[So, continues the development of the Survivor Short Story “project” in the War On Boris the Bytrode series. This time, back in time, following the adventures of middle-aged mum, Letitia…]
Out of Context, Just out of Reach
As the doors began to close, a flash of white grabbed the lift doors, wrenched them open. The mean nurse, rushed in, huffing and puffing. Letitia steeled herself, half-expecting her to make another comment related to her cleaning ability, but she ignored her. The nurse smiling, instead turned her attention to the tall blonde golfer.
‘I’m sorry, doctor, someone must have moved her without our authority. You know this hospital, one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing,’ her apology dripped like syrup.
‘That’s okay. But interrupting my round of golf?’ he sucked in his breath through his perfect set of teeth in a way that seemed unusually familiar to Letitia. She studied him as he casually pointed the butt end of the club towards the door, willing it to open.
‘Oh, I’m sorry for the inconvenience.’ The nurse grovelled. Letitia mused at the dramatic change in her demeanour; she had morphed from ostentatious superiority to humble submission. ‘But Doctor, you will return after your round of golf to assess the patient.’
‘You’ll have to find her first.’ The doctor’s golf club levered the doors open and without a glance behind him he strode out into the ground floor lobby and disappeared through the double doors leading to the outside.
Letitia scurried out of the lift leaving the nurse to descend to the basement. While in the lobby, she pretended to dust and clean the light fittings and fixtures. Once the elevator doors were firmly closed behind her, she ditched the cleaning equipment and raced through the entrance doors in search of the doctor. She had remembered. Was he her IGSF doctor friend, Joseph? Or someone else familiar, from her past? Whoever, he must know where Fritz was. She chastised herself for being so hasty and escaping when she should’ve been patient waiting for the IGSF to sort her situation out.
As she stepped through the double-glazed sliding doors she blinked. Confused. The busy street in a haze of humid summer heat was not how she remembered the station in Antarctica. Classic Holden and Ford cars running left and right roared past her. The tunnel of three-or-four-storey buildings arranged in many shades of grey competed with the brilliant blue sky above. She squinted and strained her vision for a sign and some sense to her whereabouts. A sign at the corner of the street read “Argyle Street”. She could discern the ominous presence of a police station over the road just past the traffic lights. She decided to walk swiftly in the opposite direction. Letitia had no intention of being labelled an illegal alien.
With her head down and eyes fixed on the paving of the footpath, she kept on walking, and walking. Escaping the hospital. Evading the police. But clueless on how to find the golfclub wielding doctor. She pushed herself forward in a random direction vaguely aware of crossing streets filled with people and traffic, until confronted by another set of glass doors. She pushed open one of these doors walked through, almost colliding with a desk.
A lady’s voice asked, ‘May I help you?’
‘Oh, sorry!’ she mumbled in surprise.
‘May I help you?’ the woman shrouded behind the glass pane and counter repeated.
Letitia gazed around. People, men mainly inserted little leather books under gaps of similar glass panes at the people behind them and seconds later collected wads of notes.
‘Must be in a bank,’ Letitia murmured. ‘Er, any chance for a…nah, don’t worry, oh, I forgot my, er-um, passbook,’ she garbled. Memories of her life in Australia in the 1960’s began to emerge as she escaped the bank and into the sunlight.
Letitia wandered along a cobblestone footpath. When she looked up. A fish and chip shop. The kind that offered steak sandwiches and hot cinnamon donuts. The place was hopping with people lining up and spilling out onto the pavement. The aroma of cinnamon donuts freshly formed out of the hot oil, made her empty stomach growl. She dug deep into the pockets of the cleaner’s uniform hoping in vain for forgotten coin. The pockets were deep, yet like her stomach, they were empty. She stood in the middle of the lane and watched with envy the happy contented faces of shoppers as they sat at alfresco near the wharf sipping coffee from paper cups and stuffing their mouths with cake. The seagulls that scavenged nearby were being more well fed than her. Gulls growing fat on surplus chips and unwanted beef sandwiches. She wished she were a seagull. No one would want to feed a stray middle-aged woman dressed in a lime green cleaning suit.
A family of four consisting of mum, dad and two small children organised themselves and vacated a picnic table near Letitia. On the small wooden table flanked by well-worn bench seats, were leftovers. The sandwiches were half-eaten, and the chips slathered with tomato sauce lay discarded in amongst the white wrapping paper.
Letitia darted at the table and greedily planted herself in one of the metal chairs. She began to reach for the sandwich and then thought out aloud, ‘This is ridiculous!’ She then became conscious that a man with white hair and large nose seated at a park bench nearby was staring at her.
Utilising the cleaning disguise to her advantage, Letitia reached down and adjusted the white hospital runners, tightening the shoelaces. Upon completing that diversionary task, she rose from the table and as a cleaner would do, gathered up the barely bitten bread, and half-full cups of coffee and chips with sauce, and purposefully headed for the over-flowing grey metal bin.
Acting as though she was loading the rubbish into the chock-full bin, she instead siphoned the uneaten food into the pocket of her trousers and hid one left-over paper cup of coffee under her arm.
Then, keeping her lips pursed, she casually strolled to a small grassy patch behind an oak tree and under its shade, surreptitiously opened her stash. The beef patty sandwiches were still soft and warm although they appeared twisted and squashed from being jammed in her pocket. She crouched down on the lawn and admired the thin white slices, the limp lettuce, the grilled-on cheese, and the processed beef. In normal circumstances she would not touch white bread such as this. Such food was filled with carcinogenic chemicals and pathological fats. But this was no ordinary occasion. Letitia was literally starving. She had spent possibly up to a week in snow and ice without food and in her stint in hospital, had seen no food. She had been running on adrenalin and now that had stopped, Letitia was famished. Boy, the burnt crust looked inviting!
Letitia bit into the soft slice and savoured the blend of sugar, oil and salt mixed with reconstituted portions of beef, lettuce and cheddar cheese. She sculled the coffee. It was cold and bitter, but she didn’t mind. Too hungry to mind.
She mowed her way through the first “steak sandwich” and greedily progressed to the next. In the back of her mind, she knew that she should not be gorging myself and that she would regret it. However, the wonderful, ecstatic sensation and pleasure of eating was too over-whelming, too powerful for her to resist. Ah, the joys of feasting.
Letitia was so focussed on food that she became unaware of the world around her. All that mattered to her was food; food was all that mattered to her.
A tap on the shoulder almost made her choke on a lardy lump of meat. Her head bolted upright with shock and fright.
‘Letitia, is that you?’ A lady’s voice accompanied the shoulder tapping. Her voice sounded familiar.
Letitia swung around to face this gate crasher to her food party. The tall woman had an oval face, with blue eyes framed by straight golden tresses. The woman’s identity to Letitia remained just out of reach; with the place and time out of context, her name eluded Letitia.
‘There you are, Letitia! We’ve found you!’ She smiled and hugged her. ‘It is you! Fancy meeting here in Hobart of all places! How many years has it been?’
A few weary workers emerged out of the tired warehouses near the wharf and soon disappeared down the street. ‘So that’s where I am!’ Letitia muttered.
This twenty-something blonde fixed Letitia a confused expression. ‘What?’ she asked.
‘Oh, er, I meant, of course I remember you! How could I forget? Surely, it wasn’t so long ago.’ Letitia did not want to appear peculiar. She hugged her back. On the other side of her shoulder, she puzzled over who she could be. And how her counterpart in this Out-of-Time World was connected to this woman.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2021
Feature Photo: Poatina golf course © L.M. Kling 2010