The hen vanishes. And a rat appears.
I am hunter gatherer. The Husband is of an age that lets him off supermarketing during lockdown and the daughters can’t drive: so the shopping list is all mine. It’s a big responsibility and my endeavours are judged the second I wrestle the bags into the house. On the drive back from the supermarket, I decide what to hold out in triumph to distract from the longed-for items missing in action. No, no pasta. But look at these grapes! That said, last week my trophy was the last two bags of strong white flour (actually the last two bags of any kind of flour). The Husband’s been begging for strong white for weeks. The woman behind me gazed at the flour-dusted shelf. Did I offer her one of my bags? I didn’t. This week, there was no flour. But, huzzah! Oh, precious gold dust: quick yeast! I took the last two remaining packets, glancing guiltily around as I did so.
It’s easy to get spooked in the supermarket. I psych myself up to go. When I’m there, I turn away, hold my breath and mutter ‘two metres’ if my fellow shoppers aren’t honouring my personal space. Today the lovely checkout worker chatted away merrily. And all I could think was that the screen was there for a reason and maybe it would be good not to keep leaning out from behind it. Also, I couldn’t stop wondering if a film of spittle was settling on all my shopping during our merry badinage. I’d torn one finger of the plastic gloves I was wearing… I made sure to use the other hand as I packed.
It’s hard not to feel that everything is, if not infected by Covid-19, then certainly affected by it. This week, something spooked our hen. She went over the wall. Pretty (that’s her name) is eight years old, the pride of our garden and a home body. Having said that, she gave up on her hen house long ago and prefers to roost in a tree for the night. In the early hours of Sunday morning, the youngest daughter wondered why she could hear clucking in her bedroom. Turns out the hen was on the pavement outside B&M, shouting just like the drunken youth that usually stream past our windows on a Saturday night.
Not wishing to wake the whole household at 2am, the youngest fearlessly went into the street in her dad’s shoes and her PJs, armed with crisps to lure the escapee back home (the hen always enjoys a crisp or two when we have a glass of wine and nibbles in the garden).
On Sunday the daughters went for a swim from Greenses beach here in Berwick. We incorporated their dip into our exercise hour. I found myself hoping no one would see us. Were we breaking rules? Would someone think we were irresponsible? A couple walking their dog came down to the beach as the daughters waded up to their knees, dunked their shoulders, and flapped into a shivery swim in the shallows. I imagined the couple tutting under their breath: ‘reckless behaviour… coastguard… selves and others at risk…’ etc. They probably didn’t, but that’s the world we’re living in.
On Monday, the hen was at the back door as usual. Tap-tapping on the glass, wanting her breakfast. I fed her at the far end of the garden as usual. Five minutes later, I returned to visit the compost heap. I squealed. There was a giant (I kid you not: giant) dead rat, lying right in the middle of the grass, where previously there had not been a giant dead rat. I’m no Miss Marple, but that rat had been dead some time: it was stiff as a board. How had it arrived there? What did it mean? Was it a judgement: the flour, the swim, the yeast?
The Husband dealt with the rat (I do the supermarket: it’s only fair). The hen clucked at my feet. ‘Passenger,’ I hissed at her as I gave her a few grains of corn. ‘I bet you didn’t even think of kitchen roll when you were hanging out at B&M.’ She blinked at me. Inscrutable.