked into a vacuum of blackness. I was facing a void of nothingness. I tried coughing to relieve the tightness in my lungs which felt like they were turning into concrete. My head was swimming in a pool of pain and it was getting increasingly difficult to focus. My clothes were drenched with a bucketful of sweat. My knees gave way as I pleaded with God for my life.
I turned around and there was Kerry dressed in light with a hue of sparkling rainbow colours.
“I have come to take you home.” She smiled and took my hand. The fear had gone and was replaced with peace . Love seemed to emanate from her very being.
“What about my children?” They were the only ones holding me back.
“They will be fine with Chris and Poppy!” Kerry pulled me close and we left for a better place.