Tag Archives: lockdown

Until the Light, Thomas Dennis

Photo by Edrece Stansberry on Unsplash

A bleak morning shadow loomed over the city; countless sleepless lights lost within silence. Once, every candle and streetlight would dance in a warm blaze; twirling to a jumbled, disruptive symphony… But that was a long time ago.

‘That time again?’

Darren snapped up from his boots, smiling slightly at the young woman standing over him. ‘Amelia…’

‘I know. You gotta do what you gotta do, right?’

Darren scoffed. ‘Doesn’t make it any easier.’ He sighed as he tied the last knot firmly. ‘Maybe I can bring something nice back this time? You want anything?’

Amelia gave a smile and shook her head. ‘Just some bread.’

Darren watched as she walked away, past the dining table. He glanced sadly at the vase that sat in the centre; a tall, beautifully crafted piece that had been empty for almost a year. She always asked for something simple. Something necessary. Never anything for pleasure’s sake.

‘Alright, I’m off!’ No sooner had his hand touched the knob did a tap grace his shoulder.

‘Here, you can’t forget these.’ A dull sensation reawakened in Darren’s temple as he took the objects out of Amelia’s hands. Indeed, he could not. Not the small grey cloth that wrenched across his mouth, the cords that dug into his hair as they fastened tightly together. Not the thick, clear gloves that dragged his fingers in and squeezed his hand.

With content, he sank into Amelia’s arms. He trembled and smiled behind his mask as her soft lips brushed his cheek. He gave one final wave before closing the door. The tremendous, dull bang of the mahogany clashing against the doorframe echoed through his head as he floated down the stairs. Each flight felt hours long until he reached the basement car park.

The old girl sputtered and fumbled before roaring to life, her heavy tyres screaming as they crawled out onto the road. On most days, the drive to work felt like cruising through a ghost town. But not today. Darren’s eyes widened as he pulled up to the lights, car after car rushing past him as the light turned green. Although glad to see them, his mind was consumed by a disturbing thought.

When was the last time there was this many cars out at once?

Darren shook his head as he turned on the highway. No time for that, let’s move!

However, a long, terrible screech caused him to flinch, slowing to a crawl as the car ahead of him suddenly stopped. He groaned as he rolled up to join the long queue of cars waiting for their turn – the most irritating obstacle on this trip.

The Checkpoint.

A long concrete blockade that affirmed the district border, barely enough space for one car on either side to come through at once. Stationed on each side was a small company of officers, some in black and blue, others in green and brown. All noticeably armed.

Darren’s grip on the wheel tightened, knuckles whitened as he watched car after car pass through. The sun’s barely up and already these people have decided NOW was a good time to try their luck?! A queue that usually lasted ten minutes slowly rolled into thirty.

No. Settle, Darren. Settle. Remember: 1, 2, 3. 1. 2. 3. 1… 2… 3.

‘Identification, please.’

Darren smiled at the officer in black, reached down for his wallet, which was sitting on the passenger-side seat.

He fished out and handed over both his licences. First, his standard NSW driver’s licence. Then, and more importantly, his Sanctioned licence. A small, blue card with his photo, name, and a bar code that spanned the bottom edge.

The officer eyed him sceptically. ‘Sanctioned Code, please.’

‘Sanctioned Code T26-N19570.’ Darren replied robotically. ‘Designation: Food storage and procession.’

Every Sanctioned licensee was expected to memorise their code. Precautions to distinguish the safe from the scum, as general opinion had it. The officer handed the licence to his partner, who swiped it through a mobile scanner. A few seconds later, both officers nodded, and Darren got both his licences back.

‘Alright, you’re good to go.’

‘Thank you, officer.’

‘Be careful out there. Don’t go causing trouble.’ Darren nodded as the gates slowly swung upwards.

Once through, the world once again passed him by, except now, cars were fewer and farther. Every McDonalds, every KFC, every car repair and everyday shop – they all flew by, utterly invisible. The cries of car horns, a distant memory. Time was ticking and there was road to burn.

It took ten more minutes to reach his destination: what was once a grand shopping centre, full of life, was now as cold and dead as its walls. Darren hurried into the carpark, only to face another Checkpoint, where a grouchy-looking guard shook his head.

٭

‘You’re late.’

Darren rolled his eyes at his manager, Mr. McCann, who didn’t even bother to glance up from his desk.

‘Only by a few minutes, sir. Sorry. Traffic was… surprisingly hectic today.’

‘Yes, I noticed. It’s been like that since 5.’

It’s been like that for three hours? The hell’s going on?

‘Cormac!’ McCann snapped. ‘Listen. Today’s the same old, understand? Some disturbing rumours are going around, and I don’t want them to continue.’ Darren nodded before leaving the office.

He busied himself with his work routine, inspecting the produce in the stock storage to ensure the fruits and vegetables were satisfactory for purchase. The new kid, Ryan, ran over.

‘Hey, did you hear? There’s gonna be a big gathering in the streets today.’

Darren held back a sigh. He had always liked Ryan. The kid always brought a smile to his face, his sheer energy was something this world dearly missed. Every day they were rostered together, the pair would spend their breaks discussing video games or making the most absurd theories about the strangest television shows.

Like Darren, Ryan had good reason for joining the Sanctioned. Every shift, he would come out in place of his parents. If he was not discussing the weirdest, nerdiest topics, then you could never get him to shut up about his sister. A little girl, no older than six, with her big brothers’ golden hair, blue eyes and bright smile.

‘Where did you hear about this?’ Darren muttered as he started counting the fruit boxes.

‘In chatrooms. On Twitter. You know, everywhere.’

Darren shook his head. ‘Ryan…’

‘Look, hear me out, yeah? Most people are tired of all the restrictions the bloody government’s putting on them. I mean, only one person per household once every two weeks for food and meds? It’s ridiculous.’

Darren didn’t respond, the taste of iron in his mouth. He had heard these arguments countless times over the last year. In video after video, people would spam all social platforms to rant and rave. Faces creased like prunes, screaming about the ‘Injustice of Isolation’. After a while, watching paint dry didn’t sound so bad.

‘Hey, maybe we should join it too.’

Darren stared blankly into those eyes, those young wide eyes, trembling, pleading, before turning back to his checklist. He heard Ryan’s fading footsteps as he scanned the boxes of potatoes, making sure his counts were correct.

He smiled as he filled the last spot on the checklist. Everything was under control. Now it was just about checking to see which tables needed filling and which could wait. However, his smile became a frown when he stepped back onto the floor. The quiet, empty floor.

Darren narrowed his eyes as he checked each untouched table. Barely anything had been taken, but the shop had been open for at least an hour. He left the produce section and took a lap past each of the aisles. Virtually nothing on the shelves had been taken, at least not compared to every other day. Every co-worker he passed looked just as confused and concerned as him. Even the few customers in the aisles, who should be rushing to get supplies as fast as they could, were perplexed by how… easy that day was.

Suddenly, there was shouting outside. Without a second thought, he raced towards the front registers, where McCann was talking to a lone security guard amidst the thundering shouts that echoed in from outside.

The shopping centre hallways seemed like a tomb. All the other grocery shops were dark behind shutter doors, and those few clothes and accessory shops that were still open had employees standing out at their entrances, waiting for that first wave of customers while trying to make sense of the shouts.

‘Your whole team’s outside right now?’ McCann asked the guard.

‘Yes. Only a few of us stayed behind to watch the store entrances.’

‘What’s going on?’ Darren said, walking up to the pair. ‘What’s all that noise about? Where is everyone?’

McCann sighed, rubbing his temple. ‘The rumours…’

Darren’s eyes widened. He turned to find the rest of the staff had gathered at the front, some confused, others curious, all trying to work out what was going on. All but one…

‘Where’s the kid? Anybody seen Ryan?!’

‘What about Ry– HEY!’ Darren ignored his boss’ question as he bolted down the empty hallways. Profane thoughts cleaved through Darren’s head as he ran; the echo of each of his footsteps was quickly drowned out as the centre front door got closer.
Before he even opened the door, he could hear them. Countless booming voices clocked his ears as he stepped outside, bearing witness to the vast but burgeoning parade of people standing in the street in front of the centre. If not for his hanging mouth, Darren would have rolled his eyes at the countless voices, screaming and shouting over each other to the point where he could not even understand them. Slogans like ‘Bring down the Walls’, ‘#FoodForChildren’, and ‘This is a Government Scam’ seemed to be the more tactful slogans that were sprawled across the signs.

HONK!

Oh no…

The blaring car horn seemed to calm the crowd, at least enough for Darren to find the source. A red two-seater sat in the middle of the street, surrounded by a ring of similarly sized cars. Each one had a young person, mid 20’s at most, standing on the roof. They had small black boxes at their feet, faced out towards the crowd.

And there, standing on the roof of the centre car, was Ryan.

Ryan raised a hand, lifted it to his face, and tore off his mask. Seconds of silence rippled out over the street, before an old but familiar sound came faintly over the crowd. Sirens.

‘Listen to them!’ Ryan’s voice roared into the streets like thunder, ‘The cops are on their way!’

Murmurings began to rise. Looks of anger, worry and even panic came across the face of the protestors as the wails grew louder and louder. ‘People! Listen!’ Ryan called their eyes back to himself. ‘This is what we came here for. The cops, the army, they just want to bully us, to push us into our homes. To keep all the food for themselves. All in the name of some ‘pandemic’?’

The murmurs began shifting towards agreement. ‘We cannot let this stand! They can’t keep us away from the world! My little sis, she…’ Ryan paused for a bit, taking a moment to breathe before he spoke again. ‘She can’t even go to school. She can’t see her friends unless I pay for her to ‘see’ them through a screen!’

The murmurings grew louder as the signs began rising. Darren shook his head, staring in disbelief at this boy who would use his position as a Sanctioned, and his own kid sister, to rile these people up. A loud beep cut through the noise. The signs lowered just enough for Darren to see one of the boys standing on the cars holding up a card. A card that was flashing red.

Every non-Sanctioned family gets one civilian card, a card that only lasts three hours. Three hours to get whatever rations you can for two weeks.

He turned to Ryan, who nodded back. With a defiant roar, the boy threw the card toward his feet and smashed it beneath his heel. The cheers were slower this time, but louder as people began to follow suit, lifting their cards and throwing them onto the pavement.

‘Yes! Yes! No more restrictions! The government would only Sanction a few of us, enough for them to monitor and enslave while everyone else waits for scraps! NO MORE!’

‘NO MORE!’ The first unanimous cheer.

For two long minutes, Darren watched the parade, shaking his head at everyone who looked back at him. He sighed as countless cars flooded the surrounding roads, dazzled in a red and blue disco. Within moments, thunderous footsteps shook the streets as lines of uniforms marched towards the crowd, the morning light gleaming off their riot shields.

‘Attention, citizens! Attention! This will be your only warning. Complete your shopping or return to your homes now! Failure to comply will result in the use of force!’

Darren could barely hear the announcement. The crowd just kept getting louder as Ryan and his friends called for them to march against enemy lines. As the crowd between them thinned out, Ryan finally met Darren’s eyes. A joyous look came across Ryan’s face as he called out – called out to his friend, his mentor.

But Darren gave no response. Only turned around slowly and headed back inside, closing the door as he heard the first bang.

*

Darren sighed as he wandered to the near-barren bakery. Silence had plagued the rest of the day. Even when the afternoon bustle began, smiling still seemed taboo.

It was always difficult to find a good loaf by closing time, but, just as he found one, something caught his eye. Bouquets of roses, rich as scarlet, radiating from the flower stands.

Darren’s mask hid his wide grin; he knew who loved red roses. They always reminded her of her favourite childhood film.

‘Not quite our anniversary… but just one can’t be too selfish, right?’

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The End as We Thought It, Briana Symons

Photo by Josh Hild on Unsplash

My name is Bri. I’ve been sitting at my desk, looking at a blank page for ten minutes as I listen to my neighbour struggle to pull out of the driveway. Every scrape of tyre against pebble resonates in my chest. My neighbour always takes ages to get out of the driveway, but it feels different now. Everything outside feels different now. It feels as if I have to appreciate the little things.

Sometimes it is the little things that matter. Stop to smell the roses and all that. Stop to hear the tyres scrape. Stop to feel your chest inflate. My chest has felt tight for months.

I’m lucky, I know. All tests negative, all scares thankfully false alarms, all my loved ones still alive and well. Not everyone is so lucky. Not everyone is so unlucky. That makes me sound ungrateful. I am grateful, but since that day in late March when Peter Overton told us over dinner that the coronavirus outbreak was at a peak in Australia and yet increasing, I’ve felt unlucky. After we heard the news, my mum turned to me and told me firmly:

‘You cannot get sick, Bri. If you get sick, it is going to be very, very bad. We won’t take any risks.’ In that moment, I felt a different Bri emerge.

*

When I was a kid, I loved apocalyptic books and watching end-of-the-world movies. I wanted to be the heroine who would fight off hordes of zombies single-handedly, scavenge supplies for my family in harsh conditions, maybe even be the one to find the all-important Cure, and protect everyone. It was sort of a morbid desire of mine to die in a heroic and sacrificial manner. Perhaps that’s not the most normal aspiration to have, but I was a weird kid.

One of my favourite apocalypse series was the ‘The Last Survivors’, by Susan Pfeffer. There were three books in the series, ‘Life as we Knew it’, ‘The Dead and the Gone’, and ‘This World We Live In’. The second book was always my favourite, and not just because it taught me that tall buildings trap heat. I was ecstatic when one of the protagonist’s sisters was named Briana, just like me. It was the first time I’d ever shared a character’s name, and her nickname was Bri too. Not only that, but she also had asthma, which I’d had since I was a baby. My mum told me she used to have to stay up through the night with a nebuliser to make sure I could breathe.

I felt like her character was written just for me, answering exactly what I wanted; my own place in this grand adventure to save my family from certain doom. Even though she wasn’t the protagonist, I felt seen. I would ramble on and on about Book Bri at the dinner table to my mum and dad until my older sister got sick of my chatter and would tell me to be quiet.

Book Bri was everything to me. I devoured the book, reading as much as I could each day; and getting caught with a reading torch under my bedsheets at night. I loved that she was like me. She had such strong, unwavering faith, and as I was raised Catholic, I really looked up to that. She had faith in God and her parents, and as children do, I had faith in myself. Even when she didn’t appear in a chapter, I kept reading, just waiting for her return. Maybe she would learn new and exciting ways to survive on her own that she could bring back to look after her family. Maybe she would grow strong and dependable and exciting. Maybe I could learn new things, or become strong, and dependable, and exciting – instead of weird.

Maybe she would find their parents.

Maybe I could make it up to mine.

*

Dear Prof.

I’m writing to let you know that my doctor has advised me that due to my medical condition I am considered to be in a high-risk category to be infected by Covid-19, and the effects of the virus could be exceedingly detrimental to my continued health…

Thank you for your consideration,
Briana Symons

*

I began to self-isolate a week before the official lockdown. Everything up to that point had just seemed like a little bit of an inconvenience, but then suddenly, I had to email my teachers, reorganise my rheumatologist appointment to be via video call, and stay house-bound for weeks on end.

‘Miss Symons here has a case of rheumatoid arthritis in several joints, which was diagnosed as juvenile idiopathic arthritis when she was seven.’ I watched my doctor speak to the medical student observing our video appointment, nodding along as they took down notes like I was something to study. ‘And as such, Briana, you must be careful with this whole pandemic business. People with immunodeficiencies and those on immunosuppressants – like you – are at greater risk of contracting a respiratory infection. Take every precaution.’

My mum was terrified for me. The more we learned about the coronavirus, the scarier it seemed. An acute respiratory disease spread through droplets is high up on the list of worst-case scenarios for those with respiratory diseases like asthma. Adding on to the stress was the fact that I’d just recently increased my immunosuppressant dosage. I felt very unlucky.

It hung like a dark cloud over our family. I was alone in the house for a while until my dad had to start working from home, and every day when my mum and sister came back it was almost a ritual to see them put down their things, throw their disposable masks away, and wash their hands before they even said hello. We all knew, if they brought it home, the disease would hit me very hard. This strange, overwhelming disease was already killing perfectly normal, healthy young people – it would ruin me.

To put it lightly, lockdown was very difficult for me. Even as a person who was used to spending a lot of time locked up in my room watching inane YouTube videos or working on various projects, I felt trapped. The front yard became a haven to me. I watched my dog run along the fence, back and forth, back and forth, as my mind ran with her. Caged in.

*

I want to see my friends. I want to go to class. I want to catch the train. I want to go to my internship. I want to go to the doctors. I want to go shopping. I want to go to the local café. I want to get my hair cut. I want to go outside. I want, I want, I want.

*

Bri died. The very first time I’d ever read about a character just like me, in a genre I loved, and she died. It wasn’t heroic. It wasn’t sacrificial. It was slow, and lonely, and she was scared.

My unwavering faith faltered.

*

When the Covid-19 pandemic had just begun, I remember thinking to myself at least it’s not zombies. But even then, I felt I would be more prepared for zombies than an inescapable illness. I had plans for zombies. If the apocalypse happened, we would have to do this, and this, and this. In every plan, I’d think about what I could do, where I could tell my family to go, who we could team up with, how I could fight if I had to. I’ve never thought of myself as being one of the vulnerable in a group, the one needing protection.

Covid-19 isn’t a zombie apocalypse. In some ways, it’s worse. It’s real. And I can’t fight it. I read an article called ‘COVID-19 in Immunocompromised Hosts: What We Know So Far’, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the word host. Am I just a potential zombie?

*

I want to move. It hurts. I’m hot. I’m cold. I want to play outside. I’m so sweaty. It’s been three days: mum has to go back to work. I want my mum. I can’t breathe. My lungs are heavy. I’m missing school. My knees are so swollen. My eyes ache. I want to read. I feel sick. I want to move. I want my mum.

*

I read about a character who was just like me. Now I feel like I’m just like her. She could only leave her house once a week to go with her siblings to church. I went out once a week to sit in the car while my dad got food. She cried when their apartment was snowed in and her brother told her she couldn’t go to Sunday mass. I nearly screamed the day it became too cold for me to go pick up Wednesday night dinner without suffering aches through the night. She took it better than I did.

‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘I know everyone is suffering. It’s just I feel so trapped. Sunday is the only day I’m outside. I guess God could tell my motives were impure. I’ll pray for His forgiveness.’

She thought to pray for forgiveness on page 238 of 301 of her apocalypse. They found her corpse 51 pages later. I’ve been trying not to count my own pages. I don’t want her death. I feel as if my fingers are holding the next page but are afraid to turn it. I’m afraid to keep reading. With each word I read, with each day that goes by, I fear I am running out of pages.

*

Dear Prof.

Did you know that Covid-19 was declared an official ‘pandemic’ by WHO on the 11th of March 2020, and according to the Australian Medical Association, as of the 2nd of October there have been 34,162,732 confirmed cases worldwide, with 1,020,932 deaths? 27,109 of those confirmed cases have been in Australia. How many of those people do you think were like me?

Hope you’re well,
Briana Symons

*

I get sick quite often, and I have since I was a child. It wasn’t an unusual sight for the school nurses to see me laid up in the sick room while they waited for someone to come pick me up. And some of that, of course, was just me trying to avoid bullies, but most of the time I was just unwell. I think they thought I might have been lying, considering how often I was there. But I just always felt bad. Whether it was a cold, or a stomach-ache caused by anxiety or my volatile medications, I just always felt bad.

I think that’s why I got so into apocalypse books. They were another level of escapism that my dinosaur books just couldn’t provide. It feels strange now to think of the apocalypse as a mode of escape, as the closest thing to one I’ve experienced so far has just trapped me.

Sometimes I feel like the outside world is moving to a place where I won’t be able to reach when this is all over; if there’s even an ‘all over’ anymore. Apparently, a lot of other immunocompromised people felt the same when we all huddled down in our bunkers while the rest of the world kept turning. It’s a funny phrase, isn’t it? ‘The world keeps turning.’ The world will always keep turning, no matter what happens to those who live on it.

There’s a lot of funny things like that popping up with this pandemic. It’s funny that half of the news we get from the outside world is about people who don’t believe in the thing that has us locked away. It’s funny that the requests we’ve made for years about accessibility and working or studying at home have been met with firm refusals and statements of impracticability from the rest of society – until they needed it of course.

It’s funny that an influential person could suggest a ridiculous ‘cure’ to this disease that just so happens to be one of the medications keeping me inside.

*

To whom it may concern,

In a tragic turn of events, my dear sister and dedicated student, Briana Symons, has passed away due to COVID-19. I know she may have been just another student to you, or even a number, but she was the light in my and my family’s life, and I would appreciate her passing being portrayed very seriously and respectfully to ensure your students are aware of how serious this pandemic is.

If you have any questions do not contact her emergency contact which would have been our mother, contact me on 61+

Stay safe,
Tashani Symons

*

The page isn’t blank anymore. I’m still scared. I almost feel like it’s as bad to write on the page as it is to turn it. Have I accelerated my fate by recording it? I guess there’s no way to tell. But still, there are little things to appreciate. My neighbour is long gone, but there’s the tac-tac-tac of my sister’s keyboard, the dog pressing her head against my closed door to beg for dinner, the clink of cutlery as my dad sets the table, my mum sighing as she packs away the console I left on the coffee table. Maybe I’m not one to hold off hordes single-handedly or find the all-important cure, but at least I’m a master at social distancing now.

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Lost Things, Izabel Smythe

Photo by Cosmic Timetraveler on Unsplash

Kathy heard Ted’s voice on the loud speaker as he drove past their front yard. He sounded proud to be a crier, reminding the residents of Asquith to switch on the TV at 11 o’clock for the yearly announcement of the winners under the Resettlement Scheme by the Interim Prime Minister.

Kathy sunk into the bathtub of milky water to muffle the sound of Ted’s grating voice. She had met Ted once, a year ago, in front of Woolies, after buying a can of Spam as he handed out voting pamphlets. “Vote for Ted, to stop the spread”, not that anyone was interested in what he was preaching. But now here he was, having won the contract for the Hornsby Ku-ring-gai community as the Town Crier. She wondered whether he had any competitors, now that Bridgette was gone. This wasn’t a 9 to 5 job just for anybody.

Bridgette, his predecessor, held that position for five years, before passing away. It was Ted who found Bridgette, soaking in the bathtub covered in blood, supposedly from a tremendous amount of coughing after being infected with the Virus. Kathy couldn’t believe Bridgette would have been that careless. If anyone was expected to survive this pandemic, it was Bridgette. She always greeted people by gesturing with her hands, chanting “Clean clean clean. Wash, wash wash”. She sent out compulsory monthly Zoom meetings to practise good hygiene, as mandated by the new law. The last physical meeting Bridgette organised was at Ted’s house, where she instructed on the etiquette and hygiene of purchasing fruits and vegetables from local home growers. Ted lived in Hornsby, the neighbouring town, which allowed her to introduce the intricacies of logistics.

Kathy held her breath under the water as Ted’s voice became distant. She lethargically came up for air as she slowly brushed away the Dettol water from her face, squeezing out the excess from her hair. Everything felt pointless, but she had to carry on. It was Bridgette who kept the town spirit going during the outbreak, who blissfully celebrated and engaged the community through emails, phone calls and chats. This would be the first year without Bridgette.

Kathy could hear Daniel stirring in bed next door. She quickly got up, covering her thin frame in a kimono wrap.

‘Daniel, you better hurry. The water is still warm.’

She opened the cupboard to put away the Dettol bottle that had been sitting open. Only a few drops were left, but they had to last several days. With quivering hands, she decided to angle the bottle, just a little, spilling a couple of drops into the bathtub. It would be a homage to Bridgette’s “Clean, clean, clean”, to make up for the recycled water Daniel would be stewing in.

‘Is it clean? No petals or eucalyptus leaves nonsense?’ he called out.

‘Only my period broth to rejuvenate the skin.’ She smirked, bending over to dry her hair with a towel. ‘Kidding okay, don’t waste it. Get in. I’ll make our breakfast soon.’

Daniel walked in shivering and naked, moving towards the bath.

‘What’s for breakfast this time?’ he asked as he slid into the tub. ‘It’s cold.’

‘It’ll be a surprise.’ She kissed Daniel on his wet forehead before walking away. ‘And clean up after you finish please.’

*

‘Here you go. The morning special. Baked beans with caramelised bananas.’

‘Fancy,’ Daniel said, sitting up straight on the sofa to take his plate. Kathy walked back into the kitchen to get water to share. She crumbled a couple of mints into a large glass, topping it with water from the urn.

She remembered someone once telling her that mint would become a weed, unless contained. Thankfully Kathy hadn’t listened, because it was now a source of food. Mint had managed to survive the frost of winter and the dreaded summer heat, unlike their parsleys and leeks which relied on water. Water was now too scarce to waste on gardens. The water looked so silky. Kathy caressed the glass against her face, brushing it across her lips, tempted to steal a sip. She heard Daniel calling, almost losing her grasp.

‘No need to wait for me, put it on. Let’s see the show before the Interim Prime Minister gives his speech for the deserving hopefuls.’ Taking her plate and water, she walked briskly back into the lounge. She sat down on the carpet, her legs stretched out in front of the TV.

The show used thousands of remote controlled drones to project 3D visual effects. Sometimes the Government allowed a solo performer to fill in 60 minutes of air time, like now. A young singer was setting up to sit alone with her guitar. She began to play as a blue spotlight shone above her head. Kathy recognised it straight away. It was called Our Town and Iris DeMent’s lyrics suited the young singer’s voice. It was so haunting. Kathy felt her heart tighten and the hairs on her slim arms spike. She reached out for Daniel’s hands, only to find his knee. Kathy placed her hands over the knee, resting her head on them, just listening to the voice wash over her. She felt the nostalgia for simple things as the singer’s voice echoed.

The song was playing in the background the night Daniel had surprised her by slipping a daisy diamond ring onto her finger and proposing. Kathy hadn’t suspected a thing earlier that morning, when Daniel had telephoned her at work. He wanted to go out for drinks at the Glenmore Hotel, to celebrate his win. A case he tirelessly worked on, including weekends, on behalf of a migrant family whose application for Australian citizenship was rejected by the Department of Immigration. She couldn’t be more proud of him then or now. It was what was left of his savings that was keeping them afloat, allowing for rations at Woolies when it was essential to go outside.

She missed going out, seeing places and going to the galleries. She missed hearing the background buzz that accompanied the drinking culture at Australia Square. Particularly when unwinding from sitting behind a glowing screen, like she used to, clattering words across a page, as the dictation filled her ears.

The music ended and the blue light once crowning the singer shifted and began to follow the footsteps of a figure walking towards the microphone. The face of the Interim Prime Minister filled their TV screen as he began to speak. Kathy had recalled him being much younger. She could tell in his voice, and see in his eyes, the tiredness which weighed heavily on his face, making it sag with dense lines. How quickly he had aged! He had only been in this position for less than a year. He thanked the two models who pushed the Lottery Machine onto the stage beside him. The machine started rolling, the envelopes inside ruffling theatrically like clothes in a washing machine. Kathy heard the names being announced one by one.

‘Daniel, you know, before, when the Resettlement Scheme began, you helped people with their application forms, to be in the draw to win the vaccine lottery. Were those cases difficult?’

‘Shhh! Shhh! I’m trying to listen.’ Daniel said as he tried to ignore her.

‘But I want to know. How is it decided? Who and when? I wonder what our chances are?’ she asked him inquisitively.

Daniel glanced at her impatiently, but said nothing and turned back to watch the lottery draw. Kathy stared at him angrily for a minute before erupting.

‘You never share anything with me. We never talk anymore.’

Daniel continued to sit silently as a smile crept across his face.

‘Didn’t you hear? We won baby! He picked our envelope, the Johnsons in Asquith from New South Wales. Did you not hear what he said?’

‘It’s been too long, I have forgotten what our surname sounds like,’ she replied as she stood up and headed towards the kitchen with their empty plates. Daniel followed her, standing by the kitchen bench with his arms folded, watching her irritably.

‘What’s wrong now?’

‘Nothing. I was merely curious. Aren’t you? Regardless of how many deaths, there are still millions of Australians. Where will we live? It’s been six or eight years now, and not a word from any of our friends or neighbours who have made it. Remember the Watsons next door?’

Kathy had wondered what happened to the Watson family after they were relocated across the border. She had asked them to check in via Zoom once settled into their place, to let her know everything was fine. Bridgette had texted her a month later about the Watsons because she hadn’t heard from them either. Soon afterwards, Bridgette set up a Zoom call with members of the community forum, to figure out why there was radio silence from all our relocated friends.

Bridgette had a nickname for the lottery after the second year, she called it “Border Feud”. It became a popular game played on Zoom, state against state, instead of footy. That was until The Project brought up the problematic Resettlement Scheme and the ongoing mockery. Both were seen as insults to Australia Day, scarring not only the Indigenous community but excluded families due to their refugee status.

Houses were graffitied with “L” when people were identified as winners. Then someone had the idea to call it “Will you accept this envelope?”, to reflect the ignorance of the Government in its failure to recognise the diversity of multiculturalism in Australia. If you don’t look white, you don’t qualify to win a vaccine.

A few years later, someone leaked live footage of elderly citizens being pushed and shoved into metal cages by military officials, because the nurses weren’t able to tick all the boxes to present the elderly with a vaccine.

As a distraction, Bridgette had set up a closed Zoom chat for the Hornsby Ku-ring-gai community, playing Dingo got my Vaccine. Kathy threw her name into the pool and Bridgette would call out player names randomly, until someone shouted “Dingo got my vaccine.”

Kathy remembered that it was around this time that the Prime Minister restructured the Government and altered some of the policies. Everything was to be locally owned and produced to support local communities and industries for economical regrowth.

The Police’s role also changed. They now worked at checkouts in stores, because not only was the Virus killing people at a faster rate, it was also contributing to people committing crimes.

The Prime Minister then remodelled the system, introducing heavy fines and strict curfews, but was swiftly voted out of parliament. People rallied for a system that would let them be free, allowing them to go back to jobs, holidays and the movies. They wanted a people’s Prime Minister.

That same year, Bridgette was appointed as the Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Town Crier. Kathy had then asked Bridgette what does this mean? Would she be allowed to finally catch a bus to a beach, to press her toes in the sand?

Bridgette could never keep a straight face, it wasn’t in her nature.

‘Oh you crack me up sometimes Kathy,’ Bridgette answered. One could only imagine that Bridgette’s house shook as she laughed at these types of questions. ‘Essentials only! Like shopping for food or medical needs.’ She reminded everyone.

Kathy felt that Bridgette’s laughter was more contagious than the Virus. Watching her laugh on screen was enough to make anyone laugh with hysteria. And she gives the best virtual hugs that smelt like hot chocolate dripped in churros. Kathy would kill for a hug or some churros right now.

Daniel’s stern voice rang in her ears.

‘We won’t be able to survive here Kathy. It’s not going to be enough. Give or take a couple of years, the Hornsby Ku-ring-gai community will become a cemetery. We have to keep moving forward. This is our last chance to live. A couple more hurdles, then we can truly start living again, like the old days.’

‘Maybe I want something different.’

‘I did it for us. A few years back before I lost the job. I wanted it to be a surprise. I thought you would be happy.’

‘I…I am. I’m grateful. It’s just people on Zoom have heard rumours about the other side. Bridgette didn’t believe that the Government is doing what they claim to – protecting people of Australia. She believed it to be a hoax. A ruse to lock us up in a facility, conduct a test and to study us like guinea pigs.’

‘Ridiculous! Stop misinterpreting things. This is not like any other virus scientists have previously encountered. There is no one vaccine for everyone. Remember Patient 1 in the UK who had an adverse reaction? This is the only solution the scientists have arrived at. Tailor a vaccine for each individual biochemistry. I don’t think that either of us would be of value if we developed Guillain-Barre Syndrome.’

‘So, what’s next for us then?’ she asked, worryingly looking up at him.

‘We wait for the knock on our door,’ he replied, stepping closer, gently placing a kiss on her head.

‘When will that be?’

‘Could be today, tomorrow, weeks, months. I really don’t know. We have to be ready, read books, do some practise questions from previous years and start building strength. They may show up anytime.’

She pushed away from him, picking up the notepad and pen from the kitchen bench.

‘I need to do our inventory,’ said Kathy as she opened the pantry.

Daniel strode back into the living room, leaving her alone in the kitchen.

She stood contemplating, staring blankly at the empty shelf. A few cans of baked beans, Spam and jelly mixes. What could she possibly make with that? Every morning, that jelly screamed at her. But it was just another non-essential item in her cupboard. The fridge had been turned off like their other electrical appliances, except for the TV and their laptop. These were occasionally turned on for essential updates and Zoom. Daniel was right. They couldn’t possibly continue living off herbs, bananas, mulberries and sour figs. They had used up almost all of their water supply in the tank, and with the start of summer, it would only become scarcer.

Her skin suddenly felt moist as tears rolled down her cheeks. She felt herself crumbling. Yes, Daniel was right. Being this close to hope was only playing on her fears. Kathy was frightened, uncertain about what their lottery win meant. They weren’t fit enough to pass any physical examination. Their bones were too weak and fragile. Being indoors also probably stunted their brains from lack of stimulation. They wouldn’t be able to comprehend any of the general questions in the quiz. How could they contribute to New Australis? What could she, a simple clerk, possibly give back to society in this new place? Daniel would be fine. He was a lawyer, then a resettlement adviser, and he could easily reinvent himself across the border, perhaps as a teacher. That’s an essential worker. But she, she knew, would become another one of those lost things. A part of the old world that doesn’t exist anymore. Unable to recognise who she once was.

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