By Lynn Valentine
Hitch-hiking has never really been safe or wise, even more so now, but still, I do it. Nearly all of the buses have been canceled, the trains mothballed into railway sidings, taxis have tripled their prices in a month. The hospital is too far to walk to so I stick out my thumb and hope for a lift.
Cars are few and far between, traffic down to a trickle since the lockdown. I wait and pray like some religious icon of old, one eye to the heavens, one eye on the long grey ribbon of road.
“Where ya headin’ mate?” A shock of red hair leans out from a delivery truck.
“Hospital, you goin’ that way?”
“Sure, come on up.”
I swing myself into the passenger seat and smile, “Where are you delivering to?”
“Just a bit beyond the hospital, doing a pick up from the orchards. Been using some of the lemons from there myself, helps with the virus.”
I nod, don’t want to tell him that lemons won’t work, gargling water won’t work, praying won’t work.
It’s then that he coughs, a dry hack of a cough, eyes streaming. Between coughs, a “sorry, love, gotta pull over.”
He stops, carries on coughing, I tell him it’s fine. Say that I can walk to the hospital from here, it’s not too far.
I open the cab door, horrified I watch as he leans in close to me, “You take care love,” he kisses me smack on the mouth. I push him away, I want to scream, to slap him, to kill him right there in his truck.
I jump out, I wipe and wipe at my lips, spit, run, run for miles past fields that seem to hack up blood with the red of their soil. I run past houses bathed in death’s dark pigment.
At the hospital, I wash and wash, scrub and scrub, don my apron, my gloves, my protective mask. I can’t afford to lose this job. I greet my first patient, the scent of lemons clinging to my mouth.
Lynn Valentine lives on the Black Isle in the Scottish Highlands. She is working towards her debut poetry collection which will be published by Cinnamon Press in April 2022, after winning their Literature Award. She has a Scots language pamphlet out with Hedgehog Poetry Press, after winning their dialect competition.