On a walk, I notice lichen growing on a wall, big white rubbed-out roses, or mandalas. In the woods, we stop to chat with friends, Sam dashing from person to person without a care for the rules of social distancing. Afterwards, we get ice creams at the petrol station, spraying their packaging with spirits before eating them in the kitchen. The wind rattles the windows, worming itself under our nerves, and we flee upstairs to the sitting room and its hearthfire, and bask in the cold glow of the television.
The mother-in-law starts our mornings with a series of negative statements—You didn’t feed the dog. The cattle weren’t fed. The windows weren’t opened.—which are affirmed or deflected depending on our level of energy. Letters are opened, tasks are delegated, reminders meted out. Over the day, the house rattles as she cleans, replacing toilet seats and blinds, clearing and preparing a fireplace. The evening finishes for her at dinner, with a summary of news, covid-19 deaths and diagnoses, the histories of the people she encountered on her walks. She will have visited the farm several times by then, checking to see if a cow has calved.
By will and discipline, the mother-in-law keeps us together, fettering us to routine so we don’t fly away on feeling, the ennui of lockdown. Under her vigilant gaze, the days are shaped and sharpened, kept from softening into a vague mass of hours distinguishable only by the quality of light.