Coffee Break Read – Social Distance

Alice dressed with neatness and propriety before carefully coiling  and pinning her hair. She was aware that her neighbours thought her an oddity to bother with her appearance when she would see nobody from one day’s end to the next. Her immediate neighbour, she knew, spent all day in a dressing gown and could be heard singing maudlin ditties as the gin took effect.
Alice thought of it as ‘lock-down fever’, and although she could halfway understand the desperation of the lonely people who surrounded her, she had no intention of succumbing to temptation. She reckoned routine was the antidote to madness so she showered, dressed, and groomed her hair before breakfasting at the table dressed with an embroidered linen cloth and her pretty china.
This particular morning she looked critically at her reflection, wondering when she had become so old before walking carefully into her tiny kitchen and putting the kettle on. 
As she ate her toast she remembered that today was Wednesday. Which meant an uncomfortable Skype conversation with her daughter. It had, she privately thought, been better before lock-down when her daughter’s elastic conscience could be placated by a monthly coffee in Waitrose’s cafe. But now, of course, it would look bad if they didn’t speak at least once a week. 
Wednesday at eleven o’clock had been fixed on as a time that would be convenient to both. Or, to be more accurate, convenient to Chloe, who still managed to be frantically busy when nobody was allowed to go anywhere.
But before then there was a table to be cleared and dishes to be washed. 
With her few simple chores done, Alice powered up the laptop it had taken her the best part of a year to master. She had an hour to play Scrabble against the world and relax her mind before the frustration of the weekly duty call.
The big surprise when she tried to find her game was that it wouldn’t come up. Instead the familiar face of her errant husband smiled at her from the screen.
“Hello Alice.”
“Yes it’s me. How are you, love?”
“Not so bad. You?”
“As you see me. Just the same as ever. But. Alice. I want to say sorry.”
Alice shook her head, but she found herself smiling. Jim could always make her smile. 
“What are you sorry for?”
He looked uncomfortable. “You know, love.”
“Maybe I do.”
“I was being an idiot.”
“Not for the first time.”
“But I never meant to leave you.”
“It doesn’t matter whether you meant it or not. The result was the same.”
“It was, love. And I’m so sorry.”
Alice smiled at him, thinking how handsome he looked, and how much like a schoolboy caught out in a prank.
“What do you want me to say, Jim?”
“I don’t know. Maybe that you still love me. Even though..”
“Of course I still love you, Jim. You can’t stop loving a person just because they behaved stupidly.”
“Are you lonely, Alice?”
She suddenly felt cross. 
“Of course I’m lonely. Bloody lonely.”
“Sorry. That was crass of me. But there was a serious point to my question. If you could be with me again, even knowing what an old fool I can be, would you do it?”
Alice dashed the foolish tears from her eyes.
“Of course I would. You may be an old fool, but you are my old fool.” 
He smiled at her and it seemed as if the years fell away leaving him the brash young man who she first fell for all those years ago.
“Right then girl, you get to choose. Self-isolation or throw in your luck with me.”
“I’ll come with you please, Jim. Wherever you are. Just tell me what to do.”
“You put your hand in mine like you did on our wedding day.”
Alice was wondering how she could put anything in anything when a big brown hand appeared to come out of the screen. It was a leap of faith, but Alice found the courage to put her own hand on his palm. For a moment she felt foolish as she was touching nothing, but then the flesh beneath her fingers solidified and she felt herself being pulled gently out of her aged flesh. As her head fell forward onto the table her heart soared in gratitude.
“I’m coming Jim,” she cried. “I’m coming.”
They found her with her perfectly coiffed head resting on her folded arms and a smile on her lips….

©️Jane Jago 2020

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