An ode to lost things

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This week, our cellar flooded. Or rather, we realised it had flooded. There’s been a faint musty smell at the back of our old house for a while now. In our main bathroom, you can see black water pooling below the floor drain, and I had figured this was the source of the smell. It didn’t occur to me to do anything about it, or even to think anything could be done.

It is, I think, the legacy of living in rental properties for your entire adult life: unless there’s an obvious problem that’s affecting your day-to-day life, you accept things as they are. Like the oven in one of my favourite rental properties, 96 Anderson Street Yarraville, which stopped properly closing about six months before the owner sold the house and we had to leave. The faulty door meant the roast dinners I liked to cook on Sundays took hours, even when I propped a chair against the oven door to keep it from falling open. But the owner was in no rush to fix it, and I was more interested in not moving than in speedy roast dinners.

When I got home from an 11-hour day on Monday night – after going through an edit with an author, page by page, for five hours straight – I collapsed on the couch, my limbs fizzing with exhaustion, and Luke said, ‘I’m sorry, but I need to show you something’. And he led me down the hallway to the opening of the cellar, a metre of water glinting black under the switched-on light over the stairs. Plastic plaid storage bags and grey-looking sheets floated in the murk: the clothes, shoes and bed linen we’ve been storing there. Some of it I wasn’t ready to throw out, some of it I was planning to reintegrate into my wardrobe, and some of it was just there.

***

Tuesday morning, at work, I told my colleague Poppy, a writer, the story.

‘You know, my life at home is really great – there’s nothing wrong with it, and Luke and I are great – but it can’t help but feel like a metaphor,’ I said. ‘You know: a smell rising from the bottom of the house, in a place where no one turns on the light, and being kind of aware of it but ignoring it, and then … disaster.’

Poppy laughed. ‘It’s not a metaphor,’ she said.

‘But do you know what I mean?’ I said. ‘As a writer? It just seems too apt.’

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Absolutely.’ And she seemed to really get it. ‘But it’s not a metaphor. Really.’

I knew she was right, of course.

‘So I should take the real-life evidence that nothing is festering, ignored, in my life as reality, rather than the water in my cellar that seems like it should be a metaphor?’ I said, and we both laughed.

“Yes,’ said Poppy.

But I felt better for having shared my illogical disquiet.

***

00106A53-F749-4E42-B9F7-87682727F21EOn Wednesday, the plumber came. The smell had been getting worse daily, and I wondered if it was psychological – after all, that black water had obviously been festering there for a while. The plumber stood in the water in his gumboots, while Luke climbed halfway down the damp stairs and I stood at the slate tiles at the top, beside the bins we’d wheeled in from the verandah. The plumber handed dank, stinking, dripping armfuls to Luke, and he handed them up the steps to me.

‘Oh!’ I wailed, recognising the flannelette pyjamas I’d been looking for this week. I now remembered that when I cleared out the spare bedroom – Felix’s room – just before Christmas, I put the winter clothes I found there in the cellar, intending to retrieve them when the weather turned. I put my favourite pyjamas – one matching plaid set, one pair of pants – aside on the tiles. I would turn them in the washing machine before I went to bed, but when I got up to use the bathroom at 3am and opened the door. of the machine, they still smelled of dirty water.

They were the only item of clothing I tried to save. I must have loved them best.

‘Ahhhh,’ I moaned, taking the knee-high, maroon suede, block-heeled Camper boots from a stinking plaid plastic bag. They cost $400, though I bought them at 30% off, using my first ever public lending rights payment from my memoir. Two weeks ago, I bought a lavishly fake-fur collared vest lined with sheepskin from the vintage market with my sisters, planning to team it with these boots. I wore those boots to the ceremony for the one literary award my book was shortlisted for. I’m wearing them in my favourite photograph of me and my mother, taken back at the hotel afterwards. I’m holding my shortlisting plaque.

‘No, no, no!’ I said, as Luke held up a dripping plastic bag through which I recognised the quilted floral bedspread I bought myself after my ex-husband left. Felix, who was then thirteen, told me it made my bed look like a nun’s, and at least one good friend made a politely worded comment to the same effect. It’s pretty and ultra feminine and it definitely looks like it belongs on a bed owned by a single woman. But that bedspread that only I really liked made my first solo bedroom feel like it belonged to me: like I had chosen it.

‘We have contents insurance,’ Luke reminded me, as I looked sadly at the forest-green houndstooth blazer I’ve only worn once or twice, but have owned for over a decade. I like the idea of how I look wearing it more than the reality, but haven’t been able to bring myself to throw it out, over several house-moving purges.

I’ve never had contents insurance before. Luke’s dad pays for it. Luke is matter-of-fact about this, though it feels luxurious to me.

‘These are all vintage clothes and fashion labels, right?’ the plumber called, from amid the black water, debris bobbing around his gumboots. ‘The insurer will pay you replacement value on all of these. They’re all valuable, right?’

He laughed.

There’s the maroon leather jacket I bought at a vintage market stall in Sydney, that time Mel and I went to see Morrissey at the Sydney Opera House for the Vivid Festival – before the extent of his right-wing nastiness was known. (Or, before we all forced ourselves to see it.) I wore that jacket everywhere for months. I was wearing it in my longest-standing Tinder profile picture, with patterned Gorman pants.

The fake-leather jacket with the red-and-black plaid panels at the front, which I wore to the first Imprints Christmas party, and on to a punk gig (Amyl and the Sniffers) with Luke afterwards, during my first six months living back here in Adelaide.

Both jackets have part-dissolved in the water.

***

Then there’s the lace-edged black dress I bought at Red Cross on Rundle Street on a Christmas visit to my family, then wore to the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards the day after my job as program manager for Melbourne Writers Festival was announced. Everyone working for the Wheeler Centre (as I was then) had to wear black to the event so we could be ushers, spaced from the Government House street entrance to the white tent the ceremony was staged under, at the back of the gardens. I remember standing in the sun, in front of a trestle table lined with name tags, my ankles aching in my towering wedge sandals. Almost everyone who paused to take a name tag from me congratulated me on the new job, until I felt like I was on a receiving line at a wedding. My marriage had ended almost exactly a year earlier, and I was still sad in a way that shrivelled my appetite, and my body. It was a sadness that I woke with every day and fell asleep with every night. But on this afternoon, it seemed I had made it. And maybe now, work would be enough. It would cure me, sustain me.

The following year, I wore that dress to New Year’s Eve at my dear friend Rochelle’s house. That night, we ate barbecue under a newly planted rose trellis and danced on the back lawn past midnight, our shoes kicked off. My dearest friends and I were photographed together. Mel came home with me to my Footscray flat and we sat on the couch and laughed hysterically at stupid things until Felix and his best friend came home from their party.

‘Oh my god, they’re drunk!’ his friend said, and we laughed hysterically again, as they disappeared into Felix’s bedroom.

***

The bronze Reebok sneakers I bought while I was working at Melbourne Writers Festival, where my colleague George – white-blonde, impeccably professional and impossibly cool – wore sneakers with designer clothes every day and influenced me to buy my own sneakers in white, black – and bronze – to go with my every outfit.

I walked from the city home to Footscray a couple of a week (when I wasn’t working past dark), Spotify blaring through my headphones: through North Melbourne and Kensington, and over the Maribyrnong to Footscray, following the river until I reached my apartment building. On the night when my festival contract was renewed and I went out drinking with George and my boss, the night I passed out into a restaurant window in Chinatown (I still have the scar), where we were lining up for dumplings in an attempt to sober me up – I was wearing those sneakers on that night. The next day, my friend Maria and I were scheduled to attend a pop-up literary festival, where Cheryl Strayed was one of the speakers. She talked about being ‘wild’, and Maria turned to me – to the violet lump on my forehead, a cut through it – and said, ‘She’s talking about you, my friend.’ And I laughed, not because I thought I was funny, but because I thought Maria was. I was ashamed, but Maria said she liked that about me – that I was utterly myself. I was fearless, she said. I wasn’t – I had slammed back endless free spirits that night because I was afraid that I was still so sad – but I liked that she thought that.

At Readings Doncaster, where I worked after I burned myself out at Melbourne Writers Festival, I wore those sneakers proudly to work nearly every day. Zipping back and forth on the vast shop floor; racing up and down ladders to retrieve or shelve books; and to the food court, ten minutes away, and back (inhaling food at speed in between), during half-hour lunch breaks. I was there because I had failed to make it after all. The people at Readings were so kind, the work so steady and gently consuming, that I let go of being important and embraced being useful. There, I began to be happy again.

I walked kilometres along the Maribyrnong River in those sneakers, too. From my Footscray apartment to Highpoint Shopping Centre and back; sometimes going further, into Ascot Vale and Moonee Ponds – walking until I calculated I could go no further, and it was time to turn back. Sometimes, I walked in the opposite direction, to Newport, where I had lived with my ex-husband, and caught the train to the nearby beach, where I would walk some more.

Walking in those sneakers, my ears plugged with music or podcasts, kept me sane, even when I wasn’t.

I might miss those sneakers almost as much as I’ll miss the pyjamas – even though I haven’t worn them in over a year.

***

The lurid striped and flowered jumpsuit I bought at Vinnie’s in Semaphore during the summer holiday when I met Luke. I wore that jumpsuit to my 42nd birthday celebration on the beach, where I told my cousin Ali that I’d been talking to a guy on Tinder who I really liked, though he lived in Adelaide, so it would obviously never amount to anything. Four days later, Luke and I met for a drink at the Exeter and we’ve barely gone a day without talking since.

That jumpsuit, and the olive-green dress with the gold-clasped waist (now soaking in the bin), were among the opshop finds that summer that hooked me on buying nearly all my clothes that way. I stopped wearing my habitual jeans and patterned Gorman pants and t-shirts, and started to wear mostly dresses.

Luke likes them. And it brings me back to when I was young, before I had Felix, when I bought cheap opshop clothes most weekends, in order to have something new to wear out, and delighted in vintage dresses and Doc Marten boots (there was a pair of them in the cellar water, too). My ex-husband never liked the dresses I bought, so I stopped wearing them long ago – not deliberately, but as an instinctive defence against criticism. It’s not his fault that he didn’t like what I did – that I didn’t suit him. It’s just a sign, looking back, that we weren’t well matched.

To my first date with Luke, I wore a gauzy red-and-white polka dot skirt I’d bought at a vintage shop in Sempahore, with a black shirt tied at the waist. To be honest, I’d been proofreading a manuscript all day and I had no time to change before meeting him. I didn’t think it was a date outfit – it felt more like an outfit for me – but then again, he was also someone who lived in a different city to me, so it probably didn’t matter much. This wasn’t going to be a thing. Luke was sitting at the bar, drinking the same brand of apple cider that’s my go-to drink, wearing a short-sleeved black-and-red plaid shirt with black jeans. We matched.

***

Luke says I need to go through the three wheeled bins stuffed with my wet clothes and shoes (and handbags – oh, the handbags!) and estimate the value of what I’ve lost. And then the insurers will either come and inspect it, or accept my claim and pay me out.

He’s lost things, too – an old framed racing-car photo now faded beyond recognition and glass-splintered, and a Marilyn Monroe canvas from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes that hung in his kitchen before I moved my stuff into the house.

And Barry Hall’s Party Organ, a novelty record he won in a spot-trivia contest on our third, three-day-long date (I visited him from Melbourne), at a Fringe event called Vinyl Club.

We listened to it once, as a joke, but it’s among the saddest losses.

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Outside: Coronavirus Diary Week 11

Saturday 23 May

For the first time since isolation began, I go the supermarket.

The only concession to a changed world is the Perspex wall shielding the checkout operators. There’s no social distancing, and it’s impossible to move down the aisles without being close to people. I don’t take a basket, because people have touched it, but then my arms are so full of groceries that my handheld shopping cart crashes to the floor and I can’t pick it up. A woman rights it for me, and I’m grateful, though I’m also aware she’s touched it, and now I’m touching it.

Of course, South Australia has been officially free of Covid-19 for over a week.

Unpacking the groceries at home, I marvel at how, for the first time in weeks, I’ve been able to choose my own vegetables, so the avocados are the right balance between firm and ripe, and the potatoes are the variety I used to choose from the markets, but forgot the name of.

Sunday 24 May

I half-wake to a missed call, at 10.30am. Mum. We fall back into sleep, and I call her back around midday, as Luke gets up and goes to the study to finish an assignment.

‘Were you in bed?’ she asks, straight away. I laugh and tell that yes we were, and we had guessed she would ask exactly that.

‘Aren’t I predictable, then?’ she says. ‘And aren’t you predictable too?’

She asks if she can come over to plant the agapanthus she dug up from her garden over a week ago.

But instead, she clears the front garden of fallen leaves – so many that they fill our green waste bin – and savagely prunes back the flowering plant growing wild over the picket fence.

I give her the Mother’s Day presents I’ve been holding for her: a box of Roses and one of the books I wrote in my InDaily column that I was going to buy her for Mother’s Day.

‘Oh, thank you,’ she says, glancing at them, and asks if I can put them in a bag for her.

As I make us both coffee in the kitchen, she looks under the sink, and tells me how I can get rid of the mould growing in the damp space there.

I ask for advice on whether my jumpers are being eaten by moths or disintegrating with age, and she tells me she’ll take them home and mend them for me.

I walk her to her car.

‘Can I hug you goodbye, do you think?’ I ask.

‘I’ve been hugging people,’ she shrugs.

And so I hug her, and she squeezes back, just for a moment, before getting into the driver’s seat.

I stand at the front door and wave until she’s gone.

Tuesday 26 May

I’ve decided that I really need new long-sleeved black t-shirts, which I wear as a base layer to most outfits during the winter. And it’s winter now. I need to touch them, to see how they feel against my skin. And having been to the supermarket, I’m ready to test the outside world further.

The bus rolls down O’Connell Street. Past the Adelaide Children’s Hospital where I had my kidney removed when I was five. Past St Peter’s Cathedral, where Luke kissed me on our second date as we walked from the temporary urban beach on the river to his house in Fitzroy. Onto King William Street. Past the Pioneer Women’s Gardens, where thousands sat on the lawns three months ago – almost the last time I was out – for Adelaide Writers Week. It’s all in sharp focus, like I’m wearing prescription glasses for the first time.

A girl stands outside the jeans shop near Haigh’s, making sure everyone applies hand sanitiser before they enter. I’m comforted by this measure, as I rub cold alcohol gel onto my hands. Inside, I try on a pair of jeans I’ve been looking at online, in the same size as my other jeans in this brand, but I can’t zip them up – not even close. When the salesperson asks how I went, I tell him they won’t zip up, though I have another pair in this size, by this brand, at home. I wait for a comforting lie about sizing, but instead he shrugs and tells me to have a nice day. I can’t believe I have been touching clothes that other people have touched. At the entrance, I pause before the hand sanitiser, but then walk on.

Myer is still shut: it reopens tomorrow. I go to David Jones, because I just want to look at a whole lot of different black tops at once and then move on to the market. I don’t want to linger, or go into too many shops. There are arrows at either side of the David Jones entrance, directing people to come into the shop down one aisle and leave down the other. Two security guards are posted at the entrance. There is no hand sanitiser here. As I walk in, following the pointy end of the arrow, a cluster of people walks towards me, and we almost collide.

‘Oh! I’m so sorry!’ says the woman at the front of the cluster, looking down at the floor. ‘I didn’t see!’

‘That’s okay,’ I say. The wave of anger that rushed to the surface before she apologised ebbs away.

Then I look at the security guards, who have been deep in conversation the whole time. They glance up and away. I’m suddenly furious at them for not doing their job, and in my head, I compose a complaint to management.

I walk from department to department, collecting a variety of not-quite-right, too-expensive, long-sleeved black tops that I then try on in a changing room, trying not to think about all the people who might have tried them on before me. I mentally retract my complaint to management about the security guards: this is worse. The tops all fit, so I recklessly buy them all. It comes to nearly three hundred dollars. I feel guilty. Luke probably needs winter clothes more than I do. So I go down the escalators to the men’s department and buy him a jumper and a cardigan. I have spent nearly all the money in my discretionary spending account.

At the Country Road men’s counter, where I want to buy Luke a black V-neck jumper (but settle for a black crew-neck jumper), the man behind the counter burbles with cheer. He says it’s his first day at work in almost three months. He’s an artist, and he’s spent most of that time in his garage, painting, using the new canvases and paints he bought online. He’s on JobKeeper.

‘I hate to say this,’ he says. ‘And I don’t want to offend anyone who’s suffering because of this. But I’m actually having a great year. I’ve realised what I really want to be doing with my time.’

‘I’m not offended,’ I say. ‘I’m glad it’s working out for someone!’ And I mean it.

I walk to the markets, trailing my hand-trolley, a bulging David Jones bag hanging from its handle. I feel out of control.

Before Covid, I never bought extra meat or seafood for the freezer. I felt that defrosted meat is never as fresh or tasty. But now I’m used to it, and a part of me is poised to retreat into full lockdown again. So I buy enough for ten serves of marinara, and five each of garfish and flathead.

‘Are you … stockpiling?’ asks the man who serves me, as he wraps it all in butcher’s paper.

‘Kind of,’ I say.

‘You haven’t been here for a while,’ he says.

‘No.’

At Barossa Fine Foods, where I buy ten of the meat and veggie burgers we used to eat weekly, the radio is on.

‘SA has a new Covid case,’ says the girl who serves me.

‘What?’ I say. ‘When?’

‘It just happened,’ she says. A traveller from Victoria who was allowed here for compassionate reasons, even though she hadn’t completed her two weeks’ quarantine in Melbourne after returning from overseas.

‘Well,’ I say. ‘I might not see you for a while again!’

I feel the market closing in on me. I order three serves of mince, just in case, though we have plenty in the freezer.

‘Hey!’ says the ponytailed girl at the organic fruit and vegetable stall, the one who’s doing a science degree and shops at Imprints. ‘It’s you!’

She’s been working here the whole time. Life isn’t that different, she says, except for doing uni online now.

‘Are you still at the bookshop?’ she asks. I tell her I’ve been doing their social media from home.

‘Oh!’ she says. ‘I’ve been following it. It’s great.’

I ask if she’s heard about the new Covid case, and she nods, but doesn’t look especially troubled.

Groundhog days: Coronavirus Week 10

Saturday 16 May

We sleep late, then I stay in bed to read a book for a Zoom author interview next week. I have one a week for the next three weeks.

At 5pm, I decide I’ve been good long enough, and get my laptop from under the bed to watch Mad Men.

Luke reheats last night’s bolognaise sauce and makes spaghetti, then gets me up for dinner.

At the table, we realise that today, he’s eaten chips and a sandwich and I’ve eaten popcorn, a muesli bar and some chocolate.

Sunday 17 May

Luke’s parents bring us a kilogram of steak. It was on special at the butcher’s, says his dad.

Luke hovers by the fridge, looking at the tube of meat in his hand.

‘How do we turn this into steaks?’ he asks.

‘You cut it up!’ laughs his mum.

They sit at the kitchen table, while Luke makes coffee and I divide a cinnamon donut onto plates.

This is the first time we’ve had visitors sit down inside the house.

We all talk about where to buy the best pies and pasties (they swear by a bakery in Glenelg) and the films and TV shows we’ve been watching.

Luke’s dad says that the people who carry on about climate change are bloody idiots, because the climate has always changed, and I am quiet until he has finished.

When we met, Luke told me that his dad, a former MP, loves to argue. That he’d just spent New Year’s Eve listening to his dad and his dad’s best friend argue into the night, and he was pretty sure some of the arguments were concocted for the sake of arguing. (In fact, they’d eventually switched sides, in order to keep on arguing.)

I used to enjoy intellectual argument as sport, but I don’t think I do anymore. I don’t want to argue with Luke’s dad. I’m very fond of him. And besides, he would beat me. These days, I think arguments are won or lost according to the art of arguing, rather than who’s right or wrong, or due to any genuine persuasion of one combatant by the other.

Monday 18 May

I yawn through this morning’s weekly Zoom marketing meeting, shivering on the couch in the lounge room.

‘You’re not wearing your beanie this week,’ says Maddy. ‘That’s probably why you’re cold.’

‘I brushed my hair this morning,’ I say. ‘I didn’t need it.’

I have to cut off the Zoom meeting, an hour and fifteen minutes later, because it’s almost time for my Zoom meeting with the bookshop, to trial next week’s online author event.

***

I walk to the bakery for lunch, and sit on the bench opposite the paddocks to eat my pasty with sauce, listening to the end of A.M. Homes’ New York Public Library interview with Matthew Weiner through my headphones.

He’s talking about how the ‘I’d like to buy the world a Coke’ TV ad he closed Mad Men with is the greatest advertisement of all time.

‘It’s so pure,’ he says.

The motivations behind it, he seems to believe, were not about cynically co-opting the peace, love and acceptance values of the counterculture to sell Coke, but about using Coke as a vehicle to promote and further the values of the counterculture.

He knows that’s not usually how advertising works, he says, but occasionally – and in this case – it does.

A.M. Homes, who is mostly in awe of him, is sceptical about this, though she doesn’t push it.

We all have moments where we choose to believe the best of something or someone because we don’t want to let go of a cherished ideal. Is this how Matthew Weiner feels about his favourite ad?

I really want to go to bed and watch Mad Men when I get home, but of course I don’t. I sit at my computer, take the iced donut from my bag, and answer emails.

***

Luke leaves his computer at 4.30pm. He kisses me and waves as he backs towards the study door.

‘See you soon,’ I say. ‘Or, knowing me, I’ll suddenly get really motivated at 5pm, and I won’t finish until seven.’

Nearly three hours later, I flop beside him on the couch.

‘I guess I really know myself,’ I say.

Leigh Sales appears on the television screen, and I realise that The 7.30 Report must start at 7pm in Adelaide.

***

In bed, before we turn the lights off, I ask Luke, ‘What’s the worst thing about me?’

There is a long pause.

‘Your work ethic,’ he says. ‘When you get really intense about work and caught up in it.’

‘Does that annoy you?’

‘No. But it’s not good for you.’

I wonder if it does annoy him, and he’s being polite.

Tuesday 19 May

Luke comes into the bedroom as my second episode of Mad Men is beginning. Outside, the late-afternoon sky is charcoal grey.

‘The storm’s coming,’ he says, sitting on the bed to kiss me. ‘Do you want anything?’

***

Luke’s mum sends him a photograph of the hailstones in her front garden.

‘She says they’re as big as marbles.’

We sit on the bed and watch the wind: branches tossing, leaves scattering. Rain hammers overhead, then turns to ice. The grey sky flashes white. Luke opens the door to photograph hailstones shining on the stretch of mossy dirt between the verandah and our front fence.

He sends the photographs to his mum.

***

We wake, groggy, at 7pm, and stay under the quilt and the fleece blanket. Minced beef has been defrosting on a plate in the kitchen since midday.

‘I’ll get up and make bolognese,’ I say.

An hour later, I pick basil and oregano and thyme from the verandah in the dark, walking barefoot over the wet cement.

I peel and chop carrots, and wash the herbs, while the preview episode of the new season of You Must Remember This plays on my Bluetooth.

It’s about Polly Platt, ex-wife of filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, who was an instrumental partner on his first two films (the good ones), and went on to be a successful film producer and set designer. She was a minor character in the ensemble in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, the nineties classic on seventies filmmakers I read when I was 22, and re-read at the pool this summer.

Re-reading, the book was still the fascinating, gossipy inside-film history I remembered, but the way women were treated – particularly Polly, who worked on her husband’s films as a partner, was barely credited, and was left for the teenage star she helped discover (Cybil Shepherd) – was much worse than I remembered.

While the pasta boils, I google her name and ‘book’, in case a book is going to be published to coincide with the podcast series, but I find nothing.

Luke is watching The X-Files when I carry the bowls of steaming spaghetti into the lounge room.

‘It’s another sea monster story,’ he says. ‘But we can watch more of The Wire if you want?’

‘Really?’ I say, and he nods.

Last night, I finally got him to try it for the first time.

We settle down to watch episode four the one containing the famous scene where McNulty and Bunk puzzle out a murder scene while saying only the words ‘fuck’ and ‘motherfucker’. And then we watch another two episodes.

Wednesday 20 May

I work until 9pm, reading a whole manuscript on my bed from late afternoon, eating chilli Kettle chips.

Luke is watching The X Files again when I come to join him on the couch. He’s not hungry, after ordering chicken nuggets and chips for a late lunch from UberEats. I can’t be bothered eating dinner either. If we don’t eat the leftover pasta in the fridge tonight, we can have it tomorrow night.

We watch three episodes of The Wire, then go to bed.

Thursday 21 May

I wear lipstick for the first time in weeks, to match the red cashmere jumper that has finally arrived in the mail. The shoulders are baggy, but it’s soft and warm and I decide not to care.

I’m interviewing an author on Zoom this morning, for a local library. I first met Gina, author of a YA dystopian Snow White retelling, when we were both twenty years old, and working for the publisher who has just published her book, where I’m working once again. She was a trainee editor and I was a publicity and marketing assistant.

As we talk about climate change and writing and fairytales, I marvel at her waist-length, silver-speckled hair, and the face that hasn’t changed in two decades.

Luke is on the brown couch in the sunroom, earphones in, participating in a Zoom tutorial for his Cabaret uni subject. He’s wearing the same clothes he wore yesterday.

I walk to the bakery for lunch, again, and eat my pasty with sauce standing up next to the damp picnic bench, overlooking the paddocks and the distant hills.

We have leftover spaghetti sauce for dinner, again, while watching another three episodes of The Wire.

We pause it after the second episode, and Luke brings me chamomile and licorice tea and six squares of caramel chocolate, while he has one of the Byron Bay chocolates with his tea.

Our lives have narrowed to these new routines. To us, and work, and what we’re reading and listening to and watching. To eating the same things, in repeating cycles. Rewarding ourselves with food and sleep and sex.

‘Are you happy, in isolation?’ I asked Luke this week.

‘Yes,’ he said, without hesitation.

And I think I am, too.

Mother’s Day, 5am, the end of the beginning: Coronavirus Week 9

Friday 8 May

I wake before 5am, to winds buffeting the window and objects rattling on the street. The world is in flux.

We wriggle, turn, entwine. Roll apart. Settle into each other again. His skin is warm, and so am I, under our freshly washed quilt and soft fleece blanket.

‘Are you awake?’ I whisper into the dark.

‘Mmmmm. Yes.’

‘Are you very awake, or a bit awake?’

‘A bit.’

‘Oh, good.’

I am very awake. I try to lie still. I try to focus on Luke’s skin, Luke’s breathing, our bed burrow.

‘Luke,’ I whisper into his back, ‘I am your destiny.’

‘Mmmm,’ he says, and pats my hand, which is curled around his torso.

I’m paraphrasing Marty McFly paraphrasing Darth Vader in Back to the Future, when he advises his future father to tell his future mother, I am your destiny.

‘Don’t you think, in 1977, George McFly would be really freaked out?’ I ask.

‘What? 1977?’ Luke slurs, from half-sleep.

‘Isn’t that when Star Wars came out? Or was it 1979?’

‘Yeah. 77. Yeah.’

‘So, I reckon he’d be freaked out that his whole life has been shaped by the evil character in this film. Star Wars.’

I’m thinking of the scene where Marty comes to George in the night, wearing a hazmat suit and helmet, and tells him he’s Darth Vader, come from the future, and that he must take Lorraine to the dance.

‘Mmmm.’

I am quiet again. I lie there, trying to be still, trying to sleep, until 5am, when I give up and get out of bed, picking up a robe from the dark bedroom floor and padding down the hall to sit on the couch and play with my phone.

Someone has posted a picture of Mandy Smith, who dated Rolling Stone Bill Wyman from age thirteen and married him at eighteen, on Facebook, and I idly google them.

Outside, rain hammers the window and mysterious objects rattle in the wind.

It’s 5.30am and I am trying not to think about my job, or writing, or coronavirus. Distracting myself with outrage that doesn’t matter.

Saturday 9 May

Today is the two-year anniversary of me moving to Adelaide.

Facebook reminded me, with pictures of my empty Footscray apartment. Its narrow little kitchen – a line of stainless steel appliances against a wall, a pathway of cream tiles at the end of the cream carpet. A glass sliding door looking over the river and the docks on the far bank, their stacked shipping containers and tall cranes.

Looking at that apartment makes me feel nostalgic for its windows, high in the sky. Its grit and glamour. I miss the bathtub with its narrow windows overlooking the docks; nights with candles and cider and the stereo on, looking at the dark water shining under the lights of the docks. The growl of the cranes and forklifts. The pinprick lights of industry.

I felt cocooned from the world there.

But my wave of fond nostalgia is chased by a bigger wave crashing over it: of being grateful for what I have here. My kind, handsome husband and our big house on the edge of town, and the parklands. The garden we’re nurturing, my family all twenty minutes’ drive away. Luke’s arms around me, his body bedside mine in bed.

My Footscray cocoon always felt temporary, like it would be taken from me at any time. I struggled to afford it. My landlords were renting another apartment in a neighbouring suburb, and I felt sure they’d one day want this one back.

I look out the window, at the leafy branches hanging, and I feel a luxurious security that this is mine. Ours.

***

Sunday 10 May

For Mother’s Day, we sleep past midday. When I wake up, I see that I missed a morning phone call from Felix. I call him back; he’s in an IGA, buying a Mother’s Day present for Frankie’s mum, on his way there for lunch.

‘Granny says Happy Mother’s Day,’ he says.

‘Happy Mother’s Day to her, too,’ I say. Then I pause, confused. ‘Is she there?’

He laughs.

‘Um, no,’ he says. ‘Of course not.’

His granny – his dad’s mother – lives on the Gold Coast.

‘Oh yeah,’ I say. ‘Of course not.’ I tell him to wish Frankie’s mum a Happy Mother’s Day.

My mum texts me to say Happy Mother’s Day before I have a chance to call or text her, and I feel bad.

***

Luke’s parents are coming over, bringing chicken schnitzel and vegetables, between 1.30pm and 2pm.

‘Are they having lunch with us?’ I ask.

‘No,’ he says. ‘I don’t think so.’

‘So, they’re just bringing us food to eat? For later?’

‘Yeah.’

‘I don’t need to clear and set the kitchen table?’

‘No, no.’

Instead, I clean the outside furniture on the back verandah. We haven’t been able to use the small wooden table and chairs I got for my fortieth birthday, because they’ve been polluted by birdshit. I had assumed this was a permanent thing I couldn’t fix. But out in the sunshine, scrubbing at the wood with Spray n Wipe, I watch as the grime dissolves and comes away on the cloth.

‘Look!’ I say to Luke, as he comes out to see what I’m doing. ‘It’s clean!’

He smiles and nods, slightly bewildered, as if to say, well, of course – you’re cleaning it.

I wipe down the big wooden table and bench seats, and replace the tablecloth, weighted against the wind with candles, and a sprinkler head in one corner. And then I sweep the house, transferring trays full of dust to the outside bin.

Luke’s parents arrive with trays of steaming food under foil: schnitzels, smashed roasted potatoes, carrots, fennel, breaded cauliflower.

‘I’m sorry,’ says Luke’s mum, Aldona. ‘I forgot greens.’

We carry the food down the hallway to the kitchen. I am fizzing with alarm.

‘Oh,’ says Aldona, looking at the kitchen table piled with apples and avocadoes and old bills, and two blackening bananas. ‘I thought you’d have the table set?’

‘I’m so sorry,’ I say. ‘I’ll clear it.’

‘Never mind!’ she says, ‘We’ll eat out the back.’ She must have seen the tablecloth on her way into the kitchen. ‘Is that okay?’

And so we layer food onto our plates and fetch champagne glasses from the cupboard – they’ve brought champagne – and carry it all outside, to sit facing each other on the bench seats. And even though I can smell cleaning fluid, it’s nice out here, overlooking the garden. As we eat, we talk about taking out the thorny tree that’s grown like a weed beside the verandah, and pruning the fig tree so it produces better fruit, and whether to plant a pear tree or a lime tree in the back corner.

‘Luke told me you were quoting Winston Churchill to him,’ I tell his dad, through a mouthful of smashed potato.

‘I was?’ he says.

‘You know … it’s not the beginning of the end, it’s the end of the beginning.’

‘Ah,’ he says. ‘Yes. I was quoting the queen, actually. She was the one quoting Winston Churchill.’

He says that winter is bound to bring a second wave, and with it, a return to isolation.

‘I’d advise you to do another big shop,’ he says. ‘Get all the essentials in your cupboard. Next time the shortages come, it’ll be worse.’

***

I have ordered a box of Roses for Mum, from Coles, and one for me, too.

‘I got my own Mother’s Day present,’ I tell Luke.

‘Why’d you do that?’ he frowns. ‘Felix has something in the post for you.’

‘I just wanted some Roses. And you need a reason to buy them.’

When the groceries haven’t arrived, and it’s 6pm, I check the Coles app, and it seems the delivery was cancelled, along with the order. I do it all again.

Monday 11 May

Margot has returned to the office, and her desk by the window, overlooking the rose bushes.

I can’t wait until everyone’s back, writes Julia in an email, and I wonder if I’m supposed to be returning, too.

Luke and I sit side by side, under the window, the heater on. I’m not ready to leave this room.

***

Mel is moving back to Brunswick next week, after a few weeks living in Ballarat, in the house her mum owns next-door to her sister. She’s bringing the dog that’s been staying in the house back with her. She’s essentially a cat person, but she’s bonded with it.

She says her sister was tested for Covid-19 this week, because the two households have ‘a small head cold’.

***

The Coles order arrives missing my second box of Roses: instead, they’ve substituted a tiny ‘gift pack’. Luke brings it to me on the couch after dinner, while we watch Mindhunter, with my cup of chamomile and vanilla tea.

‘Maybe I only think I like Roses,’ I say, after eating the first chocolate.

Tuesday 12 May

I don’t know how I’ll get used to waking up earlier, in time to cycle or catch two buses to work. Or Luke getting up earlier. It’s nice to have his warm body beside mine in bed, until 8.30am, or later. We get up at the last possible moment. And Luke brings me my first coffee of the day, which I start in bed and bring to my desk.

Yesterday, our groceries were delivered at 3pm, and we got up from our desks to put the ice-cream in the freezer, then I stood in the hall to watch Luke replace the light bulbs in the hallway.

‘I can’t quite believe life’s not supposed to be like this,’ I said.

He looked down at me, standing on a chair.

‘You know, working, and getting things done in the moments in between. Not travelling to work. Sitting next to your wife all day.’

‘I know,’ he said.

***

It’s my brother’s birthday: the middle one, number three of five children. I wake up to a Facebook post by my sister, tagging him, with photos. She writes about how special their relationship is, and how much she loves him, and he has replied saying he loves her too, and her husband and children, and that he’ll catch up with them all soon.

I can’t see my brother’s Facebook posts anymore, because I’ve hidden them, about a year ago.

It would be untrue to say he doesn’t speak to me. He is polite. He responds, when he is spoken to, at the family gatherings we both attend. Sometimes he says hello and goodbye. He took a day off work to attend my wedding last year, where he said ‘Merry Christmas’ to me and ‘Happy birthday’ to Luke as a jokey substitute for congratulating us. He lined up to hug us, along with the rest of the family. As we all sat at a table overlooking the sea at the Largs Pier Hotel, in the hours between the backyard wedding at Luke’s parents’ house and the reception in the hotel restaurant, he pointed out that my professionally applied eyeliner had smudged across my eyelid and above my eye.

But my brother hasn’t liked me since the week I announced I was moving to Adelaide, when we had a blow-up on the phone while my son was staying with him, though I apologised the following day for my part (in which, I admit, I shouted at him to fuck off and leave me alone). I tried to make him like me again, after I moved to Adelaide, mostly through offering him professional opportunities for his photography, because it was the best way I could think of to communicate with him. (And because he’s actually very good.) He agreed to socialise with me once, when I asked him to meet me at a city pub after work to discuss a photography project. Luke met us there on the way home from uni. I was so happy, during the hour we sat at the table together and talked.

Then, a few months later, we had another blow-up, which I still don’t really understand, at a backyard barbecue at my sister’s house, when I tried to make a time for him to talk about the photography project, and he snapped that he had more important things to worry about, having just lost his job, and we both stalked to opposite parts of the yard. He went home soon afterwards. I apologised again, a few weeks later, though I didn’t really know what had happened, and he said he appreciated the apology, but has barely spoken to me since. That was just over a year ago.

My brother is the only one of my siblings to have never visited either of my Adelaide houses. He was also the one who phoned me most often when I lived in Melbourne. He always made an effort to see me when I came to Adelaide to visit. Once he picked me up from the interstate train. He was the only one of my siblings to have visited me at my Footscray apartment.

I text my brother happy birthday in the evening. I tell him I hope he had a good day, and that I love him. He says thank you, and that his day was good. He doesn’t say he loves me.

Wednesday 13 May

Michael and Margot come over for a meeting at 10am.

‘Should we go down the side?’ asks Margot, standing uncertainly on the front verandah.

‘Nah,’ I say. ‘It’s okay. Come through the house.’

We sit on the back verandah, Michael and Margot on either side of the table with bench seats, while I curl on the nearby couch. I offer coffee, but Margot has brought a drink bottle of water, and Michael says no because he can’t smoke. I nearly tell him he can, as we’re outside, but then I don’t. Michael takes a biscuit from his pocket and eats it as we talk. Later, he pulls out a mandarin.

‘I should have brought you one,’ he says.

I bring up the topic of when I should come back to work, and to my surprise, Michael says, ‘Do you want to come back? Or do you want to work from home? This is working, isn’t it?’

‘Well, yeah,’ I say. ‘I get a lot done from here.’

And then Margot says she liked working from home, and felt productive, but feels so energised this week, being back in the office. And Michael says that you always think you like working from home, but then it wears off. And I say maybe I could work one day from home; that I’m thinking I’ll buy a desktop computer to replace my laptop and get all my work programs transferred to it. And then I can work from either place. And Michael says sure, and then says that he’s worried about having enough desks for everyone, now that social distancing is a factor, and we can no longer share desks between people who work different days.

I don’t know what he wants me to do, or what I want to do.

I want to stay at my desk across the hallway from my bedroom; I want to be in the office where I can bounce ideas around all day.

We figure out a plan ahead, of sorts, and then Michael and Margot get up and follow me back down the hallway. I wave them goodbye from behind the screen door, then go into the home office, where Luke is sitting at his desk.

***

I walk to the bakery to get a pasty with sauce for lunch. It feels like isolation is ending. I press the buttons at the pedestrian crossings with my finger. I don’t bring hand sanitiser, or wash my hands when I get home. I do keep a careful 1.5 metre distance from the people I pass on the street, though, and I pay meticulous attention to my spaced position in the queue at the bakery.

I sit on a bench opposite the paddock to eat my pasty, from the paper bag that the bakery girl’s hands have touched. I watch the cockatoos swarming like pigeons across the grass, heads industriously bent, pecking at something unseen.

When I get back, a package is waiting for me on the table of the homes study. It’s my Mother’s Day present from Felix: two A3 mounted posters of Frances Ha, one of my favourite movies. Felix and I have been texting about it recently. I put one of them on the wall near my desk, between the window and my personal essays/sociology bookshelf.

Thursday 14 May

It’s my day off, and we sleep late.

I stay in my dressing gown, and bring my laptop to bed, to watch Mad Men again. I’m now well into Season 3, gulping down episodes at a time at odd hours: while Luke is busy, or at the opposite end of the hallway, and I can imagine he’s happily occupied. It’s an addiction whose only side-effect is the time it swallows (and sometimes, sore eyes).

I check my work emails through the afternoon (another habit I can’t break), and when a media outlet asks for an urgent review copy and author contact, I close my laptop and walk across the hall to my work computer, where I stay for nearly two hours.

***

Online orders I’m waiting to arrive are:

Mad Men: Carousel by Matt Zoller-Seitz, a book with an essay on every episode of every season of Mad Men, by my favourite screen critic. I set up an eBay account to order it, because it’s out of print.

One kilogram each of Pink Lady raspberry licorice chocolate bullets and licorice chocolate bullets, coming from a West Melbourne wholesaler.

A small red cashmere jumper from Uniqlo, to replace the medium red cashmere jumper that was too big when it arrived, even though I’d had Luke measure me and checked it against the website measurements.

Replacement shower gel, moisturiser and facewash from Body Shop.

***

I put clothes on because Katherine is coming to pick up the Curtis Sittenfeld book on Hillary Clinton (which I heartily disliked) to give to Laura, the former director of Adelaide Writers Week and a friend of the bookshop, to read.

We stand on the verandah in the descending dark, and talk, about books and business, and photos I want for social media, and what the other bookshop staff are doing. She says business is slowing down, now that all the shops are opening again, and online orders are dwindling. For the first two months of isolation, trade has been normal, or even better than usual.

‘Take a photo of Laura with the book,’ I shout from the footpath, as she opens her car door. Katherine frowns. ‘For our social media.’

‘But we hated it’ she says.

‘Oh, yeah. Good point.’

And I wave from the verandah, one hand on the door handle, as her car turns onto Prospect Road.

 

Coles gifts, baking and watching Mum garden: Coronavirus Week 8

Friday 1 May

It rains all day.

I order UberEats for lunch: a pizza, which arrives soggy, reminding me that UberEats is rarely as good as I imagine it will be. I eat less than half of it and throw the rest in the bin. It feels shocking to have spent so much money on food.

I start re-watching Mad Men, from Season 1, for (I think) the fourth time.

***

At the end of the day, I text Felix to see how he’s going. He’s cheerful, in the middle of baking cookies with Frankie, at her house.

I tell him to tell her I ordered a kilo of the raspberry licorice bullets I used to eat all the time in Melbourne, prompted by her Christmas present to me, which reminded me how much I like them.

She’s going to think that’s hilarious, he texts. If I ever saw a kilogram of Cheetos, it’d be like seeing the Ark of the Covenant!

So I look up the price of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, and where I can buy them, online. I can order seven large packets, totalling just over a kilogram, from Coles online, and have them delivered to him within a day or two. The Cheetos will cost $21. This seems a cheap and easy way to make him happy, so I get his address at Frankie’s house and start an order.

Then I think I should get his little brother a present too, and ask what he likes. (Haribo gummy bears – a large packet costs $4.) I ask what kind of chocolate his dad and stepmother like.

Plain Cadbury Dairy Milk, he says. That’s all I ever see him eat.

Are you serious? I ask.

There is a TV ad where a little girl buys a block of Cadbury Dairy Milk from an old-fashioned corner shop, using coins and buttons, for her Mum, who is delighted. I often joke to Luke, feeling mean, that it’s the most boring chocolate in existence and a terrible present. (Though of course if Felix bought me a block of boring chocolate, I would be delighted too, even though I might never eat it.)

Yeah, Felix says. I’m serious. It’s what he likes. He likes plain chips too.

So I add a box of Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolates, mixed in with Dairy Milk Hazelnut and Dairy Milk Caramel, to the cart.

And then I ask what Frankie likes (M&Ms, both plain and peanut – two enormous packets go in the cart), what her mum likes (barbecue chips – two packets, and I add a box of Roses chocolates), what her brother likes (a Cadbury chocolate block with lollies in it – two blocks).

Do you want anything else while I’m here? I ask. Groceries?

We’re fine. Thanks, Mum.

How about dinner for tomorrow night? Enchilada ingredients?

He agrees. He thanks me exuberantly, more than once.

The final total is just over $100, but I have bought ingredients for dinner for four people, and presents for seven people, and it’s all being delivered tomorrow.

I am elated.

I join Luke on the couch, bringing the chilli chips I started eating while ordering groceries for Melbourne, and excitedly tell him about what I’ve been doing.

‘That’s nice,’ he says, kissing me? and then we watch The 7.30 Report.

Saturday 2 May

We’ve run out of the four packets of White Wings gluten-free self-raising flour I bought on our Friday 13 grocery shop, on the day all of this began.

I remember Luke was incredulous.

‘Why do you need four packets of flour? What are you going to do with it?’

‘Bake,’ I said.

I wasn’t sure if this was true, but I wanted the option. And now I wish I’d bought more flour: I’ve tried to order it for three weeks, with no luck.

Luke’s mum brought us a box of Orgran gluten-free self-raising flour about six weeks ago, and I open it to use for this morning’s pancakes.

They’re thin and oddly floppy, with a translucent look to them. Luke looks up the ingredients and they’re the same as the White Wings flour – maize, rice flour, tapioca – but they’re probably a different blend.

‘I think there’s more rice flour in these?’ I say, drizzling maple syrup over my plate.

We agree that the usual flour, the usual pancakes, are better, but this is fine. Better than nothing.

After the pancakes, Luke watches a football replay in the lounge room while I watch Mad Men in bed, until it’s dark, and time to cook dinner.

Felix texts me a photo of a table covered in Coles bags at around 8pm.

Sunday 3 May

We’re woken at 10am by a text from Mum, who wants to come over ‘late morning’, to plant some agapanthus she uprooted from her garden this week. We weren’t planning on getting up before midday, but of course I say yes – though I don’t get up until she knocks on the door an hour later.

‘Were you in bed?’ she asks, watching me zip my jeans.

‘Yeah.’

‘Really?’

‘Yeah.’

‘It’s 11.30!’ she says, incredulous.

‘Yeah. So what?’

‘You were really still in bed?’

‘Yes, Mum.’

She raises her eyebrows.

‘It’s only 11.30.’

She is going to drive her car to the back of our house, to the carport, so she can unload her box of agapanthus from the boot to the garden. I go into the bedroom and jump on the bed, where Luke is burrowed under the quilt, wincing at the light.

‘Did you hear that?’ I say, giggling. He nods.

‘But it’s not 11.30,’ he says. ‘It’s only 11.’

***

I make coffees for Mum and me, and bring them to the back verandah, with the box of Lindt chocolates Luke’s mum gave me for Easter.

My friends have been texting me, you know,’ says Mum, looking at me sharply over her Penguin mug. ‘Saying, have you seen the InDaily article?’

‘Oh,’ I say.

‘I didn’t sit next to Annabel Crabb!’ she says. ‘You sat next to Annabel Crabb. You got your facts wrong.’

She’s talking about the InDaily article I wrote about Mother’s Day, in which I used Mum and Nana as templates for recommending books … and made a few jokes about her, including that sitting next to Annabel Crabb at the ceremony for an award I was shortlisted for was her highlight of my publishing career.

‘Oh yeah, I forgot.’ I had remembered her sitting next to Annabel in the audience, but now I realise I have a picture of me sitting next to Annabel. My hair is ironed straight and I’m wearing tight black jeans, a silky black shirt and knee-high burgundy suede boots. It was during my grief-flattened post-divorce phase, so I’m thin, too. ‘But you stood next to Annabel afterwards, at the reception.’

‘True,’ says Mum, unwrapping a chocolate. ‘I did have a nice chat with her.’

‘And it was the highlight of my publishing career for you, wasn’t it?’

She frowns at me.

‘Oh, Jo.’

***

I don’t really do much today. I mostly sit on the outside couch, or walk the lawn, and talk to Mum, or wander in and out of the kitchen. I feel like I should be helping her in the garden, but I’m exhausted.

So I half-heatedly pull some weeds and fetch her the green bin from the courtyard, and follow her instructions to remove the rest of the bricks from the back of the garden bed and ferry them to the garden shed door, so she can make a new border. But I’m mostly an observer.

***

I go inside to make chocolate-chip cookies again, a double batch this time.

Outside, as the first tray from the oven sets on the cooling rack, I report to Mum and Luke that I’ll soon be bringing them biscuits.

Luke is sprawled on the outdoor couch, under a fluffy turquoise blanket I laid over him. His Adelaide United hoodie is pulled over his head. Mum is kneeling in the dirt, planting African violets she pulled from her garden this morning.

‘I use your old recipe, Mum,’ I say. ‘Adapted so Luke can eat it. He says they’re the best biscuits he’s ever eaten!’

Mum looks up at me, brushing hair from her eyes with a gloved hand encrusted in dirt.

‘My daughter,’ she says, addressing Luke. ‘She uses superlatives like that all the time, for everything. Everything’s the greatest, or the best!’

Luke laughs.

‘She’s like Donald Trump!’ she says, delightedly.

I gasp, and Luke laughs and laughs.

Monday 4 May

Luke wakes up to a text from Alex, his niece. He beams as he reads it aloud, sitting on the side of the bed.

‘May the fourth be with you!’

It’s Star Wars Day. She sent him that text last year, too.

***

I have fallen back into an old routine, from when I regularly worked from home. I’m at my computer early, in my dressing gown, drinking coffee and reading my emails. And then I shower and properly dress around lunchtime.

Today, I do it quickly, at 10.30am, before my Monday marketing meeting on Zoom. Two weeks ago, I didn’t put on any make-up for the meeting, and joked during it about looking tired and old.

‘That’s okay,’ said Maddy. ‘It doesn’t matter.’

I’ve at least dabbed on some eyeliner and eyeshadow for every Zoom meeting since.

Luke started working 8.30-4.30 again last week, now that his workplace has fixed its server so that several people can access it remotely at once.

So today, he’s sitting at his desk next to mine at 11am. I do my first Zoom meeting from my mobile phone, propped up on the coffee table in the lounge room, while I sit on the couch. The angle is strange and my chin looks enormous, but I try to ignore it.

***

When I come back to the home office, it’s empty. Luke is in bed. He wasn’t feeling great when he got up this morning.

‘I vomited,’ he says.

I sit next to him and feel his forehead. It’s hot, but so are his cheeks, and his neck.

I text Mum to tell her he’s sick, and ask if she or Nana have been sick. She says they haven’t, and he wouldn’t have caught anything from her so soon, anyway.

I tell her it’s strange that he’s sick, given that he hasn’t been anywhere – even for a walk outside – for days, at least a week.

Do you think I made him sick? she asks.

Maybe, I say, or maybe he’ll make her sick. I tell her I don’t know, and I’m not mad about it anyway – just trying to figure it out. Then I worry I’ve offended her, so I try to call, but it goes to voicemail. I try, unsuccessfully, two more times, then sit at my desk again.

‘I know what I have,’ Luke calls from the bedroom, after a while. I go in and sit on the bed.

‘What?’

‘I have vertigo,’ he says. ‘I’ve been online, and I check every one of the symptoms.’

He’s been dizzy, unsteady on his feet, nauseous, vomiting.

I’m so relieved, because it’s something that will pass. Something that is definitely not coronavirus.

‘You should tell your mum,’ he says, so I call her again. This time she picks up immediately. She says she didn’t hear the phone ring before.

‘Luke’s not contagious,’ I say. ‘He has vertigo.’

She’s in a good mood, and after she tells me to tell him to go to the doctor, she chats about a book she’s been reading and Orthodox, which she and Nana have been watching on Netflix. I tell her I’ll try it, and try to convince her to watch Mad Men.

And then I get a chocolate-chip cookie and take it back to my desk, where I work until 7pm.

Tuesday 5 May

I’ve got another Zoom event today, interviewing an author who’s in Byron Bay. She sits in a wood-paneled room at her computer and tells me there’s a thunderstorm outside.

‘It might be noisy,’ she says.

I look out the window behind my computer screen, at a golden blue sky.

Luke takes a break from his computer while I do the event, and works an hour late to make up for it.

I’m supposed to work a half-day today, but it doesn’t happen.

***

Felix’s dad texts to thank me for the chocolates, and tells me Felix seems down, and maybe I should call him.

I do, and he picks up, which he didn’t last time I called him. He dislikes talking on the phone.

He’s more down than he’s been in weeks; since coronavirus hit. He’s bored and he hates being shut up in the house at his dad’s, with his dad out all day at work, and he, his little brother and his stepmother at home.

He was going to buy a monitor today, to watch movies on in his bedroom, but it would have to sit on his desk next to his bed and that’s the wrong place, and no he doesn’t want a little table he can move in front of his bed, or to mount it on the wall, or to rest it on a chair, like he does now with his laptop anyway. He thinks he won’t get a monitor after all. There’s no point.

I don’t think it’s about the monitor.

I talk to him for an hour and a half, trying to cheer him up, trying to just be there to listen to him. I tell him he can whine to me, that it might help.

He sounds tired. He cheers up, a little, then flags again.

‘Do you want me to let you go?’ I say, eventually, and the relief in his voice is obvious.

I’ve been keeping the call going until he suggests ending it, to be there for him. I’ve been emotionally exhausted for the last half hour. He’s kept it going to be polite.

‘You can always tell me to hang up whenever you’re ready to go,’ I say, when I discover this. ‘I wouldn’t mind.’

He says he’s not very good at that.

‘From now on, do you want me to ask you after half an hour if you want to go?’ I ask.

‘Yes, please,’ he says.

Wednesday 6 May

We decide to delay a book I’ve been working on, and release it in September instead. It’s the right decision, but I feel sick.

I hate telling the author this is what we’re thinking of doing, and I hate that it’s necessary. I hate that a week ago, she asked if we were going to delay publication, and I confidently told her no. I hate that it’s impossible to properly plan my work, in this ever-changing atmosphere, and so I feel like I’m messing up all the time, no matter how hard I work. It’s hard to ever be certain I’m doing the right thing.

And I feel so tired, and over it all.

And I know I am lucky, because I have a job and its conditions haven’t changed. Some publishing companies are cutting staff, or salaries, or both. Allen & Unwin, Hardie Grant (who published my book), Scribe. Lonely Planet, which once housed hundreds of staff in a warehouse building on the Footscray docks, a short walk from my old apartment, seems to be closing its Australian operations.

Michael calls, and I ask him how we’re going, how we’re really going, and he is upbeat, and I don’t question it.

***

I text Felix before I go to bed, asking how he is.

Thursday 7 May

Luke and I both have the day off, and we stay in bed until after 1pm.

I don’t get dressed or shower all day, but stay in my robe. Combing my hair is my one concession.

I read Curtis Sittenfeld’s new book, her Hillary Clinton novel, which I’ve been longing to read, all afternoon, and into the evening. It’s a huge disappointment, but I keep reading anyway, to find out what happens, and in case it improves.

We re-heat leftover pasta sauce for dinner, and Luke boils two separate pots of pasta – one gluten-free for him, one with gluten for me. I read on the couch under a blanket until he calls me to test whether my spaghetti is cooked to my liking.

***

I text Felix again. He hasn’t replied to last night’s message, and I’m worried. But he replies sounding cheery again. He’s just made tortillas and he’s about to go for a walk with his friend.

He sends me a photo of his tortillas, which look like proper tortillas you might eat at a restaurant.

I send him mine from a few weeks ago, which look like scraps of pale baked flour.

My first batch turned out like that, too, he says. I was using a dodgy tortilla press.

I made mine rolling them out with a cardboard roll from the inside of the Glad Wrap because I seem to have no rolling pin, I write.

Aww, Ma! he says. I would have got you a rolling pin for Mother’s Day if I’d known!

***

I finish the Hillary Clinton novel, which continued to not be good, during The X-Files, and drop it on the floor beside the couch. I curl into Luke, my head on his chest, and we watch the rest of the episode together.

Walking, The Good Place and fear of grief: Coronavirus Diary Week 7

Friday 25 April

My inbox makes me cry. Every tiny irritant worms its way deep inside my nervous system. At 10am, after an hour at my desk, I climb back into bed beside Luke and tell him everything that’s wrong, eyes leaking. He nods and makes reassuring noises.

Hearing it said aloud, I know nothing is really wrong. Except me.

I go back to my desk and tell Michael I’m taking a half day – swapping with Tuesday (which is meant to be a half-day, though I’ve been working it in full since coronavirus conditions started).

I ‘joke’ that if I disappear after this, it will mean I have entirely melted down.

He offers to take on some of my workload, though he’s overloaded too, given that he’s running the business. It’s nice of him to offer though, and this makes me feel slightly better.

Have a lovely weekend, he writes.

I actually get a second wind and have a long phone conversation with a sales rep and then write a long, detailed email, and work an hour later than I said I would.

But then I walk across the hallway and climb into bed with my laptop.

I watch The Good Place and eat an entire packet of coloured popcorn.

***

Katherine knocks on the front door with my book delivery, around 4.30pm. I sit on the front bench on the verandah and chat to her, while she stands back on the garden path.

We do this about once a week, though in the second week of isolation, I just waved at her from inside when she knocked at the door, too cautious to open it. The following week, I talked to her from behind the closed screen door. Once, we shouted our conversation from the verandah to the street, where she stood at her car. And I realised why I’ve heard my neighbours’ voices on the street lately: we’re all doing this.

Next week, the bookshop will probably expand their home delivery service to the far north-eastern suburbs, where I grew up.

‘Some of the books we posted across town before Easter haven’t arrived yet,’ Katherine says. ‘Even it takes us a week to get them delivered ourselves, it’ll get there faster.’

The shop is busier this week, again. For the second week in a row, my casual colleagues are back on the shop floor. It feels like life is slowly building back to normal.

‘My life hasn’t changed that much,’ Katherine says. She goes to work, comes home, goes grocery shopping. Though her partner is bored without sports on TV. And the hand sanitiser she ordered for the shop two weeks ago hasn’t arrived yet.

We talk about the Zoom event I’m organising for the bookshop, and a Mother’s Day social media post.

‘I don’t want to alarm you,’ she says. ‘But stay very still.’

I look at her.

‘It’s not a spider,’ she says, quickly.

I look at my arm, see nothing, and stand up, as slowly as my wrecked nerves can manage.

A gecko scatters across the wall behind me, and I squeal, though I’m not scared of it. We both laugh.

Katherine leaves, with one more delivery to make on the way home.

I go back to bed, and continue watching The Good Place until the house goes dark.

Saturday 26 April

Sleep-in. Pancakes. Binge-watching The Good Place in bed.

I plan to go for a walk, to read a book, to write the InDaily column I agreed to yesterday, or the 400 words of writing I promised my friend Oliver for his isolation writing project.

But I do none of these things.

Sunday 27 April

It’s a golden blue-sky day; the kind I’ve only ever experienced in Adelaide. One of my favourite things about being back here.

I take hand sanitiser and my keys in an Adelaide Festival tote bag that still has my name attached to it with a string, clamp my headphones on, make a coffee in my KeepCup, and leave the house.

‘Are you doing your square walk?’ Luke asks before I leave, only his eyes and nose visible above the quilt.

‘Maybe,’ I say.

I’ve had a theory that a good walk would be a circuit of the horse paddock in North Adelaide, and the square (actually a rectangle) of parklands it’s on. I don’t often see anyone waking there, and I’m sick of deliberately skirting people on my rare walks.

But the horse paddock is lined with people: a couple patting the horses over the fence, a man under a tree sipping a takeaway coffee, another couple, in exercise Lycra, standing between me and the walking path at the fence, just looking at the horses and the hills behind. I am annoyed with them, until they move away and I take their place on the path, and realise I just want to stand here, too.

Do you think I could get a donut from Perryman’s? I text Luke. Or is it too dangerous?

He says if they handle the food properly, it should be fine.

And so I detour, then return to the parklands holding an enormous chocolate donut with blue and green sprinkles. It tastes okay, but the main pleasure is in having made this simple spontaneous choice; having this childhood treat in my hands. This was my first time in a shop in about a month.

And then I walk the border of the parklands, past decaying tennis courts and two sports ovals, to the edge of Walkerville, and the start of Main North East Road, leading towards my childhood home, and Mum’s house.

Standing there, deciding what to do next, a fan of birds passes overhead in a noisy chorus, dividing into streaks of colour: pink-and-grey galahs, yellow-crested white cockatoos and rainbow lorikeets. It feels like a gift especially for me. I tip my head to the sky and watch until it’s emptied.

Monday 27 April

At 5pm, I turn off the computer and walk out into the soft late-afternoon sunshine. It’s forecast to rain for the rest of the week, so I have to walk while I can.

For an hour, I walk through the parklands, around the very edge of the horse paddocks, and it’s an hour-long circuit from home and back, as I’d guessed. There are less people out today, so it’s mostly peaceful. I listen to the Plot Against America podcasts for the fifth and sixth episodes, and it’s wonderful, walking through the fading light and then the rising darkness, past trees and horses and open green space, the outline of the hills at the horizon.

Then, five minutes from home, I take a wrong turn off Main North Road, and instead of walking onto my street, I walk right-angle loops taking me farther and farther away, behind the private school and into a maze of narrow, tree-lined streets. It takes half an hour to extricate myself and find my way home through the dark. But I don’t mind.

Whether we know it or not, we’re always on tenterhooks. We’re always at the edge of a precipice. The minute we start believing otherwise, that’s when it really gets dangerous.

David Simon on The Plot Against America

Time doesn’t mean what it used to. Dinner can wait; Luke is at his desk in our home office until 8pm tonight anyway.

We’re both sick of everything we eat, but I cook the garfish Luke defrosted this afternoon anyway, while he dries the dishes he washed this afternoon and puts them away.

‘You don’t have to do that,’ I say. ‘You can just leave them to dry.’

‘I like putting them away,’ he says, and I shrug.

‘Well, you can do that, too!’ I say.

The corn tortillas haven’t arrived from Victoria yet, so Luke warms the gluten-free flour tortillas, which I don’t want, and I chop up my fish with the pico de gallo I usually spread on the tacos, and eat it with corn chips from a bowl.

‘I like this!’ I say. ‘It’s something different!’

***

We go to bed early, turning off tonight’s Seinfeld re-runs, and Luke sleeps while I finish a book, Jenny Offill’s Weather, in the light of the bedside lamp.

I bought the book as soon as it arrived in the bookshop, in March, because I loved her first book, Dept of Speculation, a novel in fragments about divorce. And then I’ve avoiding reading it since, because this is a novel in fragments about climate change anxiety, about living in a time of dangerous-feeling politics and what feels like it might be the end of the world.

But I finally picked it up from the bedside table yesterday, and instead of feeling anxious, I was soothed. Because, like The Plot Against America, it captures how the world feels right now. And there is something affirming about seeing that on the page.

It was the same after 9/11, there was that hum in the air. Everyone everywhere talking about the same thing. In stores, in restaurants, on the subway. My friend met me at the diner for coffee. His family fled Iran one week before the Shah fell. He didn’t want to talk about the hum. I pressed him though. Your people have finally fallen into history, he said. The rest of us are already here.

Fallen into history: that’s what 2020 feels like.

He says it feels the way it does just before it starts. It’s a weird thing, but you learn to pick up on it. Even while everybody’s convincing themselves it’s going to be okay, it’s there in the air somehow. The whole thing is more physical than mental, he tells me.

Like hackles? The way a dog’s hackles go up? Yes, he says.

***

He wakes at 1.30am. I’m lying in the dark, my chest tight, thinking. He reaches for me, sleepily.

‘Did you wake up, too?’

‘I didn’t sleep yet.’

‘Oh.’ He curls his arm around me.

‘My heart’s beating really fast,’ I say.

‘Are you anxious?’ he says, then he pulls me into him, laying my chest over his, my head on his shoulder. His skin is silky on mine. ‘Don’t be anxious!’ he says.

And though from some people – most people – this would make me more anxious, he’s not telling me to stop worrying in the way most people do. He’s not quieting me, or being glib about the reality of stopping yourself from worrying.

He’s offering an invitation; a seductive one.

He’s asking me to lay down my worries, to find comfort in him.

And though it still takes me a long time to actually fall asleep, I concentrate on the feel of his skin, and let myself be soothed.

I remember walking around the horse paddock in the pale gold light, headphones on, hunched into my parka, feeling calm.

Nothing is actually wrong, I tell myself. I am lucky.

Tuesday 28 April

The tortillas arrive from Victoria.

I have to call the sweet wholesaler about my raspberry licorice chocolate bullets, which went mistakenly to Fitzroy in Victoria, and now seem lost in the postal system.

‘I’m sorry,’ says the woman at the end of the phone. ‘I’ll send you another package.’

A book I’m reading for an event turns up, with a blast of music.

‘Have a good one!’ says the long-haired postman as I pick up the parcel from the door.

‘I can’t believe he’s so nice,’ I say to Luke, after I wash my hands and disinfect the door handles and throw out the cardboard packaging. He looks at me strangely.

‘What?’ I say. ‘I’m not saying I’m in love with him or anything. Is that what you thought?’

‘No,’ he says. ‘I thought you were being sarcastic.’

‘He’s got a really nice smile,’ I say. ‘I just can’t believe I’ve been complaining about him so long.’ I pause. ‘I still hate his music though.’

Wednesday 29 April

The doctor seems annoyed with me. I’m complaining too much, about too many small things. So I don’t tell her I’m not sleeping, or that I’m having chest pains and leg twitches when I try to fall asleep.

Or that the last time I felt like this was when I was literally having a nervous breakdown.

When I get home, I sit on the couch in the home office and cry.

‘I hate sleeping pills anyway,’ I say into Luke’s chest. ‘I probably didn’t want them.’

And when I’ve finished crying, I email work to tell them I’m taking a sick day, and climb back into bed.

***

I answer emails from bed, feeling guilty. It’s true that I have no capacity to do any meaningful work. But I can answer things.

Michael responds to a proofreading correction I send, for some Mother’s Day greeting cards Liz is making for us to give away.

Thanks. But you’re supposed to be in bed.

I am, I write.

***

It rains and rains and rains.

***

Luke is lying on the brown velveteen couch in the sunroom, covered in a sheet he took from the washing pile and the fluffy turquoise blanket I lay over him yesterday, when he did exactly this.

‘Are you okay?’ I ask him, on my way to get water.

‘I’m bored,’ he says. ‘I’m making time go.’

I am the opposite: I have so many things to do, so many things I want to do. I am never bored, only too tired to do the things I want to do.

He is sleeping to make empty time pass; I’m longing for empty time, so I can fill it with the things I want to do.

I kiss him and take my glass of water back to bed.

My ex-husband used to play video games when he was bored. When he left, me being busy and leaving him to be bored was one of the charges laid against me. I don’t want to play video games all the time! he would say. But you’re always busy.

And so I feel guilty, watching Luke sleep, as I slink back to bed to watch Netflix on my laptop.

***

In bed, before I turn out the lamp, I ask Luke if he was annoyed with me this afternoon, when he was sleeping away time. He looks at me, trying to understand.

‘No,’ he says, as bewildered as if I asked whether he has horns.

Thursday 30 April

We’re woken by the courier at 8am. My licorice bullets have arrived.

***

We go back to sleep, until 11.30am.

I cook lunch: the kidney beans and tomato chilli stew with couscous I first concocted when I was 21 and living in a Carlton sharehouse.

While I cook, I listen to Life Matters, pretty much the only coronavirus-themed podcast I don’t hate. They are talking about online dating during isolation, and I am unfathomably glad to be here, in my kitchen, with Luke down the hallway.

I had my first remote therapy appointment today. When isolation started, I cancelled my scheduled fortnightly appointment and wrote to my therapist that all my usual issues no longer seemed relevant, and that I was really busy working anyway.

Last week, I told her I now have a new set of neuroses, and was ready to come back.

No new neuroses! She wrote. Verboten!

I was still laughing when her second message came through, making sure I knew she was joking.

She suggested I have a terror of losing Luke, which I realised is true – though he has never given me any logical reason to think this might happen. When, on our fourth date, I tentatively told him I was moving from Melbourne to Adelaide, he was only delighted. He helped me move into my house, and only went home twice a week, then once a week, then – within a couple of months – only to take in the mail, water the citrus trees, and occasionally to write his uni assignments at his desktop computer.

‘What are you afraid of?’ she asked.

‘It’s too big to put into words,’ I said.

‘You’re scared of being lonely?’

‘I don’t think so.’

My dear friend Rochelle used to tell me, when I complained about online dating, or about having been single for years – my longest relationship in the four years between my ex-husband leaving and meeting Luke was three months, I think – that I shouldn’t overthink it. But you’re so good at being alone, she would say, and I was always furious at her. (She has two partners, so it felt like a Wall Street titan telling a disgruntled janitor,  you’re so good at being poor.) But since I’ve been with Luke, I’ve realised that Rochelle was right.

While I missed having an anchor in the world, a person who felt like home, the everyday of being alone was rarely a problem for me. So long as I could have an exchange with the person who served me coffee, or at the organic shop, I could move through days in a row by myself: reading, binge-watching, walking along the river, catching a train to Williamstown beach. And I was lucky: I had friends I could call on for company, when I wanted it.

‘It’s Luke I’d miss.’

‘Grief, then?’ she said. ‘Is that what frightens you? That you wouldn’t survive it?’

‘Yes,’ I said.

Rage against the postman, birthday cakes and melting down: Coronavirus Week 6

Friday 17 April

I know the postman is here when I hear Rage Against the Machine on the street outside.

He comes to the door and knocks, the stereo attached to his handheld cart blaring from the footpath.

‘Hi,’ he says, looking up as I open the door. He’s squatting on the verandah with a record-sized cardboard package. ‘I’ll sign this for you … you know, because of all of this bullshit.’

‘Thanks,’ I say.

He smiles and waves.

‘Have a good day!’

This is the first time I’ve ever spoken to the man I’ve nicknamed Hair Metal, though I’ve often sworn aloud at him from a distance, when Guns and Roses has blasted me awake before 8am, or when he’s trailed up and down the street, hard-rock ebbing and rising, while I try to write, or think.

I’ve always assumed the music was a fuck you gesture, but he’s so amiable, I realise it probably doesn’t occur to him that anyone would be bothered by it.

He stands outside the house next-door, head bent, long hair hanging past his shoulders, as he looks through his mailbag and writes on a pad.

After Luke takes the package inside, and when I can no longer hear his musical trail, I disinfect the door handle and the pane of glass where the postman knocked, then go inside to wash my hands.

***

There are two packets of the La Tortilleria corn tortillas I’ve been craving in today’s grocery delivery from Schinella’s, and two 1kg bags of gluten-free flour, which cost $16.99 each.

I don’t know how much anything costs when I order from Schinella’s because they don’t have products listed online – it’s a game of guessing what they might have, asking for it, then finding out the cost when it arrives. They call to take my card payment after I get the delivery.

I’ve managed to source a loaf of gluten-free bread for Luke: it’s paleo bread, a solid little shrink-wrapped block that apparently costs $16.99.

Luke makes himself toast almost immediately. He pronounces the very expensive bread ‘okay’.

***

I order one kilogram of my favourite raspberry licorice chocolate bullets to be delivered from Melbourne.

Saturday 18 April

We have fish tacos for dinner, with the La Tortilleria corn tortillas.

‘I needed to erase the memory of those tortillas I made,’ I tell Luke as we eat.

***

On the couch after dinner, I read the debut book of fiction by an Adelaide author I really like, a book I had hoped she’d send me the manuscript of, about to be published by another publisher.

The publisher was once my boss, when he was editor of a street magazine I wrote for, where he taught me how to write a decent feature article.

The Adelaide author is published by this publisher because her friend and mentor was published by him, and sent him the book. The friend and mentor was published by him after I met and befriended her at Adelaide Writers Week, and offered to pass on and recommend the short-story manuscript she was having trouble publishing to an editor friend of mine who worked for him. (I had heard her read a story from the collection at an event, and loved it.) This was roughly a year before I came to work for an Adelaide publisher, where I’d love to publish the local writers my old street mag employer is now snapping up.

So, my feelings about this book are complicated (though still dominated by curious goodwill) when I start reading.

The book is about two Adelaide paramedics, from their first years of training through two decades of their careers. We get to know them and their relationships in instalments, each framed around a medical emergency.

Sunday 19 April

My bee-stung foot is on fire again when I wake up. I smother it in cortisone cream and try to ignore it as I pick up my book and resume reading.

A character comes into a doctor’s office with a stinking, infected foot. He got a wooden spike in it a couple of weeks earlier. The paramedic removes his boot, and then his sock.

‘You haven’t had much luck with this foot,’ she says.

‘What do you mean?’ he asks.

‘When did you lose your toes?’ she asks, and he freaks out. She looks in his sock, and the toes are there. They came off when she took it off. He has to have his leg amputated to the knee.

I read this aloud to Luke.

‘What if that happens to me?’ I say, waving my foot at him. ‘With my infection?’

He just looks at me, and then he laughs. And then I do too, because I am (mostly) joking.

***

A message comes through on my phone: a producer from 5AA, Adelaide’s commercial talk station, asking if I’ll do a radio segment this afternoon on publishing in the time of coronavirus, and recommend isolation reads.

Sure, I say. I’m a publicist, so of course I’m going to say yes to publicity, even though I was planning to do nothing today.

The interview is at 3pm.

I get up and shower and dress, and spend two hours preparing dot points to talk about, covering both the publishing house and the bookshop, and four books I can talk about. I text Michael to tell him about the interview.

I spread the papers over my desk and wait for the phone call, sure I have over-prepared.

But I use most of the dot points, and the interview goes really well. Even I am happy with it.

Excellent, Michael texts me afterwards. Then he sends a photo of his daughter Emily, walking in the parklands, her thumbs held up.

I jump on Luke on the couch, where he’s watching the James Bond marathon that seems to never end lately. I am buzzing.

***

I make banana bread with the two blackening bananas on the kitchen table, and chocolate-chip cookies, with chopped almonds and one of Luke’s artisan chocolates from Byron Bay, also chopped.

Luke watches a Roger Moore James Bond as I move between the oven and the couch. I bring out the first biscuit to sample, broken in half. I settle beside him and distribute the halves. I watch as he bites into it.

‘It’s sweet!’ he says.

‘But is it good?’

‘Yes!’ He kisses me.

‘Is it the best biscuit you’ve eaten in a long time?’

He thinks.

‘I don’t remember when I last ate a biscuit.’

He thinks it was a gluten-free brand from Coles.

‘But is this better?’

‘I think this is the best biscuit I have ever tasted,’ he says.

And I am satisfied.

I half watch James Bond, who is following a razor-cheekboned, diamond-thieving circus-running beauty named Octopussy, while I read the last pages of my book.

I read bits of the medical scenarios they attend aloud to Luke. There is a description of fecal vomiting, something I didn’t know was possible. It makes me feel physically ill, and almost puts me off eating another biscuit, when the next batch comes out of the oven.

Octopussy tells James Bond that her nickname was affectionately given to her by her father, who was an octopus expert. Luke and I look at each other and snigger like children.

‘Her father should not be giving her that nickname,’ I say.

Then I imitate Cookie Monster, as we decide to get more biscuits, and we laugh and laugh.

***

I order just over a hundred dollars worth of socks from Bonds, because my socks from last year feel scratchy.

Monday 20 April

Michael sends us all an email: it’s Liz’s birthday tomorrow. I decide to surprise her by getting a cake delivered to her house, with ‘Happy Birthday Liz’ written on it.

I phone the bakery to discuss, then text Michael and Liz’s daughter Emily to get their address, and to make sure it’s not a stupid idea.

I phone back the bakery and pay for the cake, booking the delivery for midday tomorrow.

Then Emily and Michael separately message me – Michael had a brain blip, and it’s actually the day after tomorrow.

***

When today’s grocery delivery comes, there is a whole box filled with packets of chips and coloured popcorn.

There are two loaves of Luke’s Helga’s sliced white gluten-free bread ($7 each).

‘I got you bread!’ I say, and though he smiles, I think I am more excited about this than he is.

Tuesday 21 April

Luke eats six pieces of bread today.

We have steak – newly arrived in today’s Barossa Fine Foods meat delivery – for dinner tonight, with salad.

***

I am bleeding, when I shouldn’t be. I google this and the most logical explanation seems to be that I have cervical cancer.

I call a surgery who ran a series of tests on me, because of unexplained bleeding, a year and a half ago, and ask them to check their records to see if they ran the cervical cancer test.

If they did run it, and it was negative, at least my cervical cancer will be new, and hopefully they’ll catch it early.

The nurse on the phone is irritated. If I had the tests that long ago, I will have gotten the results over a year ago, she says. Yes, I say. I know. I just want to know what tests were done. It takes a while, but eventually she tells me there was no test for cervical cancer.

‘Really?’ I say. ‘But if I came in with unexplained bleeding, wouldn’t they have tested for that.’

‘Okay, goodbye, have a nice day,’ she says, and hangs up.

I burst into tears. I lay on the couch and sob, convinced I have had cervical cancer for nearly two years now.

Then I call Mum, and manage nearly ten minutes of normal conversation before I tell her I think I might have cancer.

‘You don’t have cancer,’ she says. She suggests some other things it might be. She says maybe I’m about to get menopause, or perimenopause. I ask how old she was when she got it, and she says she thinks she was in her mid-forties. She thinks Nana was too.

I start to think maybe I don’t have cancer.

Then I tell Mum that Dad is not talking to me.

‘Have you tried talking to him?’ she says.

‘No,’ I say.

‘Well,’ she says.

‘I don’t know why I should always have to be the adult,’ I say.

It’s not until later that I realise this is a very strange thing for a 44-year-old woman to say.

***

Liz emails the office to thank me for the cake, which has been delivered, and to say anyone who wants to come to the office and eat it tomorrow should.

I don’t feel like I’m ready to go to the office, or anywhere. It’s exhausting just dealing with the aftermath of a delivery driver leaving something on the verandah. There are too many variables outside the house.

Though I have made an appointment to see my doctor tomorrow.

***

Luke is working, and I am watching the finale of The Good Place under a blanket on the couch, when I hear shouting outside.

‘GET DOWN ON THE GROUND! GET ON THE GROUND! I SAID, GET DOWN ON THE GROUND! NOW!’

I get up and turn off the television, to hear properly. I yell to Luke.

We stand at the side door, open to the courtyard, and listen to the gruff voice shout it again, and then direct the person to the front yard.

‘I think our neighbour is being arrested!’ I whisper.

Then there is a long silence. We look at each other. Luke goes back to his computer, and I go back to the couch.

***

I wake in the night and lay awake, listening to Luke move his feet beside me. The rustle of the quilt is loud as a roar. Is he having a nightmare?

He twitches and I yell, and he yells, and I shout ‘IT’S ME!’ and he holds me, and of course, I know that he knew it was me.

‘Do you think it’s safe to go to the bathroom?’ I ask him, and he doesn’t ask what I mean. He switches on the bedside lamp and doesn’t switch it off until I return.

We both lay awake for what feels like all night. I feel my heart sprinting.

Wednesday 22 April

I change my doctor’s appointment to a phone appointment. And then I wait, in bed, with the coffee Luke brings me each lockdown morning. And I answer emails on my phone. And I wait.

After an hour, I call to see if my appointment is still on. It is, but the doctor is running behind. Another hour later, I try again. Huge apologies, but the doctor will be with me shortly. I dare to have a shower, but the doctor still doesn’t call.

When it’s been three hours past my appointment time, I call and very politely cancel.

‘I am so sorry,’ says the receptionist. ‘I don’t know what’s going on. I’ve left lots of messages with the doctor. She’s not normally like this.’

‘I know,’ I say. ‘She’s an amazing doctor, so I’m not cross, though if I didn’t know that, maybe I would be. If this is happening, she must be having a really shit day. It’s fine.’

‘Yes,’ admits the receptionist. ‘It has been a really weird day. I think people are frightened. And a lot of them are being really unreasonable.’

‘I’m so sorry to hear that,’ I say, in what I hope is my most reasonable tone. ‘Hope your day gets better.’ And I make an appointment for next week, instead.

By now, I have realised that yesterday, I had PMT rather than cancer.

***

Mum texts to ask how my doctor’s appointment went. I feel sorry for her, for having to listen to me cry yesterday.

***

Liz emails to thank me for the cake. She had planned to go to work today to eat it, in a socially distanced way, outside the warehouse with those who are still at the office, but has decided it’s too soon.

***

I finally check the editorial changes for the book I’ve been editing. I’ve put this task off for a week because I’ve felt too scatty and distracted to concentrate on it.

Marketing works well when my brain leaps and twists between thoughts, making connections and following trails, doing several things at once.

Editing works well when I can shut out the world outside and concentrate on the one task before me; narrow everything to that.

Right now, editing seems a more comforting headspace, but I’ve had my marketing brain in overdrive, and it’s hard to flick the switch. So many things need my attention; I can’t make myself focus on one thing.

But this afternoon, I can’t put it off any longer. I sit at the table by the fireplace, away from my desk, where I can lay out two sets of printed proofs and be far from my computer. I work with a pencil and post-it notes, and my brain quiets as it focuses. I get it done within a few hours.

And then I bundle up the marked-up manuscript and put it in my bike basket.

With Australia Post taking so long to deliver, and the time I took to get to this, I’m going to need to deliver these pages myself.

As I wheel my bike to the front door, it’s tyres newly pumped, my phone pings with a picture of the publishing house’s staff (minus Liz) raising wine glasses outside the warehouse.

When I arrive, twenty minutes later, everyone’s back inside at their desks. I put my parcel on the verandah, then send a text from the car park, perched on my bike.

Drinks over already?

Michael replies that yes, sadly, they are. But doesn’t realise I only know this because I am here.

I send a selfie of me in my bike helmet in front of the sign by the fence. A deep chuckle comes down the hallway through the open front door.

‘HELLO!’ I shout after a minute, and then Michael comes down the hall, laughing.

‘Oh! You’re here!’

He brings me a plate of the cake, which I eat with a fork from my bike seat, and we chat about Liz’s birthday, and his visit yesterday to the bookshop where I usually work, and Malcolm Turnbull’s autobiography and whether he’s a sociopath.

Maddy and Jonny come and go to say hi. It’s strange to see Maddy’s face in person rather than on a screen, now.

‘I’d better go home before it starts to get dark,’ I say, and hand back the plate across the car park.

I’m very aware that Michael and I have touched the same plate and that I was within 1.5 metres of him while passing it between us.

We wave goodbye and I turn to cycle down the street. It’s just after 5pm.

It’s good to be outside, under the golden-blue sky, with rosellas in the trees and ibises massing in Bonython Park. But it’s stressful to cycle across the pedestrian crossings against the lights, judging on instinct, because I’m not about to press the buttons.

And to pass so close to the other cyclists and walkers on the path back along the parklands fringe, over the railway tracks at North Adelaide (where there’s a real danger of being trapped against someone in the fenced-off railway crossing if you’re not careful and patient), and skirting the golf course and Aquatic Centre.

Inside again, I peel off my shoes and jacket and jumper and lay on the couch in the study, until my breathing slows.

‘I’m out of practice,’ I tell Luke.

And I mean riding my bike uphill on the way home.

But I also mean chatting to people. I mean that while it was lovely to see my work colleagues, it felt strange to get back on my bike and cycle home, during work hours. I feel like an outsider, like I’m slacking off, even though I’ve accrued over 40 hours overtime in the past month.

Thursday 23 April

Today is my rostered day off, and I decide to take it.

I check in to my work emails for the first hour of the day, then I go back to bed. Luke’s still there.

It rains, hard. The hammer and wash of it is soothing. Thunder growls and snaps. We lay and talk and don’t look at the time. I only get up when the thunder grows more frequent – to look for the lightning.

I get up out of bed and wrap myself in my oldest, softest robe, and go to the back verandah. The garden glistens, the grass bright green and growing wild already at the back of our brick-bordered lawn. I pinch yellow aphids from the flowering vine and sit on the garden bench.

The rain falls, the pepper tree drips, and light flashes over the fence.

I shout, involuntarily, with delight.

Apologies, bee stings and Zoom events: Coronavirus Week 5

Friday 10 April

There are no hot-cross buns this Good Friday, but there is fish for dinner (the second-last package of flathead in the freezer). One of the very few – perhaps only – ways Luke is a practising Catholic (though he’s technically agnostic) is that he eats seafood on Good Friday and Christmas Eve.

I make pancakes for lunch, and we eat them with the raspberries and blueberries Luke ordered on a whim in our last grocery delivery.

I dress to do the gardening I’ve been putting off for over a week: overall shorts over a red-and-white checked shirt. Luke laughs when he sees me.

‘It’s so I can’t get out of it,’ I say, and I pose with a pitchfork for Instagram evidence.

Then I find the pliers that cut wire and make a trellis to enclose the verandah pole next to the climbing crimson-flowering plant that keeps trying to ensnare the oleander branches next to it.

I cut my arm wrestling the wire into shape, but it’s worth it for the satisfaction of making something.

Then I do the same for the pole in front of the garden shed, left over from when electricity was wired from the house. Mum and I had planned to plant bougainvillea here.

I dig a hole in the lawn for the potted bougainvillea, throwing all my weight behind the pick as it bites at the clay dirt beneath. I decide to expand the hole into a semi-circle garden bed.

Luke resumes last week’s poking at the lawn with a pitchfork, one-handed. I video him on my phone, while he’s not looking, then play it back to him.

‘Do you see why I said you garden like the Fonz?’ I ask. He laughs, and does not dispute it. I send the video to his sister.

Put your back into it, Luke!, she replies.

It’s a blue-sky day and the Bluetooth stereo is broadcasting our wedding playlist. We sing snatches of song as we work.

When Luke sits on a bench, on a rest from picking gravel from the lawn, Earth, Wind and Fire’s disco song, September, comes on. It’s on the playlist because it has the lyric, Do you remember / the 21st night of September? Which was our wedding date. Felix begged us to include it; he thought it would be hilarious. As it turned out, we badly misjudged the capacity of the in-house speakers in the Largs Pier Restaurant, so no one really heard it, nor got the joke.

I dance, in my dirt-streaked overalls and muddy knees: bouncing and contorting and twisting. I put my hands on Luke’s thighs in his black skinny jeans and leave handprints. He applauds at the end of the song, and I bow.

As dark falls, we have a new garden bed bordered with red bricks, planted with bougainvillea and a rosemary bush and flowering basil. Crimson flowers and green vines are encircling and climbing the verandah post, mapped to its wire cage.

Luke brings a cider from the fridge and we sit on the garden bench, music playing and night deepening, watching the mist and whir of the sprinkler under the Hills Hoist on the newly cored lawn. I rest my head on his shoulder.

Saturday 11 April

I am reading my Carrie Fisher biography on the back verandah, eating chilli chips and occasionally glancing at my garden, when my phone flashes with her name again, though I’d muted the conversation as soon as she’d paid me on Thursday. I feel sick, even though the first word I see on the phone is ‘sorry’, and I can also see that she had paid me the remainder of the amount on my original invoice.

‘LUKE!’ I yell behind me, into the house. ‘Luke, it’s her again! She’s paid me!’

I can’t read the email until he appears.

It’s a long apology, an explanation that she only just saw this email, the one in which I outlined in detail how much a completed job would have cost her, and how the amount I charged her was in fact a portion of that. In which I had reminded her that the initial missed deadline she was so angry about had been because my son was briefly hospitalised, in Melbourne. And had been blunt about the fact the hours I spent on her book were hours I was not with my husband, or doing my own writing, and in one instance, that I had taken off my paid work. That I deserved to be paid for them.

She went into detail about her own mental state and said she was sorry, that she had been overloaded and snapped.

She said that she had no problems with the quality of the work itself; that I am clearly a skilful editor.

And I am ashamed of how relieved this line makes me, how it is even better than the $500 she just paid me.

Because the part of me that was rattled so hard that I couldn’t sleep at night, that propelled me out of the house to walk for the first time in weeks, that made me feel sick when I see the client’s name, or think about her, is professional shame at the thought of having failed so deeply. Despite all the logical arguments I’d presented to her that I had not.

It takes me a while to focus on my book again.

First, I write back to thank her for her apology, and to … not forgive her, exactly, but invite her to let it go and move on.

No hard feelings.

Sunday 12 April

This afternoon, Luke watches James Bond movies inside while I work on the garden. I weed and dig out the garden beds around the fig tree, along the fence.

Then I empty the plastic cube stacked with slate tiles that has sat under a tree against the fence since I moved in, ferrying the tiles into the garden shed. Luke comes outside as I’m getting rid of the half-decayed sleepers bordering the garden bed; he helps me carry them away, then sits on the bench on the verandah to watch me re-border the bed with red bricks.

He goes inside, then comes back after I’ve planted seaside daisy seedlings along the bed, with sage and kale and transplanted thyme at the far end of the garden. After I’ve watered it all, he replaces the hose nozzle with a sprinkler and sets it in the middle of the lawn.

We sit on the bench again, but don’t drink cider tonight. We’ve only got two bottles left.

Monday 13 April

I use almost a whole packet of gluten-free flour making tortillas for dinner, to eat as fish tacos.

After I’ve mixed and kneaded the dough, and separated it into ten balls, I can’t find the rolling pin I was sure I owned, so I unfurl the baking paper from its cardboard roll. It crackles and billows across the kitchen floor like a bride’s veil.

I roll the long cardboard tube over the flour on the counter, pressing it over the dough balls. The resulting tortillas are scrappy and misshapen – not quite circles, their edges ragged as cartoon teeth – and tough. According to the recipe I googled, the tortillas should rise and lightly brown after being pan-fried for a minute on each side. But they don’t, not really.

We sit down to eat, and I watch Luke bravely spread one of the stiff, heavy tacos with mustard, then line it with flathead and lettuce. His face is carefully blank as he chews.

‘You don’t have to eat it,’ I say. ‘You don’t have to be one of those sitcom husbands who eats their wife’s terrible cooking.’

He laughs, and eats until the taco is finished. He doesn’t protest when I get the store-bought tortillas from the fridge, and heat up the sandwich toaster, and he waits until the proper tortillas are on the table before he assembles another taco.

We both agree that I really tried.

‘I’m just upset because I used up so much flour,’ I say. ‘And it’s hard to buy.’

But I’m also upset because the kitchen is covered in flour and I spent an hour making the tortillas and they’re awful.

Tuesday 14 April

The garden bites me this morning. I’m standing in the grass, barefoot, wearing a purple floral dress and make-up, ready to interview an author for a live Zoom event for a library in an hour. I still have to transform the notes scribbled in pencil on the book, into proper questions. But it seems important to water the fledgling garden first.

My foot suddenly burns, and it doesn’t stop. I can’t see anything on it, though I lift it to look, teetering awkwardly, one foot in the grass, the other cradled in the arm not holding the hose.

I finish my circuit of the potted plants and herbs on the verandah, and the seaside daisies planted in the newly bordered beds by the fence, and the sage and thyme and kale, the lemon tree by the shed, and the bougainvillea and wilting alyssum and stoic rosemary.

I limp inside, leaving the hose sprawled the length of the dew-damp lawn, and inspect my foot at the bathroom sink. What at first looks like a grass blade on my toe is in fact a bee sting. I gently extract it, using my long fingernails as pincers.

At my desk, I whine like a kicked dog, my foot wrapped in a tea towel and pressed to a lemonade icy pole in a plastic packet.

It stings, I call to Luke across the hall. I limp over to the bedroom and lay my head on his arm and kiss his forehead, just visible above the sheets.

‘What if it swells and it won’t stop hurting and I have an allergic reaction and I have to go to the doctor?’ I ask.

‘It won’t,’ he says.

‘But that happened last time a bee stung me,’ I say. ‘I had to get antibiotics. I wasn’t sleeping at night.’

Luke hugs me.

I go back to my desk and finish writing my questions. By the time I am finished, my toe, which had swollen to twice its normal size, is shrinking again. My foot is sticky with leaked lemonade.

***

Zoom events are weird. I have to concentrate on not being distracted by my own face mirrored on the screen as I interview the author, who has cleverly positioned herself in front of a huge poster of her book cover. But it seems to work smoothly, and I can see at the bottom of the screen that 39 people are here, in the event.

We have a conversation about the novel, then the event organiser feeds the author the audience questions they’ve typed into a chat window only she can see.

The event finishes on the hour, and the event organiser reminds us all where to buy the book (from my bookshop, online), and then we all say goodbye and the screen goes blank.

It’s strange, to not have a conversation about how it went, or even exchange pleasantries, at the end. In that way, it feels more like a radio interview than a live event.

I feel like I’ve learned a new trick, though I don’t feel entirely comfortable until after Katherine calls from the bookshop. When I ask if my eyes looked funny, if I seemed to be looking in odd directions (because it was hard to figure out where to look as we spoke), she says, ‘no!’, briskly, as if telling me not to be silly. Exactly like my mum would have.

***

Luke and I watch The Plot Against America after he finishes work, and he brings six squares of caramel chocolate to me on the couch.

***

In bed, I ask Luke to tell me three things he misses, and three things he doesn’t. Then I’ll do the same.

He doesn’t miss getting up early to go to work, or the fluorescent lighting there, or hearing people’s conversations all day in the background.

He misses walking to get the groceries, and going to the soccer with his friends.

‘And sport?’ I ask.

‘Yeah.’

I don’t miss the strict schedule around work, though I’m at my desk at the same time or earlier now. I guess I don’t miss getting to work, or the moment where you have to get up and go home, and it’s over for the day – which I always prolong for some reason, finding more things I need to do before I leave. I don’t miss my desk, and the windowless room full of boxes and wine bottles I work in all day.

I miss the conversations I have throughout the day with people in the office, and talking to Poppy about books and writing and life. I miss drinks in the concrete corridor outside the warehouse.

I miss going to the market every week, I miss being able to go for a walk or cycle without the stress of running into people, I miss going to Muratti’s for coffee and biscuits with a book or my laptop, I miss lunch at Lucia’s, I miss walking around the bookshop and browsing the shelves.

I miss meals I didn’t cook.

I miss the beach.

I miss my membership at the Adelaide Aquatic Centre, and the way the water sluices off my anxiety.

I miss overhearing other people’s conversations on the bus, and incidental chats at the bookshop and the markets.

‘All I have to write about is you and me,’ I say.

We laugh in the dark, about how the things we miss are not the same.

Wednesday 15 April

I feel agitated today, as if I’ve done something wrong and I’m not sure what it is yet.

My foot is swollen and itchy, and I wonder if the bee sting is infected after all. I stubbornly scratch it, though I know I shouldn’t.

Luke talks excitedly about the arrival of bread with this afternoon’s groceries. It was left out of last week’s order, and though he’s been trialling bread recipes, we’re running out of flour.

I cook couscous with vegetarian chilli for lunch, because I feel like I haven’t eaten properly, apart from last night’s marinara pasta, for days. Looking for a podcast to listen to while I cook, I search for Plot Against America, hoping to find an interview with David Simon about making the series, and discover the show has a companion podcast, with Simon analysing every episode, week by week.

I eat lunch on the back verandah, overlooking the garden, the Episode One podcast playing on my Bluetooth stereo. I am happy, I think.

An email comes through: nearly half the groceries I ordered are unavailable, including Luke’s bread. I swear at the computer.

‘I think I understand why people are nasty to grocery store workers’ I tell Luke. ‘Not that I would ever do that, or think they deserve it. But I understand it.’

***

Before today’s depleted groceries arrive, I call Schinella’s, the nearby supermarket with no website, and ask if they have gluten-free flour and bread. We talk for a while about the ingredients of the various kinds of gluten-free bread, as she checks ingredients against Luke’s allergies. Finally, we find something that will work, and I hang up to place an email order. It will arrive on Friday.

‘You have bread!’ I tell Luke, who smiles at his computer.

Then I find a way to order the corn tortillas out of stock at the supermarket through the suppliers, in Victoria. They’ll probably arrive in two weeks. I buy two packs of 37 tortillas, and pay $15 for postage.

***

It’s nearly 5am and I’m awake, my foot burning, when Luke roars beside me in the dark, and keeps roaring. I scream in response, my body lagging behind my brain.

‘It’s okay,’ I say, when I’ve stopped screaming. I stroke his side. ‘You’re having a nightmare, Luke. Wake up!’

But he’s submerged in sleep, and jumps to straddle me, grabbing my head and shaking me into my pillow, yelling incomprehensibly.

‘GET OUT!’ his words say, as he continues to shake me, hard and fast, through the dark.

I shout at him to stop, terrified now.

‘I’M YOUR WIFE!’ I shout, repeating it until he takes his hands from my head and turns on the bedside lamp. His face is briefly terrifying, a rictus of rage, but flickers and melts into shamefaced horror.

He cradles my face again, gently this time, and collapses into me.

‘Someone was attacking you,’ he says. ‘I was beating them up.’

‘You were beating me up,’ I say, though he didn’t hit me at all, and he melts further. ‘My face hurts.’

‘There was a presence in the room,’ he says. ‘I heard noises. Something was on us, and then it was on you. I was saving you.’

We lay together, shaking, for a long time, before he turns the light off again and we offer ourselves up to sleep.

Thursday 16 April

I let myself sleep later than I’d planned, and get up at 8.30am. I’m sitting on the brown velvet modular couch in the sunroom, on the tiles outside the kitchen, marooned in my bathrobe and marking up a book with a pencil, when Luke ambles by on his way to the bathroom.

He bends to hug me, and comes to sit beside me on his path back, to the kitchen to make the first coffees of the day.

‘I’m thinking maybe we should cut down on watching The X-Files before bed,’ I say. ‘Last night, when you said you felt a presence, I was really scared, even though I knew you were dreaming.’

I expect him to laugh, or tell me not to be silly.

‘I was thinking of The X-Files too,’ he says instead.

The episode we watched last night was about an evil doll, but there have been lots of aliens and monsters before bed lately.

***

Today is another Zoom interview, and it’s more immediately comfortable than two days ago. I’m used to the changed format already, I think.

It helps that today I’m interviewing Poppy Nwosu, my friend and colleague, whose YA novels I love. We have a Zoom meeting every week, and it feels familiar, three weeks in to working from home, to be having a long on-screen chat with her.

I text her after the interview, to tell her how much fun I had. This feels more natural than the screen going black and everything being over. The event organiser sends us an email to thank us, and then we exchange emails about payment for the authors involved in this series, and plans for the next interview.

It feels good, like progress, like a version of business as usual.

***

Luke finds two antihistamine tablets at the back of the medicine basket in the pantry, and I take one after dinner. Then I smear my foot in Manuka honey and swathe it in bandages.

Luke laughs when I sit beside him on the couch.

I insist I’m not tired, but I can barely pick myself up from the couch to go to bed.

***

I wake up and can’t get back to sleep, but lie awake, tensed against the slightest noise. A leaf crackle outside, the rustle of the quilt as I move my leg.

Luke twitches in his sleep and before I know it, I am on him, holding him down, screaming. He shouts aloud and I shout back.

‘IT’S YOU, IT’S YOU!’ he is shouting.

‘IT’S YOUR WIFE!’ I shout back.

‘I know,’ he says.

I let go of him and roll away, then into him, my whole body shaking as we hold each other tight. Our breathing mirrors each other: shallow and fast.

‘I’m sorry,’ I say.

‘That’s okay,’ he says, and kisses my forehead. ‘You were dreaming. You were asleep.’

‘No,’ I say. ‘I wasn’t.’

H.P. Lovecraft, work and not getting paid: Coronavirus Diary Week 4

Sunday 5 April

I sit at my desk to write my review, and instead I read Felix’s film script, all 160 pages of it.

It is a horror anthology, he’s told me. But he didn’t tell me that each section is themed around art, and creation as a kind of possession. Or that it’s framed by a story about the end of humanity. Or that it’s hyperliterate and rooted in historical fact, with references to the Salem witch trials.

Is my son a literary genius? I think as I read. Where is this voice coming from? How does he know all this? When did he research all these details?

I text him my stunned admiration, and he reminds me the script is an adaptation of someone else’s source material. He’s drawn on a selection of H.P. Lovecraft stories.

This makes more sense.

I thought you were a fucking literary genius, I text him. I was thinking, he should convert these to stories and get them published.

Still, I’m impressed. I didn’t realise he was reading H.P. Lovecraft – or reading anything. He stopped being a big reader when he was around twelve.

And he’s been stuck, unable to write screenplays – his passion and ambition in life – for months, if not years.

Now, as the world grinds to a halt, he’s suddenly unstuck.

I’m thrilled that he’s reading and thinking and creating. That he’s passionate about and engaged with something.

I tell him that, as an editor, I can see the skill that’s gone into this adaptation. And as writer and publisher, that diving deep into the work of great writers and repurposing it is a brilliant exercise in becoming a better writer.

I ask him to keep sending me his work, and he tells me he always will. (Because you’re an editor.)

I glow with our exchange, at how much I just really enjoy talking to him like this, about writing and art and films.

How lucky I am.

Monday 6 April

The work day seamlessly shifts from my publishing job to writing my review. At 5.30pm, I close all my browsers, and my work email, and open the Word document containing three paragraphs of the book review I promised to turn in today. If I turn it in my midnight, I’ll have done it today, I tell myself.

***

I try to place a grocery order, but the local supermarket that delivered within two days less than a week ago now has a week-long waiting time. Though we have enough in the house to last until then, and the top-ups are things we want rather than need (avocados for tacos, more pasta so we can use the pasta we have without feeling decadent), I feel anxious.

***

I finish the review at 9.30pm, the same time that Luke finishes his shift at the computer, working for the council. I read it over. It’s not the best thing I’ve ever written, but it’s a coherent piece and it says some insightful things about the book. I think.

But I message Rochelle, a brilliant film critic and writer who I used to be in a writer’s group with, and ask if she’ll read it for me.

I’m sitting on the couch watching an X-Files repeat and eating caramel chocolate when Rochelle messages. She’s pinpointed exactly what’s wrong with the review.

Tuesday 7 April

I get up at 6am to rewrite my review for the Age. It’s dark when I enter the home office, shutting the door behind me.

First, I just delete the first three paragraphs of the review. Rochelle had given me the absolutely correct advice last night that the first two paragraphs were unclear, and I realise the third is linked to the second.

But after half an hour of struggling with this method, I start a brand new file, with just the book’s title and publication details on the top, and start from scratch, with the original review printed out beside me as reference.

At 9.25am, I send the review, now definitely better than the version I nearly sent last night, if still not my best work.

***

I feel good about myself for nearly an hour.

Then, an email arrives from a self-published author whose 100,000-word manuscript I spent hours and days on during February, skipping weekends and even taking a day off my bookshop job to get it done. She has decided that she won’t pay me in full, because the timeline shifted a couple of times (with her always saying, that’s so fine! – once because my son had been hospitalised interstate, days before Christmas; other times because the job had ballooned), and because I had been unable to put my copy-edited changes (to a manuscript I had taken on as a proofreading job) through in full, which means I delivered the job unfinished. Though it took me over 30 hours to do the job, and I had invoiced her for only 20 hours.

I am prepared to pay you for 14 hours, she writes.

My legs start shaking under my desk. I yell down the hall to Luke. He holds me as he reads the email.

‘I knew it,’ I say. ‘I knew she would do this.’

The author’s manuscript is about a trauma she’s suffered, and all through it, she is furious with almost everyone she encounters.

She had been unresponsive to my invoice, then oddly cold when I followed it up, and I had told Luke that I had a feeling she would try not to pay me.

And here it is.

When I have stopped shaking, when I have paced the house and called Mel to shake and rant down the phone to her, I go back to my computer, find the emails where the author had agreed in writing to every stage of the project changing, told me to edit til the cows come home! acknowledged that this would take more time, and agreed to the 18 + 2 hours I told her would be my final invoice tally. I piece it all together and email the author to tell her I expect full payment.

She writes back to tell me she spoke to Writers SA anonymously and they had various feedback about being shocked at my practices.

I call Writers SA, who I regularly work with, and who I also have a membership with. I don’t want to pull my professional contacts into a dispute I’m having, so I don’t identify myself or the author, and just outline the situation, faltering a little as I try to summarise and articulate what’s happening.

‘I’m sorry,’ I say. ‘I know I’m being unclear … I’m just so angry. And quite shocked. And I’m trying to figure out what is going on.’

‘Jo, is this you?’ asks the lovely Writers SA contact, and my heart sinks into the floorboards as I confirm that, yes, this is me. Apparently the author’s conversation with Writers SA was not anonymous.

The phone call is good just in having someone to listen to, and in that they clarify that they had a selective version of the facts, and they understand that this is just a shitty situation, and they don’t think I am terrible.

***

I send a very short email telling the author that the email trail is clear and that I will engage a collection agent if I’m not paid by Saturday.

***

I’ve been so distracted that I’ve forgotten to email our grocery order to Schinella’s, and there are just ten minutes to the 1pm deadline. I can’t think of what we need, but Luke wrote a list on the back of an envelope yesterday. I type it up and press send at 12.58pm.

***

I contact a collection agency, and find out it will cost approximately the same amount to engage them to get my invoice paid in full as the gap between the amount the author will pay me and what I’m owed.

I’d rather spend the money teaching the author a lesson about entitlement than give it to her. I say yes when the collection agent asks if I want him to record the details of our call, and to call me back on Tuesday to see if I want to proceed.

***

I haven’t been outside our front gate since the day I moved my work computer into the home office. The longer we stay inside, just me and Luke, the more of a risk going out seems. But I can feel a panic attack coming on – my chest and throat are tight with it, and my heart sprints beneath my rib cage.

So, I leave the house, headphones in.

A flock of sulphur-crested cockatoos arches over the closed Aquatic Centre. I walk the length of the roses planted along the golf course – red and pink and pale yellow – as the sun sinks apricot gold over the clipped green lawns. Hilary Harper’s soothing, smart, gently but firmly questioning voice keeps me company, on the Life Matters podcast. I follow the curve of the parklands back to my suburb, then descend the hill through the dark, as the sunset bleeds over pinprick lights that stretch towards the west.

At home, Luke is at his computer as I open the door. His face is warm against mine as I kiss him hello again.

Wednesday 8 April

I didn’t really sleep last night. I get up at 6am, because I’m already awake.

And I write out my angst through two coffees, until it’s time to start work, and I switch browser tabs.

***

The groceries arrive at 2pm, in a cardboard box delivered to the verandah. Luke carries the box inside, holding it with paper towels over his hands. I take the towels and the box outside to the recycling bin, then disinfect the door and the door handle, then wash my hands for thirty counted-out seconds.

‘Do you remember when it wasn’t exciting to get groceries?’ I ask.

***

At 4.30pm, I email Michael to tell I’m finishing early.

I take a packet of chilli chips, settle under the blanket on the couch, and watch the rest of Big Little Lies, until Luke finishes work, when we watch re-runs of The Office and 30 Rock until my eyes close, near midnight.

Thursday 9 April

It’s officially my day off, but I work: at first because I have a 9.30am phone meeting to finalise an arts grant application, and then because I’m at my desk, and there’s work to be done.

When the email arrives, with her name on it, and I read that she’s still refusing to pay me in full, my legs begin to shake, and don’t stop. The shaking spreads up my body.

‘I’m just going to accept her offer,’ I say to Luke. ‘I just need her to go away.’

He stands behind my chair and holds me. He watches me type my email conceding defeat – a very short one – and tells me to delete the angry words and sentences, which I do.

‘Write them,’ he says, ‘but then delete them.’

I delete my final angry words, press send and cry.

Luke hugs me hard and lets me sob into his chest until I’m ready to stop.

My phone pings: my reduced fee is in my bank account.

And then he orders UberEats, for me: the first time we’ve ordered take-away since we entered lockdown. It’s from Perryman’s, my dad’s favourite bakery; the bakery I like to walk to, past the horses in the parklands and the children’s playground. A vegetarian pastie, a donut with sprinkles and a Diet Coke.

The donut, when it arrives, is pink-iced, with chocolate sprinkles. It tastes like childhood comfort, like special-treat school-canteen lunches. It tastes like love.

***

A writer I’m working with emails to tell me that her grant application has been successful. She sends photos of her and her family, beaming, over celebration drinks on her balcony.

‘YESSSSS!’ I shout at my desk, alone, as I read her message.

I went to see her comedy cabaret Fringe show, on the topic of her book, in February: a few weeks before lockdown. She’s funny and warm and biting and talented and piercingly honest, and she pulled this grant application together within a week, though Arts SA recommends you take a month over it.

This feels like an antidote to the writer who docked my pay, almost.

Social-distance family visits, adrenaline and crashing: Coronavirus Diary Week 3

Friday 27 March

Luke’s parents turn up at the front door just before 5pm, as I’m madly finishing a subscriber e-bulletin at my desk. Luke jumps to greet them from behind the screen door. There is a burst of excited greeting.

‘Is Jo here?’ asks his mum, Aldona.

‘Yeah, she’s in there working,’ he says.

HI!’ I yell. ‘Sorry, I have to finish something! I’ll come out soon!’

They circle down the side to visit the courtyard. Luke’s dad has always said that those citrus trees and the good river soil they’re rooted in are wasted on us, who don’t look after them.

I press send on the e-bulletin.

In the courtyard, Luke’s parents are marvelling at the blue-sky gaps where Mum has hacked out the weed trees that were towering above the fence and choking the lemon tree. We can actually see the lemon tree, now. Even in the absence of its predator, it’s cowering by the fence, stunted but alive.

‘Your mum’s done a wonderful job,’ says Aldona. ‘She’s amazing! Please tell her that for me.’

‘I will,’ I say. I sent Aldona photographs of the backyard yesterday, and she told me that Mum is a wizard. ‘I already passed on your earlier praise,’ I tell her. ‘Mum was thrilled. I’ll tell her this, too.’

I think one thing that drew Luke and I together so hard and fast was the way we slid into each other’s families.

Luke charmed Mum by writing a handwritten letter to the cafe next-door to my Footscray flat, with ten dollars in the envelope, asking them to tell me, when I next came in with my mother (who was helping me pack up my things to move to Adelaide) that our coffees were on him. And then he charmed her further, and more deeply, when he helped us move my things into my Largs Bay flat on the first day he met her, following her instructions without complaint.

I’m not sure how I charmed Aldona. I think it was as simple as seeing how happy Luke and I were together, that first Sunday I lived in Adelaide, when he brought me to family dinner, and we held hands under the table while eating platefuls of food and joining spirited conversations about education between his dad (an ex primary school principal and former federal MP) and sister (a primary school teacher).

We exchange bags of goods – they have brought us more tomatoes and lemons from their back garden, and cider, and a bottle of brandy in case we get sick. I have raided my bookshelves to pick books that Luke’s mum might want to read, now that the libraries are shut. I did the same for Mum and Nana earlier in the week.

Luke and I stand together at the front door and wave at the street as their car disappears.

Saturday 28 March

I have to write a book review. My brain surges with adrenaline, and it’s hard to make myself sit at the desk and type. I set myself the task of transcribing all the notes I have pencilled onto the book’s pages. At least it’s a mechanical process.

I type for a few hours, and get up to page 150, while eating lolly snakes from a drawer in my desk. I think about how the snakes would be good props for a bookshop Instagram photo to accompany an April new release.

Giselle messages, bored, hoping I might have found the USB she lent me a few years ago, which had her entire Harry Potter audiobook collection on it. I have lost it, and offer to pay for her to download some Harry Potter audio. When she lets me off the hook, I’m unspeakably relieved. (I looked it up, and the cost would run to hundreds of dollars.)

She tells me that Mel, my best friend, who had a cold this week, had an ambulance to her house to test her for Coronavirus. She had a temperature of 38.

I try to call Mel, who is on the phone to her brother. I sit and eat lolly snakes and try to make words push through my worry and onto the screen. After an hour, Mel calls me back to say she is feeling better than she was. The way they test for coronavirus now is to send an ambulance. They declined to test her, because she’s not in a high-risk group, though she had a temperature and fever and a cough.

‘I might have had it,’ she says.

Sunday 29 March

I get up early to continue with the book review, and discover that my notes for the first hundred pages of the book have disappeared from my file. I must have accidentally deleted them. I type them up again.

Luke cooks damper. It looks like a giant scone, and tastes like it too. We cut it up and eat it warm, spread with butter.

I take my plate to my desk, and keep typing.

Luke puts sprinklers under the citrus trees in the courtyard, and on the lawn. He stabs at the bald patches among the grass with a pitchfork, holding it in one hand. The other hand is in his pocket. On a break from my desk, I kneel and pick gravel from the grass, piling it in a neat heap on our neighbour’s side of the brick line through the yard.

Later, I tell him that he looked like The Fonz gardening, in his skinny jeans and sunglasses, his laid-back nonchalance. We both laugh for a long time. It’s such a good reaction that later, I share the image with my bookshop boss as we’re texting about social media.

We can access any channel on Foxtel now, now that there’s no sport, so we watch two episodes of The Plot Against America, David Simon’s adaptation of Phillip Roth’s novel about an alternate history in which anti-Semite and aviation hero Charles Lindbergh is elected US president. It’s beautiful to watch, with its period costumes and handsome men and Winona Ryder curvy and lipsticked in clinging 1940s dresses.

Simon has made the series, based on a book written while Donald Trump was on The Apprentice, speak to the present: the election of a celebrity prejudiced against certain groups at a time of uncertainty and change. A menace in the air that is as much about looming uncertainty and distrust of government’s ability to handle what’s ahead as it is about concrete events.

Monday 30 March

At his morning Zoom meeting, Luke is allocated the 4–9 shift. Now that everyone is working from home, the council server can’t cope with the traffic, so instead of everyone working 8.30-4.30, they’re working three staggered shifts.

Luke delivers the news, then leaves his desk next to mine. I hear him clinking dishes in the kitchen, then there’s the hum of the television down the hallway. When I go to the kitchen to butter yesterday’s leftover damper and microwave it, sprinklers are hissing in the backyard.

We sit side-by-side for two hours, 4pm to 6pm, then it’s my turn to sit on the couch in front of the television. I don’t intend to stay long, and as I channel-surf through Foxtel, I think I’ll find something fun and trashy to watch, something Luke would’t watch with me. But Modern Family isn’t as funny as I remember it. Its sitcom beats are too obvious and stereotypes too strained. I watch the end of The 7:30 Report, and then Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and Four Corners, and MediaWatch. Luke comes to join me on the couch during Q&A. I burrow into him, his body warm against mine. He combs his fingers through my hair, and my scalp thrums.

‘I’ve missed you,’ I say.

We have never watched Q&A together, but we watch it to the end. I compose a tweet to add to the conversation. I will later realise that I confused JobSeeker with JobKeeper, and the tweet we thought was so clever was actually meaningless.

Later, I sprawl on the bed, still wearing the purple floral dress I put on this morning, and watch him undress.

‘I think your new schedule is really messing with my head,’ I say, thinking aloud. ‘Everything feels strange. Last week, we sat at our desks together at nine, we cooked dinner together, we ate in front of the television, or listened to a record, and then we went to bed. That felt normal. This is …’

He laughs.

‘Its messing with your head?’

Tuesday 31 March

Today, the postman is playing Lady Gaga from the stereo clipped to his mail trolley. I watch from behind lace curtains, over my desktop, as he takes out an envelope, holds it in his bare hands, then slides it into our mailbox. I wish he was wearing gloves.

***

I can’t find Luke.

‘Hello?’ I call, as I walk the length of the hallway, into the kitchen, and out into the backyard, then loop around again. He’s not in the darkened bedroom either.

‘Husband?’ I call.

A faint moan emits from the lounge room.

I stand at the doorway, but can’t see in: the small side window is shuttered and no light penetrates from the hallway.

‘Luke?’ I step in the direction of the couch. A low grunt.

His long, lean body is diagonally prone across the cushions. I touch his shape.

He has been dozing, neither asleep nor awake. Trying to bury the time between his 9am Zoom meeting and 4pm shift. I kiss him, and murmur into his ear, then go back to work at my desk.

***

I microwave chicken two-minute noodles for lunch, at 2.30pm. To be fair, this is not unusual workplace behaviour for me.

Luke is now sitting in the sun-drenched courtyard, black-clad legs stretched over the pavers, head back, eyes closed under mirrored sunglasses. I visit him while the noodles are microwaving, squat next to the chair and rest my head on his lap.

***

The supermarket in North Adelaide where we supplement our weekly market shop is now home delivering. It’s easy to log on and complete our shop, and delivery is scheduled for Thursday afternoon. We had wondered how we’d top up food supplies, as Coles has suspended delivery to our suburb, and we’ve been unable to log on to the Woolworths website.

‘Have we ever been so excited about buying groceries before?’ I ask Luke.

Included in our shop is more Whittaker’s caramel chocolate for me (I like to have four squares before bed, if I’m not having ice-cream) and a carton of Coke for Luke, who’s been craving it.

I also order, from Byron Bay, thirty of the (gluten-free, dairy-free) chocolates Luke has before bed, when I have my Whittaker’s. It costs over a hundred dollars, and feels like money well spent.

***

I bring the Bluetooth stereo into the lounge room and listen to Peter Goers interview my two bosses – Michael at the publishing company and Jason at the bookshop – for a segment on ABC radio. Goers showers both with compliments on how loved their businesses are, and a buzz runs through me of doing something.

Media attention feels like doing something, though of course it only sometimes translates into public action, and you never know when that will happen. But it’s something I can do.

Both men sound tired and sad, though they rally for the conversation and the segment is interesting. I turn off the radio feeling guilty for feeling so energised. Am I good in a crisis?

Wednesday 1 April

I haven’t stopped working since the coronavirus became a real threat, over two weeks ago. I’m not sleeping either. My eyes are pink with exhaustion. I cry twice at my desk today.

At 5pm, when Luke is in his first hour of his shift, I burrow under a soft blanket on the couch with a handful of Whittaker’s chocolate (the last of the last caramel block) and watch consecutive episodes of Big Little Lies Season 2, until Luke finishes work for the day.

Thursday 2 April

We’re on the couch, watching The 7:30 Report, as we do now.

Leigh Sales throws to a feel-good closing segment: kids all over Australia have sent in videos of themselves saying hello to their grandparents and telling them that they miss them. It goes on and on, cute kids (and a random teenager in the middle of it all) clustered on couches or hunched on lawns or trampolines, saying, ‘I miss you, nana and grandpa’.

It’s the kind of thing designed to make you feel, the kind of thing I usually ignore until it’s over. But all of a sudden I’m crying: silent tears sliding to rest on the lip of my glasses at first, then full-throated sobs that won’t stop. Luke holds me.

‘Turn it off,’ I say between sobs. ‘Please. I can’t stand it.’

Luke fumbles for the remote control.

Really,’ I say. ‘Please.’

And he flicks a button, and a cartoon plays, and we leave it. My sobs slow, then escalate again, as laughter this time. I laugh and laugh until my chest hurts, and Luke is laughing with me.

‘What’s wrong with me?’ I say. ‘Do you know why I was crying?’

‘You miss your son,’ he says. ‘And Alexia and Ella and Mia and Alex and Josh and all the children you can’t see anymore.’

And I nod and burrow into him.