n the end, I did go to the pub on 12 April. It would have been rude not to. Especially after my colleague George joined me to spend a couple of chilly hours sticking inspirational promotional Post-its for #Yne on every other lamppost in SW12. #Yne is a root-based non-alcoholic beverage, but by the time we had finished putting up some 200 sticky platitudes, George and I felt we deserved a “drink drink”. Not least because while Bella Vista PR was charging #Yne three pounds for every Post-it, George and I were not being paid overtime to plaster them all over South London.
“Personally,” said George. “If I discovered an inspirational quote was actually part of an advertising campaign, I would go out of my way never to buy the product. But since we’re talking parsnip wine with the alcohol removed, there’s little chance of me ever buying #Yne anyway.”
“It’s not so bad,” I said. “If there’s nothing else.”
“Tonight is not the night for low-alcohol,” George said. “It’s Manic Monday!”
It certainly was. The crowd outside our chosen pub was already spilling onto the road at half six. The scene had a touch of Hogarth’s Gin Lane about it, only with management consultants instead of prostitutes and robbers. Social distancing be damned. I had no idea how we would be able to find space to have a drink without picking up an STD, let alone Covid.
While George tried to order on the pub’s app, I tried to buy us some space by doing the “whirling with your arms out” thing my primary school PE teacher used to have us do in the gym to make sure we didn’t kick each other in the head while attempting handstands. I accidentally smacked the person standing next to me in the stomach.
“Sorry! Social distancing!” I said.
Thank goodness I’d hit someone I know. It was Glenn the postie.
The last time I saw Glenn out of context and out of uniform, I accidentally kissed him. Thankfully, a year of lockdown had absolutely rid me of that impulse and instead I reacted in a Covid-safe manner, rearing away in horror and crossing myself. Well, perhaps not crossing myself.
George watched with interest.
“Glenn! How are you? Are you having a drink?”
He tipped his glass at me.
“How does one get a drink around here?” George asked.
“Is that an iPhone? You’ve got no chance,” Glenn told him.
“And how do you two know each other?” George asked.
Glenn made the connection for him.
“You’re the postman she accidentally kissed!” George clapped his hands in unseemly glee.
“No chance of that happening again,” I said.
Did Glenn look disappointed?
“Because of Covid,” I clarified. “Haven’t we got to wait until June until we can kiss anyone again? Unless we’ve been in a bubble with them.”
Shut up, said my inner voice. Shut up.
I tried to work out who Glenn was at the pub with.
“Work outing,” he explained helpfully.
“Same for us,” said George. “I mean, obviously we’re not a couple.”
“What happened about Brenda’s boyfriend?” Glenn asked me then. “I haven’t seen her for a couple of weeks.”
I explained that Brenda’s boyfriend turned out to be one of those scammers who pose as single Red Cross doctors to fleece lonely widows. “The photos belonged to a dentist from Aarhus.”
“It’s nice, Aarhus,” said Glenn. “Beautiful old town.”
Glenn and George set to talking about travel. The drinks George was sure he had ordered on the app didn’t materialise. Glenn offered to stand us both a round since he knew the app worked on his phone. One drink turned into three. I promised I would pay Glenn back. As we left, George said, “You can thank me later. I just got you an excuse to ask Glenn on a date. You owe him three gins.”
I glanced back at the crowd in the middle of the road. Glenn waved.
“He was being polite,” I said.
“No straight man buys a woman and her gay mate three rounds out of politeness.”
I brushed it off, though I hoped George was right.
Back at home, I checked my email. I have a special Gmail account for shopping. That was the one I’d used to email the Danish dentist, telling him his photos were being used for nefarious purposes. I had not expected a reply. I certainly hadn’t expected one that said anything beyond, “Thanks for letting me know.”
He wrote, “It was kind of you to let me know about the photographs. It is worrisome indeed to learn that I might have been an unwitting party to a crime. I do hope your friend did not send money to the criminal masquerading behind my pictures before you realised what was afoot. The idea has been playing on my mind.”
Should I write back and tell him that Brenda had not made that bank transfer? On the one hand, I felt I ought to let him know so he could be reassured. On the other hand… as I pressed reply and started to compose an email in my head, I felt as though I was doing something illicit. I was writing to Brenda’s boyfriend! Oh, don’t be stupid, I told myself. Brenda’s boyfriend was a scammer somewhere far far from Aarhus. He’d just borrowed this chap’s – Steen’s – rather friendly face.
As I began to write, I caught sight of something small and furry scuttling across the kitchen floor. When I stood up, it froze. Mouse or Minky? It was Minky!
“Minky! Get in that box.”
The humane mouse trap was still standing empty.
“The pest people are coming tomorrow.”
Minky seemed to be listening. Gingerly, she put one paw into the trap. Triumph! I tipped Minky into the trap and from there, into her cage. She squeaked with indignation.
The following morning, I came downstairs to find Minky glaring at me from behind bars. As I sat down at the kitchen table to nurse my hangover with a coffee, she got into her wheel and started running. The squeak, squeak, squeak of the wheel pierced my brain. As I contemplated Minky’s return to captivity, it struck me, did the end of lockdown in fact mean that I was facing the same horror? Back to the pub, back to the office, back to the hamster wheel?
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