TAMMIKUUSSA—She wore a handmade black leather collar around her slender white throat. The collar had caused some concern for airport security, as they took me aside and checked its Christmas-wrapper’d shape carefully, x-raying it over & over, until, satisfied, they let me through. The buckle on it was gold – to go with her jewellery – and she wore it at an acquaintance’s birthday party she had taken me along to. The bar was busy becoming busier. Music thumped. She pushed herself against me and danced, so close that each hot breath drove our chests against the other, while she made small talk with the artists, photographers, and models who surrounded us. Her collar’s gold buckle caught disco lights. She stared at me, into me, and pressed her thighs either side of mine. Now that we were together again, I remembered happiness. The smell of the leather became entwined with her perfume.

HELMIKUUSSA—‘Wait here,’ she said—‘if they see you, they might not let us.’ The ship was surging slowly out of the Tallinn docks, trembling underfoot, as she went to the reception desk and enquired to the cost of a room for our three-hour voyage. I watched from behind a flashing fruit machine. Returning, disappointed—‘It’s too expensive. I’ll have to wait to fuck you.’ Since we could not fuck, we took our backpacks of vodka and sparkling wine to the bar on port side. Tiny white lights on the shore drifted away faintly. She put her thighs between mine as we drank beer and a karaoke took place—‘Finnish people love karaoke.’ A middle-aged woman from a party of middle-aged women came on and sung I Want You, I Need You, I Love You. ‘She just dedicated that to all the lovers on Valentine’s day,’ she translated, smiling at me.

MAALISKUUSSA—The news still seemed distant; events were happening elsewhere but were yet to reach our little island. Finally, a case was detected in England, and then others, then the first death, and Britons began to take things seriously. A man in the office was sent home ill and took a test. I rode the tube to a site meeting with my friend and we discussed it; the next day he went home with flu-like symptoms. The following day I visited my father for his birthday; he was ill and so was my brother. I was ordered to isolate and work from my parents’ home. The country locked down, like the rest of the continent, uncertain and nervous. Seven days later I returned, along quiet roads, to my flat with my father to pick up some belongings. On the way back we stopped at my grandmother’s daffodil’d grave for Mother’s Day.

HUHTIKUUSSA—Everyone was getting used to the novelty of working from home. My parents bought a desk and I sat there all day long in the kitchen, circled by the plants I had saved from my flat, looking out over the spring garden. April was when she and I began to grow apart. These things happen gradually, without one really noticing them at first, until the finer points of the relationship have fallen away, and one – in my case, at least – becomes fearful. Whereas the situation engendered by the pandemic caused me insurmountable dread, anxiety and helplessness, she appeared to feel nothing but a joyous sense of freedom, living ‘in the moment’, and unconcerned about past or future, truly enjoying her present, and feeling a sense of liberty she had heretofore denied herself. I saw that she was happy and supposed that I should be, too, but I could not sleep.
TOUKOKUUSSA—By May, I was overcome with tiredness, terrors and horrible visions that plagued me constantly; all of them about, or because of, her. She went away to a residency in the middle of the month, and just before she left, I called her on the phone; I could tell that things between us had died. I spoke to my ex – the only other person I had loved like I loved her – and she put me onto a therapist. With tremendous nerve, I called this new stranger and confided to her as I walked distractedly along the seafront, and, although she struggled to hear me, I told her quickly and briefly about the unfortunate predicament I found myself in. Cold wind blew across the microphone—‘Pardon me, please repeat that.’ I did not know what I was doing. The nightmares persisted, and the tears. And then there was nothing but silence.

KESÄKUUSSA—On the tenth of June, as I returned from one of my daily walks, I got a telephone call from my boss, informing me that I was to be put on furlough for the foreseeable. Until then I had been working every day and, for all its faults, had found it distracting. I did not know where that left me or my state of mind, so I slouched in my chair in front of the garden and opened a beer. At the weekend, I returned to my flat to find it how I had left it, yet it was now Britain’s most haunted, tormenting me with the ghosts of her and our relationship. The east end of London seemed to have changed very little, as from behind the car window I spied all the young couples going hither & thither, hand-in-hand, about their romantic lives together. I looked on, enviously.

HEINÄKUUSSA—Awake daily at the alarm to retain some sense of routine. I did not open my eyes to ‘Good morning!’ (with a plant emoji) texts from her like I had done before, but by now I was used to it and no longer considered my phone. I took a coffee into the living room and read – which I had rediscovered a great fondness for – until I was ready to write. I wrote all day. All the hours that I had previously worked were now filled with writing. Some days the words came in a flood, others I struggled to get so much as a hundred down. The weather was hot now. I foolishly went wandering in the heat. If my writing suffered – as it often did – then my mood was doomed, and my day meaningless. On walks I looked at the houses and, around them, flowers glowed in their beds.

ELOKUUSSA—When the pandemic began, I believed, naïvely, that it would have ended by my birthday and that things would be back to normal. I believed that I would be back in my flat, resuming real life with gusto enough to ignore the previous five months. Her residency was over with and we were communicating again, but it was quite clear that as good as she was feeling, and despite the state of things, her happiness did not feature me. I returned to work and, furthermore, had returned to the office two days a week, commuting from my parents’ on the coast. Each evening I would return from the deathly quiet capital to a bustling coastal town as day-trippers loaded onto the train for its return journey. Droplets of sweat ran from my mask down my neck. Besides the beautiful sunrises each morning, there was too little joy in my life.

SYYSKUUSSA—The last hot weekend of the summer, my family and I went into the forest. The day before, she had told me that she was seeing someone else. I got very drunk so that the next morning, as I took a telephone call from my therapist in my mother’s parked car – where I retreated for privacy – I struggled to not throw up. I wept to her, for the first time, gagging on words, as the tears came and I could not stop them. I tried to calm down. My brother’s family met us in a log cabin where I kept my secret and silence. The curtains were open as I slept so that I awoke to a scene of the forest and tall pine trunks that stretched up to the sun. During the day I escaped on my bicycle along pale paths carved through the trees until I became exhausted.

LOKAKUUSSA—My bosses were eager to get us back to the office full-time – against all advice from the government – and so we returned. It was quiet on those trains to and from the city, where I read with a hunger I had not known in years, that I witnessed the darkness pinching either side of the day. We had ceased all correspondence, at my declaration that I could no longer carry on with things being the way they were. The thoughts that had kept me awake at night for months had come true; I no longer needed imagination nor dread, just the message that she had sent me, which I read over & over, turning terror to reality. Every ounce of happiness I hung from her had been seized by someone else. Our fruit had rotted on the branch, and long hours meant I could no longer speak to my therapist.

MARRASKUUSSA—Numerous cases of the virus broke out in the office and then, at the government’s absolute instruction, it was closed down, and again we resumed working from home. After all that time, my body and mind did not know what to make of things. I continued my afternoon walks, and they seemed stranger than ever: the darkness and chill that I had felt eight months previous were back, but rather than alleviating, to ease my state of mind, they worsened, and I was turning up my collar to keep out the cold. On one such walk, I called my landlord and told him I would be vacating the flat. It was my final resignation that things had indeed gone awry. The disappointment in his voice was ill-disguised, as was my own. Serving notice seemed a full-stop to all the optimism I had clung on to, with such delusion, since March.

JOULUKUUSSA—All the streetlights in the town go off at eleven o’clock. I was acutely aware of this as I caught the late train home for Christmas. I did not know when I would return, when I would see all those people again. I had grown so used to seeing them every day that the pandemic began to appear distant. Nervously, I anticipated abandoning my flat so that it caused me more sleepless nights. During summer I walked the streets of London and marvelled at the empty bars, in December I walked through those same streets, lonelier and colder, sadder at the shutters and dark taverns that confronted me. On my many paths through the city, I remembered, with heartbreaking clarity, all the good times that had blessed me and that now they should seem so distant, like another life, like another planet or star up in the sky, lightyears away.