Going Home

A bit of flash fiction for you tonight. A few months ago this would have been a dystopian future. Now it’s only a small reach.

Amid the army cots and folding chairs arranged in clumps of four around plus-shaped curtain dividers, Hannah sat disconnected and slack. The shell of the former discount department store she was lost in flickered with aged fluorescent lighting. Almost every cot was full. They hadn’t been several weeks ago when the health emergency was lifted, but that changed quickly

“Mama, when can we go home?” Jonah asked pleadingly.

Actually he’d asked more than once Hannah slowly realized. It occurred to her maybe she’d zoned out again as her son’s voice pulled her briefly into the present.

“I don’t like it here, when can we go hone?” Jonah half asked, half sobbed. His no longer toddler, yet not quite kindergartner’s wide eyes were brimming with tears as he turned up to her.

Hannah looked down at him, stroked the back of his soft brown head, and snuggled him in closer. She made a soothing cooing sound to him as she watched the faceless people in uniforms move among the beds. Watched them move among the possibly infected but not yet dying in this makeshift hospital. Nameless and faceless with their masks and face shields.

Her mind’s eye unwittingly processed the word “home” and turned to the last image of their house as she and her son were being whisked away into an ambulance. Hustled to this holding area until they showed signs of the disease. The disease that had taken her husband literally overnight.

Marc had come home from work tired, bone tired. She assumed it was because he’d been working punishing hours as a result of the pandemic at the grocery store he managed. But soon after he went to bed she knew that wasn’t it. The dry cough, the shuddering chills that shook their whole bed told a different story. By the time she’d gone through several calls to the doctor and then one more for an ambulance, he was unconscious. They arrived too late to save him.

Hanna couldn’t comprehend her loss, much less start to grieve as she didn’t have a moment to think. She and her son were bundled off to here by public health workers since they had been exposed to a “more virulent strain.” Now they were held here to see if they would catch it and die, or join the displaced masses in limbo waiting for the virus to burn itself out.

There was no going back to their home. Only pain and death lived there now. That life her son longed for with his plaintive questions was gone. There would be no more lazy Sunday afternoons on the patio cooking out as a family, there would be no more hurried dinners of blu-box mac-n-cheese where the only worry was Jonah’s bedtime.

She snuggled Jonah closer, as if her embrace could transport them to that distant past of just a few days ago as she murmured soothingly “Soon baby, soon.”

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