Unmasked

After months of indecision and confusion from our leaders we are finally wearing facemasks – a bit. On public transport and for customers in shops it’s official, though without much hope of enforcement. Staying at home as a full time carer, the only shop I have been to is the tiny Boots’ pharmacy attached to our doctors’ surgery. Actually lots of people aren’t going to real shops; busy working couples who have been doing on line shopping for years and the ‘vulnerable’ who have discovered on line shopping and don’t trust anything the government says.

At our little chemist the staff have always worn masks and only let one person in at a time, so it feels safe, with the added benefit of privacy for discussing personal medical stuff. But I miss the jolly days crammed in with bored toddlers and having a joke with bored adults as we all waited and wondered who would hit the jackpot and get their prescription next or at all. And of course listening in to other people’s strange medical problems or listening in to the medical problems of strange people…

In Covid times we wait outside, not too many people, but with plenty of opportunity for confusion. You may think someone is pushing in, but they are making their way to the outer door of the surgery to ring the bell and report to the all powerful receptionist, who tells them to wait outside until summoned on their mobile phone; leaving them with the dilemma of which queue to stand in. The rest of us are either queueing to go in to the pharmacy or have already been in but have to wait for our prescriptions.

On my first visit with official mask wearing I got a tickly cough ( NOT a Covid cough ) as soon as I got inside – what to do? Rip off mask and take a sip out of my water bottle? NO, not allowed to touch mask let alone remove it.

One of the regular staff is always friendly and helpful, but a good while ago he was away and when he came back had lost his voice, reduced to a whisper, that was okay without a mask… I had no idea if he could hear my mask voice properly; I was there to collect new prescriptions, with either no idea what they were called or how to pronounce them and also to explain that as we were having a regular medicine in liquid form could we cancel the repeat prescription for the capsules… He checked the computer screen and the bag of medicines and the forms, but he may as well have been speaking in Martian. I understood only his last whispered words Address, post code – for a moment I thought the mask would make me forget my own address, but I managed that bit and just hoped what was in the heavy bag was all the correct stuff.

As I was leaving I did feel, in my stuffy mask, on a hot day, looking forward to taking it off as soon as I got round the corner…  I did feel at last I was part of the Covid Community.

As I was leaving, another staff member came out to give a lady her prescription and asked her address, the woman instinctively pulled down her mask to say her address…

Sunday Short Story 720 – The Queue

The ringing startled Cassie, nobody ever called her on the landline, few people called her mobile either. She was tempted to ignore it, but the sound penetrated the calm of her little house.
‘Hello Dear, it’s Doris.’
Cassie was slow to react.
‘Doris next door.’
‘Oh, of course…’
In a rare moment of neighbourliness, when Cassie moved in a year ago, she had given the old lady next door her number, just in case…
‘You said to call if there was an emergency.’
Had she really said that? Cassie pictured Doris lying on the floor with a broken hip. That would be the end of her pleasant Day One working from home.
‘Yes, yes of course, what happened?’
‘Nothing yet, but I can’t get out to collect my prescriptions. Boris said I had to stay indoors with my lungs.’
‘Well we all do…’
‘Yes, but you’re not vulnerable dear, you could cycle down to the chemist.’
Relief that she would not have to apply first aid lifted Cassie’s spirits, she brightened her voice to what she hoped was a caring tone.
‘Of course, I’m going out anyway for my one permitted exercise of the day.’

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Self isolation was what Cassie practised most of the time, why she had moved to that quiet road, but neither did she want to be stuck indoors all the time. As she turned her bike into the high street, what looked like a new Antony Gormley art installation filled the pavement outside several shops. Suddenly every figure moved two paces, perhaps it was a flash mob; she waited for them to break into song and dance. She wheeled her bike a few inches towards a woman now rooted firmly to the spot. The woman backed away a few inches.
‘Excuse me, what’s going on?’
‘Queue for the chemist, one out, one in.’
‘Oh god, how long have you been here?’
‘Thirty minutes, you’d better get to the end of the queue.’
Cassie padlocked her bike and took up position outside the closed card and gift shop. The woman six feet in front of her turned and smiled. Cassie groaned inwardly, not one of those who liked to chat…
‘Nice day for it, I was here yesterday, but I don’t mind standing out in the sunshine; it’s for my dad, didn’t have all his meds yesterday. He’s got OCD, or is it COPD and diabetes, you wouldn’t believe how many different tablets he takes… he had a funny turn yesterday and I was worried it was the Coronavirus, but he didn’t have a temperature, at least I don’t think he did, we couldn’t find a thermometer…’
‘Oh well it must be…’
Cassie glanced up ahead, four more shops before she was even near the chemist. She glanced behind and noted three more people hovering. One chap looked vaguely familiar.
‘Is this the queue for…
‘The chemist.’
‘Ahh, not how I planned to spend my first day working from home.’
‘Me neither, it’s not for me, the old lady next door.’

‘Same here, shoot me if I ever end up collecting a bag of medicines every week.’
Cassie laughed, someone with the same sense of humour. ‘Let’s hope we have nice neighbours if we get like that.’
‘Well the old lady isn’t exactly a neighbour, it’s my mother, I live with her.’
Oh no, a chap in his forties who still lived with his mother, not what she needed. Well standing two yards away from a bloke hardly rated as being chatted up, though even at that distance she had noted his piercing blue eyes. She realised he was still talking.
‘I know, sounds a bit sad, you get divorced and instead of freedom your sister expects you to take your turn at responsibility, it didn’t help getting transferred here… speaking of which, I’m sure you look familiar, you don’t work for MPJ as well do you?’
She could say no, but then if she bumped into him at work… if they ever went back to work, how long was this virus thing going to last, would her job even survive. He was still talking.
‘So we can hardly go out for a drink with everything closed, but it might get lonely working at home, perhaps we could link up on line.’
‘Okay, I’m Cassie…