16 May, in the year of our Lord 2020
Up very betimes, having slept badly with a cough and a little tightnesse of the chest that would not settle. No phlegm, and at times I have a Wheeze in the pipes of my lungs anyway, so that I sound like a reed organ. The weather cold after the warmth of last month, though still without rain and I am having to water my new plants every day.
After dinner still troubled by my chest and though without fever I am fearful, for the plague is worse for sufferers of the Wheeze. I to the Physician, where business slack, none waiting, the staff gone home and his premises empty save for he alone, trying to appear busy by rearranging the Liniments and Salves section on his dusty shelves.
‘I would like a —’
‘Have you an appointment?’
‘No, but —’
‘I cannot see you without an appointment. You need to book online.’
‘I have no idea what that means.’
‘On line. That line, there!’ He gestured to a white line drawn in chalk from wall to wall across the floor behind me, near the door and six feet from his counter. ‘Stand on it.’ I did so. ‘Now, how may I help you?’
‘I would like a plague test.’
‘I would like a plague test, please.’
With great show, he opened an enormous ledger on his counter, dust clouds everywhere, and ran his finger down the page. ‘We are very busy.’
‘You are not very busy. There is no one here but I!’
‘Do you want a test or not? You already have an appointment for your hands on the twenty-sixth.’
‘I may be dead by then! I have had a cough all day.’ And coughed to make the point.
He sighed heavily and with a theatricle show of great reluctance said, ‘Very well. But we are short of protection.’
‘I thought you were getting protection from abroad?’
‘The masks from Bruges were lace and the gloves were without fingers and made for pickpockets in Constantinople. As it happens we have had a cancellation for just now, so if you would like to follow me.’ So to his back room for consultation where he bid me lie on a threadbare couch. ‘I should like a second peek —’
‘What? Business cannot be so bad that you wish us all a second —’
‘— at your hands, addlebrain.’ I showed him them from a Special Distance. ‘They do seem better. I shall cancel your appointment. Now, do you wish tests for the Clap, the Pox and Covey Disease, or which of them? There is a start-up offer. One shilling and sixpence for two tests, two-and-six for three.’
‘It is what they are calling the plague.’
‘Well, it is better than The Black Death, I’ll give them that.’ I am a fool for a bargain and there is no harm in thoroughnesse, so I said, ‘I will take the Plague and Clap combo deal. Please.’
‘Very well. Please note that Terms and Conditions apply and that some tests may be sent for analysise to the Plymouth Colony.’
‘The Plymouth Colony? That is half the globe away!’
‘I cannot help that, it is the way it is. Open your mouth…’
And with that he took from his desk a long twig with a pigeon feather tied to the end, and at arm’s length rammed it down my throat.
‘Aaarghghaaaghghgh — !’
‘…and now the nose, head back…’
A fresh feather and: ‘Ach-oo-oo-oo! You might have —!’
‘…and now drop your pants,’ which perforce I did.
This time a down feather on a stick, which actually I did find agreeable, to the point of thinking to suggest it to my Lady MacSporran. The mood did not last long, for finally a sight that made my eyes bulge: a goose quill on a bamboo cane and a six foot tube.
‘Roll on your side, knees up to your chest.’
‘On your side!’
It all over and I dressed to meet the world again, we talked and tattled a little to ease the time, but he wishing to put up the shutters.
‘It seems a little early to close shoppe?’ I said. His shoulders dropped and he looked to the floor.
‘It is more than that. A week ago the Covey took my father. I know the field in which he lies but could not say goodbye.’ And his eyes welled. My words would not come out and I could not embrace him as I wished, so I left a guinea on the counter, tho’ I knew it a poor substitute.
At supper my eyes did redden and itch and my nose also, and I knew my chest its trouble due to grasses, this being the time of year for my allergie. After, I braved the garden to water in my plants, and thought on other people’s lives and the hidden rooms in them that I knew not. And I sat and my eyes welled a little too, only this time it was not the grasses. And so to bed.