by Karen Little
Morning wash was the part she hated most of all. They would wake up at four, cover their overalls with pink plastic aprons and head for the wards.
It wasn't the washing she minded so much as what lay in the beds. Those who could walk were issued a bar of industrial soap and shown the showers. Some tottered and tumbled as their legs, too puny for their allocated task, failed them halfway. Others managed only to stand before the force of gravity overwhelmed their parasite-laden bowels. These sat gibbering and shivering, waiting for her to come and rescue them from their waste.
She washed those left in bed. Some were tied to the bars of their cots, and they moaned and struggled against their bonds. Some perched on the edge of this world, and although they registered no physical response to her scrubbing, she feared the firm application of soap to their bodies would incite their souls to take flight.
The ones she hated most were those that, when nudged, were cold and stiff. She still washed them, but afterwards, instead of tucking them in under starched linens and government-issue blankets, they would be wrapped in a sheet of white plastic, with a space left open at the top so the doctor could come and shine a light in their eyes and confirm their death.
By the time morning wash was over, the sun had risen. She was grateful that it was time to go home.