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3:AM in Lockdown 56: Sylvia Warren

Dream in Daggers
By Sylvia Warren.

I had been expecting it. I had been half-pinned to the news during the day, fluttering between horror and practical worries; at night in my worse dreams I imagined having to place the † in front of my authors’ names to indicate that they had died, until the preliminary pages looked like a graveyard. My authors are doctors and nurses. If a second author on a chapter dies do you put a diesis? And the morning after the lockdown order came the boiler broke.

It started with a drip that wouldn’t stop, off-time with the tick of the clocks that are kept in communal areas that I don’t like at the best of times. Tick-plink-tick-plink. Once a jug was filled I telephoned the plumber, who wouldn’t come out until he knew everything he could possibly need to know. He tried to guide me through taking the aluminium base off this old useless piece of shit to find the serial number, and I looked at the combination of dust and grease and dirt that accumulates in the dark where you don’t normally have to look, and I wanted to wash my hands. Preferably in hot water. The plumber said he’d look into the replacement, but the holes were too small to do any sort of draining. It’s the part, he said. We just need the right part. He will call me back.

The sounds of the boiler masked the rest of the house at night. In the absence I hear something scrabbling in the ceiling. Tree branches rasp against the roof and the windows. Thanks to dreaming being singularly unpleasant and vivid, I have ample time to listen to the house move around me at night. Tick-plink-scratch. And then, every morning I heat up three litres of water in a pan on the stove, take the saucepan to the shower stall and empty the contents into a bucket. There is a method to this:

Top the bucket up with cold water, and the limescale settles to the bottom. We are all meant to be adjusting to a new normal, aren’t we? Two plastic jugs of water over the head, crouched in the corner so you don’t fall over the bucket. Half-fill another jug, wet the shower scrubber, rub the soap bar in, lather. Wash your back, your legs, your front, your arms, your crotch. Shaving is actually easier without the running water, but you will get cold. Two more jugs of water to rinse. Wash your hair, then slump into a sitting position so you can wash your feet with more soap. One jug of water over your head to dislodge the lather, then most of the rest of the bucket to finish. Make sure to leave two inches in the bottom so you don’t have limescale clinging in flakes to your adequately clean skin. Make sure that if you are in the process of using soap to have a half-jug so you don’t cross-contaminate the clean water.

The plumber phoned back. He could fix me up, no time at all, if the places that distributed the replacement parts were open. They’re not, he is sorry to say. I understand. Boiler, †. I boil some water to do the washing up. I open up an email from an author who says they are being seconded into emergency medicine. I tell them that it’s no problem, and they don’t need to worry about any deadlines, and I hope they can stay as safe as they can. I get another email from a different author who wants me to do a full chase for his junior authors. I try not to imagine the †.

If there was ever a novelty in not having hot running water, some rustic charm, it’s been lost. I’m lucky. I keep on telling myself I’m so lucky. A nurse submits her chapter. I edit it, and return it to the standard holding email, “I have been transferred to emergency department, owing to the unprecedented situation, apologies for the delay in responding to your email. In case of an emergency, my pager is [††††]”. In an article on tips for managing any anxiety you may have about around the situation, I read that it helps not to focus too much on The Situation. Avoid the news, focus on work. I open up section five of the textbook I am editing. It is on emergent diseases, public health crises. The editor asks whether he can withdraw eight chapters to revise “given the scientific developments”. I don’t know if my family are healthy, safe, and sane, but I return the chapters anyway, change the schedule, update my tracker.

Boil water, wash, edit, dream in daggers, repeat.

@sylvswarren

First posted: Thursday, May 7th, 2020.

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