Steve arrived home earlier than expected. Strong tailwinds over northern Australia carried flight QF2 to Sydney almost an hour earlier than scheduled. He found Kevin reading, who didn’t even look up he was so absorbed in the book. Steve went to Kevin, gave him a hug, with the book between them and said “Can’t you put that down and give me a proper welcome home after a week away?”
“Sorry, I was carried away by this story and hoping to get it finished before you got in.” Kevin stood up and said “Come here you hunk and I’ll give you all the hugs you missed in the last week. At least I assume you didn’t get too many hugs while away. You know what they say about flyboys; one in every port.”
“I think that’s sailors. Anyway, I have one in one port only.”
“Right answer, now get out of that uniform and fill a few glasses while I finish this. I put your favourite sauvignon blanc in the fridge. I’ve only got a few pages to go and I can’t stop till I find out if the two boys get together.”
“Oh, a gay Mills and Boon.”
“No, not at all, it’s actually quite a tragic story, wrapped around a sci-fi drama with informative observations on human behaviour.”
“Sounds fascinating, I don’t think.”
“Well said for someone who thinks DNA magazine is a fine example of English literature.”
“It has some well written articles.”
“And a lot of eye candy.”
“Ok, finish your book and I’ll be back.”
Kevin closed the book just as Steve arrived with two glasses of wine. He was wearing only blue boxer shorts covered in red and white roosters.
“Hey they’re new. Get them in London?”
“No, doesn’t the waist band give you a clue?”
Kevin tried, in what he thought was the appropriate accent, to say “Garcon Francais. You’ve been to Paris?
“You bastard, you go to the city of love without me! I may never forgive you.”
“If you don’t then I may not give you your parcel from Paris.”
While Kevin waited in anticipation Steve went to retrieve the gift. He presented Kevin with a large Garcon Francais carry bag.
“Wow! Looks exciting.” Kevin was so keen to see the contents he just upended the bag and out tumbled a collection of jocks, sox, T shirts and a pair of red, white and blue swim trunks. He held each item against himself for Steve’s approval. He then checked one of the labels which read ‘Fabriqué en France’. “Wow! Not made in China, that’s refreshing. I love ‘em all, so I suppose you’re forgiven.”
“Good, now tell me how did the book finish, did the hero get it in the end, and they lived happily ever after?”
“Yes they did become a couple, but not sure about the ever after.”
Steve picked up the book and looked at the cover. “Pandemic by Tom Wibball, that’s an ominous title and what’s this round spiky ball thing on the cover?”
“That’s a representation of the Corona virus. Corona means crown in Spanish and the spikes represent a crown.”
“And this fascinated you how?”
“Well it’s about this virus that is first discovered in a city called Wuhan. Don’t know if that’s a real place or not, but it is believed it came from a wet market and transferred from animals to humans.”
“Hang on.” said Steve as he tapped away at is phone “Yes, got it, Wuhan is a real place. That should get up the noses of the Chinese.”
“It doesn’t take much to piss them off. Anyway this young doctor notices similar symptoms in a number of patients and starts discussing it on a website with other doctors. The powers, that must be obeyed, find out, shut down the discussion and the doctor disappears for a while. He then shows up dead.”
“Of course he does.”
“He supposedly dies from the virus, which by then has people dropping dead in the streets. The Chinese authorities stop all movement of people in the city, to the point that if you go out without permission they weld shut your front door.”
“That’s scary, so do they find a cure for this disease?”
“Not yet, but the emergence of the disease happens just before Lunar New Year when traditionally Chinese are travelling all over the world to visit family or to holiday. That is how it spreads so super fast.”
“Even to Australia?”
“Yes, within two months there’s scarcely a country without it. Then the who declare it a pandemic, hence the title.”
“That ancient rock band?”
“No, the W H O, World Health Organisation.”
“You’d think the writer could have come up with a better name than that.”
“It’s a real organisation, numb nuts.”
“Oh, anyway go on.”
“Well it spreads all over. In Australia they introduce social distancing, which means you have to stay 1.5 metres away from other people. Overseas it is especially bad in Spain and Italy. Most nations close their international borders, thousand of aircraft are grounded and there’s an enormous number of layoffs in the travel industry.”
“Hang on! You just lost me, because I’d be out of work. How could that happen? This is all getting a bit farfetched, but then you said it’s sci-fi, so I suppose one must suspend their belief in reality.”
“Precisely, now stay with me. Then the Prime Minister of the UK, one Boris Johnson, gets the virus.”
“This writer thinks Boris Johnson could be the PM of the UK. Now it’s losing some credibility.”
“Well he was a popular Mayor of London, so maybe.”
“So does he die an agonising death and London goes into mourning and the Queen has to take over?”
“No, he recovers after a stint in ICU and goes back to Parliament. I think the writer is trying to say that the virus does not discriminate. Doesn’t matter whether you’re a PM or homeless, rich or poor, everyone is vulnerable.”
“Then the next chapter is where he does lose some credibility. Now wait for this. When it reaches the United States it is not treated seriously by the president and he says it’s only a little flu and can be cured by drinking disinfectant. But when I reached the chapter where over ten million people there become infected, even I started to think this is a bit implausible.”
“You’re right, in the richest free nation in the world that couldn’t happen.”
“Oh, as a sceptic of this story, you’ll love this bit. He makes the president, Donald Trump.”
“The apprentice TV guy?” Steve asked, and took a sip of wine.
Steve laughed so hard he sprayed his mouthful of wine all over Kevin. When he managed to regain control he asked “And was it about this point in the book that you decided it was a send up of that sci-fi movie Contagion?”
“No, apart from that it was a very serious study of how humanity would cope with the world wide spread of a deadly disease. Oh and I forgot to tell you they named this disease the Corona Virus Disease or Covid for short.”
“Your family name, how insulting.”
“I thought so at first, but it’s not a very common name so they probably didn’t know it was anybody’s name and besides great grandpa shortened his name when he migrated to Australia because nobody could pronounce or remember Covidastovskiuskiene and he thought Covid was easier.”
“Just as well, it wouldn’t have fit on his driver’s licence anyway.”
“Now that I think about it, lots of medical conditions have the names of people.”
“Those families must be pretty pissed off about that.”
“No, those people either discovered the disease or researched it. So the naming was an honour.”
“Don’t know if I’d see it that way.”
“How about a top up and a towel, just in case you laugh again with a mouth full of wine.”
“Why, are you going to tell me that China takes responsibility for this and gives the world free vaccines?”
When Steve returned, Kevin said “Do you want to hear more?”
“Yeah, might as well, you’ve got me hooked now and besides when do we get to the bit about the two young guys.”
“I’m getting to that. So there’s this one chapter about Australia where Queensland and NSW both have female premiers.”
“Oh yeah, like that’s about to happen.”
“So these two start bitching about closed borders. The Qld premier Anastasia, with an unpronounceable surname closes their state border and the NSW premier Gladys, with an equally unpronounceable surname keeps sniping at Anastasia because she can’t go there. Well that continues for a few months till Victoria, the state not a person, has a second wave of the virus and Gladys has to close the NSW/Victoria border so they can’t come here.”
“Is that what they call irony?”
“Good man, you are keeping up. Now I forgot to tell you earlier, that when the international borders were closed, only Australians returning home or foreigners with a special exemption can enter, but they must go into hotel quarantine for two weeks and test negative after that to be released. Most states put their local police in charge of enforcing the quarantine with armed forces personal to assist.”
“This is sounding a bit Orwellian, armed forces detaining civilians.”
“Does a bit, so when they have this hotel quarantine in Melbourne they put private security guards, recruited on Instagram, in charge of the quarantinees.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing in principle, but the security guards and snapped sleeping on the job, while the quarantinees sneak out for a smoke or go to the local fast food joint. But it gets worse, when it is discovered that some security guards and bonking the people they are supposed to be keeping in quarantine. This is how the second wave starts.”
“This is getting more unbelievable as it goes along.”
“You haven’t heard it all yet. They have this government inquiry to determine how this all went wrong and they discover that no one made the decision, no one gave an order and nobody remembers how they came to use a private security company.”
“No wonder this is called fiction, couldn’t happen in real life.”
“I suppose not, but makes for an interesting read.”
“Yeah, so what about the lovers, I’m waiting for that bit.”
“You are a romantic aren’t you?”
“Well, I am hoping there’s a bit of hot sex in there somewhere. Hang on, you’re not going to tell me that they can’t get together because of this, what was it, sociable distancing thing?”
“It’s social distancing, but in private that’s hard to enforce.”
Before Kevin could continue his phone rang. “Hello.”......
“Hi Gran, good to hear from you.”......
“Aunt Candida? No I don’t.”......
“I was probably too young. Sounds like she’s been away almost as long as I’ve been alive.”......
“Oh, that’s sad”......
“Bugger me, three times?”......
“They say, one is unfortunate, two is carelessness, so three must be a scandal.”......
“Sorry Gran, I’m on a high at the moment, my man is just back after a week away.”......
“No Gran, not drugs.....
“Well, I suppose that would ease the pain a bit.”......
“Yes, I think so.”......
“Well, he’s just back from London so he’ll have most of the week off, I’ll check.” Looking at Steve, Kevin asked. “Do you have any plans for Saturday night?”
“No, haven’t thought about it really.”
“Gran, that should be all right, what time?”......
“Sounds great, I’ll bring a few bottles and in the meantime I’ll talk to Dad, see what he remembers about her.”......
“Ok, love you Gran, bye for now.”
“What was that all about?” asked Steve.
“Apparently I have an aunt I didn’t know about. She’s been travelling the world for twenty years. She was recently widowed for the third time, inherited a fortune and has come back to Australia because she has no other family.”
“Has she just become your favourite aunt?”
“I guess so, because she’s my only aunt.”
“I just lost interest in your book. I’d rather talk about your aunt.”
Premier of Queensland - Annastacia Pałaszczuk
Premier of New South Wales - Gladys Berejiklian
There will be future adventures of Kevin, Steve and aunt Candida. But coming up next will be a short story called “Max and Charles”.
Thank you to all who have read, commented or reacted to this story. For a first timer on GA, you have made it a rewarding experience.
Sometimes the story may not have gone in the direction you wanted, but hey, don’t you like surprises? Would you really turn the page so eagerly if you knew what was going to happen?
All your comments have been taken on board and will inform me when planning future stories.