It is 7:30 of a Wednesday evening. My hands are covered in glue and some orange paint, as I am helping the Small Child with her ‘Book in a Box’ (don’t ask, F*@king World Book Day as it’s now known in our house). The Older Child is writing her 500 word story (still) and LSB has been called down to start typing it out. He had been upstairs ‘working’ but when I passed earlier with a load of laundry his screen was showing no evidence of this and he was chortling away to himself about a fella stealing a live octopus from a market on Reddit.
The kitchen is an abomination, and even the cat looks on judgementally. Then the phone rings. It’s Herself.
‘Now I MUST talk you. It’s a matter of some urgency.’
I sigh. It is not a good time to chat, when I am trying to fashion a pair of glasses out of pipe-cleaners for a 3 dimensional squid.
‘I’m worried about the children. Tell them to watch who they’re sitting near in school, and if they’ve been away over half-term or the likes, to ask to be moved to another table. I don’t want anyone coughing or spluttering over them. Your father’s after telling me that the Six Nations, hang on a minute ‘RONNIE? WHAT IS IT THAT’S BEEN CANCELLED?’ Yes, I was right, The Six Nations in Italy has been postponed. Now those rugby ones, they wouldn’t be taking measures like that if this wasn’t bad.’
My mother hasn’t drawn breath. Nothing wrong with her lung capacity anyway.
On she goes: ‘Far too much gallivanting, if you ask me. Skiing in February, the Canaries at Easter, I think the world’s gone mad. It’s like the last days of Rome.’
‘They should be putting an end to air travel. Germs spread fast on a plane with that recycled air. Oh, it’s disgusting.’
‘Mum,’ I say. ‘I can’t go ringing the school. Children are always coughing and spluttering. Including my own.’
‘Well at least you know where they’ve been.’
(That I do- we were at Druid’s Glen and then a wee farm in Wicklow. It was very pleasant, apart from the fact that it rained incessantly. Foundered we were.)
‘We don’t know who walks amongst us,’ she goes on dolefully, ‘and that’s the sorry truth of it.’
‘Well I can’t just not go into work,’ I say. ‘Or keep the children off.’
‘I was up at Bloomfield’s earlier and it was desperate altogether.’
I gesture to LSB that I’m away for a sit down for this conversation. I sense it could take a while.
‘I said to your daddy, will we have a scone, because I have a hunger upon me.’
(I’m not making this up, this is how my mother actually speaks.)
‘So we were in the queue at Marks and Spencer, and I’m not OVERLY found of their scones because whoever is making them is too heavy handed with the baking soda, but I said to your dad that perhaps we could share one, because with his blood sugar he shouldn’t be having a whole one anyway.’
‘And there we were, the pair of us, in the queue, and this well-dressed woman, nice coat and all on her, well doesn’t she start to cough, all over the place. And not a hankerchief, nor even a tissue. This coronavirus has, I think, been upgraded to a PANDEMIC, and STILL the cakes and buns are all sitting out. Now as you know, I only ever take the gluten free scones because they’re quite tolerable AND they come in a packet, thus germ-free. But then, the fellow in front of us, I’d say he was in his sixties and a sensible looking sort of a person, but doesn’t he lift a custard slice that your woman’s only after coughing all over?’
‘I said to your father, you’d need to be quare and hungry before you would eat the like of that. ‘We’ll just go on home,’ I said. ‘Safer that way.’
‘Good for you,’ I say.
It is Ash Wednesday and I’m trying to channel my Holy side but feck me, am I gagging for a big fat glass of Malbec after that.