by Sandra Arnold
PRUE HAD BEEN self-isolating at home for a couple of months because of the Omicron outbreak in the city. Today, triple vaxxed, she set off on the 60km journey for her appointment, but every road she drove down was closed or undergoing repairs. New drains. New gutters. Diversion signs. Ubiquitous orange road cones. Endless delays. The anti-vax protest in the city centre. Tattooed people in tinfoil hats holding signs about secret government rays. Some were holding up placards with pictures of war criminals hanging from a scaffold. Prue shivered as she crawled along in the line of traffic.
When she finally arrived at the ear clinic, forty minutes late for her hearing test, the receptionist told her she needed to make another appointment.
‘Not my fault,’ said Prue. ‘Road works.’
The receptionist glanced at her above her glasses. ‘You should have planned for that, Ms. Personified. Your appointment time has lapsed. The next space we have is in six weeks.’
‘But I live sixty kilometres out of town.’
‘I’ve filled in a new time for you. Six weeks. Here’s your appointment card.’
Next stop was the hospital for the annual check on her pacemaker. On the door, along with all the usual Covid warning signs, was a new notice: If you have any symptoms of illness during your appointment you may be asked to leave.
She sat in the waiting room with seats placed one metre apart, a game show blaring from the television. Several enormously obese people staggered past her, sat down and stared at their phones.
On the way home she stopped at the supermarket to pick up sugar crystals. The sugar shelves were bare. ‘Covid,’ shrugged the assistant.
Back in the car she switched on the radio and listened to an update on the fighting in Ukraine, and wept at the account of homeless people and dead children.
At her garden gate her dog bounded up, tail revolving with joy.
She made a cup of sugarless coffee, saving the last crystals in the jar, and sat in the garden with the dog wrapped around her feet. She heard her neighbour Eelco muttering in his garden so she got up and leaned over the fence. He was arranging pine cones in straight lines around the border of his lawn. She waved to catch his attention and when he looked up she asked if he’d like to come over for a cup of coffee. He blinked and nodded. She pointed to the row of pine cones and asked what he was doing.
‘No point in planting flowers anymore, is there?’ he said.
She made his coffee hot, strong and black, the way she knew he loved it, and heaped in the last of her sugar crystals. As she carried the tray outside she saw Eelco bending over a marigold, peering at a bee. She set down the tray and handed him his cup. She watched his lined face soften when he took his first sip.
Sandra Arnold lives in Canterbury, New Zealand. She is the author of five books including three novels, a non-fiction work and a collection of flash fiction. Her work has been widely published and anthologised in New Zealand and international print and online journals, placed and short-listed in various competitions and nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Microfictions and The Best Small Fictions. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from Central Queensland University, Australia.
Learn more at www.sandraarnold.co.nz.