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At the Covid 19 Screening Test – Joanne McCarthy

I get a plastic bag, my Personal Protective Equipment, two masks, two tissues, one booklet and a phone call order to blow my nose. One hard blow. Another with feeling. A broad woman appears, a smile leaking over her mask.

‘How are you love?’ A mothering of words.

She sways the white swab stick and asks for an ‘ahhhh’. I am four and playing doctors and nurses. I’m not expecting the swab to lance and jab into my throat, so I retreat, pulling into the safety of my seat belt. She leans in through the window to reach the depths of my throat. I’m suitably mortified when she’s done.

‘Sorry’, I say, ‘I was pulling away a bit there’.

‘I know’ she says ‘ye’re all like that, pulling away ’til I’m nearly climbing in the window’. She lifts a hefty leg, miming climbing into the car, and gets into a fit of giggling. I catch it and soon we’re both into the belly laughs.

When she steadies herself with the last ‘aahh’, she roots in her bag and brandishes the packaged nose swab. I’m not focused on my friend comparing this to someone taking a brain sample. The urge to keep laughing is so strong I have to make every effort not to snort. I hold my breath and steel my brain into channelling unfunny thoughts.

Buddy (childhood dog) is dead.

My Nan is dead.

The swab is well beyond the top of my nostril. I’m defaulting to my childhood laugh-stopping strategies. Where is my adult pain? I have plenty of adult pain. I rifle through my pain files. The nose swab volleys my tear ducts into action.

That college break up.

Perpetual obesity.

Truckloads of existential angst.

I knock the laughter out of myself and, mercifully, the jabbing stops. The nose swab is out. My eyes open to Tuesday in August. Two clouds in a grey sky. Smiling crow’s feet over a blue mask.

‘There you go now, love, Mind yourself now, love.’