Chris used to like it when I sat on him. But since Lockdown we’re not allowed to sit down, only to wander, in care-home style circles of bewilderment, wondering how we got here, wondering if all this is a surreal dream.
It’s the fourth week. I’m trying to push back the silence with television, radio, You Tube – anything. Sometimes I put them all on at once and pretend I’m in a crowded bar. I’ve even set up the table in my American-style kitchen diner with bottles. I did it after the first week. I got out all the bottles from my drinks cupboard – wine, brandy, gin, tonics, all of it.
I made a cardboard cut-out of the barman in The Horse and Plough. It’s not very good. I’m not an artist and I think I’ve got his nose wrong. He should be taller too, but I ran out of Amazon boxes and he’s a bit faded because I’m short of paint. That’s what comes of having to wait an eternity for online orders. In any case I stuck Bob behind the improvised counter, his friendly, open face all painted with a big smile. Voila! Who needs the pub?
This is what I do, when I want a drink. Sometimes I imagine there’s a queue and as the voices from the television and all the other devices are chattering, I talk back as I wait. I used to hate queuing. Now, I long for it. As I’m waiting to order a glass of Pinot Noir I have quite a pleasant chat with the weatherman on Radio Two.
‘It looks like we’re in for another cold night,’ he says. I can just about make out his voice above Emmerdale and Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades.’
‘Yes, it does,’ I reply, ‘Still, it should get milder soon.’
‘Those clouds are still hanging around in the north.’
I laugh. ‘I’m glad I don’t live in the north.’
‘And a light Westerly breeze is moving in across the Midlands.’
‘I’d better dig out those winter woollens then. How annoying! I’ve just put them away as well. Still, you know what they say – don’t cast a clout.’
You see, I like chaos. I’m from a large family. Our house was always full of people – Christmases sat around the huge dining table – parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents; one or other of us having sleepovers throughout the year, our parents throwing big parties regularly.
No one tells you what to do during Lockdown when your idea of a good night out is a heavy rock concert or a rowdy night down the pub with the biggest group of friends you can muster.
No one gives you a guidebook on how to tune out silence. You can get those little books – you know the ones – The Little Book of Calm; How to Tune in to the Inner Voice with Silence. They’re the ones you never read, aren’t they? The ones friends buy you for Christmas as a hint that you’re a prime candidate for a heart attack. You end up losing them down the back of the sofa by Boxing Day, or using them to steady the television cabinet because you have subsidence.
But where’s the handbook on how to tune into the chaos? It’s all very well, Boris telling us, ‘Stay indoors, Save the NHS and Save Lives.’ Maybe he likes silence, and in any case he doesn’t live alone. I can’t bear it. I can’t bear it because it reminds me Chris is not here.
It reminds me that the people I have loved have – over the years – been peeled away in layers by death or circumstance, revealing the tender lonely skin underneath. My younger sister – married a National Front redneck and lives in Sleeford. We don’t Skype.
My elder brother – joined a religious sect and doesn’t speak to anyone except Jesus. Parents, grandparents – all gone to the great family reunion in the sky.
I’m lonely. I hate that phrase. No one likes to say it do they? There’s a stigma, a taboo. It makes it sound as though you’re desperate, or weird. People back away, as if loneliness is something you can catch by standing too close – especially if you’re wearing an old cardigan when you say it. Cardigans and loneliness go hand-in-hand, like caravan holidays and rain. People are more frightened of lonely people in cardigans than they are of Corona.
Of course it’s not society that is to blame, with the busyness and the craziness, the progress of commerce smothering the inner cries of our souls that long to be nurtured. It’s you. You’re the failure – because you don’t connect. But does anyone really connect? Did anyone ever really connect? Or are we like those jigsaws you find in jumble sales – a pile of old pieces too broken or misshapen to fit together into a complete picture?
So here I am – alone in the house with a cardboard barman and a Motorhead album. And waiting – for the day when I can go back to the graveyard and sit on my husband.