When Greg lands Jane as a new flatmate at the start of a bird flu epidemic, time could be short for them. Time certainly becomes scarcer for Greg’s GP pal, Hugo. From Bristol to Scotland, through Europe and even to Australia, pandemics cause a human dieback. Then the virus mutates to deliver a further blow. Greg, Jane and Hugo must redefine the meaning of their lives. Or have it defined for them.
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The raven-haired Ophelia across the bookshop café looked so attractive but so miserable. Greg liked that and had been sneaking glances for minutes. Her expression hadn’t softened. Greg was super-sure he was not the man to cheer her up, so it was perfect that she looked beautiful in the depth of desolation.
He took a time-out and peered under his spectacles to focus on the Bristol Evening Post’s lead story. Bored with this latest flu scare, Greg pushed the newspaper aside to reveal Guide to the Birds of Britain & Ireland. He hadn’t opened that, not knowing if he would buy it. He felt a thrill of guilt at its being as yet unpurchased, so merely studied a couple of gulls frozen in flight on the cover. He had no idea of their species but they looked so regal. Greg absently stroked thin facial hair that he called a beard.
Small but perfectly formed, she still sat there. Greg changed his mind: she was Garbo, even down to that high, clear forehead. It suited her.
Greg tried to identify the other birds on the Guide’s cover and succeeded only with a barn owl. The cover certainly lacked the handsome grey creature that had enraptured him on his way over Brandon Hill. He did need the book.
Gone, the girl had gone. He scanned the surroundings but the bird had flown. He closed the Guide, gulped down the remains of his coffee, returned the cup to the counter, and received a cheery wave goodbye from Witold the barista.
Greg had been long enough at his lunch-break and hadn’t even started on the original purpose of his visit. He did need to double-check that he was buying the best field guide. He returned to the bird shelves, where a silver-haired gent was almost standing to attention while browsing. Greg hesitated. He could just go with the book in his hand.
Behind, in a neighbouring section, a prodigious bout of coughing hijacked his attention and snagged what he was beginning to suspect was tinnitus, into a ringing hell. A plump face atop an overcoat straining against a portly frame confronted Greg – an overcoat inappropriate to the mildness of the day. And Fatty did glisten with sweat while also looking cold, faint blue tingeing his complexion. Mr Silver Hair had also turned to look and grimaced with blue eyes – even more startling – at Greg, committing him to make some show of examining the books while the sibilance in his ears subsided.
Field Guide to Australian Birds… now that was an idea and maybe serendipitous.