Migraines. Possibly the worst feeling in the world, something that Ashley Greenwood wouldn’t wish on her worst enemy. Yet here she was, battling nausea and the headache of a lifetime, just so her manager wouldn’t yell at her again. Climbing into the driver’s side of her postal van, Ashley winced at the bright sunshine glinting off the windshield. Typical – the weather was beautiful, and she couldn’t even appreciate it.
Bracing herself against the pain, Ashley clipped her seatbelt and headed off to the first drop off of the day.
The sun beamed overhead, and as Ashley trundled down the road that nagging pain in the back of her head spread to her temples. By the time she reached the first street on her route, all she wanted was to collapse back into bed and go to sleep. Obviously that wasn’t an option, so she heaved herself out of the van with a reluctant huff and got to work. She had been doing this for eight years, and by now it was muscle memory.
Few people came to the door when they heard the mail. Going from house to house undisturbed, at least, gave her peace. The sunshine warmed her back as she darted from one driveway to the next, slipping letters through the mail box with perfect efficiency. With everyone stuck inside and half of the Royal Mail staff off ill, there was even more post than usual. Too much, she might have argued, but it had to be done somehow.
The house at the end of Ashley’s second street – an attractive thing with enormous windows and a garden to rival a professional landscaper’s – was the only one to have parcels. Hefting the damn things from the back of the van left her arms aching – and her vision swam as pain laced its way through her head. Wincing, she stumbled to the door and rang.
A cute, dark haired man answered with a grin so broad it made even Ashley’s face hurt. “Hi, is that the XBox I ordered?”
“I believe so,” Ashley replied. Why couldn’t this have been delivered by courier? One less job for her. Although she doubted private couriers had it much better, honestly. Settling what she assumed was the XBox – along with three other parcels – onto the front steps, she fished out her parcel signing device.
The thing hardly ever worked, took its time, and left Ashley wondering if she was still on schedule – after this she had the rest of the street, then the little cul-de-sac down the road, and that big, fancy house near the park… pain sliced through her head and she let out a grunt of pain – and the device tumbled from her hands. It landed on the steps with a nasty crack, and Ashley doubled over with a groan.
“Uh… ma’am? You okay?”
Obviously not, she thought, but then it felt like someone was stabbing her in the back of the skull and every last coherent thought fled her mind.
“Should I call an ambulance?”
“No,” she muttered. Her vision was going fuzzy and nausea rose in her stomach, but she forced it back down with a huff. Bending down felt like her joints were turning to jelly, and her heart shuddered as she lifted the signature tracker – somehow it remained unharmed. That was something, at least.
“I really think you should-“
“I’m fine,” Ashley snapped – only to wince. Oh, if her manager found out she was snapping at a customer like that… well, he’d be more angry at that than her coming into work sick. Straightening out, Ashley forced back the sudden urge to pass out. “I just need to sign this for you, sir. Thanks.”
She turned to go, making her cautious way down the steps with the man’s wary gaze hot on her back. Easing herself into her seat, she took a moment to collect her thoughts. Not that here was much thinking involved, other than her brain screaming at her for pain relief. Resting her head on the steering wheel, she closed her eyes for just a minute-
When she snapped back to reality, it was only because her phone buzzed angrily in her pocket. Three texts, four missed calls, all from her manager. Oh shit. That wasn’t good – it was worse than just not good, it was terrible. Ashley’s stomach rolled as she flicked through the texts…
When her phone rang again, she almost dropped it. Wincing, she answered with a nervous, “hello, Ashley speaking.”
“Ashley,” her manager snapped, “where the hell have you been? It’s eleven, you were due at the staff meeting twenty minutes ago.”
Oh. Oh. How could she have forgotten about that? Panic welled in her chest, which only made the constant banging against her skull even more unbearable. God, it was a miracle she hadn’t passed out already. “I’m so sorry,” she gushed, “I’m still on my route, I-“
“I know. Alicia saw your van parked on Sydney Street, what are you still doing there?”
As if things weren’t bad enough. Ashley blinked back the sudden threat of tears – she wasn’t a school kid getting told off from a teacher – but this sucked, and she was in pain, and she could barely concentrate enough to string two sentences together. “I’m sorry, I’m just not feeling so good.”
“Another migraine?” Her manager sighed, and she could see him rolling his eyes at her. As if this was a choice. “This is the third time this week, Ashley.”
“I know, I’ve had it for days now and I think I’m ill too-“
“We’re too understaffed for you to be feeling sorry for yourself.”
If she hadn’t felt like she was dying, Ashley might have had some choice words for her manager. Well perhaps not, considering he already loved to make her feel awful.
A long suffering sigh crackled on the other end of the line, followed by, “take a few days off, come back on Monday. Having you work when you’re like this pointless anyway.” He hung up without another word, leaving Ashley in tense, thick silence.
Ashley dropped her head onto the steering wheel, a groan of frustration leaving her lips. This wasn’t what she wanted. Not only would her manager give her hell when she got back, but what was she supposed to do in the meantime? They were already so understaffed, what with the lockdown and half the staff falling ill, and in her eight years working there she had never taken sick leave once.
Huffing out a slow breath, Ashley tried to calm her nerves. It didn’t work. But she didn’t have a choice now – so, starting up her van, Ashley did the only thing she could. She went home.
Ashley rolled out of bed the next morning at her usual time – the shriek of her alarm made her head throb and she wanted to throw it across the room. Instead she sat up, groping for the water bottle by her bedside, and chugged half of it in one go.
Then she remembered; no work today. Her manager had given her strict instructions not to come back until Monday, which left her with four days alone. Getting a doctor’s note wasn’t the trouble – although, given the circumstances perhaps not as easy as it would have been normally. Regardless, that wasn’t the real issue here. No, the real issue was the fact she was leaving her poor coworkers even more understaffed, struggling with her route along with their own.
Running a hand down her face, she trudged downstairs. The thin light filtering through the curtains made her head pound, and even after downing her migraine pills she felt like garbage.
When her phone buzzed, echoing in the silent house, Ashley wanted to scream. She fished it from her dressing gown pocket, glaring.
One missed call from Jonah. Why was her cousin, of all people, calling? With a huff, she called him back.
“Ashley!” his voice trilled – too loud, to obnoxious. “I heard you weren’t feeling good. Not ill, I hope?”
The meaning of ill hung over them like a dark cloud despite his cheery voice. She ignored him, lips pursed as she all but collapsed back onto the bed. “No, it’s not that,” she replied softly. Even talking hurt. “Just a migraine, and probably some stupid bug.”
“But you’re recovering, right? Taking it easy?”
“No, Jonah. I can’t afford to. If I don’t get over this by Monday I’m screwed. I can’t take time off, not with everything that’s going on.” Squeezing her eyes shut, Ashley fought back the wave of nausea that rose in her gut. Looked like she would be skipping breakfast today. Lunch too.
The phone crackled as Johah sighed, no doubt rolling his eyes. “Girl, you need to take better care of yourself.”
“We’re in a crisis, Jonah.”
“All the more reason to look after yourself!”
Well… all right, he had a point. Ashley hated to admit when Jonah was right – and it happened more often than you might think. Running a hand through her tangle of dark hair, she tried not to snap when she said, “I’m practically abandoning my work, okay? And my manager hates me, so that’s great, not to mention we’re so understaffed we’re barely coping – four people went off sick last week. Four! And-“
“Slow down.” She could have sworn Jonah was laughing, which only made her feel worse. Yet his voice was calm as he replied, “worry about that when you get back. All this stress is what’s making you feel like this. One day at a time.”
Okay. Fine. He was right! He was absolutely right – if she wanted to get over this awful migraine, she had to take it easy. Already she felt a little less sick, her head clearer. Maybe it was just having someone tell her, someone able to reason with her worry, but it made sense.
Her manager would be mad at her no matter what she did, no matter how hard she tried – so why not take time for herself anyway?
Sighing, Ashley flopped back onto the bed, free hand rubbing circles around her temple. “It might literally kill me to say this,” she muttered, “but you’re right. No use in stressing out over things I can’t control.”
“Exactly,” Jonah shot back, “a few days off will do you good. Everything’s so chaotic right now that a break won’t make much of a difference in the long run.”
Ashley was pretty sure he kept talking, but Ashley’s eyes had already slipped closed. The phone fell from her hands, landing softly on the mattress, and she was asleep within seconds.
Part 4 in the Solo Lockdown Short Story Series will be published tomorrow, Sunday the 3rd of May.