“Izzy Hemlock is not dead,” Sally said to her husband as they drove back from the vaccination centre.
“Is that a name?” Jack asked.
“You remember her, Jack. During second lock-down, you delivered her groceries for a while.”
“Oh, Izzy,” he said. “I thought she was Isabel.”
“No, she has always been Izzy,” she insisted.
“She became a bit of a recluse, as I recall,” Sally continued. “Her husband died from Covid. Angela told me the details as we sat there for fifteen minutes after our jabs to check if either of us was going to keel over.”
“It was the eat out to help out campaign,” she began to explain. “She didn’t want to help out at all. Said she thought the Chancellor foolish in the least. Anyway, her husband, you played golf with him occasionally.”
“I remember Ashley,” said Jack. “I shall miss him terribly. One of the few people I could actually beat.”
“Anyway,” she carried on. “He wanted to visit his brother in Bath. And he loved going out. She was not too sure, but she agreed in the end. They had a lovely time. Ate out every day. Had a great time. And then of course, the inevitable happened. He started with a cough. She remained asymptomatic. Then he found it hard to breathe. Then he collapsed. The rushed phone call. The ambulance. She thought she’d see him the following day. But the hospital told her it was the most desperate case they had seen to date. He died that night. She wasn’t there to hold his hand. Awful. She withdrew into herself. Cut herself off. We wondered if she was still alive. Well, she is which is good news.”
“Well, that’s good,” he said as he parked up in front of their house. “I didn’t deliver her stuff for long. She rang me and said that she would be all right. Someone else delivered her medications and she told me he would deliver anything she might need.”
“I’d like to know more,” she said. “To know she is okay.”
“I’ll keep my eyes and ears open.”
Jack was the dog walker and he meet a wide circle of friends everyday sometimes twice daily, although he did not know their names, only their dogs’ names but he knew where they lived and one or two lived near Izzy Hemlock. Within a week, he was able to relay some more news to his wife. “There’s a woman with a lovely husky cross, adopted from Romania, who told me some news. She talked to Izzy over the fence last autumn, a while after her husband died. She was bereft, and she had had a crisis of faith. Ashley and she were regular churchgoers, as I think you know. She said that she was not giving the Almighty any more time. She was going rogue. Have time on her own. Sort herself out. She sounded desperate. She complained that Ashley had robbed her of her future.”
“A bit harsh,” said Sally. “I am sure Ashley did not die on purpose. If I were to die, would you blame me for robbing you of your future?”
“I wouldn’t say it but inside, I might think that.”
“So, when was that?”
“Well, that would have been early autumn,” he said carefully. “And then nothing. She didn’t see her at Christmas, although she said that a lone candle was lit every evening on the windowsill at the front of the house during the twelve days of Christmas. But she was not seen.”
“I am worried about her mental health,” she said. “I feel I ought to ring her doorbell.”
“We are not supposed to meet people outside our bubble.”
“But how is she?”
“Good question. What with missing Ashley and shunning God, it must be a taxing time.”
“I want to know how she is coping. I don’t believe they had any children.”
“There’s a daughter,” he said. “Ashley told me while golfing how proud he was of her. A GP in the North somewhere.”
Jack could vary his walks with the dog, and he decided to walk past her house. The coastal path ran along the back gardens of the houses where Izzy lived. You could see into the gardens and if lucky, you might see someone on the back balcony or in the windows. He started walking occasionally that way. The house looked lived in. That he was sure of. One late afternoon walk, as the light was fading he saw a strange sight. There she was on the back patio. The outside light was on, and she was moving this way and that. Jack stopped and looked at her. He knew that she could not see him. He was among the trees beyond the path in front of the seashore. He realised that there was a pattern to her movements. It was not some exercising moves. She was practising a dance move. He recognised the pivot in her steps. He recognised the move. Sally was an addict to Strictly Come Dancing and the move was from a foxtrot! Izzy Hemlock was practising a dance move. He silently put the lead on his dog and stood still. If she was practising a dance move, he guessed that she was practising to be with someone else, dancing as a couple.
He watched her raise her arms and glide through the moves. She was remarkably elegant. She was a bit overweight and in her mid-seventies and yet she moved with a certain grace. Now he could hear her hum the music. Cole Porter he thought. Then she stopped, looked around as if to check no one was watching, and then went back inside. He heard the back door being locked and then the outside light was turned off. Jack let the dog off the lead and carried on with the walk. He did not know whether she should tell his wife. She would not believe it and he was beginning to doubt himself. But one thing was certain: Izzy Hemlock was alive, very much alive. Whether she had forgiven God, that was a question for another day.
Another day, he met the man who had first offered to collect Izzy’s medications. He had a pug which was anti-social and barked at his own dog. So, they did not converse much because of the yapping. But today, he was alone. He asked him about the dog. The news was not good. The pug had died suddenly. Jack knew he needed to know his name. Up to then he had known him as Mr Pug.
“I’m Brian,” he said. He asked Brian if he still delivered medications for Izzy, and the truth came out.
“I met Izzy at school, you know,” he said. “Back then, we both went to dancing lessons. We were considered to be a good couple, dance wise. But then the lessons changed to a Sunday and she was a church goer and I played football, so we drifted apart. She married and so did I but whenever we met socially, we always felt close. My wife died many years ago, and then when Covid devastated her and saw off Ashley, I started to help. Medications, groceries. We talk on the phone. We have even mastered Zoom.”
“So Izzy is fine, physically and mentally.”
“Yes, but I had to work hard on her.”
Then Jack told Brian about Izzy dancing as dusk appeared. “Look,” Brian said. “I feel like a young buck. I’ll send you a link. We practise on Zoom. My son who is tech savvy has taken our moves and merged them together. We look as if we are dancing. I mean we aren’t as we are in lock-down.”
That evening, Jack showed Sally the link. First, there was footage of both of them practising outside. She was humming as he danced, and he was silent although there was a huge grin on his face. Next, they had both dressed up. She wore a red dress, and he had a tuxedo on. Now they were dancing alone and then suddenly they were dancing together.
“Well I never!” exclaimed Sally.
“Rule of six comes into force next week and we have been invited to watch them on Friday evening,” said Jack. “They have told the local TV station and there will be a crew there to report it and there will be a piece on the TV.”
That Friday night, the report began. “A childhood couple who danced as teenagers but then led separate lives have been re-united by the pandemic. They have practised their dance moves for months alone due to Covid restrictions. Tonight after an interval of sixty years, they are dancing again, in the open air. Izzy and Brian, take it away!”