The Valour of Quinn McFoule, F.O.E., in The Days of Pandemic A Novella by K. Arja Opprecht
The Valour of Quinn McFoule, pt 1
Quinn McFoule woke at noon on the floor of his pantry, three days into the general quarantine. The previous night he had been up counting the rolls in his toilet paper supply, as he often did, even when the number was not in question.
Counting quieted his mind when it seemed that nothing else could; the feel of the rolls in his hands had a mollifying effect, as though they were a tribute to industrial compassion and exactitude; each precisely 262 sheets, 10.2 square metres of hygiene and comfort.
By the slant of the sunlight upon the wall of the kitchen, he judged it was no longer morning. Coupling that assumption with the general lack of comings and goings in the distant hallway, Quinn decided that it was a holiday.
“If this is Harriman’s Day, then I’ll need to shave myself and sharpen the carving knife,” he thought, and rose slowly to his knees, and then to his stockinged feet. “I wonder what’s keeping Violet.”
Quinn had brought a pint of Belgian ale into the pantry with him (his third that evening), as was his habit when counting. To be frank, this was his habit during anything that required mental effort. The final half-inch of ale was still waiting in the bottom, accented by a housefly which had met a drunken end bathing.
Insects, either dead or alive, rarely got between Quinn and his drink, but in calculating the ratio of fly to beverage and factoring the certainty that the beer would not only be warm and flat, but sour as well, he hesitated and then set the glass aside.
“It doesn’t feel like a holiday,” he mumbled.
After Quinn had visited the lavatory and fastened his robe securely, so as not to alarm any of the ladies of the upper floors who might be passing his apartment, he opened the door to the hallway.
“Day Three,” read the headline of the newspaper on the top of the pile. “Londoners adapt to shelter-‐in-‐place edict. Tissue and water supplies tight.” Quinn had been aware that some contagion was all over the press, but as he had not left the confines of his flat for nearly three years, he hadn’t felt it necessary to follow the details.
“So all the world is adopting the monk’s life,” he said aloud to his imaginary posse. “I can give them a few pointers.”
He gathered up the three newspapers and with his foot, slid the package underneath them into his portico.
There was a lavender sticky note on the top of the package that read, “Q, some provisions for now. Will return anon with cake and veg. – Bisous, V.”
“She could leave out the veg,” he found himself saying, but quickly reprimanded himself and conceded to cook and eat whatever greens were to arrive in the next box.
Quinn's sister Violet had for the past three years dutifully supplied her younger brother with Belgian ale, bathroom tissue, sardines, beans, etc. for long enough that he eventually dispensed with dressing and shaving, as they were, in fact, only performed for the increasingly infrequent trips to the market, the barber and the off-license.
He put the kettle on and sat down at the tea table. As his eyes rested on the soft white rolls stacked in the pantry, he realized he must have fallen asleep before he had finished the previous evening’s count. But before he could make a mental note to restart that afternoon, the headlines caught him again.
“Those are very large letters,” he thought. “This must be big.”
As the H2O began to flirt about in the kettle, so too did the random impulses dance across Quinn’s grey matter. By the time the kettle began to squeal, an epiphany had coalesced. Over the whistle, he rose and proclaimed the news to his imaginary cook: “I am not alone!”
NEXT INSTALLMENT: Courtly love, venturing forth, Quinn’s call to service.
The Valour of Quinn McFoule, pt 2
Illustration by Lidia Altagracia
The Valour of Quinn McFoule, F.O.E., in the Days of the Pandemic
A Serial Fiction
Previously: Part 1
I Am Not Alone!
Upon hearing his epiphany echo back upon him, Quinn fell into a reverie. He was no longer the only hermit he knew. The whole planet was with him now. How long had it been since he had felt true esprit de corps? Even back in school on the rugby squad, as he grunted in the mud, shoulder-to-shoulder with his teammates, there was something missing from the full-throated camaraderie that comes with knowing you truly are one of the gang. But now, here he was in the scrum, shoulder-to-shoulder with all of London, all of England, all of the world! It was an odd feeling, warm, salted with the pangs of past memory.
“This calls for a fresh teabag!” Quinn announced to Xander, his imaginary flatmate. And with a fresh cup of Darjeeling fragrant before him, he took a sheet of foolscap and lifted his pen to draft his daily letter of devotion to the Baroness.
Ever since they first met in front of the Opera House on Montagut Boulevard, Quinn had been utterly devoted to the Baroness. “Excuse me, sir, is that your umbrella?” she had asked him— a tribute both to her concern for his well being and her attention to detail, whilst bustling through the madness of the city. He was stricken dumb by her pulchritude and so preoccupied himself in stooping to retrieve the umbrella. By the time he managed to respond, “It could be! You are too kind!” she was lost in the crowd being hoovered into the opera lobby.
He had yet to deliver his appreciation to her in person, let alone confess the heat of his undying devotion, but every day for the past twelve years he had never failed to regale her with his lines of love.
“My beloved, I shall be brief,” he wrote. “As we see in the news, we are all of us in the throes of a contagion. Only together as a nation shall we vanquish this foe, and together indeed we shall.
“What is my role in the fray? I know not yet, but you know by now that I am neither a shirker nor a coward. My devotion to this calling is second only to my devotion to you, my dearest flower. When finally we do meet in person, you can rest in my arms assured that your hero has withstood the test of valiance for his valiant nation. I shall make you proud.”
Quinn was nearly overcome with the majesty of his own eloquence and the weight of his courtly honor. A tear rolled down his cheek and he leaned forward to assure that it would fall upon the letter itself. “What better exclamation point than this!” he announced, to no one in particular.
He placed his quill in its tin, and leaned back to enjoy his tea and reflect upon the valor of the missive he had just drafted. “My dear lady will surely swoon at this,” he confided to Xander sotto voce. “It’s almost unkind.”
When his tea was finished, Quinn went to the fridge for a bottle of ale, and finding none, went to the pantry to replenish the fridge. After a quick count, he found there were but eight bottles remaining, scarcely enough to get him through the next three days, let alone the long stretch of the pandemic that was still unfurling before him. He made a mental note to ask his sister to double his usual rations of ale and tissue. “The times warrant it,” he said sternly to the voice inside himself that raised objection to the profligacy.
“Now!” He announced to his imaginary staff. He was standing far more erect than usual, and felt surprisingly proud of his stoutness. “There is a contagion, and we must see to the health of our blockmates! This will require a bath!” And then added an aside to his imaginary housekeeper, “Never mind what day it is, Constance.”
NEXT INSTALLMENT: Encounters with the beyond, and a propinquity theory.
"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.
The Valour of Quinn McFoule, F.O.E.,
in the Days of the Pandemic
A Serial Fiction
K. Arja Opprecht
“’Politically active?’ What do you mean?” Quinn asked the man in Number 10.
“Never mind, then. If you were, you would know.”
“I could be, if necessary.”
The man tilted his head back and surveyed Quinn's face and stout form as though through a different lens.
“How much do you weigh?”
“Some fifteen stone, I’d imagine.”
“Last I weighed,” Quinn offered.
“Yes. We shall see,” the man said calmly. “Come by tomorrow and I will have a list of provisions I have in surplus.” With that he threw the door shut and Quinn found himself alone again in the hallway, more than mildly beguiled.
Most of the tenants down the hallway to the left were either absent, pretending to be absent, or less-than-encouraging in their replies to Quinn's ring. In each case, Quinn responded courteously, saying that he would return the next day and assuring the tenant that they would all of them pull through this together.
One of the exceptions was the woman in Number 18. She had not opened her door for Quinn, but had spoken to him for some time from the other side. Her voice was at first timid, asking more than once who Quinn was and why he might be buzzing her flat. After Quinn had explained that he “seldom” exited his apartment, which might explain why she had not seen him for some time, the woman seemed to relax a degree.
Through the panel of the closed door they found agreement that the whole pandemic was a terrible shame, especially for the people in Africa, but that it was fair to acknowledge that “things like this” can perversely bring a people closer together, as was the case during the Blitz.
After a moment of respectful silence, Quinn explained that he was taking a survey of what essentials were in short supply among the tenants in the block, for which she thanked him with such earnestness that Quinn felt the leading edge of a dyspepsia.
The woman said that she had all she might need for the time being, but confided to Quinn, with hesitation, that she had some concern as to the extent of her “lavatory disposables.” Quinn felt his heart skip at the mention.
Quinn found himself regretting the end of their colloquy as it swung around, but felt encouraged and surprised by her request for reading material.
“Especially poetry,” she had almost whispered through the door. Then adding with a sigh, “My lyrical soul needs nourishment, and I tire of these stuffy poets on my shelves!”
“I'll see what I can do,” Quinn replied, with some trepidation.
“My name is Philomena. You can call me Philly.”
“I will call you Philomena. My name is Quinn.”
“God bless you, Quinn.”
As Quinn walked the quiet hallway back to his flat, he mulled over Philomena’s brave request. It put him in a bit of an imbroglio. He was indeed in possession of poetry, but every line of it was written by the reclusive and unheralded poet, Mr. Quinn McFoule.
NEXT INSTALLMENT: Kippers; and Quinn’s new quandary.
Quinn’s Kettle of Fish
The Valour of Quinn McFoule, F.O.E.,
in the Days of the Pandemic
A Serial Fiction
Back in his flat with the door bolted, Quinn stripped down to his briefs, socks and suspenders, and immediately spent a good ten minutes washing his hands. He then washed his face and shoulders, his forearms and elbows, and also his belly, just for good measure. “It does tend to lead the parade, doesn’t it?” he quipped to Herodotus, his imaginary valet.
Next, he thoroughly fogged himself in a bank of atomized French cologne, “for antiseptic purposes,” and did the same for his tweed riding gear, which were in fact in need of said process, for reasons predominantly olfactive.
There was excitement in the air. So much to be done! Quinn put on side one of his second-favorite Debussy record, opened a tin of herring, and put a brace of rye down for toasting.
“Don't let me forget to make a shopping list for Violet,” he shouted to Wim, his imaginary secretary. Wim would have been at his desk in the next room, but, as Quinn remembered in second thought, would be absent today, this being a holiday.
“I’d better get organized,” Quinn said to himself. “With this quarantine edict, who knows when Wim will be back.”
After his late lunch, Quinn opted to forgo his customary nap; instead put the kettle on, sharpened a long-ish pencil and took out a clean pad of ledger paper. At the top of the first page he wrote “Tenants,” and recorded in column one the door numbers of those with whom he had spoken that morning. In column two he entered as much detail as he could remember for Philomena and the man in Number 10. Column three he titled “exigencies” and noted “loo paper” and “verse” adjacent to the entry for Philomena, “cocktail olives” at Number 10, in parentheses.
At this, Quinn leaned back to collect his thoughts.
“Without question, I can allot tissue for that dear woman,” he said to no one in particular. “But what about her lyrical soul?”
The thought of Philomena in Number 18 pining away with nothing to read but “stuffy old poets,” was agonizing to Quinn. But equally agonizing was the notion of sharing his own verse with anyone, including even Herodotus. (Although, that had in fact happened one evening after a particularly profligate stout-drinking bout.)
“Fresh verse?” He whispered, recollecting her heartfelt request from the other side of her door. What were the chances any poet new to her studied ear would be to her liking?
“Nil! Those are the chances,” Quinn blurted, punctuating his verdict with a wrap of the sugar spoon. “Nil!”
But the alternative was to leave poor Philomena bereft in these trying times. Unacceptable. He was duty bound. But as the logical conclusion reared its pointed head, Quinn began to feel faint. He could almost hear the inevitable snickering from the other side of door number 18; peals of laughter from all the walls of the block. “It’s McFoule! Our newest poet! Ha ha ha ha!”
The mere idea made Quinn want to curl into a ball with a packet of macaroons, but what other course was there? Miss Philomena was in need of verse, and to deny her was paramount to denying candy to a drowning child.
“One thing is even more certain,” Quinn affirmed loudly to his imaginary staff. “She must never know that the author is me.”
NEXT INSTALLMENT: A nation must breathe!
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Quinn McFoule is an agoraphobic hermit suddenly called on a hero’s journey when the world goes under quarantine.
Infection House is proud to present K. Arja Opprecht’s wry, insightful novella- a Candide for the age of Corona. All 22 chapters will be available on this page as they’re published. They’re presented here in chronological order. Clicking “Read More” will expand the entire chapter.
All of Opprecht’s work on this site is Copyright K A Opprecht.