by Sarah Davy
A gloved finger slips under my tongue. My mouth fills with saliva. His words drip muffled and mingled with coffee breath from the ventilator mask. Blood rushes to my face when he carefully moves my plait, tucks it under the blue film bib covering my neck and chest. Ice fills the space when he reaches away for the drill. I open as wide as I can, fix my gaze on the clock and count twenty-seven minutes of contact. How many days since I was touched by another person?
I stand still in the middle of the high street, brace for the air of people moving past me. Space is yawning and I am an island, unbuffered. Not even a breath of their wind. I sit on a bench and send the occupants shooting skywards in a fog of expletives. I put a disposable glove on one hand, use it to touch my forehead, my swollen cheek, my lips. No tingle, no rush. There is an ache where the memory of touch should be. My head clouded by a despair of loneliness. I am not ready for home and the unwinding of time.
The reduced bin is by the till in the supermarket. I stand over it, use the batwing sleeves of my cardigan to shield its contents. Irritated shoppers buzz past, harmonising with flickering overhead lights. I will them to overstep, toe over hazard tape and breath down my neck. They perform a tango of avoidance. In the frozen aisle, I open the door and block the meal deal. A small child is immediately under my feet, reaching between my legs for some raspberry ripple. I am shot through with light. An arm reaches out and I grab it, feel heartbeats and goosepimples under cotton. Screams fill the space until I am chased out into the cooling September light.
The park has reopened. I walk to its outer edge and sit under a sprawling tree. The injection has worn off and my face pulses. Wind pulled branches and young horse chestnut fruits litter the ground. I take a handful of green spiked cases. Most are soft and give under my palm. The last one yields a glossy brown conker no bigger than a pea. I turn it over in my hand, run it over and under my fingers. A precious seed that will lead me down a yellow brick road to physical contact. I find the newly filled tooth with the tip of my tongue, push the autumn bounty to the back of my jaw and bite down hard.
Sarah Davy is a writer and facilitator living and working in rural Northumberland. Her short stories and flash fiction are published online and in print and her first short play, A Perfect Knot, was performed in 2020. Sarah’s first novel was shortlisted for the Northern Writers Awards in 2020 and is almost finished. Almost.