12+ FIVE logged onto their first Zoom meeting. "Right-o, can everyone hear and see me?" asked Julian, who, as the leader, had scheduled the meeting and emailed invites ... with help from his clever-dick cousin, George.
"Yes," his brother Dick beamed back. "Splendid stuff, well done, Julian!"
George responded with a curt nod of her short-cropped head. "Do you like my background, Julian?" she asked, thumbing over her shoulder at a green-screen panorama of Kirrin Island.
Julian was about to respond indifferently when another voice cut him off. "Woof!"
"Well, Timmy likes it," chipped in his sister Anne, though no one could see her.
"Anne, you silly girl, something's wrong, we can't see you," said Julian in an exasperated tone.
"Tap the video icon on your phone," George explained more kindly.
"Oh, sorry," apologised Anne, as she suddenly appeared all rosy-cheeked. "I was laughing so much at Timmy, I forgot."
"Woof," said Timmy, and everyone laughed, except for Julian. George had set up an iPad beside her so Timmy could join the four cousins on Zoom.
"Well, enough larking about," said Julian sternly. "It's time to start planning our camping holiday."
George scowled fiercely down her webcam. "Julian, we've talked about this, we can't go camping during the lockdown."
"George is right," agreed Anne, with a frown. "We don't want to get sick or break the law."
"Oh you girls, you're always sticking up for each other," said Dick, defending his big brother.
Julian seemed rather cross and was talking, but no one could hear him. Dick and Anne looked confused, Timmy woofed, and George shook her head.
"We've lost your audio, Julian," she told him. "Check if you've clicked mute."
Everyone watched as Julian glared down at the icons on his screen. He disappeared from view, reappeared, and then they heard him swearing, quite rudely.
"Julian!" exclaimed Anne, blushing. Dick smirked, Timmy woofed, and George scowled again.
"I meant to say, blast it," said Julian, feeling hot and bothered.
As the oldest, Julian had always been the best at everything. He could mend punctures, put up a tent and row a boat better than his younger siblings and cousin. He even beat George swimming off Kirrin Island last summer holidays, and she was a jolly strong swimmer, for a girl.
But dash it all, everything was topsy turvy at the moment. What with coronavirus and lockdowns and not going camping and not seeing grandparents. Julian felt tears welling up in his eyes. Blast it!
"Is your audio muted again?" George asked.
Julian realised everyone, including Timmy, was looking at him, waiting for an answer. He was their leader. What should he say?
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Julian blinked and cleared his throat. "I think we should meet again next week. George, you're better at this Zoom thing than me. Please take my place and email the invites."
The screens went blank. George smiled and reached down to pat Timmy. "Perhaps there is a silver lining to this wretched virus?" she said, and Timmy woofed.
© 2020 Robert Fairhead
A middle-aged dad and dog owner, Robert Fairhead is an editor and writer at Tall And True, and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com.
His favourite pastimes include reading and writing, walking his dog, and watching Aussie Rules Football with his son. He is also a part-time dog trainer and runs classes at his local dog training club and through Robert's Responsible Dog Training.
Robert has worked as an electrician, a computer programmer, and a sales and marketing consultant, and he is the principal copywriter at Rocher Communications.
His book reviews and writing on dogs have appeared in newspapers and online. And in 2020, he published a collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story.
Robert has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.
I wrote this short story for the Australian Writers' Centre's monthly #FuriousFiction competition, inspired by my boyhood love of Enid Blyton's Famous Five and our socially isolated times. The criteria for the May 2020 500-word story was that the first word had to be FIVE, and it had to include something being replaced and the phrase "a silver lining". Once again, I didn't win, nor make the short or long lists. But I had fun writing it, especially as on the same weekend I wrote a blog post on my April #FuriousFiction experience. Perhaps there is a silver lining to the coronavirus lockdown? More time to write!