The empty chair

by Catherine Bennett

No time was set. It lingered on. Games and contact filled the void of reality. Find a photo, write a story, share a recipe, zoom cocktail parties with friends of old. Proliferation of virtual content to substitute the daily ritual of travel and work life, of holidays and sport. It’s slowing now. The creativity drying up. Like a retreat that’s done its work and reality now beckons. No more chakras today. No more chanting on the balcony. No more clapping in the streets. Silence roams eerily in a disinfected space. Hands dry and cracked from washing hesitate before the next job. How much will peeling potatoes now hurt when my hands are dry and sore. I’m used to modern domestic servitude, now it’s Victorian and I’m the kitchen maid. The house is vast and filled with stuff. It could be sorted but where does it go? No dumps are open, a mound of plastic sacks lingers by the back door waiting for freedom to find their place in another home.

Transitory rubbish not wanted here, not ready to leave, parked and waiting. The timeline not clear, no planning possible. The agenda of dates of parties of weddings, crossed off, delayed, put off not happening. There’s space on the pages to be filled with virtual events, turn taking really is a thing right on zoom. You can’t just interrupt like in real life. Well you can but the moderator tells you off. That ebb and flow of conversation is different on screen. Polite pauses, has he finished? Yes I can talk. No hang on someone’s getting up and there’s an empty chair.

The empty chair is in my house. It sits with no one on it even when someone is. There’s an absence that wasn’t seen so clearly before. An absence of a relationship that was tangible but not glaring as it is now. An echo of a marriage that finished long ago, but life and family and work and holidays took the space that introspection allows. I’d rather not have seen it, nor he. I’d rather plug on and fill the space as others do when marriage fails. No drama no divorce. No expectation of romance, just physical comfort and a home for all. But this isolation has turned a neon light onto the vacuum that is our life. There’s no comfort, no social interaction, no meal that was nice, no what shall we watch. There’s nothing. Zero. When isolation ends so do we as us. A nothingness and the first thing in the agenda when the pause button turns off, divorce, a covid-19 divorce.