Edward, a resting actor, has hoped for better things than his last role playing Buttons in the Christmas Show the end of Cromer Pier. He’s penniless and wonders if he’ll ever work again. ‘Gathering’ in front of his bathroom mirror, he intones, Age cannot wither her, Nor custom … Oh, shit! I can’t face Universal Credit. Every day, in his dingy rented flat, he searches opportunities in The Stage and on-line.
His phone pings. There’s a message from his mother, alerting him to an advertisement in ‘The Lady’ – Ornamental Garden Hermit required. The accompanying photographs of the landscaped estate and mansion are beautiful. He applies and, to his astonishment, is offered an interview.
The estate’s owner, Estaban Stanislaus, is an American, perfectly exemplifying the Zuckerberg robotic look, with monk-like tonsure and machine-like emotionless speech.
Okay, Eddie. Let’s just reprise your role. You’ll be dressed as a Druid – costume supplied. I‘ll supply your food and booze just as if you’re in a hotel and my people’ll collect your laundry. You get five thousand US a month. Webcams will display your hermitude on the Internet but there are no microphones.
It’s a non-speaking role?
Why do you want an ornamental garden hermit?
When you’ve bought everything you ever thought of, what then? They really did have one here in the eighteenth century; it’s the cherry on the cake of pointless conspicuous consumption, awesome. I may walk down with friends but mostly we’ll watch on-line.
The Grotto has two parts. The original, public facing grotto, has been meticulously renovated. The new private rear is commodious. The movement sensitive webcams only operate at the front.
At the barred entrance gate Edward asks, Is this the only way in and out?
Always locked, except when you take deliveries. You’ll be safe.
Why do I need to be safe?
In the sticks anything can happen.
Do I get a key?
No. If you got fed up and ran off I’d look stupid.
What do I do? Edward asks.
What happens if I’m ill?
There’s an emergency button in your bedroom.
Can I use my mobile?
There’s no signal in the grotto.
Is there TV?
For sure. You up for it?
Edward watches Covid-19 unfold on the TV. I’m lucky to be shielded, he thinks. Great food. Superb wines. No furlough for me. Money in the bank. I made it!
Estaban doesn’t visit and Edward wonders how his performance is being received.
After eleven weeks his food order isn’t delivered. There’s no response to the emergency button. At the gate he repeatedly screams, Help!
Five days later, kneeling at the gate, he begs, Help. Let me out! Please.
Slumped in an armchair in the lounge, watching the news, he sips water from a glass.
‘The cause of death of the eccentric millionaire Estaban Stanislaus has been established as Covid-19.’
At the gate he finally tries the handle. It opens. I thought it was locked, idiot, he whispers. Too weak to move, he collapses.
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