Even though I provided a perfectly valid sick note to my employer last month, I was treated like a fraud when I returned to the production line. Work mates and management alike seemed highly suspicious of my recent flu bug.
‘Aaah, better now Melanie?’ Mr. Hackett droned in his nasal twang. His eyes looked me up and down with wariness as well as his usual arrogance. I was surprised he could see anything past that huge hooter. Oh, how I would love to punch it.
‘So, what did you get up to last week, Mel?’ Gobby Lesley shouted over the whir of the machinery.
‘Oh, I blew my nose, coughed ‘til my throat was red raw and my ribs wrecked. The usual shit you have to endure when you’ve got flu,’ I shouted back, smiling through my irritation.
I felt like I had to pack those choc ices extra quick to make up for lost time. Why did I feel so guilty? I’d been bleeding ill.
‘I had flu last week too, Melanie. I still managed to come in, though. I couldn’t just leave this place. You have to have priorities, in my opinion.’ Pea-head Eileen, the supervisor, had said this to me lunch time whilst simultaneously blowing her nose into a tatty hankie. Luminous green snot poured out of the sides and I put my salad butty back in its plastic case with a shudder.
‘Well, Eileen, I don’t think me coughing and sneezing all over the choc ices would have been very hygienic.’ I tried to keep my tone friendly. I didn’t want her on my back all day. Giving me all the shitty jobs, like sticking me in the freezer or pairing me up with smelly Tim with the suspiciously itchy crotch.
What I really wanted to tell her was that the reason for her excellent attendance was because she was a lonely old bag who had no life outside the factory.
‘Did you go and get them boots you were after from down the market while you were off, Mel?’ Sylva gushed. I wondered if she was trying to catch me out with her bubbling friendliness or if she was just plain thick.
‘No, Sylva. I was ill! Besides, I can’t afford them now. I’ve had to make do with the crappy sick pay you get here.’ I rolled my eyes. Why the hell would I purposely take two weeks off, knowing I would still have to shell-out for rent, leccy, gas and all that? I continued to shove the choc ices into their boxes.
‘Your flaps are out, Melanie!’ Eileen shrieked down the line. Everyone giggled.
Oh, grow up will you, I blushed. How could they still laugh at that old joke about box flaps after all this time? Dickheads.
I look back on that time as I lie here in bed with some knock-out virus. My head feels like it’s being squeezed through the sellotape machine and my body’s shivering like I’ve spent the night clearing out the out-of-date stock from work’s huge freezer. I have my sick note, all signed and ready to post. When I go back to work, will I face an inquisition again? Will I have to put up with the looks and the whispering? Will suspicion hang over me ‘til there’s someone or something else to gossip about?
I reach for the bucket as I feel my mouth fill with acrid, acidy liquid. I’m going to huey – again.
(Don’t you just hate throwing up?)
And while the vomit splatters into the bucket with an almighty force, I make sure the note is close enough to collect a few splashes of yellow spew and a couple of stray carrots. Let them say I wasn’t ill this time….
Tracy lives in the North West of England and likes to write poetry and flash fiction as a hobby. Twitter: @tracymariegreen