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Birdie, Bryn and Brain Fog by Sandra Arnold

In the morning when Birdie opened her bedroom curtains all she could see out the window was a thick curtain of fog that hid every shape and silenced every sound. How long had it been like this? Minutes? Hours? Days? She’d lost track of time, but at least now, finally, she was out of bed and able to walk.

She picked up the phone to call Bryn, but the phone was dead. The dire winter weather conditions must have brought the phone lines down, and now the fog was so thick the repair men couldn’t get out to fix the lines. She went to the fridge to find something to cook for her breakfast, but when she turned the oven on it didn’t work. So… no electricity either. Not that she felt hungry in any case. She couldn’t remember when she’d last eaten. Depression, she supposed, brought on by her illness and enforced isolation. She sat in her favourite chair and opened a book, but immediately lost interest. She leaned back and closed her eyes. Her head filled with images that made no sense. She stood up, looked out the window to see if she could at least see the outline of a tree, a bush, a garden path. Nothing. Just dense clouds of billowing fog. The thought occurred to her that she couldn’t be the only one in this position and that she really ought to try going next door to her elderly neighbour’s house to see how she was coping. That’s what Bryn would have done. But where was he? She remembered he’d gone into town for something. But when? And why? He would surely have tried to contact her on his way back. Then she remembered the phone lines were down and the roads would be impassable because of the fog. He would be so worried, if he was stuck in town, she knew that.

She thought of a plan to get to her neighbour’s house, by feeling along the edge of the garden fence. She opened her front door, negotiated her way down the steps and along the brick path, gripping the fence. So far so good. She arrived at her gate, opened it and turned left. She moved along the fence line, listening for sounds ‒ traffic, sheep, cows, barking dogs. Nothing. She had never in her life experienced such total absence of sight or sound. After a few minutes of plodding along by the fence line, she estimated she’d walked far enough to reach her neighbour’s house, but she couldn’t see any shapes looming out of the fog to confirm this. She must have walked past her neighbour’s gate. It was then she realised she was still wearing her fleecy blue nightgown. She laughed. Just as well she didn’t find her way to her neighbour’s house. Nonetheless, if she could see the house through the fog she would still go and knock on the door. But she couldn’t see it, so now she’d lost confidence in her sense of direction, which had never been great at the best of times, unlike Bryn’s which had always been infallible.

She decided to turn back and go home. One foot in front of the other. One step at a time. The slow trek back triggered a memory from her childhood ‒ Birdie and her friends playing Hide and Seek in the thick fogs that descended over their town on nights when everyone burnt coal. There was almost no traffic back then, so playing on a street in the fog was not regarded as foolhardy. But that was then. This was now. It didn’t feel the same. Back then, even though she couldn’t see her friends through the fog she could hear them giggling. Now, there wasn’t even the sound of a mouse rustling in the grass.

She reached her own gate and retraced her steps back to her front door. Up the steps, through the door. Once inside, she felt exhausted. Perhaps a lie down would help. In her bedroom she stopped by her dressing table to look at a photo of Bryn in his fishing cap, holding an enormous salmon. Big grin on his face. She remembered taking that photo to capture Bryn’s happiness in catching the fish. Afterwards, they’d lain on the rug, drinking coffee, eating chocolate cake, watching sunlight dance on the river, listening to birdsong, happy to be alive and together. She touched the photo. Why hadn’t Bryn come home before the fog? There must have been weather warnings. He would surely have heard them on the car radio. He’d be so upset thinking about her all alone in these conditions with communication cut off.

The thought of communication triggered a memory about government quarantine regulations intended to slow down the spread of a highly infectious virus. Newspaper headlines of people confined to hospitals where visiting wasn’t allowed. Another memory of a persistent cough and aching body that kept her in bed. The cough was gone now, but a residual tiredness lingered. Maybe she should go back to bed and try to sleep. When she woke up the fog might have lifted, the phone might work, the electricity might be back on and normal life might resume. Whatever normal life was. She couldn’t remember. She walked over to the bed and pulled down the blankets. What she saw beneath the blankets made her jump back in alarm. A woman in a blue nightie lay there. This made no sense. But then it did.

Birdie looked from the woman to the fog outside. Now she could make out the shapes of trees and bushes in her garden. As she watched, the fog continued to lift. She thought she saw someone outside her window. A man. Who on earth...? Then she saw his cap. Then she saw his face. Then she saw him holding out his hands.

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1 Comment

Oct 02, 2023

"Birdie." One of the best stories I've read in a long long time. I want to see more from Sandra Arnold.

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