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.

Ragtag Daily Prompt – Design

Image Credit: CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MSMI; Dan Higgins, MAMS

50 thoughts on “The Returned

  1. “…the daughter wonders whether it has regenerated enough to keep the mounting from slipping off itself.” that’s a beautiful description…

    Really good story. 🙂

    I’m having my own issues with this right now. I’ve had to tell people whom I really WANT to see that they can’t come and visit me. One of them is angry at me because he wants to give me his old dog. I’d love to have the dog, but since he can’t (won’t?) drive here by himself from Colorado Springs but must bring a caravan (all people I want to see) that exponentially expands the risk for me, I had to say no. I had to say no, also, to my cousin and her daughter and grandson. I’m actually a little more than marginally irate that they even thought it was possible and put me in this spot. I have four strikes against me in the COVID risk list and they all know it. I want to live more than I want to see anyone, which should be obvious…

    I watched a chipmunk scurry for cover the other day out in the Big empty after I’d seen the hawk. I thought, “Even a 3 inch long animal KNOWS enough to run for cover.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It would have been a beautiful description if I had picked up that typo before publishing. But you knew what I meant. 🙂

      I find it very odd that there are many high risk people who quite enjoy their lives who are not really tuned into what’s needed to manage the mortality risk. Of course, there are also others who are not concerned about dying and therefore are rather careless when it comes to placing other people’s lives at risk. Still, it is difficult conversation to have with friends and family, isn’t it? I suppose there may be chipmunks that are quite casual about predators. They probably don’t live very long.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. What typo?

        I think a lot of people live with the “It can’t happen to me” mentality. I’ve had to set boundaries and enforce them. I don’t think anyone likes to do that. Maybe some people think that the path of least resistance is the best path. I don’t know. I just had to do it again — a friend wants to visit me on Thursday and have tea. I had to lay out the rules. Yes, but, we’ll hang out on my deck. She’s had the virus.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Around here, it gets turned into a political battle, not something I want to encourage. So we are careful choosing those to converse with. In my opinion, health should not be political but where I live, even that statement could cause a fight – or at least a volley of hateful epithets.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I think many of us in NSW and the ACT are feeling very unsafe at the moment, Vanda. Definitely a warning about complacency.
      Also, if I was a business operator I think I would prefer to shut down or curtail business activities sooner rather than a longer, harsher shutdown in a months time if it gets away.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. When we had the three week total lockdown after the outbreak around Burnie nearly all stores were closed except for essentials. Bunnings was closed, The Reject Shop, K Mart and all those sorts of stores in the affected area. I’m surprised that was not done in the Melbourne hot spots.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It surprised me too, Vanda. Bunning seems to have done a roaring trade during the pandemic. I’ve been once or twice and was horrified at the lack of courtesy shown in keeping an appropriate distance. Can you imagine what it will be like in spring.
        Ditto some of those other places. I imagine op shops will be very popular too.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I dread the numbers announcement in the morning, Linda. I hope for everyone’s sake that the numbers begin to turn down soon. In NSW and ACT we have to do the hard work with you, otherwise it will not end well. I saw that footage. How obnoxious. She planned and filmed those confrontations and got a lot of free publicity. It makes my stomach turn.

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  2. This “second wave” or whatever they’re not calling it… it freaks me out a lot more than the first wave. This morning, on enquiring at the vet about puppy’s diarrhea, I was told “Go to Safeway and get a roasted chicken.” My first thought was “OMG. You’re from Victoria! Should I step back a bit further?” Blurgh! But look, the suspicion, in russet mantle clad, Walks o’er the principles of yon high and mighty maiden!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That would be quite a distance to travel for chicken! I’m not sure they would let you back in the state. You made me smile. So thank you.
      It freaks me out too. We are all on tenterhooks and a little paranoia is acceptable at this point in time.
      Hope puppy gets better soon. My boy dog refuses to go outside for a pit stop. However, it makes all the difference if we put the lead on him and take him out to wee on every tree in the street. :O

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      1. Maybe it is. My memory is terrible. I can’t think how or why I would have seen your blog but maybe it was only last year. The vagueness of my recall makes it seem like sooo long ago. I can’t even remember if I read it online. I guess I must have if you haven’t published it anywhere else.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Corvid-19 is so challenging! New information on Corvid-19 is like peeling an onion a layer at a time with some tears along the way. At first it was thought that children did not spread the virus but a recent test of a young infant in a hospital united discovered that he had the virus but no Corvid-19 symptoms. The unit was cleaned and all those who had contact with the infant went into 14 days of isolation. An infant with Corvid-19 raises many questions about how the virus spreads.
    Tracy, I enjoyed your narrative. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Sid. I expect we will be finding out more about this virus, its transmission and short and long term affects for some time yet. I used to work with people who detested “the precautionary principle” but I’ve always been rather fond of the concept – the old “better safe than sorry.”
      Everyone is very interested to know whether small children might spread the vIrus, particularly as there is evidence emerging that they can have a high virus load but apparently not be symptomatic. I suspect very small children may have difficulty communicating that they feel unwell. But what would I know!
      As someone who got Type 1 diabetes shortly after having the measles, it interests me what the long term studies will come up with.

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  4. Family relationships, especially when trying to care for an elderly relative, can be difficult enough even without a pesky pandemic. I could relate to this story more than you’ll ever know! All we can do is keep repeating the rules and try our best to keep them safe.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is really good Tracy. I’m feeling very fortunate that my parents are being so sensible and cautious. It’s incredibly hard for my mum who lives alone, and recently managed to mangle her leg a bit, but she is definitely made in the “better safe than sorry” mould, and I’m calling her incessantly to make sure she’s ok.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I hope the rest of the family is keeping in contact with your mum too, Su. It’s so worrying. I bet your mum appreciates hearing from you.
      As far as one of my parents goes, he will be fine until his luck runs out. I only hope he doesn’t kill someone else in the process.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. One of my brothers and his son live nearby and I think they are pretty good. The other brother has his own issues to deal with! Mum has a strong church community and was a volunteer with Age Concern so has support from people in both of those groups. It’s not the same though.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Ah, yes, the COVID stories. Have you thought about submitting? I’m sure you could find some if you’re keen on it. I can’t believe you wrote it in 3rd person too. Audacious! The voice of God! 😛

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Really good short story, Tracy – and I should know since I’m currently reading some written by the master (“If it bleeds” by Stephen King). The 2nd wave will soon be fully upon us I fear, and it will be much worse than the first. I met with a friend last Thursday and she kept nagging me if we couldn’t hug and got very disappointed when I refused. Sure it feels weird and wrong but in fact it isn’t so why has everybody such trouble with it?!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, you’ve just said what I said when I responded to your comment on another post. 🙂
      Take care, Sarah. Hopefully, by not hugging we will live to hug another day, including the oldies. I am buoyed by the prospects of a vaccine. If people could just be patient (as opposed to being a patient).

      Liked by 1 person

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