The Corona Chronicles - Lockdown Life with the Nearly-Beloved, Grunting Teen and the Lost Boy

Other submissions by Judithwatkins:
If you want to read their other submissions, please click the links.
Stones in my Bra (Women's Fiction, Book Award 2023)
Spoons on my Feet (Women's Fiction, Book Award 2023)
Stones in my Bra (Drama, Screenplay Award 2023)
Manuscript Type
Golden Writer
Logline or Premise
Take an upbeat mother, an uptight husband and a monosyllabic teenager. Add one global pandemic, a daughter on the brink and a son in enemy hands overseas. Top with a generous dollop of humour and divide into bitesize chunks.
First 10 Pages


Outstretched hands. Barbed wire. A beseeching look.

I reach out to him. But I’m pinned to the ground. Helpless.

Smoke flares. Sirens. Barking dogs.

A guard approaches.

Mocking eyes. Slavic cheekbones. Pouting lips. Stiletto heels.


Then a loud groan.

‘There goes my bloody lie-in. He can’t even make toast without setting off next door’s Jack Russell!’

And just like that, I’m catapulted from snowy Siberia to a Sunday in Sheffield as the Nearly-Beloved, my balding, seen-better-days husband, grumbles his way out of bed to deal with the chaos. Meanwhile, I hunker down under the duvet to dull the sound of shouting, slamming doors and Hip Hop powering on at full blast.

I gingerly touch my head. There’s a slight throbbing. My eyesight’s a bit blurry and my mouth isn’t fully functioning. But, all things considered, after a night out with ‘Call me crazy’ Carole, I’ve come off lightly. So, I stumble out of bed, crunch along the landing, now carpeted with crumbs and cornflakes, and let the shower work its magic. But a sense of disquiet still lingers…

The solution is simple. Supposedly.

‘Mum, just click on the video icon.’

‘I am.’ I mutter. ‘Bloody technology! So much easier if you’d stayed put!

‘Skype’s hardly rocket-science. And it’s not as if I’m on the other side of the world.’

‘Suppose,’ I sniff, blaming myself for encouraging him to study abroad. How was I to know that Katya from Kiev would capture his heart or that my boy would follow her and her well-paid job to Amsterdam?

Suddenly the door crashes open to a smell of stale sweat and two-day-old socks.

‘S’up mum?’ And a pimply fourteen-year-old reaches over and clicks something on the laptop.

‘How did you know I needed help? I reply. Hard to believe this Grunting Teen was once my sweet baby.

He rolls his eyes, taps his phone and gestures towards the now functioning screen, where my Lost Boy, the son who got away, suddenly appears, all freckled face and tousled hair.

‘Messaged me, innit? Can I go now?’

‘Don’t you want to talk to your brother?’

He leans into the camera so we’re treated to a close-up of an adolescent nostril, followed by a waggling tongue. ‘Nah, s’alright. Seeing him soon, aren’t we?’

My Lost Boy hesitates, about to say something, then thinks better of it.

As the door bangs shut, I’m left to inspect this on-screen face. It’s been two months since I saw him in the flesh. Far too long. His smile reaches his eyes. A good sign. But he looks pale and his cheeks are hollower than before. Something’s off…

‘Are you eating enough?’


‘Well, you’ve got to keep on top of your health. Katya is aware of that, isn’t she?’

‘Yes, yes of course. Where’s dad?’

Change of subject. Warning bells! Has he had another episode?

‘Making a cuppa. Meantime, give me a tour of your new flat.’

‘Not really a flat, mum. A one-room studio. But it’s our first home together.’

Home? My stomach lurches. I thought ‘home’ was here. With me.


I shake myself back into the present, where I’m being shown a set of fancy kitchen units and a high-end dining table.

‘Very nice,’ I say. ‘Not your usual IKEA.’

‘No,’ he smiles. ‘Katya’s into quality.’

‘Well, she certainly has a flair for interior design.’

I grudgingly admire how she’s broken up the one space into eating, living and sleeping areas with the use of cleverly placed bookcases and screens.

‘Is that a heron nesting in the trees?’ asks the eagle-eyed Nearly-Beloved appearing in the room and carefully positioning my mug of tea on a coaster.

Our Lost Boy zooms in through large French windows and over a veranda that looks onto a reeded canal bank. He laughs. ‘Probably, dad. It’s all fishing and family picnics in the suburbs. Hopefully, when I get a job, we’ll be able to afford something more central.’

‘And how is the job-hunting going?’ asks his father, who still can’t understand how love could trump financial security.

Our Lost Boy shuffles in his seat. 'Well, I’m in a dilemma, actually.’

My mother’s antenna was right. He’s been stressing.

‘I’ve been offered a year’s contract in The Hague,’ he tells us, ‘But the pay’s not great, considering I’ll have to travel.’

‘So, hold out for what you really want,’ I say. ‘You deserve it.’

And he does. He’s already given up such a lot to move out there.

The Nearly-Beloved glares at me. ‘It’s easier to get a job when you’ve got a job. And if he gets a bigger flat, there’ll be room for us when we visit so we won’t have to pay for some rip-off hotel. The sooner he starts working the better.’

‘What does Katya think?’ I ask casually, ‘Is she there? Say a zdrastvitye from me.’

An expression of irritation flits across my Lost Boy’s face. ‘No, she’s not, mum. And how many times have I got to tell you? I know you’re desperate to practise your Russian. But…The Holodomor… 2014… Katya’s only speaking Ukrainian now.’

‘Point taken,’ I say, not fully understanding his references or why Katya won’t indulge my love of the language I studied at university. After all, she grew up speaking it with her adored granny.

‘So, where is she then?’ I ask.

‘Shopping. Out hammering the credit card.’

I raise my eyebrows.

‘So, dad’s probably right,’ he laughs. ‘I should take that job.’

No, I think to myself, he should come home. Return to his roots.

‘Sweetheart, it’s been ages since we saw you,’ I say. ‘How about coming over for a weekend in March?’

There’s an uncomfortable hesitation.

‘Mum, don’t you listen to the news?’

‘The news?’ I ask, confused. ‘Of course. Your father’s favourite programme. He loves all that doom and gloom.’

‘Well then, surely you’ve heard of the Chinese virus that’s hitting Italy now?’

‘Oh, that Coven 17 thing they’re trying to scare us with?’

‘Yes, the one that’s set to hit Europe big time.’

‘Oh darling, don’t be silly. The media do this every year. There’s not much news in January and February. They have to invent something disastrous to terrify us with. Remember SARS?’

‘Yes,’ agrees the Nearly-Beloved, ‘Before that there was avian flu. And Swine flu. And if it’s not a human virus, then they invent a computer one. Remember the Millennium Bug? Planes falling from the sky on the stroke of midnight? Bloody ridiculous!’

We smile at each other, united by our shared history and survival of press-inspired pandemics. But looking at my son’s unamused face, I pause. Not good for him to get stressed.

‘Honestly, love, don’t worry,’ I say. ‘These things get blown out of all proportion. If you don’t come over, then we’ll come to you.’

My Lost Boy sighs. ‘You need to take this more seriously. Both of you. In Kiev, some families are already self-isolating to avoid the risk.’

Realisation suddenly dawns. Now I understand. This is Katya’s influence! Our family comes from a long line of GP-avoidant stoics with the mentality of 'get better or die'. Katya, on the other hand, only has to cut her finger or sneeze, and she’s already on the phone to a world-leading specialist.

I try the light-hearted approach. ‘Well, maybe you’re right. But honestly, don’t worry about me and dad. We self-isolate until March anyway to get over the excitement of Christmas. And we haven’t been out in ages. So, I’m sure we’ll be okay.’

Our Lost Boy shrugs, unconvinced. ‘Okay, well, I’ll let you know what I decide about the job. But in the meantime, stay safe.’

‘Yes, sweetheart,’ I smile, ‘I’m sure this will all have blown over by Easter.’

‘Let’s hope so,’ says my son as he signs off. But his expression doesn’t match his words…


MARCH 2020

1 March - 36 Covid cases are reported in the UK. Symptoms include a persistent cough, high temperature and loss of taste and smell. The public is advised that 96% of people who get the virus will recover.

5 March - The first death from coronavirus in the UK is confirmed

11 March - The UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, declares a pandemic.

14 March - UK retailers ask customers not to panic-buy products after some supermarkets sell out of staple items.

The term ‘social distancing’ is introduced to describe measures to prevent catching the virus. TV adverts are shown, advising the public to wash their hands to the tune of ‘Happy Birthday,’ sung twice.

20 March - All schools shut. The Education Secretary announces no exams will take place this academic year.

The Prime Minister orders all cafes, pubs and restaurants to close, except for take-away food.

23 March - The British public are instructed to stay at home, except for shopping for essential items, and one form of local outdoor exercise each day.

Shows like Tiger King, Normal People and The Crown Season 3 start trending.



The Prime Minister has declared a pandemic and the gold-medallist panic-buyers have gone into overdrive. Unfortunately, I’m a late starter in the stockpiling stakes, so soap, sanitiser and paracetamols have already been bagged.

As I rummage through my kitchen cupboards in search of something counter-Covidy, Grunting Teen is complaining about his after-school session.

‘Mum,’ he groans, ‘It’s optional.’

I sigh. Is it worth a battle? But the Nearly-Beloved has stronger moral principles.

‘Your teacher’s given up her time. The least you can do is turn up. It pays to do the right thing.’

There’s a contemptuous grunt and our youngest storms off, too late for the pocket-sized anti-bacteria gel I’ve inexplicably found in a rusting cake tin.

Look,’ I say emerging victoriously from under the u-bend, with some oven cleaner, wasp spray, indigestion tablets and two bars of coal-tar soap, circa 1998.

‘We’ll be able to wash our hands!’

The Nearly-Beloved nods, but makes no sign to leave the house.

Why are you still here?’ I ask nervously.

‘They’ve suggested we work from home. It’s meant to be safer, more hygienic...’ he sighs, heading off to his new dining room-office.

In the meantime, I disinfect the house with whatever chemical cocktail comes to hand. But before long, my lungs are struggling and I head outside. Carefully extricating my boots from the shoe mountain by the door, I find a note proposing a street Whatsapp group. I smile - it’s good we can still open our arms to others, metaphorically at least.

As I walk out, the air tastes clean and fresh and it’s remarkably peaceful without the usual traffic noise. I notice a few pedestrians hurrying about their business, but, as I cough and splutter up the waspy-oven mix, they recoil in horror and soon I have the streets to myself.

Heading to our local shop in search of provisions, I round the aisle and bump into a neighbour.

‘Oh, lovely to see you,’ we chorus before we remember the new social distancing rule and spring back like startled rabbits.

So, as she stays in the safe vicinity of the jammie dodgers, I hunker down with the cream crackers and we talk about how strange life is and how there’s no pasta or loo rolls to be found.

‘I’ve got loo rolls if you need any,’ says a familiar face appearing over the top of the canned soup display.

‘And the Whole Food shop has chickpea conchiglioni,’ says another voice from the freezer section.

I smile. The Nearly-Beloved isn’t ready for healthy pasta yet. But I’m enjoying this impromptu get-together.

‘I’ll forward you the washing-hands video,’ beams next-door-but-one and we all agree we’ll have a massive street party once this is over.

Returning home, I see the Nearly-Beloved getting into the car.

‘Where are you going?’ I ask.

‘The office. I forgot an important file.’

I seize the opportunity. ‘Great. Rumour has it Tesco Express still has stocks. Let’s stop off.

But the Nearly-Beloved isn’t used to shops, or pandemics.

‘This is ridiculous,’ he says, surveying the empty shelves, ‘Why is there no bread? Why are people buying corned beef?’

Why indeed? But there are two tins left and they’re mine!

We head for the check-out, with the Nearly-Beloved spouting the government line that if only people would buy what they needed, there’d be enough for everybody.

‘Where’s the assistant?’ he asks at the self-service.

Ignoring him, I start scanning.

‘Let me do it,’ he says, relegating me to packing.

‘Unidentified item in the bagging area,’ screams the screen until an actual assistant materialises, shaking her head sympathetically at me.

I grab the tins.

‘I haven’t scanned those,’ objects my soon-to-be-ex.

‘Item has been scanned,’ intones the machine,

‘Oh, for God’s sake,’ I say pressing the pay-key, ‘let’s get out of here.’

Back home the Nearly-Beloved brandishes the till-receipt in my face.

‘See, you’ve made me shop-lift! I’ll have to go back now.’


‘Seriously. It pays to do the right thing, you know.’

And our social-distancing for the rest of the day turns out to be surprisingly easy…

Later that afternoon the door thumps open.

‘Told you!’ grunts the teenager, ‘I was the only one there!’

‘At least you had one-to-one attention,’ I call back, half-way through a Happy-Birthday-hand-washing.

‘And you’ll be in their good books,’ grins the Nearly-Beloved, appearing in the doorway. ‘I’ve been listening to the news. Schools are closing on Friday. GCSEs have been cancelled. You’re getting teacher-assessed grades. See - it pays to do the right thing.’

I go towards my son but he dodges my embrace.

‘Mum, we’re not supposed to be near old people.’

I roll my eyes. This is what comes of falling pregnant in your forties!

But then he stutters anxiously, ‘I don’t want you and dad to die,’ and I realise he’s being serious and what he needs, instead of all this media hype, is some maternal reassurance.

‘Listen,’ I say, looking him in the eyes with a conviction I don’t yet feel, ‘96% of people recover completely from this illness and, if I do get it, then I’ll be one of them. Because, if I peg it, your big sister will inherit a teenager and I couldn’t possibly do that to her. Now come here.’

He relaxes into a hug and I know my words have worked when he wriggles free and grunts, ‘Can I go on the PS4 then, mum?’

In the meantime, I crack on with cooking. I might have failed at stocking up for the current crisis but today’s cupboard clearing has produced some surprises. So, dinner tonight, to celebrate our son’s anticipated A* grades, is a medley of corned beef and reconstituted mashed potato, followed by cornflakes with past-their-sell-by-date peaches in syrup. Thank goodness for those indigestion tablets!

And even more thanks are due as, in the new spirit of social distancing, Grunting Teen retreats to his Cave, the Nearly-Beloved finds solace in his CD collection, leaving me to retrieve the Christmas Quality Street and binge-watch season 3 of The Crown.

Maybe this pandemic has a silver lining after all…


Last night’s news wasn’t promising. There’s a feeling that soon only essential shops will stay open and we’ll be asked to limit our social interactions. In the meantime, until that comes into force, I’m determined to carry on as normal.

I head down to Saturday’s local park run, where, not surprisingly, the numbers are down. Still, there’s a good few hundred runners here, showing off how healthy and corona-free we are. But as we’re penned up, listening for the starter-gun, I have a sudden moment of panic. What if we only seem healthy but are in fact incubating and spreading the virus as we wait? On the positive side, I’ve never got off to such a fast start, racing to put as much space as possible between me and my nearest rival. I return home with a PB and a sense that this was my last parkrun for a while.

Grunting Teen is yet to surface so I brace myself and knock on his bedroom door. I parkour nimbly across his dark, fetid teen-cave, fling back the curtains and open the window in one deft movement. Inhaling deeply, I manage a single breath of ‘Timetogetupweneedtogoshopping’ and springbok my way out again.

Half an hour, two bowls of cereal and a banana later, he glares at me from underneath the fringe that reaches his upper lip. I mentally add, ‘get a haircut’ to the priority list for next week. He mutters something under his breath, which I take to be an expression of defiance regarding our retail outing.

The Nearly-Beloved, that stickler for rules, is for once, on his son’s side.

‘Listen, we’ve been asked to go out only if strictly necessary,’ he says. ‘I hardly think a trip into town counts as essential.’

I point out that our man-boy is growing several centimetres a day and unless I get him some new trainers asap, he’ll have to go barefoot or be confined forever to the house.

‘Besides, it’s Mother’s Day tomorrow and you might need to find a card shop.’

The Nearly-Beloved’s face pales as he scrambles for his phone and the gift-delivery websites.

As compensation for my timely reminder, he agrees to come into town with us on a pasta recce whilst I do battle with adolescent footwear. After all, what could possibly go wrong?