“First Sortie” is part three of serial novella, The Valour of Quinn McFoule, F.O.E., in the Days of the Pandemic by K. Arja Opprecht. Protagonist Quinn McFoule is a hermit agoraphobe suddenly called on a hero’s journey when the world goes under quarantine. Where we last left off, Quinn McFoule wrote a love letter to his much-adored Baronness and was so seized by courtly valor that he decided to leave his apartment and check on the health of his flatmates.
Freshly bathed, shaved, powdered, and dressed in his best sporting gear, Quinn McFoule stood at the threshold of his flat. It felt momentous. He had opened this door countless times over countless years, but never yet had it seemed so fraught with possibility. He had received packages, affidavits, deliveries, pollsters, exterminators and visits from his dear sister Violet. But this day he felt the eyes of his countrymen upon him, beckoning. And more than that, he felt the heart connection of his beloved Baroness. It was surely his love for her that drew him out of his self-imposed jail, past the mental storms and panic attacks, the fright of which kept him ensconced for more years than he allowed himself to count.
“There is no courage without fear,” he spoke aloud to himself. “I’m not taking out the trash; I’m getting my bollocks back.” He turned the knob, opened the door and stepped into the hallway.
The door swung shut behind him and as he heard the latch click, a fear pierced him in that he did not know where his key was. But what is done is done, and Quinn’s block mates were surely counting on him. “Left or right?” He asked himself. He reached into his pocket for a coin to flip, and finding none, decisively chose left.
The first was number eight. As Quinn recalled, a young couple had lived there, one of them a patisserie chef, the other a designer of some sort. He rang the buzzer and stepped back six feet. Through the door, Quinn heard the buzzer ringing inside, but nothing else. He rang it again, and receiving no reply, he moved on to Number 10, feeling bolder in the quiet.
The tenant in Number 10 answered the ring so swiftly that Quinn was taken aback. The middle-aged man on the other side looked at him up at him through eyebrows dark and unruly as the Ardennes. He was wearing striped pajama bottoms, bare feet, and a fluorescent T-shirt of an Asian cartoon superhero which dominated the curve of his belly and breasts. The two men stared at each other through the eyebrows, startled.
“Quinn McFoule, Number Six,” Quinn spouted, extending a hand.
The man drew back sharply.
“I’m sorry,” Quinn said immediately. “I suppose a handshake is no longer appropriate, in these times.”
“I would say so!” The fellow was more emphatic than angry, Quinn imagined.
“We are going to get through this!” Said Quinn, with urgent confidence. “Tell me, are you in need of loo paper, biscuits, ale, or bandages?”
There was a long pause while the man in Number 10 ran a mental calculus on the figure who stood before him in tweeds and leathers, the man who claimed to be from Number 6, but whom he had never seen in the three years he had resided in Number 10.
“I am running low on pimento olives,” the man in Number 10 said, cautiously. “But I have enough for today. Best save your supply for those in more dire straits.”
“Austerity!” said Quinn, as though it were a volley in a skirmish. “But I shall note your request, in case a surplus should develop.”
“Have you been on the outside?” The man in Number 10 asked, stepping over the threshold, craning his head out the doorway, and lowering his voice.
“Outside the building?”
“Yes. In the streets,” the man answered, looking furtively up and down the hallway.
“Certainly not!” Exclaimed McFoule, incredulously. “We are under orders.”
“Shelter in place. Yes, of course,” said the fellow. Then lowering his voice further, and beckoning with a finger for Quinn to listen more closely he asked, “Are you politically active?”
NEXT INSTALLMENT: Assessments of gravitas, and necessities of a more lyrical sort.