Short story: Day 0 – the bride

She slammed the lid of her laptop down in a fury, cutting off the Churchillesque mugging of the PM as he exorted the country to pull together. Right, like he’d be fucking pulling anything except his own fucking todge. And presumably he had someone on staff to do that sort of thing.
Shit. Fuck. Fuckity fuck.
She opened the calendar on her phone and counted 12 weeks from the date of the weekend.
Yep, Saturday June 13th. The earliest day they might expect the recommended restrictions to be lifted.
What should be her wedding day.
It had to go ahead. It just had to.

She didn’t make a fuss when her fiance came home. Likely he hadn’t noticed the significance of the 12 weeks. And she knew if she drew it to his attention, he’d tell her not to fuss, that everything would be OK and the worst that could happen would be that they would have to delay the wedding for a few months. Maybe a year. But she couldn’t be that sanguine. It had taken years for him to commit to a date. She had booked caterers, florists, the photographer, a stylist, and a ridiculously expensive venue overlooking the sea, accommodation included. A dress was being hand-sewn. The list they had published at Harrods was already half ticked-off.

The expense of cancelling would be huge. Even postponing was bound to cost. The thought made her neck contract with tension.
Eventually he noticed her preoccupation, her whimper as he turned on the 10 o’clock news and the press conference was replayed in all its godawful glibness.
“What’s up? Worried about the wedding?” He tousled her hair, pulling strands of hair out of her carefully controlled coiffure and making her wince. She pulled away.
“Of course I’m fucking worried,” she snapped, forgetting her earlier resolve. “This could ruin everything!”
“If the worst comes to the worst, we’ll just postpone. It’s only money. Calm down, love.” He pulled her against his chest, and she forced herself to relax.

“It’s only money.” The words chased themselves around her head as she lay sleepless beside him, listening to his gentle snores. It was easy enough for him to say, he’d been born with loads of it. She had not. This wedding was her way of announcing to the world that life had changed for her, that she was no longer the penniless data inputter from his office, but about to become his equal, his wife.
Half an hour later she decided it was no good, she wasn’t going to sleep. She got up and pulled on a dressing gown. Her laptop was on the kitchen table and she flipped open the cover and made herself a cup of camomile tea while it woke up.
Her Facebook feed was full of friends lamenting cancelled holidays, home-working memes involving pyjamas and a general air of stoicism. She scrolled through with mounting irritation. The ad in the sidebar almost missed her attention altogether. TOO BUSY FOR A SHUTDOWN? CAN’T MISS A THING? THIS GROUP CAN HELP. Intrigued, she clicked.

The man who had promised he could help her did not look like a saviour. For one, he looked ill. But that was good. That was the point.
He stood hunched over and coughed into his fist, against all the medical advice she had read. She approached warily.
The shop windows that overlooked them were blank, the streets empty. They were alone except for some pigeons, unaware of the human crisis and happily courting in the fitful sunshine. Evenso she still felt exposed and wondered if she could be seen on CCTV, if anyone was watching. So what, it wasn’t as if she was doing anything illegal.
He didn’t notice her until she was almost upon him. She cleared her throat and he looked up. Close to, he looked even worse, face shiny with sweat.
“You Nadine?” he rasped.
She nodded.
“Got what I asked for?”
An envelope full of £20 notes passed between hands.
“Right, how do you want your dose?” He laughed. It turned into a terrible, wet cough that bent him double.
She was startled. She hadn’t thought this bit through.
“You’re not bad looking. I’d be happy to give you a snog,” he offered, after the fit of coughing had subsided.
She recoiled and he laughed again. She wanted to step away, it was instinctive, but she forced herself to stay within the infection zone. The quicker this worked, the better. This time he coughed hard into a handkerchief, and when he had done he offered it to her. Repulsed, she stared at it.
“Go, on, take it, your’re not going to get a better opportunity than this,’ he wheezed. She took it and he turned and shuffled away.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked.
“How else a publican going to make a buck in these times?” he wheezed, before slipping down an alleyway.
“You’re sure you’ve got the right bug?” she shouted after him. There was no reply.

On the drive home, on almost deserted roads, she wore the handkerchief wrapped around her mouth and chin, like a mask. If any other drivers thought she was odd wearing it inside the car, as they sat beside her at the lights, she didn’t care.
When she got home she found her fiance working in his home office and gave him a long and impassioned kiss.
“Glad you’re feeling happier!” he said.

She had a week or two, she thought, before the symptoms kicked in. Another week of being ill. Then, surely, they would be allowed out of the house and life could return to normal. Before she got sick, and after, all she had to worry about was getting close to her guests and wedding staff, in time to be sure they’d be fit for her big day. Humming under her breath, she started a new table in her wedding spreadsheet.

[Disclosure: at time of writing the author is hoping to get married on June 20th.]


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