I am sitting alone in my office shed, wondering if it’s immoral to order an electric toothbrush online. Will I be putting the person who delivers it at risk, or diverting them from more essential deliveries? Two weeks ago, it would have been fine, but two weeks ago I was still going outside, still keeping nonvital appointments.
Even a week ago I was still thinking of myself as someone practised at self-isolation, but that was when there was something to isolate myself from: a world of people going about their business. Then the cancellations poured in, and suddenly there was nothing for me not to go to. The idea that everyone else is doing what I’ve always done fills me with unease. It was never a lifestyle I recommended.
My wife still goes out once a day, to walk the dog, to look in at the ravaged shops, and to report back.
“There is no more fresh meat,” she says. “Except for two packs of lamb cutlets, which I bought.”
“Excellent,” I say.
“I also got you a box of Cornettos,” she says.
“In that case, we can nail the front door shut,” I say.
“Cornettos?” the oldest one says, walking into the kitchen while staring deep into his phone. An announcer’s urgent commentary fills the room.
“That’s quite loud,” my wife says.
“Marble racing,” the oldest one says, angling the screen so I can look over his shoulder. “It’s the only sport left.”
“It is sort of compelling,” I say, watching two handfuls of marbles chase each other round a track.
“I think we should put it up on the big screen and bet on it,” the oldest says.
“Oh my God,” my wife says. “I can’t believe I’m stuck here with you people.”
“Not for actual money,” he says.
“Of course not,” I say. “What use is money to us now?”
“Just for chores and stuff,” he says. The youngest one walks in, fresh from bed, safely past lunchtime.
“Any word from uni?” my wife says.
“Yeah, all face-to-face learning is cancelled,” he says.
“Well, we knew that was going to happen,” she says.
“I heard there’s a total lockdown coming,” the youngest says.
“Yes,” my wife says. “My sources say the same.”
“What sources?” I say. “All I get are emails from companies trying to make their products sound virus-friendly.”
“Very good authority,” my wife says.
“Like a £30 water bottle, perfect for those home workouts.”
“Unbelievable!” shouts the oldest one, fist in the air. “Bluey has retaken the lead!”
“You don’t need a water bottle at home,” I say. “The sink’s right there.”
I am, for the most part, good at doing nothing: I have a stack of books to read, a backlog of TV shows to watch, several musical instruments I can only sort of play and a case of wine that isn’t going to drink itself. I can’t compare it to Christmas, because at Christmas I had a virus, but if this sort of sloth has become the height of responsible behaviour, that’s OK with me. It’s only in the dead of night that I become anxious. Fear of the future seeps into my dreams, adjusting plot lines: the army drops by, to ask about my recent Amazon delivery.
“It was a thermometer,” I say.
Once awake, I’m reluctant to try to go back to sleep. As soon as the first cloudy light pales the windows, I crawl out of bed and get dressed. As I’m buttoning my shirt, my wife rolls over and opens an eye.
“Why are you up so early?” she says.
“I’m a key worker,” I say.
“You,” she says, “are the opposite of a key worker.”
“Nevertheless, I have things to do,” I say. “Deadlines and stuff.”
I go downstairs, make coffee and read the headlines on my phone, looking for subtle changes in the moral weather. What shouldn’t I do today? Then I go out to my office and order a new toothbrush. I tell myself that it’s something I need, although in the back of my mind I know that if they were available only in rose gold I probably wouldn’t bother. Get it now, I think. While they still have white.