be guid tae yer mammy

By Emma Grae

Narrated by three generations of women – a darkly comic family drama set in modern-day Scotland.

Friday, 19 June 2020

Fiction: 'Dancin wi the Rhona'

Dancin wi the Rhona

 

January 31, 2020

Two coronavirus cases confirmed in the UK

    It wis ainlie a maitter o time. We aw saw it comin, ah hink, scrollin doon ma Twitter timeline, and ah’ve seen enough zombie pictures tae know ah’m no takin any chances. Ah’ll dae a Simon Peg. Ainlie insteid o the Winchester, ah’ll stay in ma gaff and wait fur aw this tae blow ower. Ah cannae take a deep breath wioot coughin and splutterin. Fur aw ah know, ah’m a goner awready. Ah call the office. Hink oan yer feet, Edith, hink oan yer feet.

    “Good morning, Enfield Sanitary Solutions,” a voice says.

    “It’s Edith,” ah say.

    Ma accent is as common as muck, even though ah’ve been livin doon South fur near enough ten year. Ah’m no changin fur naeb’dy.

    “Edith,” Dave says. “Everything alright?”

    “No really. Ah hink ah’m comin doon wi sommat,” ah say, coughin. Ah huv tae put oan a guid show o it. “Mibbie it’s that coronavirus,” ah joke.

    “You mean the Corona Beer Virus…”

    The cheeky bugger. There’s a pause.

    “Martin saw you at the Dog and Truck last night. You might be part of the furniture, but I can’t let you take time off for a hangover again.”

    “Huv ye tried tae get a doactor’s appointment in London recently, son?”

    “Don’t change the subject. You’ve got two options - get a sick line or come in. The suppliers are giving me merry hell, as you’d say. We need you.”

    “We’ll aw be goners if the Corona Beer Virus takes ower.”

    “You’re a hypochondriac.”

    “Ye know whit? Ye kin stick yer joab where the sun doesnae shine. Ye’ll be beggin tae huv me back. Ye lot are zombies anyway. If ye gat coronavirus, naeb’dy would know the difference.”

    Ah end the call, openin Twitter fur the umpteenth time.

    This is how quarantined Chinese citizens are entertaining themselves…

    Some folk wur playin ping pong, others hud the baws tae wander roond ghostoons. Ah keep scrollin afore ah luik roond ma bedroom. Ah’ve gat it jist the way ah like it. White faux fur oan ma bed, a wee rug, and a vanity cabinet fur daein ma ablutions.

    An envelope ah’ve been meanin tae sort through fur cuddies years catches ma eye. It’s yellae’d. A relic fae ma Granny’s hoose that ah’ve held oantae. Ah’m an awfae wan fur the hoardin. Ah open it, slidin oot a letter that hud been penned oan a typewriter. It isnae an original.

    It reads: ‘Copy of letter from William Tannahill Stirling, New Jersey, to his father, Robert Stirling, Waterside Kirkintilloch. Seems to have been written in late 1850.’

    Ah’m a Stirlin through and through. Mibbie it’s ma Granda’s great granda.

“Our passage was very stormy the first two weeks, but it became more milder on the 24th of June and one of our passengers died that morning. He was an auld man. The second man tied him in his bad clothes and tied about fifty pounds of pig iron about his feet and fetched him up on deck and the captain read the 14 chapter of job and then pitched him overboard.”

Ah hink o the poor folk in China. If we arenae careful, we’ll aw be in a boat like Wullie’s wi the coronavirus.

    If ma intuition is richt, and it’s rarely wrang, it’s ainlie a maitter o time afore somewan ah know catches this bugger. Ye cannae be too careful wi yer health when yer oan the wrang side o forty wi’oot any weans tae keep an eye oan ye.

    Bein buried at sea sounds like a nightmare, but then again so does rottin away in broad daylicht. Ah keep readin.

“There was another death. A boy of nine months of age. He died on the 4th of July. They made a coffin for him and kept him till we landed. That was all the sickness we had on board except sea sickness. Our passage was eight weeks and four days. I stopped one night in New York and started the next day for New Jersey. I have not been once sick since I left Scotland.”

He’d hud better luck than me. Shortly efter ah moved tae London, ah nearly met the Reaper efter a routine procedure. It started wi a pain ma tooth. It wis so bad ah thocht ma heid wis gaun’ae explode, and God knows the dentist didnae huv any sympathy fur me.

    “I’m afraid all those years of eating sweeties have caught up with you,” she said.

    The presumptuous wee bitch, ah thocht.

    “It wis orange juice, ah’ll huv ye know. Couldnae get enough o it as a wean. They callt me Edith Tango McGee…”

    “I’m afraid you’re going to have to drink mostly water from now on.”

    “Whit?”

    “Yes, Miss McGee. Even milk is full of sugar, and you don’t want to risk having falsers.”

    Ah wis in agony. Ah didnae care hoo it ended.

    “You’re going to feel a little pinch,” she said, puttin a big puck aff needle intae ma mooth.

    “Bananas in pyjamas are comin doon the stairs,” ah sang tae masel. Ah’ve no idea why that sang comes intae ma heid whenever ah’m in pain.

    The dentist’s eyes narrad as ma mooth numbed. She stuck a finger inside, poked it roond, afore goin tae toon oan ma wee tooth wi a drill.

    Ah’d mair than ma fair share o fillin’s, but root canals wur new tae me.

    The wurld turnt tae black, and ah woke tae a bricht licht—brichter than the wan above the dentist’s chair.

***

“Miss McGee,” a voice said. A young lad in scrubs wis hoverin ower me. “You’re in the Royal London Hospital. You’ve been in a coma for two weeks.”

    Ah near enough went oot like a licht again.

    “You collapsed during a routine root canal procedure. It turns out the infection had gone into your blood. But you’re going to be okay.”

    Ah wis lucky tae walk oot the hospital wi ma life. Ah huvnae taken any chances wi ma health since. The Corona Beer Virus is gaun’ae be nae exception.

    Folk call me a hypochondriac, but it’s no done me any harm so far.

    Ah read the letter again: “They made a coffin for him and kept him till we landed.”

    At least the wean gat some dignity in death, ah hink. Mibbie ma boss will huv mair sympathy if he knows whit ah’ve been through. Folk are a lot mair considerate tae mental health issues these days—at least, they’re supposed tae be. It’s worth a shot.

    Ah call the doacter. “Hullae,” ah say.

    “Date of birth,” snaps the receptionist.

    “Eh, March 1st, 1973.”

    “Edith McGee?”

    “That’s me.”

    “Hoo can ah help ye?”

    “Ah’m luikin fur a sick line. Ah’m afraid ah cannae come intae the surgery eether.”

    “Ah’ll get the doactor.”

    There’s a pause oan the line.

    “Miss McGee, how can I help you?”

    “Ah’m luikin fur a sick line son, but it’s no fur a hing ye can see… it’s in ma heid.”

    “I see. Have you had a mental health assessment?”

    “Naw, but ah can tell ye whit caused it. Ma file will tell ye aboot the coma ah wis in. It’s made me a paranoid aboot gettin sick again, and noo this Corona Beer Virus is in toon, ah cannae face goin intae work.”

    “How do you feel at the prospect of going into work? Is there a tightness in your stomach? Any physical symptoms?”

    He’s hit the nail oan the heid. “That’s it exactly. Sometimes ah cannae get a breath eether.”

    “It sounds like you’re having panic attacks.”

    “Ah’ve no been richt since that hospital visit. It’s like ma body willnae let me take any chances again.”

    “Hold on a moment. I’m just going to check your file and see what was written about your psychological condition after the coma.”

    There’s another pause. Ah luik at the letter again. It hud put the fear o God intae me. When folk are desperate, there’s nae chance o a proper burial. The Daily Mail wrote sommat aboot a coronavirus morgue in Hyde Park. Puck that.

    “Miss McGee, are you there?” the doactor asks efter whit feels like a lifetime.

    “Aye.”

    “Okay, I’ve had a look at your file, and I’m happy to remotely sign you off with trauma. I’ll scan your sick line and email it over to you.”

    “Ye’re an angel.”

    Ah hing up like the cat that gat the cream.

 

February 2, 2020

“Good morning, Enfield Sanitary Solutions,” Dave says.

    “Mornin Dave,” ah say.

    “Sick line, Edith?”

    “Aye, signed, sealed and delivered. It’s in yer inbox noo. Is that awricht?”

    “I suppose.” There’s surprise in his voice.

    “Trauma. Doc says ah’m fine tae work fae hame, but ah’ve tae lie low till this virus hing is ower.”

    “Oh,” he says. He knows better than tae ask fur the gory details.

    “Ah know ah’m no perfect, but ah dae ma best fur ye lot, and ah’ll keep daein ma best at hame.”

    There’s a pause. “I’m sorry for the other day, Edith. But you know as well as I do—”

    “It’s okay,” ah say. “Just bear wi me.”

    “Well, as long as you’re able to work from home… There’s some suppliers you’ll need to deal with over email today. Oh, and that order for toilet seats is about to come through.”    

    “Oan it,” ah say, hingin up.

    Ah’m sittin at the desk in ma bedroom. It’s organised chaos—jist the way ah like it. Ah sign intae ma email. The suppliers are gein it laldy already, and it’s ainlie hauf eicht in the mornin. Workin in the bog game isnae as easy as folk hink.

    Ah lose masel in ma wurk until ma phone lichts up.

    Five hundred employees evacuated from an office in Canary Wharf after worker displays symptoms of coronavirus

    Ma stomach drops. The Jubilee Line. They’ll aw be headin hame oan it and spreadin that bugger aw ower the place. The company should o gat them taxis or sommat. Some folk huvnae gat twa brain cells tae rub taegether.

    Hauf an hoor later, there’s a new email fae Dave.

    “Provisions are being put in place to keep the company above water should the ongoing coronavirus situation worsen,” it reads. “Hand gel will be dispensed throughout the office and government guidelines on handwashing have been placed in the bathroom and kitchen.”

    Ah try tae dae ma shoppin oanline. Aw the basic provisions like bog roll and pasta are oot o stock.

    Ah cannae face it. Aw ah kin manage is ma bed and fall intae an uneasy sleep. And there she is, that dentist wi hur big puck aff drill and that sickness ah didnae hink ah’d recover fae.

 

March 5, 2020

The phone rings. It’s Dave.

    “Hi Edith, just checking in on you,” he says. “Have you seen the news?”

    Ah huvnae luiked at the news in days. Work keeps me busy enough, and ah spend the rest o the time wi ma heid buried in a buik. Ah’ve blocked aw the news sites oan ma laptoap.

    “Ah huvnae been able tae face it.”

    “I’m afraid you’re going to have to,” he says.

    “The Corona Beer Virus.”

    “London might be getting put into lockdown. Plumbers aside, most of the company can work from home, so from today onwards, that’s the plan. My priority is keeping everyone at Enfield Sanitary Solutions safe.”

    “Lockdoon? Like the wan in Italy?” ah ask, castin ma mind back tae headlines ah didnae want tae hink aboot.     

    “The very same. Probably not as extreme. It’s civil liberties, after all, but something similar.”

    “Jesus…”

    “If it’s a help, I’ll keep you up to date. Don’t look at the news if it’s going to set you off.”     

    Dave’s a better man than ah’d gien him credit fur.

    “Thanks. Ah really mean that.”     

    “You live on your own, right?”    

    “Aye, it’s just me.”

    “Do you need anything? The panic buyers are going mental. I can drop stuff off after work.”    

    “It’s awricht. Managed tae get whit a needed online eventually.”    

    “Okay. You take care of yourself, and thanks for dealing with Billy the supplier so well this morning. The man has always been an arsehole.”

    “And a gabshite. Take care, son.”

 

March 17, 2020

Ma hoose feels like a prison, but it’s safe. There’s nae wurd oan a lockdoon, but Dave telt me hings are gettin worse again this mornin. Ah open the app store. Ah want tae download Twitter. God knows ah dae, but ah dinnae want tae set masel aff. Netflix is ma best pal noo.

    There’s a knock oan the door. Ah open it. Naeb’dy’s there. Ah luik doon and see a note.

    Hi neighbour! If you are vulnerable and isolating, or just want a friendly chat, my phone number is 0786539581!

    Enough’s enough. Ah doonload Twitter. Ah cannae bury ma heid in the sand furever.

    “London is the epicentre of the UK outbreak of the virus. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has advised against all unnecessary contact to flatten the curve of the virus.”

    Ma phone rings. It’s ma sister Senga.

    “Are ye comin hame, Edith?”

    “Ah don’t know,” ah say, luikin roond the room ah’m payin though the nose fur.

    Ah’ve smashin pals doon here, but nae family, no since me and John callt it quits efter ma coma, and he buggered aff wi some office tart tae Spain. If the worst comes tae the worst, ah could well and truly be oot oan ma arse. But travellin back hame isnae wi’oot its risks.

    “Ye need tae decide today,” she says. “If Big Boris puts us intae lockdoon, yer pucked.”

    “Ah will. Gie me a chance tae weigh it aw up.”

    Ah dinnae know if ah’m comin or goin. Ah type “Glasgow to London train” intae Google. There’s wan leavin an hoor efter work finishes. Ah’ll be takin ma life in ma hauns wan way or another. Ah buik it.

***

There’s nae turnin back noo, ah hink, sittin doon oan the train. Just like Wullie Stirlin aw those years ago, ah’ve nae idea if or when ah’ll be back hame.

    Ma eyes tear up as the train whizzes by the London lichts. Ah shut ma eyes. Ah’d ran away fae Scotland efter Mammy died. Everywhere ah went wis haunted. Glasgae wasnae hame efter that, but here ah am, haulin ma arse back up there tae safety.

    Ah dinnae know why, mibbie because that auld letter hud a timeframe in it, but ah haul it up tae Scotland wi me. Wi any luck, this shitshow willnae last as lang. Ah kin pretend ah’m oan that boat, and jist like Willie, ah willnae get sick.

    Ah get awfae travel sick when ah try tae read oan trains. The way ah feel, the best ah can hope fur is dreamin o nought.

    But ah dinnae.

    Ah’m in a weird hotel, and even though ah know it’s a dream, ah cannae help but feel a shiver run doon ma spine. There’s a golden tabernacle. Ah luik doon at ma hauns, they’ve gat slits through them, just like the wans Jesus hud.

    “The next stop is Glasgow Central Station,” a voice says ower the tannoid, wakin me wi a jolt.

    The government’s advice is tae self isolate fur twa weeks, so Senga’s mate hus put me up in hur empty gaff because she couldnae get hame. The plan’s tae stay there then move in wi Senga and hur family. She’s gat hur fair share o health problems, so doesnae want tae take any chances eether.

    Ah call Senga. “That’s me in safely.”

    “Smashin. The keys are next tae the wee owl ootside the hoose. Ah’ll ring ye again in the mornin. That’s me away tae ma bed.”

    “Cheers hen. Nicht nicht.”

    Afore ah’ve a chance tae catch ma breath, ah scuttle through a died Central Station and hail doon a taxi.

    It’s baltic ootside. Ah rush up the stairs tae the hoose. Where’s the wee owl? ah hink, shinin ma phone licht aroond the gairden.

    It doesnae take me lang tae realise that there’s nae puckin owl. Senga, the dosy cow. Ah’ve travelled aw the way up the country ainlie tae end up oot oan ma arse at wan in the mornin. Ma phone licht switches aff. Ah’m oot o power.

    Senga lives a guid twenty-minute walk away. Ah’ll huv tae batter hur door doon. Ah start walkin, callin hur every name under the sun.

    “God, whit the puck did ah dae tae deserve this?” ah moan tae the darkness.

    If the coronavirus doesne kill me, the cauld bloody will. It’s jist ma luck.

***

Ah bang Senga’s windae so hard ah can feel ma knuckles turnin reid. There’s nae answer. Ah bang it again. And again. And again.

    Ah cannae go tae the neighbours wi ma tail between ma legs. The bastarts oan this street never hud a guid word tae say aboot me efter ah left. Runnin away fae ma grief, that’s whit they said. Ah’d rather freeze.

    “SENGA!” ah shoot. “SENGAAA!!!!!”

    She always did sleep like a log, but mibbie ah’ll wake hur man or weans up.

    Ah cough. Here we puckin go, ah hink The first symptom. A wave o panic rushes ower me.

    “SENGA!” ah shoot again, bangin the windae as hard as ah kin. Ah didnae gie a shite if it breaks. Ma life’s oan the line.

    A licht switches oan in the upstairs windae. Ah breathe a sigh o relief. Senga luiks like she’s seen a ghost when she comes doonstairs.

    Ah burst oot cryin, keepin ma distance when she opens the door.

    “There wis nae bloody owl!” ah say.

    “Oh ma God. Ah thocht ye wur gonna swing by here fur the keys. They’re next tae the owl ootside this hoose.”

    “Jesus. It wouldnae huv killed ye tae make that clearer?”

    “Ah’m so sorry,” she says, cryin. “Ye luik like ye’ve caught yer death. Ah’d gie ma eyeteeth tae gie ye a hug richt noo.”

    Ah luik at hur, forcin a smile. Awbody makes mistakes. God knows ah’ve driven hur roond the bend ower the years.

    She hauns me a phone charger. “At lest yer hame safe,” she says.

    “Aye,” ah add, “and we can both work fae hame easy enough. We’ve gat it better than maist.”

    Fifteen minutes later, ah’m in a taxi, keys in haun. Ah walk intae the hoose like a hauf shut knife and up tae the bedroom. Ma heid hits the pillow, and ah’m oot like a licht.

 

March 20, 2020

Ah never thocht ah’d live tae see the day neds flew alang the road daein wheelies in face-masks, but here we are. Masks aside, it feels like ah’ve never left.

    Ah’m glad ah’m no in Senga’s gaff jist yet. Ah know fine well she’s still no been able tae gie Mammy’s auld clothes tae the charity shop yet. She wis ainlie 56. It wis nae age tae die. But she took a bleed in the brain, and we hud tae switch aff the machine.

    Senga hus kitted the kitchen oot wi mair than enough grub fur a week. There’s even a wee tin o beans. She’s thocht o everythin.

    Ah luik oot the windae. The undertaker’s across the street. Mammy went there. Bad thochts try tae make their way intae ma box, but ah’m pushin them oot jist as fast.

    There’s still a tickle at the back o ma throat, and nae wonder efter a walked a guid mile in the freezin darkness, but ah huvnae coughed since the nicht ah arrived.

    That dentist deserves tae get hung fur whit she did. Ah never hud thochts like this afore, even efter Mammy died.

    Senga’s been quiet fur a few days noo. She better huv a guid excuse. Ah send hur a wee text.

    Ye daein awricht? x

    Wan tick appears oan WhatsApp. That’s no richt, ah hink.

    There’s me haulin ma arse aw the way back up tae Glasgae and ah’ve no heard heid nor tail o ye in days. Ah’m worried. Huv ye gat the coronavirus? xx

    Ma phone pings.

    Aye. Ah’m sorry ah went quiet, hen. Ah didnae want tae worry ye, but we stayed twa meters apart. Ye’ll be awricht. This bugger’s nae picnic, but ah’ll get through it. Everywan will. x

    Ma heart skips a beat. Ah place the back o ma haun oan ma foreheid. Ma temperature feels normal. Ah check again just tae be sure. It doesnae seem anyhin but normal.

    This whole hing feels like a big game. A big game o Russian roulette, and ah’m no rollin the dice.

    Ah text Senga back.

    Ye take care o yersel, and dinnae go quiet oan me like that again. Ah’m aw the wumman ah’m gaun’ae be, and the thocht o sommat bad happenin tae ye is as worse than gettin the Corona Beer Virus.

    There’s another ping and a WhatsApp notification.

    Ah’ll be richt as rain within the week, the doactor said. Turns oot those steroids ah take fur ma muscle problem huv done me the world o guid when it comes tae fightin this bugger.

***

Ah go tae Tesco later that nicht. Senga hud left me plenty o everythin but bog roll efter the Toilet Paper Apocalypse, and ah want tae chance ma arm and see if ah can get some haun gel.

    Ainlie essential shops are meant tae be open and takeaways are ainlie allowin wan bugger in at a time, but no Nemos. Come hell or high water, those buggers are floggin as many pizza crunches as they kin. These’s a queue oot the door. Ah hope someone calls the polis, but ah’m no grass.

    There’s a socially distanced queue ootside Tesco. Ah make nervous eye contact wi an auld man. He’s wearin a mask that luiks like it’s been swiped fae the hospital. Ah need tae get ma hauns oan wan o those.

    Ah take deep breaths in and oot. Ma stomach’s in knots at the thocht o wee bastart coronavirus germs swirlin aboot inside, latchin their wee germy arms intae the Coco Pops and and goin mental in the vegetable aisle.

    Ah get a wee nod fae the security guard tae go in and grab the first twelve-pack o bog roll ah see. Ah hauld ma breath every time somewan passes me. When ah wis in that coma, ah saw nought. Nae white licht.

    Wance ah’m back ootside, ah peek intae the pharmacy and spot the Holy Grail: haun gel. Ya dancer. Ah walk inside. There’s a wumman gien it laldy aboot hur methadone at the counter. It’s the perfect opportunity fur a swipe.

    The hauf empty bottle o haun gel in the hoose isnae lastin me much langer.

    Ah wander roond the pharmacy. The moment the pharmacist’s back is turnt, ah swipe the haun gel fae the counter. The wumman waitin fur hur methadone doesnae gie me a second glance. Until then, the ainlie hing ah’d ever nicked wis a Bubbaloo, and ah’d jist forgot tae pay fur it.

    It’s not theft, Edith. It’s survival, ah hink. Yer richt there, wee voice in ma heid.

 

March 22, 2020

Ah wake in a sweat and almaist shite masel. The heater’s oan a timer. It’s aff by noo, but the hoose feels like bloody Tenerife. This is it, ah fear. The Rhona’s here.

    Yer brain’s talkin shite, Edith, ah tell masel. Absolute shite. Whitever ye dae, dinnae consult Dr Google.

    Ah put a haun tae ma foreheid. Ah’m burnin up. Mibbie it’s a panic attack.

    Ah text Senga. She’s must huv finished dancin wi the Rhona by noo.

    Whit wis yer first symptom? x

    Almost as soon as ah hit send, ah cough. It’s a dry cough. Ah luik at ma laptoap. Dave and the rest o them are oan their ain the day.

    Ah google ‘coronavirus symptoms’. Two oot o three. It’s no luikin guid.

    Ah go fur a nap. Usually that settles me when ma anxiety’s through the roof, but it’s nae guid. Waves o panic rush ower me, but ah know fine well drinkin masel tae buggery will ainlie make it worse.

    Sunlicht’s streamin intae the bedroom. Mibbie fresh air will dae me guid. Ah cannae bring masel tae check if Senga’s replied. Ah’m a pro at this social distancin lark. Ah put oan a sunglasses tae hide the bags ma under eyes.

    It’s a ghost toon ootside. Ah’m glad. Ah walk alang the motorway fur a guid hauf hoor, listenin tae music tae stoap ma mind fae wanderin.

    A wee bam appears fae a corner shop.

    “Whoo hoo!” he says fae under his facemask.

    Ah luik. Ah’ve distracted him fae his scratchcaird. Some hings aboot this toon never change. Ah cough. He bolts so fast he could gie the polis a run fur their money.

 

March 25, 2020

It’s been three days since the sweats noo, and ah’m still no masel. It feels like there’s sommat stuck in ma lungs and throat, and while ah’ve hud ma fair share o chest infections ower the years, nane o them huv been this relentless.

    Ma heart’s goin like the clappers. The time tae call fur help hus come.

    Ah type 111 intae ma phone and press call. It rings, and seconds later, the hauld music’s playin. Ah paint ma nails. Ah need a distraction, and ah know fine well ah’m gaun’ae be in fur the long haul. Ah text Senga.

    Hoo long wur ye waitin tae speak tae somewan fur?

    She replies in an instant.

    A guid hoor.

    Ah bury ma face in ma hauns. Ah want tae feel like masel again—the way ah felt afore ma bloody root canal and when it didnae hurt tae breathe. Ah’ve been poppin paracetamol fur days noo, but it’s been nae use. Mibbie Wullie Stirlin felt like this when his feet hudnae touched dry land in weeks.

    Ah hudnae breathed a word aboot ma health anxiety tae Senga, and ah’ve nae intention. She’s gat enough oan hur plate wi hur family. It’s ma cross tae bear.

    The hauld music drives me roond the bend. Ah open Instagram and start scrollin. Dug photoies are almost always the answer.

***

Twa hoors later, the hauld music stoaps.

    “Hello, you’re through to NHS 111,” a wumman says. “How can I help you?”

    Ah open ma mooth tae speak but cough insteid.

    “Hello,” she says again.

    “Sorry, this is the coronavirus hotline, aye?”

    “Yes, are you experiencing symptoms?”

    Ah resist the urge tae say nae shit Sherlock. “Aye.”    

    “Can I take your name, date of birth and current location?”    

    “It’s Edith McGee, March 1st, 1973 and 12 Oakwood Street.”

    “I see you’re not registered with a doctor?”

    “Ah am in England, but ah came up here tae be wi family.”

    “Are you alone right now?”

    “No seen heid nor tail o anywan in a guid few days Followin the guidelines like a star.”     

    “Can you describe your symptoms?”

    “It started wi a cough,” ah explain. “Then ah gat this awfae pain in ma chest, ah’ve never felt anyhin like it. Ah woke wi some fever the other day, and well, and everyhin ah’ve eaten hus ran oot o me faster than an oot-o-date korma.”

    The wumman says she’s gaun’ae pass ma case oantae a nurse, and they’ll take it fae there. Ah hank hur, and the hauld music starts playin again.

***    

“Hello,” another wumman says. “Your case has been passed onto me by 111. Let me see…”

    Ah say a prayer that she gets me the help ah need. Ah’ve never been the most religious o the bunch, but anyhin’s worth a shot.

    “I see that you’re in total isolation,” she says. “That’s good. When did you start experiencing multiple symptoms?”     

    “Eight days ago.”

    “The virus tends to peak around this time, if that’s the problem. I recommend consistently taking pain relief to build up a barrier.”

    “Paracetamol… Hen, ah’m goin roond the bend here. So ah cannae get tested?”     

    “Call back if you struggle to breathe, or if your symptoms persist for another few days.”

    There’s nae answer. This bugger isnae shiftin any time soon. Fae whit Edith’s telt me, ah gat a shorter virus straw than hur.

    Ah pop twa paracetamol intae ma mooth, jump intae bed and shut ma eyes. Ah dread tae hink whit ah’m gaun’ae dream o. The world’s so heavy richt noo.

 

March 27, 2020

Hings keep gettin worse. Ah still cannae get this bugger tae shift. Ma throat tichten’s at the thocht o the inevitable: callin fur help again. Ah bite the bullet and type 111 intae ma phone. It’s the middle o the nicht. Surely there willnae be a queue at this hoor. Ah’m richt.

    Minutes later, ah’m passin oan ma details wance again, and it isnae lang afore ah’m oan hauld fur a nurse. Ah tap ma nails against the bedside drawer.

     “Can you get to the hospital, Miss McGee?” the nurse asks.

    Ah take a deep breath. Ah huvnae darkened the doorstep o a hospital since ma coma. Ah couldnae face it, and insisted oan huvin everyhin done at the GP. Noo ah’ve nae choice.

    “No…”

    “But your breathing’s okay, just laboured?”

    There’s nae way ah’m goin in an ambulance. The paramedics will be roond aw sorts richt noo. Ah’d rather take ma chances wi a cabbie.

    “Can ah tae take a taxi?” ah ask.

    There’s a pause. “Yes, but you’re going to have to wear a facial covering and social distance as much as possible.”    

    “Okay,” ah say, awready feelin guilty fur puttin some cabbie’s life oan the line.

    “You’ve to head to the SCATA centre. It’s around the side of the hospital. They’ll be expecting you.”

    Ah hang up wi’oot sayin guidbye.

    Ma haun’s tremblin at the thocht o whit’s comin. Aw hings considered, ah’ve been holdin it taegether, but ah go intae the toilet and break doon. Ah dinnae want tae die, but Mammy did say when yer number’s up, it’s up. It wis like she knew she wis gaun’ae leave this wurld in a flash.

    Ah pull masel taegether, wipin the tears fae ma eyes. Workin masel intae a state is ainlie gaun’ae make it worse.

    Ah ring a taxi, wrap a scarf roond ma face, and cover ma hauns wi the stolen gel.

    Ah dinnae say a wurd when ah step intae the taxi. Ah nod when the driver says the name o the hospital and luik oot the windae, shuttin the horror o the mornin news oot ma ears.

    Ah wonder if Wullie Stirlin considered the possibility o no makin it tae America in wan piece. He must huv, but he still went. God knows ah’d huv never taken a risk like that. Goin tae the hospital durin a plague would o been a piece o cake fur him.

***

The name o the corona centre hus slipped ma mind by the time ah arrive. Ah’m losin it wi this fever. Aw ah remember is that ah need tae go roond the side door. The bugger’s a maze. Ah flag doon a passin paramedic. She tells me tae follow the road roond. It’s marked wi a yellae sign.

    Eventually, ah spot a sign that reads SCATA centre. Ah stand ootside, waitin fur the door tae open automatically, but it stays shut.

    Ah knock, gettin unwelcome flashbacks tae the last time ah wis in a hospital. It opens, and a nurse hauns me a surgical mask. She’s wearin blue plastic overalls, a mask hursel, and a plastic shield ower hur face.

    She sits me doon, puts a contraption oantae ma finger and a cuff roond ma arm. Ma heart’s beatin oot ma chest. The first hing she tells me is that ma heart rate’s through the roof. Nae surprises there.

    She directs me tae a private room and says a doactor will be wi me shortly.

    Ah feel mair than a bit faint when ah see a bed inside. She points tae twa plastic chairs. Ah sit and scroll Twitter wi a tremblin thumb.

    A doactor walks in ten minutes later. Ah’ve picked the perfect time tae come tae the hospital. She asks me aboot ma symptoms. Ah relay whit ah telt the nurses.

    “Okay, I’m going to have a listen to your chest,” she says, takin oot a stethoscope.

    She gestures fur me tae staund.

    “Take a deep breath in,” she says.

    Ah dae it, conscious o the fact ma body’s tremblin.

    “And out.”

    Ah burst oot coughin.

    “Take a seat,” she says. “You don’t have a chest infection. It luiks like you have a virus. It could be a common cold, the flu, and you might have heard about this thing that’s going around… the coronavirus. If that’s what you’ve got, you’re at the peak of your symptoms and breathing independently. You should feel better within a few days.”

    Nae shit Sherlock, ah hink. Grateful hauf ma face is hidden under a mask.

    “So are ye testin me?” ah ask.

    Ah’ve spent enough time wi Dr Google. If ah’m a goner, ah huv tae know.

    “We’re going to run some tests, yes.”

    Ah’m too feart tae ask fur anymair information. The doacter leaves and comes back wi a trolley. She asks me tae lift ma shirt and covers ma body in stickers. Ah wonder whit the puck she’s daein, but cannae find the strength tae ask.

    “Can you hold out your arm so I can take some blood?” she asks.

    Ma stomach turns at the question, and ah remind masel o Senga sayin that if there’s sommat wrang, it’ll show up in the blood.

    “You’re just going to feel a little prick…” she says.

    Ah dinnae dare luik at ma arm. Then that ‘Bananas in Pyjamas’ sang pops intae ma heid, just like it did in the dentist’s chair.

    Ma chest tichtens. The wurld turns tae black.

***

“Edith,” a voice says.

    Ah raise ma heid, blinkin the room intae focus. It’s the doactor. Ah’m still in the chair.

    “Ahh…” ah say.

    “You were out for a wee moment there,” she replies. “Don’t worry, we’re living in crazy times—and that happens a lot at the best of times.”

    “But ah’m… but ah’m awricht?”

    “As pale as a ghost, but apart from that. Remember, these tests are just a precaution. Your oxygen levels are good.”

    Ah luik doon. She hudnae hauf taken ma blood. There are six wee dark reid tubes. She hauns me a plastic cup o ice cauld water and tells me a nurse will be in at hur back—aw they need tae dae noo is an X-ray o ma lungs.

    She walks oot. There’s a plaster ower the vein she’s taken the blood fae. If somewan hud telt me a few weeks ago that ah could o haundled this wi’oot huvin a full blown panic attack, ah’d huv callt them a bold-faced liar.

    Yer made o stronger stuff than ye thocht, Edith McGee.

    Ah hink o ma blood. It’ll probably be in the hospital lab noo. Ah’ve nae idea whit they’re luikin fur, and ah thocht ah knew near enough everythin there wis tae know aboot the Corona Beer Virus. Whit if they find sommat else wrang?

    A nurse walks intae the room and gestures doon the hall wi hur heid. At least ah’m no bein wheeled aroond like the last time ah wis in hospital.

    Ah follow hur doon the hall and intae a room filled wi machinery. Another nurse is in at hur back. This is clearly a twa wumman joab.

    “Okay, Miss McGee, can you please remove your top and any jewellery and stand against the X-ray machine?” the first nurse says, gesturin tae a grey black panel at the end o the room.

    Ah nod, and she turns away, gein me ma dignity.

    “That’s me ready,” ah say, chebs pressed tae the screen.

    Ah say a prayer under ma breath.

    “Thank you!” the nurse says.

    She tells me tae put ma toap oan, and ah walk ower tae the other end o the room. It’s awfae dark, and a photie o ma lungs is up against a blindin white screen.

    Ma throat tichtens, but ah’m surprisingly calm. Ma lungs luik normal enough. Ah cannae see black splodges or anyhin that luiks untaeward.

    Yer facin yer fears like a bloody champ.

    “Well, Miss McGee, everything looks good to us,” the second nurse says. “Can you please return to the room you were in before until the lab gets your bloods back tae us?”     

    Ah smile. Mibbie ah should leave the bog game and become a nurse when this is ower.

    Ah focus oan ma breathin, and fur wance, it feels like it’s calmin me doon.

    Noo push hus come tae shove, ah feel like ah’m stronger than ah thocht ah wis.

    “If there’s sommat wrang, it’ll be in the blood,” ah recall.

    Ah cannae get Senga’s words oot ma heid as ah sit doon the plastic chair again. Ah turn ma phone aff. Ah’m no gein the news a chance tae wind me up.

    The hospital lab is as slow as a day in the jail. Ah watch the smallest haun o the clock slowly goin roond in circles. Ah luik doon at ma hauns. They’re shakin, but it doesnae luik like ah’ve gat a touch o the Parkinson’s yet.

    Ah take a deep breath. Then it dawns oan me that this the hospital where Mammy passed away. Ah’d been too distracted by the shite oan ma phone and in ma heid until noo. Ward 13 C. Ah’ll never furget it or hoo peaceful she luiked at the end. Ah feel sommat oan ma cheek. Ah’m no sure whit ah believe in, but it’s like she’s wi me.

    Mammy’s faith never faltered, even when Daddy wis a bad bastart and walked oot oan us. She always said that when hur time came, she wis goin somewhere better, but it came a guid few year too soon.

    “Mammy,” ah say, no carin if somewan ootside hears me, “gie me the strength tae get through this. If ma blood’s are clear, ah’ll know death isnae the end. Ah just need a sign.”

    But wan hoor turns intae twa, and it isnae lang afore ah’m fearin the worst. If ma bloods wur clear, surely it wouldnae take this long?

    Ah say the rosary, pretendin each o ma fingers is a bead. Aw the while, ma eyes are fixed oan the door. It’s gaun’ae open any minute noo, ah tell masel.

    Nicht is turnin tae day ootside. It luiks like it’s gonnae be a scorcher. Mibbie that’s a sign. But whit’s takin them so lang?

    The door opens. A man walks in. He’s wearin a blue shirt and black troosers. He doesnae luik like a doactor. He’s no even wearin a mask.

    “Sorry to keep you waiting.” He takes the empty seat beside me.

    Fear runs doon ma spine. Ah beg Mammy no tae let me doon.

    “Your bloods have just come back. There’s no clotting, and it luiks like the pain you’re experiencing is the result of muscle and bone inflammation caused by the virus, but there’s a shortage of tests so we can’t confirm if it’s COVID-19.”

    “So ah’m gaun’ae be awricht?” ah ask.

    “Yes, the virus tends to peak around day ten, but you’re not infectious anymore.”     

    Some o the weicht ah’m under lifts fae ma shoulders. Ah dinnae huv tae worry aboot infectin any cabbies eether.

    “Am ah immune?”

    “It’s hard to say, but you’re past the worst of it. You’re free to head home.”

    “Thanks son.”

    He staunds, gesturin fur me tae leave. Ah’ve a spring in ma step. That’s sommat ah never thocht ah’d say within ten fit o a hospital. Ah feel Mammy’s presence even then. There’s a cabbie waitin at the taxi rank. Ya dancer.

    He turns the radio oan. As fate would huv it, ‘Breathless’ by the Corrs is playin. Ah smirk and turn oan ma phone. Senga’s texted.

    Did ye get tested? x

    Ah reply in an instant.

    Naw. But it’s awricht. It’s actually awricht.

    Are ye oan the morphine? x

    Naw. Just cannae believe ah gat through that efter whit ah’ve been through.

    Yer a trooper.  x

    Ah roll doon the windae, takin a deep breath o the crisp Scottish air. Fur the first time in years, ah’m glad tae be hame.

 

April 10, 2020

Eight weeks and four days, that wis hoo long Wullie Stirlin’s passage tae America took. There’s nae end tae this in sicht. Ah left ma plague pit a week ago.

    Me and Senga are oot fur oor government-sanctioned walk the nicht. It’s the first time we’ve dared step fit ootside taegether. Hur weans and man are drivin me tae distraction, but it’s better than bein lonely. Noo the cabin fever is settin in, ah’m takin comfort in us aw bein in it taegether.

    “Daddy lived here aw his days. He’d huv hud a heart attack if he’d lived tae see the pub closed,” Senga says, gesturin tae The Wee Tavern.

    An auld man overhears oor conversation. He luiks at the pub, shakin his heid. “Even durin the Blitz, the boozer wis open.”

    We laugh.

    “Ye two take care o yersel,” he says.

    “Ye too,” ah reply.

    Conversations like this didnae happen in London. Oan the wan haun, ah cannae wait tae get back tae the Big Smoke, and oan the other, fur the first time in ten year, ah’m glad tae be hame. Mibbie this aw happened fur a reason. Ah cannae see masel bein a fearite like afore.

    “Ah hud a read o that letter,” Senga says, “and ah did a wee bit o diggin. Did ye know Wullie’s wife went tae America at his back and brought their daughter wi hur?”

    “Whit?”

    “Aye. Hur name wis oan the passenger list. But it wasnae clear if she wis hur wean. Ye can find oot aw sorts oan the internet these days!”

    Everwan’s gat their secrets.

    When we get back intae Senga’s street, people aw come ootside at wance, clappin fur carers. It brings a tear tae ma eye. This is wan fur the history books. Mibbie ah’ll write a letter an aw.

    Wullie wrote: “My heart warms when I think of old Scotland.”

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Kelly Throw
 Kelly Throw says:

Thank you so much for this! It is a fantastic teaser for what is to come. I kept hearing Edith's voice in my head as Jane McCarry :)

posted 23rd June 2020

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