I never go anywhere, and I wash my hands a lot. Social distancing is a guiding principle of my existence. When it comes to adjusting my behaviour in line with the latest medical advice, I haven’t left myself much room. I was already doing all I could.
Because it comes naturally to me, I also find it hard to give advice about self-isolation. People say: how do you cope with the loneliness of working from home? I think: what are you talking about? They ask: do I have to get dressed, or what? I say: you’re missing the point; your whole day is one long, disgusting secret. Nobody has to know.
“Well, that was a shit-show,” my wife says, coming into the kitchen with two bags of shopping.
“Was it?” I say.
“There were huge queues at Morrisons,” she says. “People pushing and shoving. I had to abandon my trolley and walk out.”
“Wow!” I say. I think: I walked out of Morrisons three months ago, when it wasn’t even that crowded.
“I had to go to another supermarket,” she says. “It’s like the End Of Days out there.”
“Did you get celeriac?” I say.
“Yes,” she says. “Nobody was panic-buying celeriac.”
After lunch, the sky darkens and it begins to rain. My wife decides she wants to close the curtains and watch a film on TV. Halfway through, the youngest one walks in.
“You’re watching Contagion?” he says. “Why are you doing that to yourselves?”
“It’s meant to be prescient,” my wife says.
“I know,” he says. “I’ve seen it.”
“It’s spot on,” I say. “Although ‘starring Gwyneth Paltrow’ is a bit of an exaggeration.”
“It’s making me paranoid,” my wife says.
“She turns blue eight minutes in,” I say.
My phone rings: a FaceTime call from the United States. I hold the phone at arm’s length. My brother appears in the middle of the screen. Next to him is the middle one, who went to America a month ago. One of my brother’s four-year-old twins is sitting on his lap. The other one’s head looms hugely into the frame sideways.
“I’m John,” the head says.
“Hi John,” I say.
“So, yeah, we’re just here,” my brother says.
“We’re watching Contagion!” my wife shouts.
“Timely,” my brother says.
“Yeah,” I say, “but if you were a massive Gwyneth Paltrow fan, you’d be like…”
“Hello,” the youngest one says, appearing at my side.
“Hey,” the middle one says.
“I was out with people from your old work last week,” the youngest one says.
“Which people?” the middle one says.
“I took these guys out of school on Monday,” my brother says.
“Really?” I say.
“Some red-haired dude,” the youngest one says.
“Then on Friday, they closed the school,” my brother says. My 99-year old father walks into the room. The camera lens swivels to his crotch.
“Pan up!” I shout.
“Who’s that?” my father says.
“It’s your son,” my brother says. A twin’s face appears, upside down, then vanishes.
“Are you panic-buying?” I say. His answer is drowned out by laughter, and crying, and the sound of bodies hitting the floor. It’s clear that the action is happening off-screen.
“What’s going on?” I say. The camera spins to face the middle one.
“Fighting,” he says.
“There’s no football,” I say.
“I know,” the middle one says. My brother reappears at his side.
“So it turns out they can’t even do the test at the local hospital,” he says. “They don’t have the facilities.”
“Huh,” I say.
“No licking!” my brother shouts. “Licking gets sent upstairs!”
When the call ends, I return my attention to the TV. A flashback sequence shows people in a nightspot; at intervals, the camera zooms to emphasise the handling of glassware and cutlery. I think: this is what we’ll remember. People going out and touching stuff and getting ill. And deserving it, the celeriac-eating bastards.
“You’d be like, she’s barely in it! I want my money back!” I say.
“Shut up,” my wife says.