Sick Girl lives in the city and works in the supermarket stacking shelves and sweeping floors. Sick Girl is really good at her job and always leaves things tidy and always leaves the little boxes of cereal and the cans of beans facing the right way around and pulled up to the front so it’s easier for the customers to find what they’re looking for but Sick Girl still only gets minimum wage and occasionally harassed by her landlord even when she is only a day overdue with the rent. Sick girl is your modern day Cinderella story except Sick Girl isn’t looking for a prince. Sick Girl went all Sinead O’Connor, all Bad Britney, and shaved her head with a razor blade back at secondary school and no one asked her why she did it, which was fine by sick girl. Sick Girl’s A-okay by herself, thanks.
Sick Girl was raised by Uncle as Ma was on the Horse. Uncle said Horse was Ma’s Bad Medicine.
Sick Girl never got any medicine. Sick Girl’s uncle did his best until he was on the Horse too and then Sick Girl had to look after herself. Sick Girl kept her finger nails short and unpainted so the germs couldn’t get underneath and she could check for zinc and calcium and vitamin A deficiency and anaemia and heart disease easily. Sick Girl didn’t need long nails as she always kept her door key to the bedsit that she struggled to meet the rent on poking through the knuckle slits of her clenched fists when she walked home in the dark after stacking shelves and sweeping floors and directing people to the milk. The milk is always in the same place, Sick Girl thinks, always in the same place, first aisle as you come in the shop, underneath the massive sign which says, ‘Milk’.
Sick Girl keeps herself to herself, lives alone and has no family now. Sick Girl is quite content with her set-up; quite content indeed with the way things are. Sick Girl works hard all week so she can eat organic and drink organic and wash organic and buy the things she wants: minerals and multivitamins and a digital sphygmomanometer; heart-rate watch and glucose-urine sticks and a litre a week of hand gel. These are a few of her favourite things; the thing she needs to maintain good health.
Sick Girl finds her weekend day trips always make her feel a little better. Sick Girl packs the same bag each Friday evening: map, pad and pen, phone and charger, neck pillow and some trail mix in a tub with ‘trail mix’ written on the top. Sick Girl decides to leave her gown at home this weekend as it is getting a little colder now and winter is in the air and the gown is quite revealing and doesn’t always cover up the bits that need covering up all the time. Sick Girl waits until the Saturday morning to blend herself a green smoothie, and make an avocado and pine nut salad, nice and fresh, which goes into its tub, the top of which is labelled ‘avocado and pine nut salad’, before heading off for the weekend.
Sick Girl walks, she likes to exercise—Sick Girl knows exercise is good for the heart. Sick Girl pretends she is following the clear signage whilst pretending to look at the map sheprinted out and laminated a long time ago in preparation and makes her way through the double doors and down the clinical corridor until she finds the room she’s looking for, where she chooses the chair with the most padding in the seat. Sick Girl likes to sit by the window so she can look outside as well as inside and she knows both views will be relaxing as she has been in this room before, but not for a couple of months. Sick Girl looks up at the strip lighting—one tube is on the blink so she searches for a feedback form to complain about the lighting and finds one by the glass window which she presumes is a sub-station Reception as there is desk and a switched off computer there but it is currently unstaffed. Sick Girl fills in the form to let the caretaking team know that the strip light needs repairing because she knows that flashing lights can trigger epilepsy in someone who has never even experienced an epileptic episode before in their entire life. Sick Girl posts the form into the box by the sub-station desk and takes her seat again and then looks around and counts eight other people, most of whom except for one, are staring at their phones.
Sick Girl smiles at the woman opposite her who isn’t looking at a phone and thinks the woman looks like a bit like what her mum would look like now if she’d gotten off the Horse before it’d been too late and cost her all her teeth and some of her flesh. The lady opposite smiles back, pulls a crossword from her bag,and stares at that instead. No-one wants to talk here. No-one is asking where the milk is and Sick Girl likes that. Sick Girl can smell disinfectant and cheap coffee and no-one is asking her to do or clean or stack or lick anything because there is nothing here to stack or lick or do or clean. Sick Girl sits and looks things up on her phone although the wi-fi is slow but faster than at her bedsit where there isn’t any wi-fi. Sick Girl starts writing a list of words which excite her beginning with the letter ‘P’—Palliative, Parasitology, Paregoric, Paroxysm, Pericarditis, Polychrest—until her pen runs out of ink and she thinks about asking the lady opposite if she could borrow her pen when she’s finished her crossword but someone comes into the room where they’re sitting and takes the lady away before she can pluck up the courage.
Sick Girl continues to add to her list on her phone as she downloads an app which is just like a notepad, only on a phone,and she wishes she’d discovered this sooner, like when she’d been at the beginning of the alphabet fifteen pads of paper ago.
Sick Girl watches people come and go until she is the only one left in the waiting room and her phone list gets longer and longer until it’s no longer quite as light outside and in fact now its brighter inside than it is outside. Sick Girl wonders if it’s time to reach into her bag for her neck pillow or if her stomach might not be full enough after the salad and the smoothie—maybe she should nip to the onsite shop for something else to eat before having a wee rest?
Sick Girl feels so content and decides she can wait until morning for something else to eat so she delves for her travel pillow, although she’s not planning on travelling anywhere.
Sick Girl sees someone coming down the corridor with a clipboard and opts to leave her pillow in her bag for just a little longer. Just a minute or two longer, until the someone has walked on through to wherever the someone is going, but the someone stands in front of her and smiles with just their mouth and asks Sick Girl if Sick Girl needs any help and which specialist is she waiting to see. Sick Girl was so calm until someone came, but now Sick Girl feels her heart racing up into her throat along with a bit of smoothie and says she is looking for Pathology and the someone screws their face up like they’re stuck on a crossword clue that they can’t for the life of them work out the answer to and someone takes a small step back and looks up at the strip light which is strobing and quite annoying,and after some thought, directs Sick Girl down the corridor and tells her she needs to ask at the Main Reception Desk as she is sat in Urology which is not the right place at all. Then, the someone walks off toward wherever they were going and Sick Girl sighs and gathers up her belongings.
Sick Girl heads to the Main Reception Desk but walks straight past it and looks at her map for options and chooses Dermatology because it’s a little closer and she hasn’t been there for a while and she is feeling a little tired after all the waiting and the listing that she has been doing on her day off after a long week at work. Sick Girl turns left, then left again, then up three flights of stairs, and then through a set of double doors into a smaller waiting room than before with fewer seats and no people. Sick Girl undoes her bag and places her belongings neatly along the window sill which is just above her head and sits in the chair underneath it and the heating is on full blast. Sick Girl relaxes again until she sees a man in a wheelchair being wheeled in by a nurse who applies the brakes and leaves him at the other side of the room and Sick Girl tries not to make eye contact with him because for a moment she doesn’t feel safe in the room, but he is wheeled away again very soon and once again, she is alone and safe. Sick Girl notices the strip lights are all working in this waiting room which she finds satisfying and she places her neck pillow behind her head and closes her eyes.
“Excuse me, madam,” are the words that wake up Sick Girl and her lids lift straight away. She was only having a light nap—there is no sleepy dust in the corners of her eyes at all—but now it’s pitch black outside and the strip lights feel harsh again even though they aren’t the flashing sort.
“Excuse me. Sorry to wake you up, dear.” The words are coming again. Sick Girl wipes her eyes and sits up straight and doesn’t know what to say.
“Are you okay, duck?” More words. Sick Girl knows she needs to say something back as that’s the way conversation operates and she has had training on it and she knows this from the weekdays, when people ask her, ‘where is the milk?’
“Yes. I’m okay.” Sick Girl can see that this someone is a nurse, and she’s standing in the doorway to the waiting room—or maybe she is a someone who works in admin who gets to dress a bit like a nurse but doesn’t have to sit the exams or deal with bodily fluids.
“We’re closing the department in a minute. The cleaners will be round shortly. Dermatology closes at 9pm. Are you waiting for a someone?”
“Um. No, not waiting for a someone,” Sick Girl replies in truth, her heart is thrumming faster now and is all up in her mouth. “I think I might be in the wrong department.”
“Well, may I see your Confirmation of Appointment letter and I can escort you to the correct department myself,” says nursey, who’s not even smiling with just her lips.
Sick Girl picks up her travel pillow and her smoothie bottle and her pad and her pen that has run out and her phone and her empty sandwich box and the copy of a health magazine shepicked up (on her walk over from Urology that someone had left on a chair) and the handful of leaflets on Prostate Problems, on Dealing with Dialysis, on Uterine Prolapse and on Contact Dermatitis, and shoves them all in her bag before swinging her rucksack over her shoulder.
“No I don’t have a letter,” Sick Girl says, shrugging her shoulders and deciding to call it a day whilst checking her map even though she knows the place like the back of her hand. Sick Girl heads towards the exit.
Inspired by a letter her mother wrote to her instructing SJ to follow her dreams, even the nightmares, SJ Townend has been writing creatively for 23 months—not non-stop, there have been breaks for food and sleep. SJ won the Secret Attic short story contest (Spring 2020), has had flash published twice with Sledgehammer Lit Mag and has had two horror pieces published with Horla Horror, and was long listed for the Women on Writing non-fiction contest in 2020. SJ hopes that her stories are emotive and take the reader on a journey to often a dark place and only sometimes back again.