A Short Story
The old man slaps his car keys down on the kitchen table. It’s cold inside the house and he is tired. It’s been a long drive in heavy rain. He has to take a slash. His water works need fixing. That’s why he is here. Back in Canberra.
The mobile rings as he is zipping his fly. “H’lo,” he says loudly. It’s his eldest daughter on the line. The cranky one. Of course, it is not the youngest daughter. She doesn’t ring. She is too busy working in the old folks home. His son doesn’t ring much either. If the old man knew how to text, they might communicate more often.
“Hi, Dad. Where are you?” his daughter asks. “Canberra,” he says. “I just got back 10 minutes ago. It rained all the way. It was really coming down at Nelligen. I’ve never seen it like that before.” Nelligen is at the foot of the Clyde Mountain.
The drive between the south coast and Canberra is dangerous in the wet. The road snakes through rainforest ravines cloaked in heavy mist and water cascades across steep hairpin bends on its way to the Clyde River and Batemans Bay below. The vegetation keeps the mountain on the mountain but the summer bushfires burned much of that vegetation, and so the daughter wonders whether it has regenerated enough to keep the mountain from slipping off itself. She has a tendency to worry, the daughter.
She asks why he has returned and learns that he has a medical appointment at the hospital in a few days. “But aren’t you meant to quarantine for 14 days since you’ve come from a virus hotspot?” She is actually not sure of the latest restrictions. “I’m going for a corona virus test tomorrow,” he replies. She realises that a vital piece of information was omitted in the conversation. He fears another lecture coming on. “Dee was tested and the test came back negative,” he quickly adds.
“What the fuck?” She doesn’t know whether she actually says that or only thinks it. It had been less than two weeks since she had lectured the old man about the need to stay home, or wear a face mask if he needed to visit the supermarket, doctor, etc, and he had assured her that he never goes out. Turns out he and Dee had been at the Batemans Bay Soldiers Club, the same club responsible for a recent cluster of eight cases of Covid-19. However, there is, and was, no law against eating at the Soldiers Club.
Perhaps anticipating another lecture or some expression of concern for his health, the old man is quick to reassure that he feels no different to when he first went down the coast two weeks ago. He sounds breathless but that is not unusual for him. He has serious “underlying” health problems. He’s unlikely to survive Covid if he becomes infected and he knows it. She’s concerned. Of course she is, but she’s also frustrated. He re-directs by discussing the Channel 9 news coverage of the proposed unlawful Black Lives Matter protest. The protest deserves his fullest condemnation. At least, he thinks so. She listens but is not sympathetic given his apparent ignorance of the quarantine requirements that apply to him. Father and daughter seem to differ on everything these days. The protestors should abide by the law. So should he.
The daughter hangs up, does a quick internet search and calls him back to give him the phone number of the Covid-19 hotline. Apparently he and Dee are required to self-isolate for 14 days under ACT law because of his outing to the Soldiers Club on one of the relevant dates. He probably wouldn’t know the nitty gritty of those requirements though. He has no internet and no sense. Never has. Of course he failed to mention what instructions, if any, he had been given by contact tracers.
“I live like a hermit,” he says. “I don’t go out.” She raises an eyebrow and utters something uncomplimentary over the phone but he only hears what he wants to hear. “You had better call that Hotline and postpone your appointment tomorrow,” is her final rebuke.
After several trips to the loo due to the todger issues, the old man and his old lady, Dee, settle down for the evening. Reassuringly, or maybe not, they have everything they need for the time being. Probably broke quarantine and went to the supermarket on the way back to Canberra. He looks at his mobile phone. It is pretty crap. Who knows if an internet search is possible on that phone? It certainly wouldn’t be up to a video call from ICU even if the patient knew how to work that out.
If Gladys Berejiklian, the Premier of New South Wales, thinks her state is going to stop the spread of community transmission of Covid-19 by expecting old blokes with prostrate problems to queue for seven hours for a Covid test, then she has just as much sense as the old bloke in this story. It’s a slippery slope, a real slippery slope.
Image Credit: CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MSMI; Dan Higgins, MAMS