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December 10, 2020

A Curmudgeon and the Bug

The winning story from our 2020 writing competition entitled "Alone in the time of Covid-19," this story by Roy Innes brings you inside the life of an elderly gentleman facing social isolation and doing battle with unfamiliar technology.

I shouldn’t bitch. I’m not truly alone in this cursed pandemic thing, but after seven months of just me and the wife for most of our waking hours, I might as well be. If one definition of loneliness is the desire for human contact, then I’m lonely. The wife is of little help.

Reasons for this? Foremost is the absolute ruination of my social life. Not that I have much of a social life but it’s important to me. Morning coffee klatch at the local bistro with the “boys” (all over seventy), lingering at the Co-op, the lumberyard, the library; button-holing acquaintances, friends—all now a bust. The bistro is take-out only; the library’s closed; the commercial establishments are a nightmare of stay-apart markings and an atmosphere of hurry up, keep the line moving. Get-togethers with friends, dinners, parties—all on hold.

And the wife? We’ve been married for fifty plus years so there isn’t a lot of “new” in our relationship. I read somewhere that the longer couples are married, the more alike they become; melded into a single entity so to speak; like living with yourself. What’s the point of discussion when you know exactly what the other person is thinking? Arguments? Why bother. I’m never going to get her to change her mind and I’m sure she feels the same about me. She has always tuned out negativity and since negativity dominates my time-of-covid comments, I might as well be talking to myself. This in itself is worrisome. With so much unfilled time, I’ve been doing a lot of that lately—talking to myself, that is. Stream of consciousness paid off for James Joyce but it raises hell with me. The oddest images flick in and out of my mind.

And, I’m deaf, or in the modern parlance: hearing impaired.  Face to face I get along not too badly. Lip-reading helps to a degree and I’ve become a pro at faking. This wearing a mask protocol buggers up both—I can’t see lips to read and there must be some light in my eyes that goes out when I miss part of a conversation, more obvious now when my eyes are the only part of my face people can see. I’ve come to avoid human contact because of this.

I’m useless on the telephone. Not so for my wife, of course. She natters away with friends by the hour on the damned thing. Keeps up. “Girl stuff” she says when I ask her about it; retaliation no doubt for the similar lack of information from me in the era of my pre-covid coffee mornings.

My daughter back east gave communication a valiant try by using something called Zoom. What a god-awful misnomer. My wife is not a computer whiz to say the least and so getting the bloody thing to work was a painful experience for both of us; she, phone clamped on her shoulder trying to follow instructions, and me, helpless. Zoom, indeed. But it was nice to see daughter’s face and watch her lips move.  In the corner of the screen, however, was an inset that showed a very old, bald man. He’s the same one I see every morning in the shaving mirror, but somehow on the computer screen it bothered me—like the troll under the bridge; an old troll. Not looking forward to a repeat.

I used to complain that there weren’t enough hours in a day. Life seemed so full. But now everything drags. I’ve lost interest in reading. My favourite genre, crime fiction, has taken on a boring sameness—plots, characters, settings—a feeling that I’ve read it all before. Sporting events make up any TV interest I have and those have been gutted by this knobby bug. The highlight of my day is essentially lunch followed by a one-hour nap. Whoopee!

I’ve struggled to bring myself out of this depressed state, but to no avail…until an image pushed its way through my mental mire, triggered by a sound—the rumble of a Harley going by, so loud it broke through my deafness.

And there it was, clear as day: a vision of myself riding a motorcycle, not a Harley but a classic, a Norton or a BSA, leather helmet, goggles, clean, covid-free air rushing by, firm hand on the throttle, cool waves to fellow riders. Community. Yessss! Mood skyrocketing. Finally, something bright and positive to discuss with the wife.

“A motorcycle!! Are you out of your mind?”

Well, that’s a bonus. She’s excited too.

Covid can be beaten.

By Roy Innes

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