Flash Fiction: "The Vaccination Centre" by Grace Banks



Louise always thought that fainting would be a blank experience. But now as she faints she thinks

of how she should have eaten breakfast. She worries that her mask is slipping. She imagines her

sister laughing when she tells her this story, as she did when she joked that Louise should fake a

swoon to grab the attention of any good-looking nurses at the vaccination centre.

When Louise comes round her head is sandwiched between her knees. A hand rubs her

back in concentric circles. She recognises the Northern Irish accent of the nurse who gave her the

injection:

-Cold press. Cold press.

Louise only realises it’s for her when she feels it against the back of her neck. This is isn’t

what she thought the nurse meant when he told her to have a rest if she was feeling tired. Don’t

try to be a superwoman, he said. She assumed he imagined her rushing after a flock of children,

scrabbling to get dinner on the table for a husband who’d be nearly home from work.

A glass of water is pressed into her hands. She sips it slowly. The nurse tells her that he

caught her just in time, that he could see it happening. He asks if she feels okay to stand and she

manages a nod. Two people come and help her out of the cubicle into another chair outside. They

tell her that someone will be along to check on her in a few minutes. She rests her head in her

hands and wonders when they’ll let her go. Her manager hasn’t given her any extra time off, since

this is meant to be her lunch hour anyway. She knows that she deserves better, but data processing

means big money these days. For the salary she earns she can afford to be taken advantage of. To

Tada Analytics she is just a number – Employee Number 424 to be exact – but with the numbers

on her payslip she doesn’t mind.

She wishes she could get rid of the metallic taste on her tongue.

-Humbug?

Louise looks up. Until now she hasn’t noticed the woman sitting next to her.

-Would you like a mint humbug?

The woman holds her handbag out towards her with an open bag of sweets stashed inside.

-Go on, I haven’t licked them.

Louise hesitates. She hasn’t gathered enough of herself yet to make full sense of what’s

going on. Instinct reaches a hand into the bag:

-Thanks.

The woman smiles and nods in satisfaction. Louise notices that they have the same haircut.

It must be a popular one for women their age. She can sense the woman watching out of the

corner of her eye as she negotiates the plastic wrapper and slips the sweet into her mouth.

-You were lucky not to hurt yourself. You hear all sorts of stories, don’t you? People falling

and knocking their heads in the wrong places. They wake up a different person.

The woman is starting to feel familiar. Louise can’t tell if this is the vaccine or swoon-

induced amnesia or whether she only saw her in the queue. The woman babbles on:

-When I told my sister I was coming here today, the only thing she was worried about was

making sure I took advantage of so many people my age in the same room. She even said I should

pretend to faint so that one of the handsome nurses would run to my aid. I think she expects me

to come home engaged.

Louise manages a smile. The woman’s familiar accent makes her feel at ease for the first

time today. She goes to point out the funny coincidence but she can’t squeeze a word in edgeways.

-I tell you what though, the man who jabbed me was gorgeous. They say the Belfast accent

is one of the sexiest, but I never understood it until I heard him speak.

Louise nods:

-We must have had the same one.

-Did he also warn you not to try and be a superwoman?

-He did.

-I mean, it’s not like I have a husband and children to run around after. Then again, being

a housewife sounds glamorous when you work in data processing.

-You work with data?

-It’s as horrible as it sounds.

Louise can sense panicked things happening around her but she can’t tear her eyes away

from the woman. All she can manage to say is:

-That’s incredible.

-I mean, to them I’m just a number. Employee Number 424 to be exact.

Louise’s vision starts to fade in and out.

-Wait, where did you say you worked?

-Tada Analytics.

Louise feels the room closing in around her. The woman looks at her watch:

-Well, that’s my fifteen minutes up.

She gathers her things and goes to stand:

-I’m Louise by the way.





Grace Banks studies English Literature and Philosophy at Trinity College Dublin. In 2021 she was selected as an Irish Writers Centre Young Writer Delegate. Her creative non-fiction has featured in Púca magazine and her short fiction is forthcoming in Bealtaine magazine, where it has been awarded their prize for Best Short Fiction. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @graceellabanks.