How to Survive in Quarantine
Blog, for 'Notes on Quarantine', April 2020
Accept that this pandemic is about you.
Remember Colin from The Secret Garden? A sickly ten-year-old with blue-circled eyes and unwashed hair plastered to his forehead. Abandoned in his bedroom – a cold envelope of despair, his cries leaking into the night. This will be how you spend 2020, except you are almost 30 and your mother is still alive.
First, become infectious, wear your virus like an eau de toilette. Waft in and out of rooms, run your fingers along surfaces. Eat cold oranges from the fridge, then retire to your bedroom. Call people and tell them of your sickness. Say: ‘I am sick’, then make little coughing sounds, like Merman.
Twirl hair around your finger and phone your single friend, to scheme.
You say: ‘How are we going to have sex in isolation?’
She says: ‘Fuck knows…is there anyone you can take into isolation with you?’
Look desperately through your contacts, there is literally no one. Wait, what about that boy you had drinks within 2018? The nervous one with a lazy brown eye, he was nice. Took you to a restaurant overlooking the Thames. Yes, perhaps you could meet him before London shuts down. Build a sticky, tepid nest – make love in the dying light of your flat. Snap out of it. Respond: ‘No there isn’t.’
Decide you will go to your parent’s house. After seven days have rolled, twitched and snored past you. Remember that you have given coronavirus to your flatmate. And the two of you are not speaking. She said: ‘Of course you infected me’, her eyes turned into slits, ‘I have never seen you wash your hands.’ You said: ‘How dare you.’ Although this is part true.
As you head to your parents, leave fresh produce in the fridge: Cabbage, leeks, radishes, broccoli. In your absence, it will rot and swell. Drizzle, like semen. A sour smell will curl around the flat. She will have to throw it out. Now, slam the door.
Arrive at your parents. Your Dad is distracted, he sinks into the sofa, his hand clasped round a glass of wine. He’s watching statistics curl from the 7 o’clock news, they hang ominously in the air. ‘Hi Darling’ he says, his eyes fixed on a distressed NHS nurse. ‘Hi Dad’, you wait for him to ask about your mental health and plans for self-care over the following weeks. He clears his throat and says nothing. ‘Typical’, you think. Make a mental note to soothe your inner child later, rumple her hair and watch a Disney film with her or something.
Now, roll your suitcase into your bedroom and make yourself comfortable. This white rectangle filled with a bed, mirror and chest of drawers will be where you spend ninety-five percent of your time. You have lost your day job due to this pandemic: hours, days and weeks warp and stretch in front of you. First, you will become a slob – slip into fetid, juicy slobbery. Let things grow: bits of mould, body hair, strange watermarks on the walls. Turn your bed into something that would make Tracy Emin gasp: undulating covers coated in cat hair, yellowed sheets, a pillow that has given you conjunctivitis.
Stained coffee mugs, plates lathered in mustard, and tissues will bob around the bed, like lifeboats round the Titanic. You leave, only sparingly. You don’t enter other rooms, you permeate them. Allow your presence to be vampiric, lights will flicker, then dim. Your relatives will recoil.
Over this period sleep will become so important that she is a physical character in your life. You prefer her to most members of your family. She is slick and velvety; she whispers to you and dances coquettishly around the bedroom. You will binge on your dreams as if they’re juicy boxsets. In them you get to leave the house (more than once a day), you’re a part of a crowd, all of you dancing and sweating like one throbbing organism. They’ll be realistic, you’ll slip out and do things you once found tedious, like sit in an office, or meet people for coffee. Your dream will be the most interesting part of your day, in fact, you’ll even start to find other people’s dreams interesting as well. For a while, you’ll allow time to snore past you, like this.
Then, one day you’ll wake up and decide that today will be the first day of the rest of your life. You’ll rip open the curtains and sunlight will come streaming into your bedroom, you’ll dash downstairs make yourself a cup of coffee. Then, crack open the laptop, head to the BBC news website and go straight back to bed.
On another day, who knows which one, they’ve all mushed into a strange doughy-grey ball. But for argument's sake, we’ll say it’s a Wednesday. You’ll wake up, rip open the curtains and sunlight will come streaming into your bedroom. You’ll decide that this day is the first day of the rest of your life. You will clean, with various technicolour bottles of anti-septic, bleach and varnish. You’ll even get a toothbrush to wriggle into the crevices of all the furniture – objects will twinkle.
You’ll make lists to boost productivity. Meditate on your hopes and dreams, then write them down. They’ll begin lofty and ambitious:
Learn how to sing.
Learn how to cook.
Learn how to play the guitar.
Then you’ll become a bit more realistic:
No drinking before 12pm.
Order more batteries for vibrator.
Dance like no one is watching.
Your parents will tell you that you're being selfish because you’re not helping with the shopping for ‘essential’ goods, or anything at all really, you're just sitting in your room, staring deep inside your navel. This claim will be outrageous. You’ve supplied an entire apothecary of essential herbal teas, and tinctures and health powders for smoothies, etc. They will tell you that no one else uses these things, apart from you. In which case, you’ll whip around and make yourself an essential mug of turmeric tea, without offering one to anyone else. Then you’ll sit down and slurp it noisily (be extra cunty about this).
Accept that the cat is a whore who does not love you. Each morning you’ve fed him gloopy wet hunks of rabbit or tuna or venison. You’ve knelt down and tapped your hand against the cool tile, made little mewing sounds, sung his name. Waited for him to prance over to you. Know that he never will, you will leave scratched and disappointed. Now, watch him slink away.
On a Friday, a Sunday or a Monday (this stage you really have no fucking idea). You’ll be on Houseparty and someone will tell you that you should be grateful that you're spending the last year of your twenties single, unemployed and in social isolation at your parent’s house because it means that you have time to be creative. Allow this comment to irritate you so much that you watch reality TV, the deadening, plastic kind; where everyone has mahogany tans and speaks in monosyllables. The shit chat and synthetic background music will be accompanied by a dull fizz, lingering in your ears – this will be the sound of brain cells popping. Watch these shows until your eyes swell into slits and you feel as if you’ve been in a sensory deprivation tank. You will have done this to smite them.
Then, hit dating apps like a hurricane, leave a dozen strangers battered and confused. Now sit down to think about your actions. Don’t ever bother changing out of your huge sexless pyjamas. Go on, surrender – flick on Chaka Khan, twirl around your bedroom. And yes, you will definitely have been eaten by Alsatians before this pandemic is over.