We are now entering week five of lockdown here in the UK (at least I think it’s week five – it could actually be week four, or six, and I’d currently be none the wiser). The days and weeks are melting into one somewhat, and a sense of routine is becoming ever more important – especially for our children, who are used to the comforting rhythms of predictable bedtimes, school days, term times, weekends. We have zig-zagged a way into our own ‘new normal’ though, with weekdays defined by homeschool, PE with Joe and daily walks in the welcome April sunshine. My husband has begun working from home, appearing in the kitchen for an hour or so each morning to help with numeracy sessions while I shower, grateful for a reprieve from my high school nemesis – maths. My favourite part of the day falls between around 1030am and lunch, when I brew up morning coffee and sit by my youngest at the kitchen table, the day stretching out before us, the prospect of lunch and dirty dishes still distant on the horizon. I want to hold onto those moments in my head and heart always, the sight of him twirling his fingers through his hair as the morning sun falls in shafts through the patio windows, his older brother popping in every now and then to seek out help, or an ongoing supply of sustentance and snacks.
I enjoy the role of teacher, and know that I am fortunate. I know there are households where both parents have work to do, where gardens don’t exist, or where other tensions make the daily business of homeschool fraught with stress, anxiety and guilt. But I think it’s okay, too, to say that I am treasuring this time, that I am content, that I sometimes wish we could stay like this forever – albeit with the addition of seeing parents, siblings, friends, extended family. I think of the scene in Toy Story 3 where Andy’s Mum says ‘I wish I could always be with you’ and imagine myself feeling the same when things go back to the way they were before. Will I be ready to give up this new life we have created for ourselves when the time comes? Sometimes I wonder. Do any of us truly want to go back to exactly the same lives we had before?
On Thursday evenings, we go to our front door, clapping to show our support for NHS staff and other carers. One of our young neighbours plays the bagpipes, augmenting our applause to the tune of ‘Scotland the Brave’ as a hazy gold sun sets over the fields that lay beyond. I look to the homes of my neighbours, feeling a strange sort of emotion rise up in me, the result of the sort of collective assembly that makes us feel like we’re all finally part of something. Amidst this, we’ve grown closer to the lady who lives next door, walking her dog and doing her shopping each week, phoning to check on her, expanding our small unit of care to include her in our lives. These small acts of helping have undoubtedly done as much for us as they have for her these past weeks, and we’re unwilling to let go of them. This situation has offered us several gifts, I think. Not least of them is the understanding that our sense of family no longer begins and ends at our own front door.
Elsewhere in the week, in a little flurry of positivity, one of my short stories was published on a local website. It was a tale about a lost shoe, inspired by a lone pink stilleto I saw tied to the railings some months ago at the beach. In the story, the shoe is stolen by the sea, but one day returns, a sort of conduit to a promising love affair. If you follow here regularly, you’ll know I like to finish on a hopeful note – that inclination remains, it seems, in fictional stories too. I received lots of nice responses to the story (you can read it here, if you’re interested) – responses that made me feel that perhaps there might be an audience out there for the book I’ve written, about a Fae land, a girl, her Grandfather and this place I love, Caithness. That there are people out there like me who believe in things like love, and magic, and happy – or at least hopeful – endings. Because I think we all need more of that right now, perhaps, don’t we? Stories of happy endings and new beginnings, even if they are tied up in tales of romance, magic – and now and again, pink shoes.
And talking of pink, I’ll finish with a sunset I captured last week, while I was on my way back from an ordinary, allowable trip to the supermarket. The sky was alight with pink streaks, and I pulled over and got out for a moment, just to breathe it all in before I turned the final corner into home. I watched as the colours burned and then faded, melting away to the soft afterglow that often precedes the darkness.
And I got back in my car, knowing that the sun would rise again.
And that just like the lost shoe in my story, we were all finding our way home.