‘OH, I think it’s marvellous!’ said Mrs Mountjoy enthusiastically. She was terribly enthusiastic from two metres away in case Mrs Peters, formerly one to distribute her strep throat, flu, common cold and anything else around the WI, Book Club and Supper Club, should suddenly decide to infect her with coronavirus.
Mrs Mountjoy’s floral face mask wiggled, and Mrs Peters guessed her emotional state from the way the elastic moved over the other woman’s ears. A slight tremor meant normal conversation, while the elastic straining to break free meant Mrs Mountjoy was livid or passionate, though which was hard to fathom.
Right now, the mask was bulging at the sides and anything could have got in. Mrs Mountjoy popped her shopping bag down on the dirty pavement and adjusted her super-sterile dressing with hands that had just touched everything in her known universe.
Thank goodness Mrs Peters was over there and not here putting her life at risk. Nestling in the shopping bag was Mrs Mountjoy’s bottle of lemon gin: one needed a little lift to get through the day, didn’t one? The chocolate biscuits, fresh from the factory, were tucked in next to the cod liver oil capsules because health was so very important these days.
‘What’s marvellous?’ asked Mrs Peters from behind her plain blue fabric mouth covering. Really, if she had known she would meet Annabelle on the High Street she would have nipped online and bought something similar and upwardly mobile.
‘The way everyone rallied round in lockdown!’ trilled tubby Mrs Mountjoy.
Which one? thought Mrs Peters.
‘Oh yes,’ she muttered, then realised Mrs M could not hear or see the subtle expressions. ‘Yes!’ she yelled and waggled her eyebrows and opened and closed her eyes to suggest she had a clue. I should try semaphore one day, she thought. What was Hands, Face, Space in flags?
Mrs Peters wondered what Mrs M was going on about. As far as she knew Mrs M had done SFA to help anyone. It was a wonder she hadn’t made the milkman – still working – dip his wellies in disinfectant before trolling up the path to her vast abode.
In fact, every time the government had a mass panic and locked everyone in at home Mrs M was the first to vanish from the vibrant social scene of Upper Soddem and go into hibernation. So intense was her fear that even her weekly emails to the ladies of Soddem Social Club had taken a funereal turn, talking of death and bewailing the crisis.
Having a relative – her husband’s long-neglected father – in a very expensive care home (My dear, we simply haven’t the room!) gave her extra Brownie points in her diatribe of assumed concern. The fact that they hadn’t visited Roger for six months before last bloody March was not the issue.
‘He is wasting away . . .’ wailed Mrs M in her texts, and Mrs P wondered if the old boy had found the sense to give up while the going was good. Sometimes she wished she had.
She was yanked from her reverie by Mrs M still going on and on.
‘And Julie at the Post Office was nipping to the Aldi for people who couldn’t get out.’
Couldn’t or weren’t allowed? mused Mrs P in heretical mode. Mm, she thought. Julie, in her long hours job, hoping the till balanced this time, with a clapped-out car, running around like a berk while you two sat there and rotted.
‘She was,’ said Mrs P neutrally and waited for more.
‘So good to see a real community spirit. Of course, I had my first jab last week!’ trilled Mrs M.
Shall we put the bunting out? thought Mrs P. Would you be so keen to announce the arrival of your haemorrhoid cream? Mrs P listened to local gossip too.
‘Next one soon!’
‘Great,’ said Mrs P, bouncing her mask up and down to indicate delight. Or anger? Or was it something else? She had no idea now.
‘And you?’ inquired Mrs M, wanting something to gossip about over the lonely dinner table; really, Arnold could be dull at times. Mrs M needed to maintain her credentials with other members of her long -term, socio-economic tribe of choice.
‘Any day now,’ lied Mrs P, who got her information from other sources than the BBC and was worried.
‘We all have to do our bit!’ yelled Mrs M, gathering her shopping. ‘It has been hard though,’ she said heartily, consoling herself with the knowledge that in her case it wasn’t. ‘Variety is the spice of life, they say!’ She laughed heartily and moved off.
Yes, thought Mrs P, and how.
‘See you June 21st!’ Mrs M’s fat arm waved and she was off up the hill back to Dunthinkin.
‘You think,’ muttered Mrs P, gathering her wits, a rare commodity in Upper Soddem, and making her way home. ‘Wait until the bloody variants do arrive. You’ll probably starve to death.’ And with this delightful thought, Mrs P went home to the letter from the NHS Trust lamenting the delay in treating her cancer.