Jessica Farrington paused her Garmin as she slowed down to check her alignment in the large glass windows of Barrington Cross. The hair salon, on the corner of Bank Street with Old Humboldt had been closed since the start of lockdown, three months ago today. Casually glancing to her left, she felt especially pleased with the new four-way stretch, zero-gravity, high waist leggings, having only added them to her online basket to qualify for free delivery on a pair of hybrid running shoes. She missed the treadmill at Prettyside Health & Fitness, the air conditioning, the biofeedback, high definition data screens and of course, the daily Banana Java Turmeric Smoothie. Fortunately, her long-standing connection with the club had entitled her to suspend full membership for 6 months; a fact which had made the expense of moving her running outdoors a little less galling. Before lifting her head, she pondered her recent acquisitions and considered them anew, in the light of them being yet another consequential cost of this dreadful pandemic.
“Hi, maybe see you at The Coffee Shack in half an hour?”
Mrs Hobbs and Mrs Forster ran past on the other side of the street. Mrs Forster, who was quite a large lady, was wearing the same high waist leggings as Jessica. An unexpected surge of sympathy prompted Jessica to wave her hand in acknowledgment of the invitation. Of course, she could change her mind, but Mrs Hobbs did live next door to Mrs Dunne and might be able to shed some light on why Jessica had been seen Mrs Dunne, allegedly furloughed in April, driving an unmarked delivery van around the village when she wasn’t supposed to be working. She texted her husband some instructions; he would have to rearrange his Microsoft Teams meeting and extend the ‘free play’ session with a game of Junior Countdown; it was best if he avoided the ‘fine motor skills development’ box as Tarquin still hadn’t fully recovered from the incident last week when, sat in the garden, the poor little chap, had somehow managed to fasten his private parts to the Happy Hooligans Do It Yourself Shoe lacing card.
She didn’t have time to get back to the car before coffee but fortunately, she always carried a contactless payment card in her running belt and thanks to the wonderful Kitty Mungbean, she no longer depended on her wide rim sunglasses, pushed up to blend her lockdown hairline, before going out in public. Kitty was 19 and just managed to be the legally conceived daughter of a girl that Jessica had been to school with. Jessica had learned from Facebook some time ago, that she lived in a bedsit above The BP Garage on the main road and worked in Toni & Guy in Greater Frenesham. Of course, when the Prime Minister had announced 10 days ago, that people in England who lived alone would be allowed to form a “support bubble” with one other household, Jessica had generously extended the hand of friendship. Only yesterday, Kitty had done a wonderful job fixing an all over tint and tidying up a few split ends, chatting quite sweetly about her online course in Ethnobotany, while her husband had taken the children for a long walk; it was a shame in some ways that Kitty’s visit had to be a one-off but she couldn’t risk the girls history being a bad influence on Tamara.
She un-paused her Garmin and decided to push herself hard up the 300m stretch between Darcy Road and Hilltop; after all, she had been seen and this was a timed segment on Strava. She reached the top glistening and elated, feeling certain that today had the potential to be a ‘public’ run; not only was she at the peak of her physical fitness but she looked forward to enjoying the sense of wellbeing that came from ‘sharing’ her efforts with others who needed inspiration to try a bit harder. She might even contribute a motivational piece to the parish magazine; she couldn’t help everyone but those people with a similarly healthy body mass index to her own, might feel reassured to know that this gave them relative immunity to complications from covid-19.
The Coffee Shack was a kettle and an awning on the edge of the cricket ground, just the other side of Hilltop. Despite not having any tables or chairs, other than the obligatory disabled seat that everyone tied their dogs to, and incredulous signs everywhere advising paying customers to take their used cups home with them, Jessica was strangely proud to support them; even if she couldn’t drink the coffee, the founders of this establishment hadn’t just taken a three month holiday and moaned about the state of the economy. Mrs Hobbs paid for the drinks, following the ‘kind notice’ requesting that only one person per party visit the counter, and came over to where Jessica and Mrs Forster were still establishing, through preliminary enquiries, whether any of them actually knew anyone who’d had coronavirus. They didn’t.
Eventually, the drinks appeared in a carboard tray and were presented theatrically over an imaginary two metre chasm; Jessica smiled and waited for one of her companions to ask her about the children but the enquiry was not forthcoming and they just stared into their coffee. Several awkward moments of silence passed before Mrs Hobbs remembered that she had left some frozen fish in the boot of her car. Having arranged the rendezvous and paid for the coffee, Jessica was slightly surprised when she hurriedly stammered that she couldn’t stay and turning around, almost ran to get away. At almost the exact same moment, Mrs Forster’s grass pollen allergy caused her eyes to start streaming and she too felt she had no option but to make it another day. The coffee was surprisingly good, so Jessica took a moment to finish it and showed her appreciation by walking over and handing back the empty cup. The car was nearby, and she decided to call her husband on the hands free when she got there, rather than spoiling her outfit by upsetting her waistband in search of the stitched-in phone pocket:
“I’m just on my way home darling, do we need anything from Waitrose?”
He thought not on this occasion and, all the while non-essential items remained unavailable to purchase, there seemed very little point to Jessica in browsing. So she decided to head home and, before pulling away, as was her habit, she glanced at herself in the rear view mirror:
“Oh My God ....”: she had caught sight of the mahogany brown stripes on her forehead, trickles of treacle coloured hair dye running down her face and neck with the rivulets of perspiration.
“Now on Radio 4, a summary of today’s Downing street briefing: Boris Johnson announces that hairdressers can reopen on the 4th July”