Short Fiction ~ Lindy Newns
Honourable Mention, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 12
Alyssia sets her phone to wake her up half an hour earlier than usual even though she’s exhausted and could have slept all morning given the chance. The car is covered in frost and it takes ages to scrape off, her engine running and the fan on. The roads are icy, snow in mounds along the kerb and her fingers are stiff on the wheel, but she gets there and at least the wards are warm.
Masked and scrubbed for another shift, she is hot after an hour. Everywhere, alien eyes and no chance of knowing what these strangers are thinking, even though they are not strangers and are probably as exhausted as her and, like her, trying not to think too hard. If you start thinking about human beings and human grief, then you are done for. No. Tick the boxes, turn the sheeted shape, make a note of the oxygen levels, repeat. Hour after hour for a ten- hour shift. Longer, because you have to hand over and that takes time and the paperwork has to be clear with no chance of being misread by another exhausted doctor or nurse.
And it is finally over. Alyssia removes her plastic visor, her surgical mask, the plastic gloves, and stares at herself in the mirror where she sees a woman she hardly recognizes. There are dark circles under her eyes, blotched cheeks and angry red marks where the plastic straps have dug in.
They have warned her about the protest going on outside, so she leaves by a side entrance. She has to wait to open the door because her heart has suddenly started to race; she can hardly breathe but she makes it to the car where she bends over and waits for the ringing in her ears to stop. A headache screws itself into her skull and she worries about her blood pressure. She is overweight, she knows it, and at more risk than most from the virus, but this is her job. She is saving lives every day and has no choice but to carry on.
She is just so exhausted.
Nevertheless, she has to get home. She can’t sleep in the car. There is another blizzard on the way. She drives slowly round the vast hospital complex. It’s supposed to be one- way traffic but sometimes there are drivers coming the wrong way, lost, and unable to turn back in the narrow road, so she takes it easy, using the time to practise some breathing exercises, get her heartrate under control.
Before she reaches the highway, she sees the protestors. They must have moved away from the main entrance. They block the road, wearing their heavy winter coats and hats against the cold, but no masks of course. Either they do not think they can catch it, or they believe that wearing one infringes their civil liberties in some way. They wave banners at her car. Set us free. Covid is a lie.
Alyssia suddenly wants to slam her foot down, ram into that crowd and hear thuds as the car hits; she wants to see bodies fall under the wheels, wants to feel the jolt as the tyres crush flesh and bone. Her right foot twitches. She is just so damn tired. She sighs. If she injures anyone, they will be taken to A&E and that is already full, ambulances lined up outside.
She leans her head on the wheel, closes her eyes. After forty long minutes, the crowd finally moves to let her through and she hits the highway just as the first white clumps of snow start to fall.
Based in Manchester, UK, Lindy's nature is curious and hopeful which helps with her day job supporting young unaccompanied migrants with English and emotional and mental issues. She has been shortlisted for several drama awards, but this is the first time ever shortlisted for flash, although she has had one piece published in Popshot magazine in the UK.