14 Days by Helen Cormack – Joint 3rd Place Lockdown Short Story

Day 1

The door closes behind me. Silence.
A hallway leads into the room. I push open a door on my right – shower room.
I consider having a shower. It has been a long journey A shower, then bed?
The curtains in the room are drawn, a lamp burning beside the bed. The TV is fixed to the wall and a games console lies on the desk. Near the armchair is a table with half a dozen paperbacks.
I unzip my case. I didn’t expect to be away from home this long and my medication is running low.
I run the shower. As the room fills with steam, I get that light-headed feeling that is a prelude to jet-lag. I switch the water off and climb into bed.

Day 2

A knock at the door wakes me.
‘Breakfast,’ says a voice. ‘Wait 30 seconds and open the door. Lunch will be at 12.30.’
The tray is on the floor outside: fruit, cereal, yogurt and a roll. There is some milk, two teabags and a container of instant coffee.
I look at my phone. 8.30. What am I going to do? I shower and then eat. I turn on the TV. News footage about my flight and the coaches we travelled in.
‘Ninety-two passengers were conveyed to the centre by bus,’ says the reporter. ‘They will remain in isolation for fourteen days.’
‘Thank you, Jenny,’ says the anchor in the studio, ‘and now…’

Ninety-two? There were one hundred and twelve on the flight. Where are the rest? My heart quickens, my throat closes. Fourteen days isolation. I look out the window onto red brick. I open it and listen. A siren, coming closer. It stops. After ten minutes, it starts again.
I’m tired after the journey.
After lunch, a knock wakes me. A figure in a white body suit and mask.
‘Anything you need?’
‘Some of these tablets?’
‘Certainly.’ He writes the names and the dosage on a list.
‘Anything else?’
‘No,’ I say, ‘Can you update me? The TV says ninety-two people arrived here but there were more.’
‘You must know something…’
He backs away.
I try to read. I think about what I was doing a year ago today – burying Sue. I try to see her face. And then I’m crying, for might have been and this mess. This wasn’t my life plan. I had happy-ever-after with someone I adored, not left in isolation with a rampant infection what was, what outside.

Day 3

I watch the news with depressing figures of illness and death. The US President says the infection is minor. I shout at the set and feel better.
A sad-looking woman comes on. Her child has cystic fibrosis and panic buying has taken the sanitiser and wipes she uses.
‘What would you say, Anna, to people clearing the supermarket shelves?’ says the interviewer.
‘They’re selfish, stupid, arses,’ she says before the time delay mechanism kicks in to bleep her out.
‘And now back to the studio…’
‘Thank you, Julia. We apologise to viewers for the language used in that report.’
Good for you, Anna.
After lunch, the phone rings.
‘Would you like to go outside? We will collect you.’
The thought of fresh air is irresistible.
A suited figure waits in the corridor.
‘Right. Follow me. You can stay outside for an hour.’
The group asks questions of our escort: what has he heard; have others been outside; are other flights coming in?
It’s cool out. It’s a joy to be able to see this grey sky, early crocus and hear birdsong. On the distant slope is a stand of trees.
‘Fancy walking over there?’ asks a thin, man about my age.
‘Yes. Sure.’
‘I’m Jonathan Wells,’ he says, ‘I was on business when this kicked off.’
‘Martin Fraser. I was teaching in the international school.’
Jonathan is married with two boys. I can tell he misses them from the tone of his voice.
‘I didn’t want to go on this trip,’ he says, ‘And now, I’ve left Jenny on her own with the boys.’
‘There’s no one waiting for me.’
I don’t mention Sue and her long illness. One of the reasons I took the secondment was to make a new start.
My mind is mulling over our situation. If there were ninety-two brought in here and at least one ambulance has taken someone away, how many more will vanish?
‘Did you hear an ambulance yesterday?’ I ask.
‘No,’ he says, ‘but there were two this morning.’
Our numbers are now in the eighties.
‘It’s not bad,’ I tell my father later. ‘We went for a walk today.’

Day 6

Apart from the hour outside, we are within our four walls with only technology for company.
I feel lethargic today, my head aching. When we go out, Jonathan isn’t in the group. I ask our minder where he is.
‘Sorry. I don’t know.’
I count seven. There were ten yesterday. Who else is missing? An older woman and an Asian man. Later, the suited figure comes to take my daily test. I ask about them.
‘One or two people have tested positive.’

Day 8

My headache is worse. I open the door to two suited figures.
‘Could you come with us, please?’
‘Am I getting out?’
‘No. Your test result was positive. We’re taking you to a more secure facility.’
‘It’s just a headache. Some paracetamol and I’ll be fine.’
The ambulance waits at a side door. I notice a dark pustular rash on my arm.

Day 10

Headache. Hot. Thirsty. Eyes sore.
Something in my throat and mouth. Hot.
‘Sue? Love you.’

Day 14

‘Mr Fraser?’
‘Yes. Are you a friend of Martin’s?’
‘I’m Jonathan Wells. We met in the isolation facility. I think you could say we were friends. I am so sorry.’
Mr Fraser watches as the man walks down the path from the crematorium to join a young woman and two small boys.