• Ali Millar

Before the Flood

It was a slow drip, to begin with. It didn't seem to matter too much, it was far away. We're used to disaster porn, we're used to other people being the spectacle. When was it we started to listen, was it when it spread like wildfire through China, was it when we started to hear more about death rates than recovery rates, was it when it travelled to Italy, did we pay more attention when it started to restrict us?


COVID-19 whispered, it roared, it deafens.


The streets are emptier than usual. Shop shelves bare, sold out of strange things, Frozen themed pencils and white bread, Easter eggs and paint, hoarders can't be choosers.


I don't like it.


The newsagent is optimistic, he'll stay open as long as they keep printing the papers, he wheezes as he pushes my change to me. The past few months we've swapped stories about our lungs. His are bad, mine too, I gave my wheeze to my sons along with my iron deficient blood. We catch every cold going. Come Thursday they'll have us locked away, he says.


I don't like it.


I don't want to tell my kids how long 12 weeks is, not when five minutes is forever. What units do I break it down into - days, minutes, Fifa matches?


I walk home and try to still my mind by listening to the birds that are always there, that will always be there. I try to notice the cherry tree. I do not want shut away from this. I do not want empty streets, or shops. I like the economy. I like stability. I like walking. I like breathing.


Years ago, life was upside down, I am not good when it flips again. I was raised on a diet of end of days images, not just a kid of the Cold War but also of a fundamentalist religion. Growing up I didn't so much think as know this was going to happen. And then the end would come.


I do not want the end to come.


When I left the religion, I knew no one, I pretty much spent a year in isolation. The city seemed empty and full at the same time, I lived in fear the end was real. Every earthquake, every financial blip, every seasonal flu, every conflict, I thought it was the end.


I have undone it all, as much as the past can ever be unraveled, as much as triggers can not be pressed. This brings it back, not the virus as such, but the empty shelves, the headlines, the impeding doom.


I realise, I am mourning the life I made. The life of too weeks ago, the virus isn't airborne but the mourning seems to be. Everyone looks heavy, we all know something's ending, something else beginning, we just don't know what.


We want our jobs, our economy, our ease of travel, our kids' schools to stay open so we only have six weeks childcare to figure out. We want it to be several yesterdays. I don't want to explain to my sons why people are wearing masks, I don't want my eldest to be worried about her GCSEs or my three year old to be five my the time this resolves.


Maybe I'm selfish. Maybe I'm normal.


Tonight my 14 year old stood in the kitchen helping me pack for tomorrow when we will move to London, to the centre the disease, and she said to me, we are changed mum, we just don't know how yet. And I liked that, we are changed, we just don't know how.

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