Written by Bob Beagrie for the collection: 'Life in the time of #COVID'
The Pre-Assessment waiting room is quiet today, hardly surprising given the situation, essential procedures only. The radio is playing ‘People Call Me a Space Cowboy’ and the receptionist is unusually short, so much so that only her upper forehead and hairline crest the desk, but its bobbing along to the tune and she seems happy enough despite the State of Emergency. Still, we all need to compartmentalise our fears and concerns or else panic will break its banks and drown us.
In the opposite seat to me a Cro-Magnon man sits wearing a pale blue, medical face mask, it looks like a muzzle to stop him from snarling and biting. He is infected by wolves, a kind of multiple lychanthropy where a whole pack has taken up residence in his struggle-hardened body, trotting along veins, loping through arteries, padding around the ridges and crevasses of his skeleton, howling through his eyes. Occasionally he shakes his head as if to scare away an unbidden thought or disturb a persistent fly that has taken a fancy to his scent.
The Cro-Magnon man is called Simon, the receptionist called his name and gave him a form to fill out before disappearing again behind her counter but he is not even attempting to add any details. He just stares at it or through it with his howling eyes. The white sheet becoming a snow filled, wind-swept tundra where a straggled line of wolves weave toward a rise known by the local tribes as Mammoth Ridge.
The small receptionist asks if he is alright, “You alright Simon?’ she says and tells him she’ll take the form once it’s done. Her disembodied voice drifts like a flurry of snowflakes from behind her counter. Simon the Cro-Magnon looks around as if sniffing the air for a hint of unseen prey or predator and then spots me with a start as if I have, just this instant, teleported onto the green plastic chair beside a water cooler with a pink sticker on it saying it’s an angel and asks us to make a wish.
“You alright mate?” Simon enquires from behind his muzzle, which billows with the breath of each word, as if his wolves are trying to escape from his mouth and spread their lupine bacterium. I nod and give him a wary half smile as Steve Miller confesses to being a joker, a smoker, a midnight toker, and I say, “Yeah, just about. Crazy days eh?” but he just shakes his head and looks back at his form, speechless.
Bob Beagrie has published numerous collections of poetry and several pamphlets, most recently 'Civil Insolencies' (Smokestack 2019), 'Remnants' written with Jane Burn (Knives, Forks & Spoons Press (2019), 'This Game of Strangers' – written with Jane Burn (Wyrd Harvest Press 2017), 'Leasungspell' (Smokestack 2016). His work has appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines and has been translated into Finnish, Urdu, Swedish, Dutch, Spanish, Estonian and Karelian. He lives in Middlesbrough and is a senior lecturer in creative writing at Teesside University, United Kingdom.