The thing she had, the syndrome, was like nothing the best minds in medical science had seen before. In the foyer of A&E they lifted her like cloth sacking, triaged her; no she hadn’t fallen, or vomited. Her temperature was pushing fever point, that was the most they could say.
“Do we have her notes?” the nurse wanted to know. “But these are from geriatrics,” she kept shouting and “Does anyone hear ticking?”
What I heard when I pressed my ear to Anna’s heart was a rage of memories, the shudder of years collapsing in. I took her hand and kissed the tiny adolescent pearls of her nails.
“Hey!” Anna said, voice soft as fur and cartwheeled to the nurse’s station.
There were rumours, the specialist in experimental diagnostics warned, of isolated cases like Anna’s, usually in remote areas, the places time forgot and then remembered, over-compensating. Cases of what? That was all I wanted to know, watching the hours flood through her, lightning-fast.
Was it catching?
Was it curable?
“Can we get this place quarantined?” the specialist said, staring out at the famous view that tourists flew for a whole day to come see.
I took Anna’s hand, kissed her, let whatever it was enter me too and when she cried I picked her up, rocked her, tickled her bare feet while the nurses took blood, swabs, measuring the amount of time she had left. Something to do with the clock was the theory, leaking out with every chime, every tick, every new moment, the fall-out seeping into the Thames, pulsing uptide, into estuaries, out to sea, to everyone. A pandemic, sighed the specialist, falsely stoic. I pressed myself to Anna’s sweet baby-smell, started the countdown, listened for the quiet stroke of the remaining hours in her chest.

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