It’s over 6am coffee that I have my most insightful moment of the trip so far.
“What’s an analogy, exactly?” asks my son, finishing up some English homework. It might be Saturday in Sydney, but it’s still Friday in Tacoma, and he’s been doing online school since 2:30am.
“It’s a comparison.” I pause for dramatic effect. “As in: Quarantine hotel is a lot like being in a fishbowl.”
We look at each other. We have no idea how today will just make those words seem bigger and bigger.
It starts off well enough with the nurse’s 9am call. Negative on the Day 2 Covid test! And freedom on March 9 (Day 14) – anytime before 10am!! Provided we don’t test positive on Day 12, of course.
We spend the morning happily blogging, emailing, homeworking, scrolling. I read the news: In Sydney, top stories include a funny Dear Susan piece on condom etiquette and the astonishing pronouncement by an expert that not needing masks anymore signals a return to normal life. In Tacoma, by contrast, the daily case count is 170 and we are still, unbelievably, having to protest Black deaths in police custody.
The New York Times runs a story about how people around the world are coping with hotel quarantine. I read it avidly until I get to the part about the guy who ran half-marathons in his room.
Overachiever. I shut the laptop.
The kids tease me about this blog, and my son steals my phone to make a hack comment on my Instagram feed.
Then there’s a knock at the door. We stare. It’s 11am – way too early for the lunch delivery. Puzzled, I open the hallway door and see at my feet a single, shiny packet of Tim Tams.
What the heck?
Is this the work of some kind anonymous blog reader who feels sorry for us? Is it a regular Saturday morning gift from the caterers? Maybe it’s proof of the hidden webcam, a Hunger Games-style donation to spur on more chocolate wars?
Thoughtful, we set the packet on the table. No way will it incite us to squabble. The entertainment’s over, folks.
It starts to drizzle. I toss crumbs to the mynas, who snap them up and ignore me.
Then I get an idea. What if I could somehow speak beyond the fishbowl, communicate our plight to the carefree Sydneysiders walking by in the street? Obviously I don’t want to complain; we’re very comfy, well-fed and have a balcony (although to be honest, we ARE paying $4,500 for the prison – er – privilege. Actually, Mum is.)
No, just a short, sweet summing up of the situation will do. Poignant, yet hopeful. Witty, even. And it has to fit on the balcony glass, obviously.
Hmmm. This is like haiku, only harder.
I have it! Excitedly I gather our old travel itinerary and write big letters on the backs of the paper. But how to stick them up? There’s only four fruit stickers left. (We’re getting better.)
Then I spy my daughter’s gum. With a sideways glance, I swipe a stick and sashay nonchalantly out the door. Then I get to work, chewing minty mouthfuls and making sure the letters are in the right order.
“What are you doing?” calls my daughter from behind the curtain.
“An art project.”
Then it’s done. Ta-dah! Satisfied, I lean my phone dangerously over the railing and snap a sign-selfie.
“STUC K IN QUARAN-TINE.”
The phone rings – it’s my sister’s son this time, with his girlfriend, bringing more essential supplies like tea, coffee and a freshly-made latte. Oh, and a Sharpie marker for my art project.
Delighted, we wave down and chat on speaker phone. I point at my sign and they laugh.
My kids stare at me.
“What are you DOING?” they ask, incredulous. “This is so EMBARRASSING.”
“I think it’s fun.”
“It’s not. You’re going crazy.”
“You stole my GUM??”
“Only one stick…”
We chat some more, breaking out of the fishbowl for ten lighthearted minutes until they leave.
I pull out my flute and work some more at the Bach, slipping into “Summertime” whenever people go by. A few of them look up incuriously, stare at the sign – then walk on.
It’s uncannily similar to watching fish in an aquarium.
3pm – workout time. Inspired by the half-marathon guy, I measure out a loop around our apartment using A4 (letter-size) paper, which is 11 inches long. Ignoring Australia’s metric system, I discover there’s 63,360 inches in a mile (now you know) and my loop is 555 inches. I do the math and start running, swatting away my son who’s doing his own unique workout by lurking behind doors and leaping out at me, cackling hysterically every time I flinch.
One mile later Mum calls, and we all chat. Dad’s clearly tired from his treatment yesterday.
Suddenly there’s a scream.
“Ugh!! Did you eat ALL THOSE TIM TAMS???”
“Not all of them!”
“I can’t believe this!” Thumps. Slams. My son, gesticulating frantically.
“Is everything all right?” asks Mum.
The argument just gets bigger and bigger, magnified by the fishbowl. Earnest conversations are overheard (there’s zero soundproofing) and hurtful. Angry words, angry emails, then silence.
We eat dinner, separately. It’s couscous, bland and dry.
It’s then that I hear the birdsong. I step onto the balcony, and a symphony of song rises through the evening coolness into pink-tinged clouds. Whips, curlicues, trills and falling fifths. Entranced, I grab my flute and start imitating, calling, replying. Over the road a woman glances up and smiles, gives a thumbs-up. My flutesong is a poor amateur in this opera, but I’m just thrilled to be on the stage.
The sun sets; the singers retire. In the darkness we meet in the bedroom and talk through some deep, painful stuff. It’s not solved, but resolved – a little bit.
Ten days of swimming to go.