'Why wouldn’t you expect something terrible to happen? It’s easier that way. Then you’re never disappointed.'
We are striding through our daily constitutional. Marching over familiar territory with useless purpose and lots of intensity. Burning off the inside. These moments of outdoor exercise have become weighed with imagined significance. The countdown is on: one hour of vitamin D, stretched muscles and deep conversation. Soak it all in. Make the most of it before the door closes and it is back to staring at screens and walls. Rereading the same lines on a worn page. We didn’t agree this pact formally, but we both silently acknowledge that this walk is our Socratic Circle.
My partner is a teacher, working appallingly hard at home whilst I am furloughed and spend most of my time haunting different rooms in the house, over-thinking. Our hour of exercise provides a fixed moment in the day to talk. Not small talk, but real talk. Big Talk. Today, we are talking money and the impact that this sudden, invisible terrorist will have on our financial future. Not just us, but the collective us, all the people we know and love, and those we do not yet know and may love sometime…(I warned you!).
'What do you mean?' He asks. 'Are you suggesting you knew that a global pandemic was coming?'
'Well, no.' Maybe? Am I psychic? 'I just mean, why does everyone live such elaborate lives and plan their futures like nothing bad will happen? Where do they get all that…confidence? Or is it arrogance?'
He gives me the sad eyes, reserved for when he’s frightened of his love for me. I’ve seen that look too often. It’s both regret at getting in too deep and acceptance that, after eight years, he’s intertwined. He loves me. He doesn’t answer my question because he knows it’s rhetorical.
'Maybe I’m the strange one. But I can’t understand why people make all these elaborate plans. Weddings, holidays. I mean, all that money and worry, for what? For it to disappear like that!'
I click my fingers for dramatic effect. This is something I do often, perform my outrage. I’m good at it. He’s looking at his dusty trainers, which are picking up all kinds of potential from the (recently) well-trodden path. Real life has been cancelled and everyone is sad, their extravagant, exciting lives are postponed. Now they walk in circles like I’ve always done. Unlike others, I haven’t really lost anything. Yet.
To think that only six months ago, I would walk this old railway path alone – for fresh air, or to cut through the field to get my nails done at the salon, or to visit his parents when I hadn’t spoken to anyone all day. There would be the odd dog-walker, maybe a jogger, but mostly I was alone with the non-human. Late last year, I had cut round the back of McDonalds and crept away from the glaring headlights and rumbling traffic sounds, finding the hint of a desire line through the trees. There in the dusky silence was a roe deer only a few steps away. Her black eyes were fixed on me as she craned round, her bum displaying a little white tuft and her legs trembling with anticipation. Then she was off, a flash of grace. That was then. A different world. There would be no chance of seeing anything without humans today. The path is brimming over with ‘socially-distanced’ runners in their fresh lycra; teenage boys on mountain bikes; dogs walking their owners. Everyone is tutting at everyone else.
'Perhaps people like having something to look forward to.' He kicks a stone that goes skitting off into a patch of jaggy nettles. We dodge into some gorse because there’s a couple approaching with no intention of moving into single file. We laugh at them when they’ve passed. I stick my tongue out at the back of their heads. There is the sound of birds in my mind and their form whipping around my peripheries. Sure that was a goldfinch. Maybe not.
The big truth is that I hate the future. I’m terrified of it. I think about my teeth falling out. I think about him trapping a finger in the car door and it being sliced clean off. I think about my parents dying. I think about depleting resources. I think about me vomiting on the morning of our wedding and having to kiss him on the lips in front of my family. I think about everyone laughing because I kiss weird. I think about our divorce. I think about hurting him so badly. I think about hating the baby I haven’t conceived. I think about never conceiving.
We are on our government prescribed walk, the sun is shining and his arm is round my neck. We have an agreement. This unwritten rule. This is a dedicated space to say things that need saying. Those things that are always the stickiest.
'There’s no point to plans. Nothing works out. All we have is the moment, right here with you. And our memories. That’s it'
'I don’t agree' He says, frankly. 'What are dreams?'
We do our usual route and get home to the cool, quiet house. Before the screens come out again, we sit together at the dining table and write the future:
1. Order flat whites from our favourite coffee shop.
2. A Chinese meal – him using a knife and fork, me struggling with chopsticks.
3. Reaching the trig point; unwrapping the sandwiches.
And so on…
The foundational principles of our togetherness. A placeholder. To guide us through the unwritten. A constitution.