Testing

On Sunday I woke up with a tickle at the back of my throat. Oh no, I thought. Feels like a cold. It wasn’t bad, in fact quite mild, so I spent the rest of the day pretending it was nothing. Took panadol, aspro clear etc. That night, I had a blocked nose, just on one side; and a bit of a scratchy cough. Next morning, Monday, I was still in denial. I hadn’t said anything to M, but I’d made sure I hadn’t kissed her either. Still, we are so close, anything one catches, the other is bound to catch too. It wasn’t until about eleven o’clock that I went online to see where you go to get tested for Covid 19 around here. There was a place, Laverty Pathology, down on Marrickville Road. They were open until 4 pm. No appointment necessary. I told M and she, characteristically, swung into action. She had some things to pick up from the chemist. She would drive down and drop me off. Pick me up afterwards, as well, if I liked. Anticipating an imminent loss of freedom, for an indeterminate period of time, I said, a bit weakly, I’d rather walk. We drove. Parked the car and split up at the lights; she’d text me when she was done or I would text her. Laverty’s had a sliding door made of opaque glass. A fellow had just come out and was standing there, as if bewildered. A skinny little guy of about fifty who was swathed in some kind of cheap, heavily scented perfume. As if he’d just doused himself with it. He was in the way but he was wearing a mask. I reached around him, slid the door open and went inside. It smelt the same in there as he did. Probably his chem trail. There was no-one in the waiting room and no reception desk. A door into a corridor was ajar so I peered in. From a room on the left, a woman in green scrubs, masked, quite tall, looked around and said: Go! Sit down! I went, I sat down. The stack of magazines at my elbow looked uninteresting and a pile on the floor on the other side of the room turned out to be made up of telephone books. I wondered how long it was since I’d seen a phone book, let alone opened one. I sat back down and took out my mobile. The exasperated woman bustled out again. I close at 12.30! she said. The time was 12.16. She disappeared, came back. Fill out this form! I began; but before I’d finished she was back again, checking I’d put down my name and phone number, ripping the half filled out form from my hands. It had two parts, essentially identical, so maybe I was only meant to fill out the top one. Sign there! she said, pointing to the bottom. I signed. Then she went again. The sliding door slid open and a young woman came in. I recognised her, I’d seen her in the street while on my way from the car to here; I’d noticed her because she’d seemed hesitant, perhaps fearful. Now, despite her mask, she seemed even more so. I tried to smile at her but how do you smile when only your eyes are showing? It turned into a sort of a shrug and she shrugged back. The woman appeared again. She gave a form to the young woman and then turned to me. Come! she said. In there! She meant the second room down the corridor. Sit! I sat. Someone opened the sliding door to the street again and she went out to turn them away. Come back at one o’clock! she said. I guess that half hour was her lunchtime. She returned and began to take from its wrapping a long wooden implement with a pad on the end. It was brown and slender and I knew it was going to go up my nose. Open your mouth! she said. I was so intimidated by now that I actually asked her if I should take my mask off first? She didn’t bother answering that. Why are you here, anyway? she said. I think I’ve got a cold, I said. Humph. I’ve had my first vax, I offered. A-Z. Nothing. Firmly, but not roughly, she swabbed the back of my tongue and then used the same end of the same implement to take swabs from the further extremity of each of my nostrils. Then she put it away in a plastic bag. You go now! she said. When will I hear, I asked? Forty-eight hours? No, they tell you tonight. Text message. She didn’t say goodbye. As I staggered out, I felt my phone buzz. M was standing at the lights on the corner, we went back to the car together, drove home. If all she does all day is take Covid tests, M said, no wonder she’s bad-tempered. The front door closing behind us felt like a doom. I did sneak out later for a walk, I even went to the bottle shop at the pub, though I knew I shouldn’t have. You have to sign in there now, using a QR code, but my phone wouldn’t do it. The young woman who was serving asked for my number, signed in for me, and then recorded the digits of the code Service NSW sent me. Damn, I thought, if it’s Covid, they’ll know. The Henson will become a hotspot, all because of me. Damn! Nothing happened that night; I mean, there was no text from Laverty’s. Next day, nada. I woke up early and took a photograph of the front door, from the inside, not as an image of confinement but because the light was so beautiful. I went to my desk after breakfast, as usual, I did my work. I got a message to say there was a parcel to pick up from the Post Office but I didn’t go. I didn’t go for a walk either, or two, as I generally do. My cold hadn’t got any worse but it was still there. It wasn’t until 4.10 that my phone buzzed. It was from Medlab Pathology and read: ‘Dear Martin Jollw, Result of COVID19 test on your sample requested by Dr Lay Tay is NEGATIVE.’ I appreciated the use of upper case; the word ‘negative’ was the first thing I saw. I was interested to learn the grumpy doctor’s name. And I wondered how they got mine so badly wrong. Poor handwriting I guess. (My second name is John.) Anyway. I found my shopping bag and hurried down to the Post Office, where there was not one but two parcels waiting for me: In An Antique Land, by Amitav Ghosh, his first book, about Egypt; and the catalogue for the Surrealism At Sea show, about the Marek brothers, at the Art Gallery of South Australia. I bought a bag of oranges from the third Vietnamese shop and two bottles of good red wine from BWS; then walked happily home.

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