Negative, a short story by William Wall

An elderly man faces being tested for Covid in this award-winning writer’s story

A mural by street artist Lionel Stanhope depicts a painting by Jan van Eyck wearing a protective face mask in south London last year. Photograph: EPA/Facundo Arrizabalaga

A mural by street artist Lionel Stanhope depicts a painting by Jan van Eyck wearing a protective face mask in south London last year. Photograph: EPA/Facundo Arrizabalaga

At 73 he wakes to a cough most days. But this morning he was finding it hard to fill his lungs. No matter how deeply he inhaled he had the feeling there was a void at the bottom that no air reached.

He had been dreaming of drowning – he was four years old and his older brother was holding a stone-throwing competition at high tide on the sawmills pier. It was a dream but it was real too. It actually happened. One August or September evening, the full belly of a spring tide. The competition was to see whose stone would make the biggest splash. He had found a chunk of limestone loosened from the quay wall, almost as big as himself, almost too heavy to carry. And then he had simply forgotten to let go and the stone had carried him outwards and downwards.

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