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.