Lockdown: May 2020

It was a sunny day in Hampstead. And Matthew was feeling surprisingly happy given the circumstances. In fact, there was quite a spring in his stride as he stepped into the kitchen …

‘Sarah, love, where’s the spray? The postman’s just left two parcels and … what on earth are you doing?’

‘What does it look like I’m doing? I’m spraying the cauliflower.’

‘And then what are you going to do with it? You can’t possibly eat all that disinfectant.’

‘Probably not. You can have it!’ She banged the spray bottle down next to the sink, paused very briefly, then hurled the cauliflower at the open bin. It missed. Cauliflower florets burst against the steel rim and landed across the floor, the wall. And Matthew.

‘What on earth is wrong … other than the fact that we’re in the middle of a pandemic and I’m covered in cauliflower?’ He knocked wet dollops from his sleeve, a piece that had landed on his shoe. ‘If that’s got bleach in it, this shirt will be ruined.’ He went to pick Coco out of her playpen. ‘Can I touch her? She’ll forget how to walk if she stays in there much longer. I’ve washed my hands.’

‘Where did you wash your hands?’

‘In the downstairs toilet … the sink in the downstairs toilet.’

‘Did you open the door and speak to the postman?’

‘No, I waved through the window. Like the village idiot. OK?’

He lifted Coco up over the bars and watched her hurry over to empty out the peg basket. ‘OK, Sarah, what’s going on?’ He began to transfer pieces of cauliflower into the bin. ‘You seem to have advanced to a whole new level of decontamination madn … caution.’

I’m just trying to protect my daughter from all this … all this … you lied!’

He looked up. ‘What?’

Where did you really go last Friday?’

‘I … I told you. I went to the office. Wearing my mask and gloves. And the visor. I was the only one I saw wearing a visor. And I don’t think there was anyone apart from me and the doorman in the building. Even Poppy’s following the rules. Even though he thinks he’s already had it. He’s trying to get a test.’

‘Nobody else was there?’

‘No.’

‘So why …’ She pulled his mobile out from under a tea towel. ‘So, why did Lucy text you Friday afternoon to say how wonderful it was to see you?’ She held the phone towards him so that he could see the text. ‘Was she there?’

‘You’ve been checking my phone?’

‘Well, it’s just as well, isn’t it? I know I haven’t seen my stylist for the last three months … and I’ve been a bit off sex since all this deadly virus stuff …’

‘A bit?’

‘… but have you really been so desperate that you’ve had to resort to meeting up for a quick one with your old mistress? Did you fuck her wearing your mask and visor? She must have just flown in from New York. And it’s even worse there than it is here. It’s disgusting that they’re still letting people in … importing more viruses when we’ve got enough of our own.’

‘Sarah, I …’

‘Don’t even try and excuse yourself! No wonder you spent so long in the shower when you got home.’

‘Sarah, I …’

‘And, what if you’ve caught it from her? You could still be incubating it. This is only the sixth day.’

‘She’d just had a negative test.’

‘Oh, well that’s alright, then, isn’t it? She was tested five minutes before you ripped her knickers off, was she?’

‘Lucy had a test the previous day. Sarah, listen …’

‘No, I don’t want any more of your lies. At least you’re admitting that you were with her.’ She glanced down at her daughter. ‘Coco’s trying to attach pegs to your trousers. Are they the ones you were wearing when you were with Lucy?’

‘No, I put them in the decontamination basket.’ He picked up his daughter. ‘Are you hungry, sweetheart?’

‘Brosh.’

‘You want a brioche? Shall I give her something? Has she had lunch?’

‘Ages ago … probably while you were WhatsApping Lucy.’

‘Well, clearly, I haven’t been WhatsApping anyone because my laptop’s on top of the fridge and you seem to have confiscated my phone.’

Sarah threw his phone at him, which fortunately he caught as it sailed past his ear en route to the kitchen window. Coco went to grab it.’

‘Daddy. Phone.’

‘Yes, sweetie, daddy’s phone. Mummy made it fly. Sarah, that could have hit her.’

I’m a much better shot than that. Have you worked out your explanation?’

He put Coco back in her playpen. ‘Look, Sarah, listen … I did go into the office. Just briefly. But then I drove over to meet Lucy. In Kensington Gardens. There was nobody else around. Nevertheless, I did not take the opportunity to pull her knickers off. I’ve been choosing the right time to tell you …’

‘Tell me what?’

‘The reason Lucy’s here. She came over to see her consultant. In Kensington. She’s had a heart murmur … a slightly dicky valve … all the time I’ve known her, but she started getting out of breath a few months ago. Before the virus happened. Her consultant recommended a replacement. She was being opened up Saturday morning. I didn’t want to tell you until everyone was sure the operation had been a success. It seems that it was. And she’s as good as new. Newer, in fact.’

Sarah folded her arms. ‘I never knew she had a heart problem.’

‘It was never a problem. It could have been delayed until after this is all over, but the consultant thought it was advisable to have the op just in case she caught the virus and it made a beeline for her sloppy valve. She’ll still have to avoid catching it, so she doesn’t turn into one of those victims with a pre-existing condition.’

Sarah picked up a stray floret that had bounced back towards her. ‘You should have told me. Are they sure she’s alright?’

‘I think so. She said they were reasonably certain.’

‘When did you speak to her?’

‘I phoned her last night. When you were putting Coco to bed. Then I deleted the call. I never thought to delete my texts.’

Sarah refolded her arms. ‘Did she want to meet up with you to say goodbye … in case she didn’t make it?’

‘Yes, I suppose that was part of it. But mostly, she wanted to tell me that … in case the operation didn’t go that well, she wanted to tell me that she’d altered her will so that the proceeds of her estate would be put in trust for Coco. And any siblings that might be forthcoming. She didn’t want it to come as a complete surprise. She asked me to decide when to tell you because she wasn’t sure whether you still disliked her.’

‘I don’t dislike her!’

‘Right.’

‘I just don’t like the fact that she still has enough power over you that she can summon you to come straightaway. And that you still feel guilty enough to lie to me about it.’

‘I didn’t lie … I just didn’t tell you.’

Sarah transferred another piece of cauliflower then frowned. ‘That piece might not have been properly sterilized.’

‘Sarah, love, that cauliflower is … was twenty percent disinfectant.’

She hurried over to wash her hands, then sprayed the soap. ‘Did she sound OK? When you spoke to her?’

‘Yes. I said you’d probably want to call her.’

Sarah dried her hands on a paper towel, threw it into the bin on top of the cauliflower, walked over to the fridge, took out a packet of chocolate brioche and the carton of milk and handed them to Matthew. ‘She could probably do with a snack. Try putting her in her booster seat. Although she’ll probably kick you.’ She reached for her phone, snatched Matthew’s mobile from his shirt pocket and copied across Lucy’s number, which she dialled. She waited. But not for long …

‘Lucy is that you? It’s Sarah … how are you? Matthew’s only just told me about your surgery … well, I hope you’re feeling fit and well. And I hope they’re looking after you. Is the food OK? … really … really … How long will you be staying over here? In London? … At the Dorchester? That’s posh … Amazing. Lucy, Matthew’s also told me about you naming Coco in your will … and I’m so relieved that that’s not immediately relevant. But it’s very kind of you. And completely unexpected … Perhaps we’ll be able to meet up. In the park, maybe. I think it’s still allowed. Especially if it’s for exercise. We can stand there with stop watches and time Matthew doing a few laps … I know, he’s been comfort eating. But he’s on a diet … yes … and I’ll be able to tell you all my latest news … well, Coco actually is going to have a sibling … Probably around Christmas. I’ve not properly worked it out …’

Matthew looked up from strapping Coco into her chair and mouthed, ‘What?’ He hurried over to stand beside Sarah.

She ignored him. ‘Have you got enough to read? … Well, are there any handsome doctors to take your mind of the boredom? … Great … Really? Look, Lucy, I’d better go. I don’t want to tire you out and I’m in the middle of sterilizing the vegetables … I know, but it’s better to be on the safe side. I’ll ring you again in a couple of days … yes. Take care, Lucy, and stay safe.

She cancelled the call and looked straight up into Matthews green eyes. ‘She says she feels better than she’s felt for years.’

‘You’re pregnant?’

‘Yes.’

‘When were you thinking of telling me?’

‘I only found out for certain about an hour ago, just before I discovered your text message from Lucy.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes, I bought some test kits before lockdown. The first one I wasn’t sure. But today I am.’

‘Well, great!’ He pulled her into a hug. ‘Are you feeling OK? Look, I’m sorry I never told you about Lucy. I was just trying not to add to the stress. You think it will be around Christmas?’

She let her arms stray up around his neck. ‘The twenty fourth, I think. I’m worried they’ll not let you be with me. It said on the news that in most hospitals the fathers are not allowed to be there.’

‘God, Sarah, don’t start worrying about that just yet. This whole mess will be completely sorted in the next few months. It’ll probably be completely over by Christmas.’

‘I hope so.’ She peered round him. ‘Coco’s emptying the carton of milk onto the floor.’

‘Oh, no!’ He hurried over to grab what remained of the day’s milk ration. ‘Bad girl, Coco!’

Coco tried to kick him. Sarah went over and tickled her daughter’s ear. Then handed Matthew the spray. ‘Go and sterilize the parcels. And I’ll clean up the mess. And then maybe we can grab a bit of quality time while she takes a nap.’ She pinched his waist. ‘You could do with burning up some calories.’

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