The Oven Locked Down

James Holden

She had just sat down after putting some gingerbread boys and girls into her oven when she heard the voices outside. Her food package from the municipal authority had arrived only yesterday, and she wasn’t due anything from the pharmacy for a couple of days. Putting down her Sudoku book, she eased herself out of her rocking chair and looked through the Glacier Mint windows to see who it could be.

Outside stood a boy and girl holding hands. She could see them eying up her home – not a sight she was unused to, but something she had not experienced since the lockdown had started six weeks ago. Motivating herself, she walked into the doorway and opened the door. ‘Hello?’

The gaze of the boy and girl snapped towards her. Their clothes looked dirty, her ponytail had collected twigs and he had acquired a splattering of mud on her face. They each had a hungry look on their face.

‘Are you okay?’ she asked from the safety of her doorstep. The girl burst into tears and the boy took a step forward. ‘No, no! You need to maintain two metres distancing.’

The boy retreated.

‘So, are you okay?’ she asked again.

‘We’re lost,’ he said, gripping the hand of the girl he was stood next to, who had calmed down and was now wiping her eyes with a handkerchief.

‘Are you parents not around?’ she said, peering into the forest.’

‘No – our Step-Mumma led us into the forest and abandoned us,’ he said.

‘Oh. And why did she do that?’

‘She was concerned we might be super-spreaders.’

‘Why would she think that?’

‘Well, on account of being children n’all. She was chatting to Dame Gothel on Zoom a couple of weeks ago – she’s self-isolating with Rapunzel in her tower – and she put the idea in Step-Mumma’s head. She’s been trying to get rid of us since.’

‘We managed to get back home after the first time,’ the girl interjected, ‘by leaving pebbles behind, but we only had crumbs from a loaf this time, and the birds must’ve ate them…’

‘Yes, there’s so much more nature around these days,’ she said looking beyond them into the trees.

‘Can you help us?’ they said in union, looking at her with eyes that were on the verge of leaking salt-water.

‘Hang on a minute, she said and went into the kitchen. Pulling on an oven glove, she took the baking tray out from the oven. She took two paper bags from a drawer and put a pigeon pair of gingerbread figures into each.

Leaning out of the window, she proffered them the bags. ‘There’s some biscuits in there for you.’

‘Aren’t you going to invite us in?’ the girl asked.

‘I can’t – the health service says I’m on the shielded list so I’m self-isolating. Normally I’d love to invite you in… I get everything I need from the government except for boys and girls,’ she said wistfully, ‘oh – and mummies and daddies. To show them round my gingerbread house, you know.’

The girl started crying again.

‘Look – go back onto the path, turn left and there’s a castle three miles up the road. The crockery will look after you. Watch you don’t go in the west wing and I’ll have you for dinner when all this is all over. I promise.’

After making sure they had departed, she pulled the window closed and sat back in her chair, looking longingly at the oven. ‘Got to keep my promises, haven’t I?’ she said with a wolfish grin.

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