Tales of the Pandemic - Winners Announced
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About Jessica Pritchard
Author bio here
“I have a birth plan for you,” Bree said.
I wasn’t surprised – Bree was already making jams and preserves in case the supermarkets ran out of food. Toilet paper was hard to find, but damn it we would have kumquat marmalade on our toast.
“If you can’t go to the hospital, then Jack will sterilise the bath. Tom will be your emotional support, and I can deliver the baby.” Bree is a lawyer, but seemed the most qualified of the three.
I was a third of the way pregnant, and the pandemic had just begun.
The home we bought wasn’t ready, so we moved in with Tom’s brother Jack and his mastermind wife, Bree. We had no idea what was going on, or how apocalyptic it might get. So I was glad to have a kind-of joke-but-maybe-not emergency birth plan.
This was the first lockdown. The one where everyone was making sourdough, watching Tiger King, and ‘in it together’. The four of us were lucky enough to keep our jobs and found our corners in the house to work from. I mostly sat outside and watched the golden leaves fall.
Living with our family felt like being at camp (with a lot more News running in the background).
When Easter came, Bree made an evening Easter egg hunt by candlelight through their house. Four grown-ups looking for chocolate in the dark while some kind of circus music played. She also made a Sunday Devonshire tea with her best china. She made things special.
I walked the same path everyday with exposed roots and loose stones, talking to the baby and trying not to slip.
∗ ∗ ∗
When the first lockdown lifted, Tom and I moved into our cottage by the creek. It felt like we were emerging from a fever dream.
As my maternity leave began, the second lockdown was announced that same day. We had one last meal out and the waitress had tears in her eyes – she had been so happy to be back.
In the absence of work, and a late-arrival baby, I found an abundance of alone-time. I read novels, wrote poems, and walked the same daily trail, gradually expanding.
Once, at the 40-week mark, I bumped into a stranger who asked me how I was – with a sincerity that caught me off guard. I burst into tears. When was the last time I had spoken to a stranger? I never knew how much I would miss it.
I had recurring dreams of bustling markets.
∗ ∗ ∗
In the end, we didn’t need Bree’s emergency birth plan. I was able to go to the hospital, but we were in the heart of our strictest restrictions to date.
Behind their masks, the midwives were telling me I was doing great; there was something wrong; they needed the doctor to come look.
I could only see Tom’s eyes widen over his mask as he was asked to push the emergency button and my bed was flung backwards.
Our baby Ella was born, and behind the mask, the doctor was telling me I should get a C-section next time.
Tom and I ate Vegemite toast on white bread and it was somehow the best meal I had ever tasted. I got to see his smile.
After we visited our baby in special care, Tom had to leave. I was wheeled into my room without my baby or my husband, and asked to wear a mask when the nurses came in. I had not seen so many people in months, and I had never felt more alone.
Tom wasn’t allowed back until 5pm the next day. The hours stretched as I held my new baby, and wondered what world she was coming into. I tried to find the smiles in the nurses’ eyes.
When 5pm came, Tom was only allowed to stay for two hours, and it felt like twenty minutes. We were sent home the next night, even though the nurses said they would usually keep us in longer.
“Covid,” they explained. No further words needed.
∗ ∗ ∗
Ella was one week old, with a full head of dark hair and grey-blue eyes. The winter storms had caused another power outage in our house.
We were huddled by the fireplace and changed her by candlelight. We still had no idea what we were doing, but thought it was important to keep the baby warm. When we got word that the water was contaminated, we had to laugh (and curse our electric stove). As we went out to get bottled water, we realised we couldn’t – the 8pm curfew.
Later we realised our firewood was treated pine which gave Tom high levels of arsenic in his blood from tending to it night after night.
Still, from that time, my journals are filled with tiny moments of wonder. The first burst of wattle, the books the library had sent me, and the newborn baby cuddles. I was stubborn in my pursuit of joy.
When Ella first got to see the world out of lockdown, I took her to a market. I watched her take in all the different people, and listen to live music. I watched her little feet move. I wanted to hug everyone there, but I settled on jovial hello’s. I cried when I bought a secondhand book.
Ella was about 10 months old and we were back in lockdown. After several short stints throughout the year, this one was longer. It took me by surprise.
I was bored, but in a way that felt nostalgic. I couldn’t remember the last time I was bored like this. We threw tennis balls at the wall. We followed crows around in circles. We hunted down any green patch of land in our 5km radius.
I left a fairy statue in an old tree stump behind our house, and every so often the fairy was moved by a stranger, or wild flowers were placed next to her. This invisible interaction made me believe in some kind of community that I could return to one day.
We had rituals. Every night Ella and I walked across the road to inhale the jasmine flowers. We said hello to the birch tree on our daily walk and skipped over the little wooden bridge. I told her about waterfalls, cities, and the ocean, and promised that I would take her to all those places one day.
When the last lockdown lifted, I took Ella to the city. We trailed our fingers through the water wall at the NGV, walked though the twisting alleyways, and watched Gog and Magog chime their bells. Ella gazed in wonder at the giant Christmas trees and shiny baubles, and the children jumping up and down the steps.
I talked to strangers with an unexpected ease, and I could see we were all hungry for it. Those small comments about the weather, about our children, about the holidays. I had never been a fan of small talk, but now I delighted in every bit of it. You could have talked to me about finding a car park, and I would have been enraptured.
I knew it wasn’t as simple as being ‘back to normal’. The last two years had only emphasised that the future is always uncertain. The joy came from the deep appreciation of things that can be taken away in an instant.
I don’t know how long this magic spell of appreciation will last. I’ve learnt that we humans are quite an adaptable bunch. We can adapt to hard times, and we can adapt to the good too. I hope to stay in the wonder. So I have decided to relish in each shared meal and every smile from a stranger. I hug my friends a little longer, I dance a little when I op-shop, and in the summer I showed my daughter how to splash in the sea.
About Maria B. Joseph
Author bio here
“I have a birth plan for you,” Bree said.
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