They walk around their city wearing those masks that surgeons wear. Four little boys, younger than me with shaved heads, stare right at me out of the telly. I can only see their eyes, but they must be scared. The reporter man is talking about a ‘deadly disease,’ ‘more fatalities,’ ‘an uncontrollable situation.’ Then a shot of a hospital. A sign on the wall. ‘SARS ward. Visitors not allowed.’
‘Oh, dear Goodness,’ says Mum, tutting and shaking her head, her lips disappear. ‘How horrific. Those poor people, Roy.’ Dad is chewing the skin around his thumbnail and his mouth makes a saliva clicking sound. He just says mmm.
‘It’s just going to keep spreading. When will it end?’
‘Will we get it over here, Mum?’ I ask, imagining my class at St. Joseph’s, faces obscured by medical masks.
‘Very unlikely, Jelly. This is all the way in Hong Kong.’ But, she did say that it’s spreading. What if SARS can get over oceans and through countries?
The news report ends with. ‘Still, the frantic search to find the cause of the deadly SARS outbreak continues. Dominic Binns, BBC News, Hong Kong.’
‘Come on, Jelly. Beddie byes time,’ Mum says, standing up and scooping up dirty cups and plates from around the sitting room. I don’t argue tonight, just walk up hearing each one of our thirteen steps creak under my weight.
I really want Mum to come and settle me, to snuggle into my shape and sing ‘Coorie Doon’ in my ear, but I’m too old for that, now and too proud to ask her. ‘Na-night Jel,’ she says, pressing my light switch. I’m too old to tell her that I want to keep it on, tonight.
It’s past eleven. I hear the radio on in Mum’s room which means she’s trying to get to sleep. The telly is still on downstairs and Dad guffaws his over the top laugh every so often. I’ve been trying really hard to drop off. I said my prayer ages ago, but there’s too much noise in my head.
I tap on their bedroom door. ‘Mum?’
‘What are you still doing awake, Jel?’ she murmurs.
‘Mummy. You know SARS? If you get it will I be allowed to visit you in hospital?’ I get into bed next to her and feel her warmth and her familiar shape. I make the most of her smell just in case, one day, she is behind glass like the people on the telly.
Janelle Hardacre is a Yorkshire lass living and working in Manchester. Her flash fiction has been published in Spelk, Open Pen and Dear Damsels. She has been longlisted for the Reflex Flash Fiction competition, the TSS flash fiction competition and is a previous winner of the monthly Zeroflash competition. Janelle is currently planning her first novel (her practice novel) ahead of taking part in NaNoWriMo in November. Janelle blogs about her writing journey at janellehardacre.co.uk and tweets @jhardacre1