Slide Effects

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

Tony has had all he can take of 2020. He was unsure how much longer he could put up with things. Then his wife saw an advert for a private medical firm offering a vaccine.

Tony Sheridan rolled over and switched off the buzzing alarm clock. Seven a.m. He sighed. Had he slept at all? It felt like he’d been awake all night. Hardly surprising, these days, though. By December 2020, having lived under the shadow of the global pandemic, did anyone sleep like they once did? We don’t sleep, he thought, we just lie down and close our eyes.

Tony flung the duvet to one side, and, groaning from tiredness and exhaustion, he yanked on his grey jogging bottoms and pulled a faded t-shirt over his head.

He found his wife downstairs in the kitchen. She popped two slices of bread in the toaster and flicked the kettle on.

‘Morning, love. Tea and toast?’

Tony managed a nod. He rubbed the weeks growth of beard on his jaw and stared out the window. The skies over their small garden were grey and dark. Like the rest of the days recently, it probably wouldn’t even get full, proper, daylight today. The day would be dreary, dull and grey, just like life these days.

He looked around the kitchen, at the two laptop computers, back-to-back on the kitchen table. Both Tony and Anna had been working from home since the national lockdown in March. The working week, these days, involved them sitting facing each other, tapping away furiously at the computer keys and drinking lots of tea. While Anna had taken well to working from home, or WFH as it had become known, Tony had struggled, and was still struggling.

When it had started, he had hoped WFH would be a temporary measure, but here they were, months later, days away from the end of this awful year, and they were still living as though a nuclear bomb had been dropped on the country. Their house was their fallout shelter, and the radiation was carried on the coughs and sneezes of others.

He took a swig of tea and pushed the ‘on’ button on his laptop. It would be another messy day, trying to meet his customers’ impossible demands. He also found that at the end of the day, he could switch his computer off, but his mind still raced with the pressures and problems of work. He had concluded, after a few weeks of stress, headaches, and worry, that the drive home from work had been something that had helped sort his head out.  The drive across the city, listening to the radio, calming down, snaking traffic down the M60, had helped clear his head of the working day, so that he arrived home, ready to relax and enjoy his evening.

These days like seemed to be a constant merry-go-round of drudgery. The weekends were not vastly different from the working week. Tony would flake out in front of the television and try to concentrate on whatever was on screen. And sure enough, Monday morning would roll around, once again.

Because of the virus, a lockdown had been in place for longer than he could recall. How many months was it now? He had initially kept a count of how many weeks, but when the number started to taunt him, when it showed no sign of easing, when the end was nowhere in sight, he had stopped the count. All non-essential shops were shut. He thought of going to a pub or restaurant with the same nostalgia of his teenage clubbing days. That was something of the past. Groceries were delivered to the door, every week, so that to stay safe, Tony and Anna, and the rest of the population, did not have to trek to the supermarkets.

Tony couldn’t remember the last time he had left the house, or seen friends, or dressed in anything other than causal clothes. He only brushed his teeth every few days and showered when Anna nagged him. What was the point in personal hygiene when he wasn’t going anywhere or seeing anyone? The only person he saw was the odd delivery driver. What was the point in anything these days? The Blitz spirit and Dunkirk spirit, the camaraderie of the Spring and early Summer of 2020, of clapping for the NHS, of feeling that we were all in together, had long since gone. He was now living in the days of lockdown three and tier four, of conspiracy theories and rule breaking. There was nothing left. Life in 2020 had all the joy and excitement of waiting in a doctor’s reception. Tony knew he was going stir crazy. Cabin fever, they called it. Whatever name you gave it, it wasn’t good.

His wife Anna was coping much better than he was. She focused on the house and the jobs she needed, or rather wanted, doing. She was constantly looking at house and home websites and purchasing all manner of random products. The latest delivery had been a soup maker. Tony’s idea of a soup maker was a clean saucepan.

Life these days seemed to be one long, dreary soulless Sunday afternoon. How long were they supposed to live like this? He knew he wasn’t coping. There was talk of a vaccine but only the very old, very ill, or very rich were counted eligible for the miracle injection. He knew normal life was a long way off, but right now he’d take being able to leave the house, to meet friends and family.

One morning, goodness knew what day, Anna tilted her head around the laptop screens between them.

‘Have you seen this, love?’

Tony didn’t even bother to respond. No doubt it she wanted to enthuse about some new kitchen product they didn’t need.

‘Tony?’

‘What?’ he snapped.

‘There’s a website here that is selling vaccine injections.’

‘Oh yeah? Shall we just re-mortgage and go get vaccinated?’ he said.

‘Six hundred pounds.’

‘Really?’

Her features lit by the glow of the laptop screen, Anna scrolled down, an expression of concentration on her face.

‘It says that the word vaccine comes from ‘vacca’, the Latin for cow, apparently the first vaccine was for cow-pox, whatever that was. Anyway,’ she laughed. ‘they are a private medical practise, that are branching out into the vaccine market.’

Tony could feel the hope rising in his chest. 2020 had been everyone’s worst year. He wasn’t coping at all. He knew he was a different person than he had been in March. This year, the virus, the lockdown, the working from home, the isolation, this was all too much. He had been through too much. If he had to pay six hundred pounds to give him back something even remotely resembling a normal life, then it would be money well spent. It would be a small price to pay to escape the fugue.

‘I want to do it, love.’ Tony said.

‘Are you sure? It’s a lot of money to fork out. It might not even work. It could be like those hair-replacement potions you see advertised that guarantee results.’

‘It might be worth the risk.’ He said.

‘We could be throwing our money away.’

Tony sighed heavily and they lapsed into silence. He returned to his work emails from stroppy customers.

 

That evening as they dined in silence, after all, there was nothing to say, one word kept going round and round Tony’s head. Vaccine. When they had finished eating, Tony cleared the table, still repeating the word to himself like a mantra.

 

Two days later, having had little or no sleep and like becoming even more like a photocopy of a photocopy, Tony came downstairs with more purpose in his step than he’d had since the lockdown in March.

Anna looked up from her laptop, she had made an early start on her work. Tony did not sit down. He fixed her with a stare.

‘Are you okay, Tony?’

‘I want to have that vaccine.’

‘You mean you want to throw hundreds of pounds on something you only have that company’s word for that it works?’

‘I want this. I need this.’

‘There’s only a few days left this year. 2020 is nearly over. Next year will be better, you’ll see. The Government vaccine will be out by the Spring. Things will get better.’

‘The Government also said they would sort this out by the summer, then it was October. And finally they locked us down and snatched Christmas away from us. We can’t believe anything they say.’

‘Tony, come on. We just need to be patient. We need to wait a while longer, that’s all.’

Tony choked back the lump in his throat.

‘I can’t.’ he managed.

Anna sighed and ran a hand through her hair.

‘Come on, Tony.’

Tony was as shocked as his wife, as he leapt to his feet. He paced the kitchen angrily. He shook an outraged finger at Anna.

‘Don’t do this. I am not coping as well as you.’ He threw his hands in the air. ‘I’m not coping at all.’

‘I think we should just sit tight.’

‘I won’t make it out the other side, love. I’m done. I want- I need that vaccine. We can afford it. We’ve not been out for months.’

‘Tony-‘

‘In months!’ Tony bellowed.

He glared at his wife with more emotion than he’d felt about anything since lockdown.

‘Okay,’ said Anna. ‘okay. I’ll sort it.’

Tony covered his face with his hands. He prayed that this would be the beginning of the end of this thing.

‘I’m not having it.’ Anna added.

‘Whatever, you do what you have to, but I don’t have an option.’

‘What’s the point of only one of us having it?’

‘I’ll be safe. I won’t catch it. I won’t bring it home. And you can wait it out indoors. You can carry on with the online shopping.’ He smiled gently.

‘If you’re sure that’s what you want.’

‘I don’t have a choice, love.’ He said.

‘I’ll sort it out at lunchtime, how’s that?’

Wondering just when the weight would shift from his shoulders, Tony nodded.  

At just after twelve-thirty, as Tony paced their small kitchen, Anna went onto the medical practise website. She tapped away for a few moments and then gave him a thumbs up.

‘It’s done.’

‘What happens now?’ he asked.

‘They’ll be in touch in a week or so.’

Now that they’d actually arranged for him to have the vaccine, he felt nervous and excited. He noticed, however, that the nagging worry, the constant feeling of dread had lifted slightly. This vaccine, this held a way out of this endless despair.

Several days later, his mobile phone rang. It was a Manchester number. He answered quickly and waved to Anna, I think this is it.

‘Hello?’

‘Good morning, is that Mr Sheridan?’

‘Yes, it is.’

‘This is Melissa, I’m calling about the vaccine.’

To Tony, coming at the end of this awful year, it was such a momentous phone call. Life-changing, he hoped.

Melissa ran through everything.  It was a single injection, after which he should have a quiet day, and then the following day, he would be immune from either contracting the virus, and also from spreading it, passing it on, unknowingly, to anyone else.

When she had gone through everything, Tony thanked her, the emotion carrying on his voice more than he had intended. He hung up.

He wiped a tear from his eye.

‘It’s happening.’ he said.

Anna beamed, delighted at her husband’s change in demeanour.

‘That’s really good news, hun.’ she said.

While Anna was coping and doing okay with the lockdown, she knew Tony was having problems. If this vaccine helped Tony, helped them both, and brought back the man Tony had been before Lockdown then the injection would be worth every penny.

Tony and Anna pushed through the double-doors of the clinic. The were wrapped in the corporate hush of the reception area. The gleaming foyer reminded Tony of the lobby of a posh hotel. Gentle jazz music played over the speakers. A woman in her twenties smiled at them from behind the reception desk. Anna squeezed his hand as they crossed to the desk.

Tony gave his name. The woman tapped at her computer keyboard. She told him to take a seat in a soft air-hostess voice.

A tall thin man in a white coat appeared a few minutes later. He carried a tablet computer. He had a practised smile and a false tan. Mind you, what with Lockdown, nobody had a real tan these days.

While Anna flicked through summer issues of magazines, Tony followed the doctor, if that’s what he called himself, down a carpeted corridor.

As he followed the doctor something occurred to him. Nobody was wearing a mask. These days you couldn’t pop for a bottle of milk without wearing a mask. Not that many people ventured to the shops, opting for online deliveries for the sake of safety. Maybe the clinic staff had all been given the vaccine and were immune to the virus. The doctor pointed to a door.

Tony went in and the doctor followed. The small room had the kind of medical bed you’d find in any doctor’s surgery. Tony was told to take a seat and roll his sleeve up.

The doctor produced a syringe. A second later, it was all over. The prick of the injection felt like any other he’d had.

‘And that’s it. You’re done. In twenty-four hours, you will be completely immune. Then maybe a few mild side effects, dryness of the mouth, possible loss of appetite, but that will soon pass. Other than that, you’ll be free to go about your business.’

‘Thank you so much.’ said Tony.

 

As Anna drove them home, she kept glanced at Tony. She patted him on the thigh.

‘How are you feeling?’

‘I’m alright, I think.’ Tony said.

Tony stared out at the road ahead. The gloomy dull grey skies overhead seemed slightly less depressing somehow. He hoped that things were about to change for the better. They were nearly at the end of such an awful year. Days left to go of this horrific 2020. He had just had the vaccine; the Government were on with rolling it out to everyone next year. They were days away from the next year. He was certain that come January things would change for the better. He was suddenly in a better frame of mind. They just had to sit tight until after the end of December and then they would have turned a significant corner.

His thoughts were distracted when something happened. He was jolted and reeling. He felt as though his was falling. The grey sky overhead flickered and changed to a blue colour, just for a second, and then to black, then a glaring white, and then back to grey. The sky was back to normal but the way it had chopped and changed had been frightening. It had changed as though the sky was a television screen and someone was flicking through the channels. He was breathing hard and sweating. He realised Anna, noticing something was wrong, had pulled the car over to the kerb. She placed a tender hand on his cheek.

‘Tony? What is it?’

He looked around, eyes darting all over. Things seemed to be back to normal. He panted, shocked, as though he’d woken from a bad dream.

‘Nothing. They did mention side-effects. I, erm, I just felt a bit out of sorts, I suppose.’

Anna drove the rest of the way, as quickly as she could, a few times, as the lights were changing, she accelerated through the crossing, instead of stopping. Tony tried to relax and control his breathing.

Back home, on the sofa, in his jogging trousers and hoodie, with a cup of tea, he started to feel a little bit better. These side effects were just something he had to put up with, to tolerate, to get through to get out the other side. It was, he supposed, like going abroad on holiday, he laughed at the thought. Remember when you could go away on holiday? That seemed as distant as childhood memories. But, to get to the fortnight in the sun, you’d have to get up in the middle of the night, head to the airport and be herded around, through check-in, on the plane, crammed in for however many hours, before being bundled off, into another airport, then onto a coach, with the obligatory broken air-conditioning, and only then, after spending almost all day travelling, would you reach the hotel and the first beer of your holidays. Only then could you relax. That’s what this felt like. He’d had the vaccine, and they were only a few days away from the destination of 2021, but before they got there, he’d have to get through these side effects and Anna would have to hold out a bit longer into next year, but still, he hoped that 2021 would be the perfect antidote to 2020.

He curled up on the sofa, made himself comfortable and imagined how wonderful New Year’s Eve would be.

Tony woke and stretched. He was in his bedroom; Anna lay beside him. She stirred and opened her eyes.

‘Morning, love.’ she mumbled into her pillow.

Unusually for the time of year, the edges of the curtains were bright. He was used to waking in darkness, having to check the time to see if it was a reasonable hour to get up. This morning seemed to be brighter. He pulled a t-shirt on and padded across the room. He tugged back the curtain and was shocked to see it had been snowing overnight. The garden and rooftops of the houses facing were covered in snow. The scene looked like a Christmas card picture. Quite apt, he thought, for the last few days of December 2020.

Anna joined him at the window and gasped at the lovely scene.

‘It’s beautiful.’ she said.

Tony nodded; eyes fixed on the scene. He hoped the wonderful snowfall was a good omen. Anna told him she was going to make a brew and headed downstairs to the kitchen. Tony stared at the winter landscape, their snow-covered garden. He rubbed his hands together, time for a cup of tea. He headed downstairs and straight through to the kitchen.

The back door was wide open. Tony stared in confusion. Bright sunlight spilled in through the doorway, and beyond the lawn was baking in the summer sun. Anna was sitting out on the lawn on a garden chair. Her head tilted back, eyes closed, she basked in the warmth of the sunshine. Tony went outside, looking around in utter bewilderment.

‘Anna? What’s happening?’

She stared at him, her hand over her eyes, to shield her vision from the glare of the sun.

‘What is it?’

‘Where’s the snow? It looked like a Christmas card.’

‘They haven’t forecast snow, have they?’

She picked up her mobile phone.

‘Nope, sunshine all day.’

Anna waved the phone at him. On screen was a row of cartoon suns, complete with sunglasses and rays. Then Tony noticed the date on the screen. 23rd August.

‘It’s August?’

‘Of course, it is.’

‘Not December?’ he stammered.

‘Does it look like December? Chill out, Tony. Get yourself a beer and enjoy the Lockdown summer, while it lasts.’

Unsure quite what was going on, he decided a lager might be the way to go. He crossed the lawn and stepped back into the kitchen. The kettle clicked off, having boiled. Anna poured the water into their mugs.

‘I’ve put the heating on.’ she said. ‘The brew will warm you up till the house gets toasty.’

‘How are you doing this?’ Tony said. ‘You were in the garden.’

‘I’m not leaving the house today, love. The snow looks very nice, but only from inside.’

Tony turned to see the garden was once more covered in thick white snow.

‘It’s December, yeah?’

‘Yes, Tony, December. Not long now until 2021.’

‘I’ve just had a hallucination, I think.’

‘The side effects?’

‘I think so.’

‘What did you see?’

‘We were in the garden back in August.’

‘Ah right, like a flashback?’

‘Something like that.’

‘Drink your tea.’ Anna smiled. ‘A good brew solves everything.’

If only that were true, Tony thought.

He tried to forget about the flashback. It was, he told himself, just a side-effect from the injection, that’s all. The rest of the day went by without event. No flashbacks, no hallucinations, just another dull lockdown day.

The next day was dark and dull. You could hardly call the bleak sunlight daylight. Mid-afternoon his mobile phone rang. His mother’s face flashed up on the small screen. Perhaps she was calling to see how he was coping, having had the vaccine.

‘Hi mum, how’s it going?’

‘Happy birthday, Anthony.’

‘My birthday is in April.’ Tony replied.

‘What month do you think it is?’ his mum said.

It was at that moment Tony noticed the birthday cards on the fireplace. In the spring sunshine coming through the blinds, the cards were his, there were cards for a Wonderful Husband, a Fantastic Son, and the obligatory jokey cards from his sister. He shivered. It was his birthday.  

‘It’s your birthday, love, just a shame it’s in Lockdown.’

Tony told his mother he had to go and hung up the phone.

Anna gave him a puzzled look. She sensed something was amiss.

‘It’s happening again.’ he said.

‘What is?’

‘The flashbacks.’

‘What flashbacks? When did this start?’

Tony shook his head.

‘Just try and enjoy your birthday, as much as you can.’ Anna said.

‘It’s not my birthday. It’s December 2020. We’ve done all this.’

‘I think Lockdown is getting to you.’

Tony said nothing.

‘Cake.’ she declared. ‘I’ll get you some birthday cake.’

There was a thumping sound from the window. Tony pulled the blinds to one side. A child, maybe seven or eight years old, was running away through the snow. The snowball slid down the windowpane blurring his vision of the snowy street outside. Tony placed a hand on the cold glass. He was back in December 2020. The flashback was over.

The following morning when Tony went into the living room, he swore as he spotted the decorations. Gone were the Christmas items, the wooden Father Christmas his mother had given him, the tinsel over the mirror. All of this had been replaced by Union Jack flags. Tony knew what day it was. It was VE Day. They had decorated the room in the British flags and marked the 75th anniversary by having their own take on Afternoon tea. They had drunk tea and ales and dined on sandwiches and cake. Anna appeared next to him, wearing the old-fashioned dress and red lipstick.

‘It’s VE Day.’ said Tony.

‘Sure is.’

Tony relived the day celebrating the day the Allies secured Victory in Europe. He was expecting to snap out of this flashback at any moment, so he decided there was nothing he could do but roll with it. He dressed in the old-fashioned brown suit and drank tea and munched on the cakes and watched the celebrations on television. Reliving the day was like having a bad case of déjà vu. He had seen this all before, the scaled back commemorations, the singers socially distanced performance from Buckingham Palace of war-time songs. He tried not to panic at going through all this again. It was a flashback, a hallucination, a side effect, that was all. But, he thought, it all seemed so real. He was going through the day again.

Finally, after what felt like hours later, he was suddenly back in the bleak of December. He sat on the sofa, head in hands. He just hoped the side effects stopped soon. He was trying to stay positive. He ignored the fact that each flashback had lasted longer and longer. What if next time he was stuck? The sooner this stopped, the sooner this year was over, the better.

Anna asked if he was okay.

‘I’m just tired.’ He sighed.

By early evening the next day, Tony was keeping his fingers crossed. He hadn’t had a flashback during the day. Things had been uneventful. Any day now and they’d be rid of this awful year. They were almost at New Year’s Eve. Then 2021 would be upon them.

The following day. Just after five o’clock Tony was watching a gangster film on television when Anna called from upstairs. Tony went up the stairs and found Anna dragging a brush through her hair. She was wearing a red dress she’d bought this time last year.

‘Aren’t you getting ready?’ she asked.

‘Ready for what?’

‘It’s New Year’s Eve.’

‘Oh, it’s today?’

‘Yes, of course it is.’

‘And you think we should get dressed up?’

‘Obviously. The table is booked for eight o’clock.’

No, please, no, do not do this, I can’t go through it all again, Tony thought.

As if reading his mind, Anna spoke.

‘Can you believe we’re hours away from 2020?’


Submitted: December 29, 2020

© Copyright 2021 CTPlatt. All rights reserved.

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hullabaloo22

Some very unwanted side effects, CT. Excellent story-telling!

Wed, December 30th, 2020 6:38pm

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Thanks as always! I had this idea about a guy who was struggling having to go back and do 2020 all over again.

Wed, December 30th, 2020 10:55am

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