A 500 word short story from ‘Behind the plague door’.
The white waiting room chairs in A&E are bolted together in sets of five or ten, in lines. They are no longer new, nor are they comfortable, and have a 1970’s Habitat look with round holes in the metal seats and backs. Some chairs carry word-processed notices: Please don’t sit on me I’m broken. There is no irony in this, nor is it a metaphor, it’s merely a statement of fact.
During the day the chairs that are not broken are always fully occupied. Often, when there are no vacant chairs, patients lean on the walls, sit on the floor or loiter outside for a chat or a fag.
At night, this A&E is closed. In the dark, unanswered telephones monotonously ring and ring, sick with tinnitus. No people suffer. No people are in pain. No parents panic. There is no blood. All is spick and span. No doctors fight to save lives. No nurses tend the ill with compassion and care. No one gasps for air. No broken bones needing repair. Sounds echo from far off-stage, safety lights faintly glimmer – a theatre without a play.
The noise of an electric floor-polishing machine grows as Janita pushes it into the waiting room. As she polishes, she sings to the white chairs as if she wants to cheer them up from their loneliness, All you need is love, love, Love is all you need. She looks out through the windows.
Heavy rain falls in sheets through the radiance of high car park lights. A car skids to a halt. A middle-aged man leaps out, opens the rear door of the car and helps an old lady out. He protects her with his coat and helps her stagger to the doors. He rattles them. On the inside, Janita tries to let them in. Outside, the man pounds the doors with his fists and shouts, It’s my mother. Janita shakes her head, there is no way in. She shouts, Try the main doors, and points in their direction, Round there, round there. She stares at the car, the driver’s door is still open. She waits.
Rain falls. The man and his mother return to the car. He helps her in. The car drives away. Janita, unable to sing, weeps as she continues to polish the floor.
In the deserted car park, Austerity, the Grim Reaper, watches.
© Phil Cosker 2020
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.