By Jane Hyphen
When I woke up from my nap, my stupor as I call it since the line between wakefulness and sleep had thinned to a hairline’s width, I noticed how quiet it was. Of course it’s been quiet for a few weeks but this time it was more than quiet, it was silent.
There had been an on and off presence of reassuring noise; children playing, dogs barking, the hum of a car driving slowly around the bend of the road where I live. I’ve noticed that people have been driving more slowly than usual, perhaps they are worried about disturbing the air too much. Normally people speed in my area, they drive like idiots.
The silence was heavy, oppressive. I checked my phone for messages but there were none, not even replies to the ones I sent out to family members in the morning to check if they were okay. That’s funny I thought, they normally respond within a couple of hours, I hoped that they were okay.
I made myself a cup of tea but I’d been using long-life soya milk and although it was tolerable for a day, I found myself now hating the stuff. Tea just didn’t taste the same and tea is one of life’s simple pleasures, it’s like a blanket when you’re cold, it comforts you, just enough to keep you going.
My two dogs had already had their walk, just a short one because my older dog has intermittent lameness and he was a bit stiff that morning. I hadn’t seen anybody on my walk and had managed to avoid the awkward dither regarding which party will step into the road first to maintain a safe distance. Being a dog walker, I felt it should always be me who steps into the road but the other parties usually beat me to it. Probably because they were able to change location more quickly without eight extra legs to manage.
The urge to go out and purchase cow’s milk was strong. I had considered going vegan many, many times, I think it’s probably the future and I would like to do it before that future becomes mainstream but this tea drinking with soya milk was bothering me more than I ever thought possible. It just tasted too bitter and too strong.
My local shop had been a lifeline during the lockdown. It sold basic food items, cleaning products and also served as a Post Office. I was apprehensive about going out again, knowing that my neighbours may have watched me walk my dogs and may observe me out and about for a second time that day.
The silence inside my house was deafening though so I grabbed my handbag, put on a jacket and walked the short distance to the corner shop. Even the birds were silent, the streets had an eerie feel to them. I noticed how a whole bunch of daisies were blooming on the grass verges, the ones which faced South, some of them had a vivid pink tinge on the edges of the petals. They seemed so beautiful, it felt as if I were seeing them for the first time.
The shop’s window is always blacked out with some kind of paper so that nobody can see inside but the window in the door is clear. It looked dark in there, I pushed the door but it didn't give, it was locked. That’s funny, I thought and I checked the time, half past four, on a weekday. I looked all around the front for a sign, an explanation but there was nothing there. I was disappointed but I told myself, as I have been doing often recently, to get over it, after all, we’re not starving.
On the return journey I didn’t see a single person. The silence overwhelmed me once more and I actually wondered if perhaps there was something amiss with my hearing. I made a couple of silly noises and whistled a tune, yes I could hear those noises but was I just hearing them from inside my own physical body?
Back at home my dogs were anxiously waiting at the window. I fed them and tried to call a couple of friends but their phones just rang out. To break the silence I switched on the television, Eastenders was on and Flog It but all the other channels were suspended with a message. ‘Sorry this channel is currently unavailable.’ How annoying, I thought.
I sat on the sofa for a while but slowly and steadily anxiety kicked in, I began to feel desperate to connect with somebody so I left my house and went next door to my neighbours and rang the doorbell. The curtains were open, I listened for the sounds of people moving around but could hear nothing. I rang again but nobody came. Feeling increasingly worried I went to my other neighbour and knocked, I lifted my hands around my face and peered in through the window into his lounge. A cup had been left on the table but there were no signs of life. I knocked and knocked until my knuckles hurt. I shouted and heard the insane sound of my own voice.
My breathing turned into panting as I stood in the road shouting. “Is anybody there, can you hear me? Is anybody…..around?’
I stopped and told myself to calm down. I walked a little farther to the main road and looked up and down, all was still and silent. I went from house to house, ringing bells, staring into windows. Curtains were open, people had started their day but where were they now? It was as if everybody had vanished.
Crying now I returned to my home. I made a few more phone calls but got no answers. I tried the radio, I managed to connect to a fuzzy shipping forecast but was unable to tune into any channels. I felt faint with anxiety now having exhausted all avenues of communication I collapsed onto the sofa hugging my dogs, holding them tight and crying into their fur.