A GIRL UNPOISONED
A girl lives in a large city, the only person unaffected by a mysterious catastrophe that left everyone else suffering toxin induced mental illness
The concrete tapped rhythmically under my feet with each purposeful stride. Cigarette fumes swirled around me and I pretended not to be offended by their pungent infiltration. I caught myself habitually straightening my jacket and smoothing my hair back. As I walked past a spindly side-walk tree I brush my fingers through its dancing lime-green leaves, appreciating it's bright juxtaposition against the grey backdrop. In front of me, four strangers did the recognizable street-cross that indicated danger. I crossed with them, looking over my shoulder to see a mid-thirties man, wearing a crusty, yellow-stained tracksuit, he was yelling incomprehensibly at a uniformed safety officer. On his neck, a thick locked collar flashed a bright red light indicating the man was in crisis. It appeared crisis presented as rage, agitation and aggression, as he lunged at the safety officer with a dinner knife, halted by the officer’s swift application of a taser. The man fell twitching to the ground as the officer spoke into a black box, calling for a pick-up. I frowned at the familiarity of it. As I rounded the corner towards the café, I passed several more people wearing the collars, eyeing them carefully for the flashing red light. Down a dim alley I turned the key in a grimy doorknob and entered the cafe. I plonked my bag on the stainless-steel bench and tied my apron around my waist. I cleaved open the heavy aluminium roller door and turned on the coffee machine. I took orders and frantically whizzed milk, making a few at a time to keep up with the demand. Diurnal Variation; A term used to describe the natural shifts in energy and mood every 24 hour cycle, usually signposted by morning depression. I sold a cup of temporary relief, and the money came flowing in. The only people making money in this city were those selling a short dose of mitigation from the all-consuming black.
"This isn't hot enough" a woman stomped through the crowd shouting. They barely turned their heads. She didn't wear a collar, she was just angry. I instinctively gave a wide smile.
"I'm sorry, let me make you another one" I turned to the machine recalling her order.
"I want a refund as well" she slapped her coffee on the bench, splashing the steamy liquid all over the counter. The waiting queue began to edge back a bit.
"Sorry ma'am we don't do refunds. I felt sweat licking the back of my neck, I had to steel myself against the waves of anxiety.
"Do you know who I am?" I waited curiously for her answer "I am the CEO of this coffee shop! I own this whole city. I am the richest woman in the country." Grandiosity. Could be symptomatic of a personality disorder, or the manic state of bipolar disorder. Looking at this woman, with her unkempt hair, mismatched clothes and dark-circled eyes, I felt a pang of sadness at her delusion. I twist the heart shaped locket around my neck anxiously.
"Sorry ma'am I didn't realise" I handed her back her change and an extra hot cappuccino. She strode away with her chin upheld.
"Sorry I'm late!" Suzie called behind me, massaging her brow. Was she swept beside me my nose pricked at the acidic tinge of stale alcohol and vomit. I say nothing.
"Me too!" Lacy's birdy frame struggled against the weight of the back door.
I smile diligently at each customer and feel my energy gather momentum. As soon as the window is empty for a moment the two girls beside me moan and scuttle through the back door to smoke. Spotting the milk boxes in the corner I take my box cutter out and cut along the tape to crush them flat. I pocket it quickly, I am the only one with a sharps license so the boxes tend to pile up quickly. As I placed the neat stack by the back door I hear Suzie and Lacy's whispering.
"She's actually that arrogant though. Getting here early, smiling at everyone."
"Like we get it. You're not sick, how hard would it be to just pretend?" the girls giggled in their irony.
My stomach filled with stones. I knew they were talking about me. What had I done to deserve this? I had done everything I could to accommodate them. I only come in early because I knew they never get here to open on time. The way they behaved I had grounds to fire them, but I knew they would turn and say I was discriminating. I picture them waving their diagnosis bracelets in my face, they way they did the first time I criticised their work standards. Sighing, I look on the horizon at the large blue billboard with a smiley face. On it plastered the word "Breathe." I feel my eyes go to roll at the government's half-arsed attempt at a cure. Along with the brutality of the appointed safety officers, the billboards & diagnostic bands had done nothing but create a culture of mutual hopelessness and abandonment. The epidemic was chronic, and the heavy metal that settled in our brains and reproductive organs had left us shrivelled and sad and sterile. We don’t exactly know how it happened, perhaps an attack, or natural phenomenon, all we knew was people started dying. First of lead poison, then, in the months to follow, chronic pain and strange, toxin induced madness set in and drove people to suicide. I shouldn't say madness. It is a stigmatising term. Nobody could get pregnant, even the foetuses growing in their mothers weren’t left untouched by the evil molecule. Humanity became instantly suspended in limbo, bracing to die out, praying they wouldn’t be among the lonely final survivors.
I had to shut the cafe early, as both girls went home unwell and I had a doctors appointment. As I sat in the busy waiting room I appreciated the clean lemony scent of disinfectant and the provision of old cooking magazines I could look busy studying.
"Lana" the doctor's gently accented voice rang out behind me. He lead me to a chair in his elegantly furnished office.
"We have your bloods back. We found no lead. You're not sick." his words hit my brain like a sharp clap to both ears.
"What? How? I've been feeling so tired and awful."
"I'm afraid you're just suffering from the human condition." he chuckled at his own joke, unaware of my discontentment. "All your psychoanalysis came back normal as well. Did you live in another country growing up? During the contamination period?" he asks quizzically.
"No.” I pondered. “ We lived on a farm." my mind reeled. "We used bore water" I blurt, remembering the hum of the pump as it dragged water to the house. The doctor looked amused, slapping his thighs.
"That'll do it. You're part of the one percent." I gaped at him in shock as he beckoned me out of the room, clearly impatient at me wasting his time.
I paid my bill and walked out of the clean building, into the throngs of edgy, nervous, dishevelled looking people. My good health, my untainted ovaries; they were my dark secret. I was completely alone.
About the author
I am a 23-year-old Nursing and Midwifery student. I like to write reflections of my experiences in the healthcare industry. Disclaimer: All names have been changed, stories told are a combination of many experiences.