Liz and Nod Hello Man – or Brett as she now knows him to be called – reach the main road. On any other day, four lanes of traffic would rattle towards the city centre. Today, Liz hears bird song.
Brett’s grey gimlet eyes narrow. ‘That’s weird,’ he says.
Liz snorts. ‘Perhaps all the sensible people decided to self isolate. How many died now? I didn’t read the news.’
Brett fishes a phone from his bag and taps the screen. ‘I can’t get a signal down here.’
She can’t help but notice it’s a minute to nine.
‘I’m about to miss the start of my meeting,’ she says, deflated. ‘I might as well get coffee.’
Costa is closed.
‘How are we meant to survive?’
Brett frowns. ‘I know a van. They do the best bagels.’
Liz wonders if they might be the only two people stupid enough to venture out. Back when the whole Corona thing started, her boss was super supportive and insisted the team work from home. When everyone found reasons to skip the Tuesday meeting, his tone changed.
I’ll supply the santiser, you supply the magic, a terse email suggested. Let’s make this a face-to-face.
She wanted to reply with snark and was glad she held back when sheep-like colleagues sent supportive messages about the values of social cohesion.
Smug Ellen is due to present today. Smug Ellen says things like ‘No matter what I eat, I never put on weight’.
‘I’m already late,’ Liz says with a shrug. ‘What harm can more minutes do?’
Brett leads the way down a side street.
‘It’s gone,’ he says as they emerge onto another car-free road. ‘That’s weird.’
‘Perhaps they shut him down.’
‘They said we can eat at takeaways. There’s less temptation to lick tables.’
Liz allows him a smile. Until now, she took him to be the sort of bloke who conveys a free spirit through flamboyant ties. He just might have a personality.
‘My sister lives near here,’ she says. ‘And she has more money than sense. She bought an obscenely expensive coffee machine.
Brett falls in beside her.
‘I’m going to the office because my boss is a twat, what’s your excuse?’ she says.
‘I figured I ought to make the effort. I’ve been off sick for two weeks.’
‘Did you have Corona?’
His brow darkens as if she’s said the most moronic thing ever.
‘Stupid question. Obviously you had Corona.What was it like?’
They stop in front of a red brick building, and Liz studies the buttons.
‘I know the entry code,’ she says, although Monica keeps threatening to change the combination.
She types four numbers and the door clicks open. Liz smiles.
Once inside, instinct sees her beeline for hand sanitiser. The bottle is empty. Dust on the counter suggests a cleaner off sick.
‘Don’t bother,’ she tells Brett as he leans past to do the same.
Luck must be on her side, as a lift stands open on the ground floor.
‘I usually have to wait ages,’ Liz says as they step inside.
On the third floor, Liz hammers Monica’s front door.
‘Come on,’ she calls through the letterbox. ‘I know you’re home. We need coffee.’
‘Perhaps she’s out?’ Brett says.
Liz rolls her eyes. ‘Monica works nights. She’s home.’
‘Right, so … is she a nurse or something?’
When there’s no answer, Liz rummages in her bag for a key.
‘Should you be doing that?’ Brett says as she lets them in. ‘Aren’t we trespassing?’
‘She’s my sister. I do stuff like this all the time.’
Still, he hesitates.
‘Do you want coffee or not?’ she says. ‘Last chance.’
He looks around as if casing the joint and steps inside.
Monica’s flat is a mess. Lipstick stains an empty wineglass on the filthy kitchen counter. Green fur grows on dishes that fester in the sink.
‘She’s not a nurse,’ Brett says. ‘Unless she’s growing penicillin.’
‘My sister is a confirmed slob.’ Liz holds her nose as she drops a dirty dishcloth into an overflowing bin. A mouse darts under the washing machine.
Brett screams. Liz brays a laugh.
‘How can you find this funny?’ he says. ‘It’s not right.’
‘I lived in Amsterdam for five years. You get used to the mice.’
‘This isn’t Amsterdam.’
Liz pulls out her phone. ‘Even by Monica’s standards, this is extreme.’
A recorded voice confirms her sister has turned off her phone.
‘Typical,’ Liz says. ‘We need coffee and she’s on the missing list.’
Brett doesn’t answer.
‘If you’re willing to take your life into your hands, I can make coffee,’ she says and reaches into a cupboard for a jar of coffee beans. Like everything else, it’s sprinkled with dust. Typical Monica. She spent a fortune on the biggest, best machine, and promptly lost interest.
‘I should get going,’ he says. ‘I’ll be late for work.’