Sing Hope from Rooftops by Anne O’Leary

Every day my husband went out to buy food. We had only one mask so only one could go. I stayed in the apartment with our babies.

He would wear a scarf tied over the mask, for extra protection. He wore winter gloves, even though it was almost summer, so he wouldn’t touch anything contaminated.

We did not need food every day, but he said it was best to keep buying as long as the Army kept bringing it. In our pantry was a growing stock of supplies. He said we should spare that, in case a day came when the Army stopped sending lorries to deliver food at the city stockades.

There was little to do, other than think up games for the children. I would play peekaboo and patty cake, and sing nursery rhymes to them. At night, once they were asleep, I would go up to the roof of our tower block and sing to the sky. I had been a singer, before all of this. I was used to an audience, and this was a way of still having a sense of that life, a stage from which to let my voice fly. Our rooftop overlooked other buildings, each forty, fifty storeys high. I knew that the people confined in them listened to my singing because they would applaud from their balconies and shout their thanks. I sang songs of hope, memories of when we were free to move as we wished. All of us now were like the princess in the tower that I read about to the children.

One day, my husband put on the mask and the scarf and the gloves to buy food. But when he returned, he knocked on the door of our apartment instead of letting himself in. At first, I thought it must be a neighbour so I was afraid to answer. But then I heard his voice calling me, and when I opened the door he was standing at the very end of the hallway, by the elevators.

I cannot come in, he said. I have a cough.

It’s nothing, I said. I’m sure it’s nothing.

I’m sick, he said.

You can’t be. You have been covered up. Please come home.

It’s too much of a risk, I might infect you or the babies. I will go to the hospital and return when I’m better. I have left food by the door. When that’s finished, use the supplies. I will be home before they’re gone.

We have almost run out of supplies, but he has not yet come home. I can’t go to the hospitals to look for him when there is no one to watch the children. At night while they sleep, I go to the rooftop to sing. I sing songs of hope. I sing them for him.

Anne O’Leary lives in Cork, Ireland. Publications include Lunate, The Ogham Stone, Spelk, Fictive Dream, Jellyfish Review, Dodging the Rain and The Nottingham Review. She won the Molly Keane Award 2018, was shortlisted for the Colm Tóibín International Short Story Award 2016 and 2017, and included in BIFFY50 2018/2019. Twitter @wordherding | Blog: