Harriet continued with her caretaking work every morning but with the spread of the Corona virus it was much more involved now and her main role had changed to sanitising all the major contact areas, doors, chairs, tables and other high traffic areas. But despite this there was concern at work about what might happen with the pandemic.
“We’re starting to get cancellations.” Sarah told Harriet. “Despite all the extra cleaning I think people are worried. No one really knows what is going to happen. I must admit I am worried too. At this rate, and if we get a national lockdown, we’re going to have to just shut up shop for a while and have a skeleton staff working from home.”
“That will affect your funds and my job won’t it.” Harriet said. “I’m ok about that, it was likely to be a short term job anyway, and no point making things any more difficult for you.”
“I am hoping it doesn’t come to that. You do a good job, and we can try to keep you on for as long as we can. Things seem to be changing day by day so we will have to see.” Sarah was trying to be reassuring but there was nothing she could do while the situation was changing daily. “Will let you, and all the other staff, know as soon as I can.”
“Thanks, Sarah.” Harriet sighed, “It is all going to be very different isn’t it, with this virus. Even Amanda has gone to bring her Mum up to stay with us, just in case she can’t do it later if we are all locked down. I think Adam had an inkling already and they have been talking about doing that since Christmas. It will feel a bit crowded at home I think.”
Back at her workshop the carpet fitters arrived to fit the studio carpet she had chosen. There was that odd feeling of clumsiness as they were wearing masks and asked Harriet to vacate the building before they would start work. Though they all knew the reasons, it was still very unusual to be wearing a mask and keeping a distance, in an almost accusatory way, so there were lots of apologies and clarification that it was the law and couldn’t be helped. Mr Chow was back from his holiday and sending Harriet emails with instructions for things to do on the garden railway. For safety he was going to stay away and leave Harriet to interpret his ideas from emailed photos and sketches.
Then a national lockdown was announced.
Within a few days Sarah had phoned Harriet and informed her that she was furloughed and would have 80% of her income but wasn’t allowed to do any work for the Community Centre, nor visit for lockdown safety. That seemed to be that for the time being. Sarah promised to keep Harriet updated but also said that she wouldn’t be in touch again about work until something changes. Harriet spent more of her time in her workshop, heading over every morning to do any chores and tidying she could, just to get used to using the space. She had been looking forward to having her workshop but now that she was in the pandemic made everything more difficult. Aside from the railway there wasn’t any work to do.
Harriet was technically still able to go into the workshop on the basis that she could not work from home but there was an eerie feeling cycling to the workshop with the deadly silence of abandoned streets. Even the ring road was almost silent, and that was previously unheard of. Theraton felt like it had become a ghost town overnight and Harriet’s world appeared to shrink. The only faces she saw were Adam’s, Amanda’s, and Sybil’s, and the only other people she saw or heard in town were those delivering post, and collecting the rubbish and recycling.
“How’s it going, Harriet?” Adam was asking one evening after Harriet returned home. “How’s that work you’re doing for Mr Chow?”
“Oh, pretty good. It is all pretty basic joinery at this stage, but made easier for being small. It means I can lift the timbers on my own. It’s just weird out there all on my own. I mean, I know I am on my own in the workshop, but realising that no one else is around, at all, anywhere outside, it’s just weird! Like not even being able to pop out to a shop.”
“I guess given I work from home anyway, it isn’t much different for me, but the work has changed. I’ve had a few clients ask about setting up online shops. I’m a bit worried for Robbie and Ritu. They have had to close all their restaurants. No one is going to restaurants now, theirs or anyone else’s, so there are no orders for the cash and carry stock either from any of their other restaurant clients. I am hoping they can ride this out. They have so many staff to look out for, and so much stock that won’t keep for a couple of months or how ever long we have to lock down for.” Adam sighed, even though all his work was digital he was well aware of the real people he was working for and the hardships they would be going through.
“That’s awful for them. Is there nothing they can do?”
“Nope, not as far as I know. I think they are going to just batten down the hatches and ride it out as best they can. Hopefully it won’t be for too long.”
As the days and weeks passed it became clear that the lockdown was going to go on for a long time. Robbie and Ritu had started using up their stock of perishables cooking free hot meals to deliver to the elderly and for those who were without financial support. It kept their kitchen staff busy and brought in donations of funds to help pay for their efforts. Harriet spent her days at her workshop, and started blogging about some of her activities so that her friends, who were also locked down, would have something to read about and to remind them that there was still stuff happening out side. It was easier to be in the workshop as much as she could now that she was demoted to the box room, having given up her en-suite room to Sybil. She didn’t mind that, Sybil was a priority, but there was no where she could be on her own researching, reading, or sketching. Harriet wondered about all that space in the studio over her workshop. Until she was able to use it as a design space, if she ever got that far, it was a big open room, with a new carpet, and nothing in it! The workshop had a shower room and kitchenette, and heating, so she could move in there for a while.
She would miss their company but it would also give Amanda some more time, and space, with her mum. Harriet spoke to Mr Chow about it as an option, probably for the short term, and it was agreed that she could move in and he would sort out letting the council know.
Fran and Ingrid were already sitting at the kitchen table when Daisy got home from work. It had been a stressful day, not for the physical work but for the shared concerns the team had for the risks they might be facing. They had all decided that they could probably work safely as they could avoid actual contact with people to reduce the risks to themselves but couldn’t be sure about the risks of handling the personal items of waste that residents were putting out. Could the virus be spread from their gloves to their clothes? Should they get changed at work before going home? Would there be a risk of cross contaminating their own clothes? No one knew and no one wanted to guess at something so life threatening.
“Hiya.” Daisy said, “Sorry I’m a bit late, but I’m going to go for a quick shower first if that’s ok.”
“Yeah, that fine. I’ll put the kettle on for you.” Ingrid got up to fill the kettle.
Daisy came back down in pyjamas and dressing gown with her hair in towel. “Thanks for the tea, I really needed that. We’ve closed the brew area at work so I’ve had nothing all afternoon. I’m going to have to take my own flask in now.”
“Why have they done that?” Fran asked.
“Precautions. We’re all just avoiding personal contact, with each other, with things, we’re even cleaning the toilets ourselves before and after we’ve used them. None of us know how the virus might spread so we are being extra cautious. It means we are not eating or drinking together inside so now we take our breaks under the smoking canopy outside and can only use our own mugs and utensils.” Daisy explained.
“Isn’t that a bit overkill? I mean it can’t be that serious can it?”
“Who knows right now. We just know we don’t want to catch it so until we know different we’re being as safe as we can be.
Anyway, that’s sorta why I texted you earlier.”
“We going to be eating in the garden from now on?” Laughed Ingrid.
“No. I don’t know. Maybe. Or maybe we don’t eat in the same room. Maybe we scrub the bathroom before and after every use? I don’t know. That’s what I thought we should talk about. How is it going at work for you both?”
“I might be furlough anyway.” Said Ingrid.
“I’m not actually employed, so I will just have no work from the agencies. I don’t know what that will mean for me.” Suddenly faced with unemployment Fran began to look concerned.
“It’ll mean I am the only one going out every day.” Daisy said. “If we’re going to lock down soon you’ll both be stuck indoors….”
“No work, and no going out! That’s gonna be a bit crap!”
“Yeah, but also safe from how ever the virus is getting about. Of course it means that I could be putting you both at risk every time I come home. And that isn’t fair on either of you, unless I come home and stay in my room, and not touch anything. That’s gonna be crap too!”
“I could stay at Jon’s I suppose. If he’s furlough too, we might well be off work together.”
“That’s an option for you, Ingrid. If you stay with Jon, I could stay with Stu, I’m just not sure I want to if it is going to be more then a few weeks. I like the guy, I’m just not sure I like him that much.” Fran sighed. “Sorry, Daisy, that’s not helping.”
“What’s wrong with Stu? I thought you was happy with him?”
“Oh, well he’s fine in bed, but I think I’d want a bit more in life if I have to spend it with him for any amount of time.”
“Isn’t that, umm, normal for men?” Daisy looked confused.
“Nope!” Said Fran and Ingrid in unison. “My Jon is interested in me and my work. He buys me nice books, takes me to shows. He has a good life and we enjoy doing things together, and doing things apart. Maybe going to stay with him will make us closer, maybe not, but nice if we get closer.” Ingrid continued.
“I’m only seeing Stu cos he’s good in bed, like really good! But otherwise we’ve nothing in common. Opposite of Pete. Pete was really nice to me, really cared a lot, but in bed was like, boring! I wish I had tried harder with him, taught him a few tricks, but I’m an idiot, I went with Stu and now I’ve lost Pete. If I stay with Stu then it will be fun for a couple nights and then I’ll want to leave him. If I don’t see him for a few weeks he’ll find someone else, and I will leave him. Maybe this is a good time to just leave him.”
“That’s not good, Fran, I think fate says you and Stu are over. Maybe another ‘Pete’ will come along after.
“What about you, Daisy, were any of your boyfriends as bad?”
“Oh ummmm,” Daisy looked confused, “Isn’t that kinda usual for boyfriends though? Jon and Pete sound like the odd ones here.”
“What sort of men have you been with, Daisy, to think that? I mean I’m only young compared to you, and only a bit younger then Ingrid but you must have known some nice men in your time!”
“Oh, well they have all been kinda… like… well, men really. Just your normal average day to day men. Isn’t that what happens?”
Fran and Ingrid looked at each other, and then back at Daisy.
“I mean like, first boyfriend, what’s his name? Gary! Gary asked me out after my first proper gig, and cos all the other girls I knew were going out with boys I said ‘yes’. We went to the pub, got drunk and then we were, you know, in bed. And that was it we were going together. Every night after a shoot we’d go to the pub and then go to bed. That was it. Then I found him with someone else and I left him.
“Then there was Michael, I met him on a shoot too. He took me to a club and after a few drinks we were back at his place and, you know…
That’s sorta how it was until the end of the shoot and he just went off with someone else, I think. I never saw him again.
“Freddie was kinda the same, drinks and bed. We didn’t do anything else together. Don’t even remember if it was any good. That’s the way boyfriends are. I just wasn’t very good at, you know, keeping it working. I don’t even know why people would. There were a few others, nothing like what you would call ‘long term’ or anything.
“Then there was Lee, I moved in with him for a few weeks but… hmmmm…” Daisy looked away and chewed her lip wondering if she was oversharing.
“What happened with Lee?” Ingrid put her hand on Daisy’s arm.
“Oh, Lee brought his friends in and said it would be more fun with them joining in… It wasn’t much fun with just Lee so I couldn’t see how it could be ‘more fun’ with his friends, so I said ‘no’. He seemed ok about that, but he got a bit quiet and was spending more time doing his own stuff.” Daisy spoke quickly, flushed and wished she had never started. “In the end I moved back out.”
“Daisy, you know none of that is normal, right?” Said Fran softly. “That’s not ‘normal men’ as in the men we go out with, you know that don’t you?”
“What do you mean? That’s just men, that’s why I’m not that fussed about having a boyfriend. I mean they ask you out, you say yes, and they have sex with you. That’s what happens, isn’t it? That’s what always happens. I mean, it is so tedious I don’t even remember most of the times.” Daisy could feel her face reddening as she felt so seen by her friends. She began to realise the truth of it, the truths she denied even to herself. That she never actually wanted any of those ‘relationships’ She never felt right about them, they were never people she wanted to be with, they wanted her and she went with them not really knowing what else to do. Probably more to fit in with what she thought everyone else was doing, to feel that someone wanted her, valued her for something even if it was just for… to be used for…
With the warmth of Ingrid’s hand on her arm, and Fran gently reaching out and putting an arm around her shoulders, Daisy began to cry. “I just wanted to fit in, it’s what everyone else was doing. One of the other girls told me I should go along with it, so I… so I wouldn’t be so… so boring. I knew it didn’t feel right, I knew it, but after the first few times I didn’t know how to… how to stop it happening. When they came onto me I just let them… It was like a game I was supposed to play, I just did what she told me I should do.” Daisy dried her tears. “I’m sorry. I’m a fool. It’s my own fault. If I… if I knew how to get a proper boyfriend when I was, you know, sixteen, like the other girls did after school, but I didn’t know how. It’s not that I didn’t like boys, I know you think I don’t, but I do, I just didn’t know how to like them that way, to make them want to be with me without wanting to… to…”
“Oh Daisy, I am so sorry all that happened to you, but it wasn’t, it isn’t your fault! None of that was your fault.” Fran gave Daisy’s shoulders a squeeze as Ingrid reached around and hugged Daisy tightly and cried with her.