LISTEN | Writing the End: "Toni's Touch" by Karina M Szczurek
Karina M Szczurek imagines how the coronavirus pandemic will play out in her story, "Toni's Touch".
At the beginning of lockdown we asked eight storytellers to pen a work of fiction inspired by the Covid-19 pandemic. Now we have asked them to record the story that they wrote for us during the first few days of lockdown. Some brave authors have read it themselves, and some have got their talented friends to do it. So take a listen to the wonderful tales of Writing the End... Coronavirus, written by some of our very best authors.
Time out of time. That is how she remembers it, the descent into chaos.
Toni thinks it was the woman in the white dress, buying a bottle of massage oil after a treatment. Her own personal patient zero. The way she'd touched everything and insisted on Toni's assistance, invading her space, trying out all the samples. She coughed, quite a few times, and did not cover her mouth, her face all red and glowing around her nose after the facial.
"Customer is queen!" said the sign her boss had put up at the spa's front desk. Even so, Toni didn't want to be rude, despite all the instructions from the authorities. She lost her job soon after anyway. They all did. The place had to close down.
The world got on with it.
"The survival instincts of the human spirit cannot be underestimated," Dr Dube told her after the shutdown when she became the receptionist for a family doctors' practice. They had the new vaccine. She felt strangely safe working there, knowing that, no matter what, she'd be needed, would be taken care of.
It had been rough and lonely in those weeks of isolation. Although Toni had been better off than most with only mild symptoms and her grandma's small inheritance in her savings account.
"For a rainy day," Grandma had told Toni when she was finalising her will in the last few months of her illness. Lung fibrosis. She got it a year before the pandemic and passed away before the virus wreaked havoc in the old age home where she'd lived.
Much later, Toni thought of it as a mercy, that they could still bury and mourn her grandma according to her wishes. She had a proper funeral, with all who knew her attending the memorial mass without any restrictions, any fears. Just their grief.
It is impossible to look at her hands without suspicion, without remembering the woman in the white dress
Only a few months later, Mrs Jacobson, Toni's next-door neighbour at the complex, hadn't been so lucky. Her funeral was postponed; her family and friends had to grieve in isolation.
When it was allowed for them to gather again, Mrs Jacobson's son invited Toni to the service, thanking her for being such a good neighbour in the time of need, but she couldn't face going.
Toni recognises the everyday again. People, traffic, markets, impossible pace, greed, indifference. But she can't help obsessing about ordinary gestures. Everyone touching. The patients in their practice sitting in close proximity. The doctors shaking their hands in greeting. Her friends hugging her in abandon. Their laughter. She is overwhelmed by the return of tactile oblivion all around her.
It is impossible to look at her hands without suspicion, without remembering the woman in the white dress and the few days that followed when she wasn't showing any signs of illness and assisting wherever she could when they were getting ready for the shutdown.
She wishes she could be certain that Mrs Jacobson didn't die because of her.