Tuesday, March 17, 2020
As We Know It - Chapters 1 and 2
“I think they’re in the drawer”
“Well that’s bloody helpful, isn’t it? Which drawer? It’s pitch black in here and... OW! I’ve just stubbed my bloody toe.”
Sarah struck a match and re-lit one of the 49 candles that were currently adorning their living room. She lit another, and another, and then another; gently shaking the match dead before it could scorch her fingertips. Using the first candle as a light, she began to bring the rest of the flames back to life.
Hamish stood by the doorway, leaning against the back of the sofa rubbing his foot with one hand.
“What was that?” asked Sarah.
Hamish said nothing.
“One minute the candles are all lit and then suddenly ‘WHOOMPF’ and it’s total darkness.”
Hamish stared at her.
“The power’s gone out too. How bizarre. I didn’t feel any wind at all, though - did you? Just that ‘WHOOMPF’ noise and then blackness.”
Hamish remained still and silent.
“Oh Hamish for goodness’ sake say something.”
He shifted his weight and put his stubbed foot back on the floor. “What would you like me to say?”
“Oh, I don’t know...” There was a silence, broken only by the soft tread of Sarah’s slipper socks on the carpet and the puttering of 17, going on 18, flames. “Did you hear the ‘WHOOMPF’ sound?”
He hesitated, all the words in his head gone dormant; an untimely game of vocabulary sleeping lions. “I don’t know Sarah, I might have heard the WHOOMPF but I can’t be sure it wasn’t just the sound of my heart breaking.”
“Don’t be so melodramatic, Hamish...”
“Melodramatic...?” He started, but was interrupted by a small figure in wellington boots and a mauve coat shuffling into the lounge.
“Hello dears, it’s only me. So the power’s gone out here too, has it? Gosh, you’ve managed to get these candles out quick haven’t you?”
“Hello Mrs Shoe,” Said Sarah warmly, happy for any distraction from the conversation currently billowing across the lounge. “Has the power gone out on the whole street then?”
“I think ‘whole street’ is a bit of an exaggeration for a lane with the two of us on it, but yes - we’re both out. Strangest thing, though, my fire went out too. And my Tamagotchi died.”
“You have a Tamagotchi?” Asked Hamish, momentarily distracted.
“Well, I did have,” said Mrs Shoe, “It was a great source of comfort to me after Colin died. A little panda he is, but he seems to have gone.”
Sarah stared at the tiny old woman in front of her and tried not to laugh out loud at the idea of her sitting in front of Coronation Street with only an electronic panda for company. How many people would imagine on their wedding day that after 48 years of marriage they could be replaced with a bunch of pixels. Extraordinary. She glanced over at Hamish; he looked upset. Who could blame him? She wondered briefly whether it could have been her sheer overwhelming panic that blew the street - it had certainly felt that way. The look in his eyes, with all those candles covering the room. All she remembered thinking clearly was, ‘I hope he’s put coasters under those’. Of course, he hadn’t. There would be an awful lot of wax to chip off tomorrow. Perhaps she wouldn’t have to do it though. Today felt oddly final. She tried to ignore the bizarre kernel of realisation wriggling for attention beneath her more pressing thoughts.
“Fantastic thing really because it’s small enough to take anywhere and it has a whole range of emotions. Used to get terribly cross if I didn’t clear up its messes in a timely manner. Strange though, because I always thought pandas only ate bamboo but this one seemed to like pizza too. I suppose there’s nothing to say pandas wouldn’t like pizza in the wild. I suppose they just don’t get the chance very often. Who would think to give pizza to a panda?”
“I’ll go and check the fuse box.” Hamish left the room abruptly and left Sarah and Mrs Shoe to watch the dancing lights of the 34 lit candles.
“Bad time?” Asked Mrs Shoe.
‘Perceptive old bat.’ Thought Sarah, hastily supplying her mouth with a more appropriate response, “No, no not at all - we were just a little caught off guard by the power cut, that’s all. It’s very strange isn’t it?”
“At least you didn’t lose your best friend. I’m sort of glad it’s over.”
“Well, it is, isn’t it?”
Sarah felt like they were both skirting around the same feeling, the feeling that perhaps… but it was too ridiculous to say out loud. She opened her mouth to speak but was saved the effort of trying to comfort a 74 year old woman over the loss of her electronic panda, by Hamish re-entering the room.
“It’s just all dead. It’s like there’s no power coming into the house at all. Must be a blow out at the power station or a cut cable or... something. Not much we can do about it now. Might as well go to bed.” He didn’t take his eyes off Sarah, who flushed uncomfortably under his gaze and ran her finger absent mindedly through the nearest flame.
“Don’t do that, dear,” said Mrs Shoe, breaking the silence “There’s nothing less attractive than the smell of singed knuckle hair on a woman.” Sarah ceased immediately, this evening was going to be hard enough to get over as it was, without Hamish leaving her for someone with flawless fingers.
“Would you like to stay with us tonight, Mrs Shoe? We’ve got a bed set up in the spare room. It’s no bother.” She knew her offer sounded lame but suddenly all the energy in her body was somewhere else, melted away with the wax that was weeping on to her precious oak dresser. What did it matter?
“Thank you dear, but it’s alright. I’ll be fine in my old place. I don’t want to stay away too long in case Duncan wakes up.”
“The panda” said Hamish, irritably. “I’ll walk you home, Mrs Shoe.”
“Very kind of you dear.” The two of them shuffled out of the front door leaving Sarah alone in the enchanting glow of the candle filled living room.
“Fuck.” She hastily blew out all the candles, enjoying the momentarily light headed experience, and went up to bed. When Hamish entered the room a thousand paranoid thoughts later she pretended to be asleep, ‘No point being awake all night talking about it.’ she thought. Her eyes didn’t even flicker as he climbed into the bed next to her. He didn’t try to make her stir. They both lay there, most of the night - both silently wondering if the sun would be rising as normal on the other side of oblivion.
They suspected the apocalypse might have felt very different had you been in London when it happened... but for the residents of Norton Fitzwarren it was a fairly unremarkable event at first. The only casualty so far was Duncan, and they hadn’t even given him a proper funeral because Mrs Shoe was insisting she “could still hear his little voice”.
The fact still remained though, that an apocalypse had occurred. Some of the villagers were a little disappointed; there was no fire, no zombies, not a smidgen of brimstone to be found anywhere. It was simply that every person in the village had woken up knowing inexplicably that the world was over. Everything had taken on a new feeling.
People who like science books and concrete will want to know how it was an apocalypse and how the villagers knew. They will want to know the premise that allowed it to happen, but, sadly for both their curiosity and the author’s chances of a film deal, the big painted streaks of havoc that make an apocalypse spicy are missing from this narrative.
Imagine someone asking you what makes a Wednesday a Wednesday other than the mass collusion that yesterday was Tuesday and it would be impetuous to bound carelessly into Thursday without a buffer.
The day after the apocalypse people had woken from their beds and not known how to start their days due to not knowing the point of continued existence. If the mood could be compared to anything, it might be closest to the ambience of a Bank Holiday Monday for a group of people who don’t normally work Mondays anyway. Everything seemed pointless, and when questioned on this pointlessness, the villagers knew unanimously that it was because of the end of the world but no one wanted to be the first one to say it. Because it sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?
It would have been easier if it had been, well, apocalyptic. 20th Century Fox would be beating the door down if blood had spurted from the gargoyles and severed limbs littered the footpath round the Primary School. If showers of sparks sprayed burning sulphur onto the limbs of innocents and brutal clouds of ashen decay pressed the air from heroic lungs then I think even Russell Crowe might have been tempted to have a go at learning the accent. Trust me when I say no one is more disappointed than the author that there wasn’t an opportunity for passage upon passage of persuasive adjectives, and paragraphs that leapt willingly off the page and into an Odeon. But it just wasn’t like that. It was altogether much more civilised.
People didn't really know what to do... they thought about looting but agreed as a village that it seemed pretty unreasonable. There was only one shop in Norton Fitzwarren and the general consensus was that the apocalypse was probably not Nigel and Beryl's fault. In truth I think a lot of residents felt a little cheated by the whole thing. Where was the death and judgement they had been promised? The village came to the mutual conclusion that it was probably safest to just wait it out and see what happened.
It would be unfair to say that the village had slowed down; it’s difficult for a village like Norton Fitzwarren to slow much further without stopping completely. There was just a new sensation in the air. Also, Mr Young from Acorn Terrace was certain he had seen the Four Horsemen, which is convincing stuff. The world had ceased. It all felt very over. Even if it was only 3 cows being chased by Mr Baxter’s dog that Mr Young had seen.
The children were simply ecstatic that school had been declared formally closed due to the end being nigh. Most teachers felt their planning was nothing more than a cantankerous obstacle to a large glass of wine on a good day, let alone one when there was absolutely no chance of an Ofsted visit. Spending 4 hours on a Sunday planning for a 6 year old to eat glue in synch with others of his key stage capabilities was a thing of the past for the teachers of Norton Fitzwarren.
The continuing lack of electricity was dampening levels of youth enthusiasm a little, but I’ll say this for an apocalypse; it was doing wonders for child obesity levels. Having fewer pressing issues such as what to eat and how to cope, they had taken to the streets to make the most of their most of their surprise free time. Let the adults worry about the rapidly defrosting freezer and keeping Judgement Day free.
It wasn't until the 3rd day that people’s nervousness began to get the better of their civic duty to pretend nothing was happening. Families started to wonder if they ought to be rationing. Mr Baxter was seen nervously hurrying his Yorkshire Terrier around the block looking suspiciously at anyone who was complaining of hunger. I'd never thought the residents of Norton Fitzwarren capable of eating a dog, but all of a sudden you had to really feel for pet owners. Especially the smaller ones, it’s one thing to sacrifice a pet to feed a family but poor old Mr Baxter’s Rufus would barely feed a child, and a small one at that.
They suspected in London there must have been lots of fighting and scrapping for food... it was hard to tell without any form of media. There was a tangible feeling of gratitude that so far no one here had felt like doing any murdering. I'm not sure 40% of the village really had the upper body strength. Murdering is a vocational business; a bit like teaching - you have to really want to do it or it just gets you down. Leave it to the city folk, they thought, we’ll just have a nice calm apocalypse without any of the unsightly bits.
By the 4th day all the sitting around and waiting for a sign seemed frankly irresponsible and they thought perhaps they ought to start thinking about getting organised.
A meeting was set up and it was decided they should form an Apocalypse Committee. These folk would be in charge of working out how to feed everyone and keep warm during winter, you know, should this thing drag on. Privately I think they were all hoping they could get it wrapped up before the end of summer so that it wouldn’t spoil Christmas. Heaven must be lovely at that time of year.
As a contingency plan, they thought perhaps it might be prudent to bunch together a bit more, if and when the weather turned, like they do in foreign countries where they use a room for a few people instead of just one. Some of the villagers really weren't keen; Mrs Shoe had just had a new cream carpet laid so it was agreed she could remain on her own so long as she didn’t complain if she got cold. She said if it got too bad she didn’t mind putting plastic mats down but people would have to take their shoes off. Nigel from the village shopped quipped that, “There were no shoes at the Shoes’ “ and they all laughed.