Cresting the hill, an ocean of red tail lights confronted Caroline, who brought her car to hard stop. She reached out and tapped the AM radio button and switched over to the local station.
And you’re on Triple Six Drive with Louise Maher. News just in, there’s been a three-car pile-up on Hindmarsh Drive near the hospital. Try and avoid the area if you’re heading through Garran.
Glancing at the clock on the dash, Caroline swore under her breath; she would be late.
‘Fucking wonderful.’ Caroline flicked the radio off and reached over to fish a phone from her handbag, as well as a letter from the hospital.
‘Good afternoon, genetics, may I help you?’
‘Yeah, hi, this is Caroline Walker. I have an appointment at 3pm but I’m running late – there’s been an accident on Hindmarsh and I’m stuck in bumper-to-bumper hell.’
‘Okay, I’ll let Jennie know you’re running late.’
Twenty minutes later Caroline turned into the hospital carpark and found a spot. Dashing to the ticket machine, she fumbled around the Tardis-like bottom of her bag for a two-dollar coin, narrowly avoiding turning her ankle on the broken concrete path.
Ticket in hand, she darted back to her car, pulled open the passenger door and tossed the slip of paper onto the dashboard. She slammed the door shut and took off for the main building.
‘Hi Caroline, thanks for coming in again,’ said the counsellor as she bustled into the suite where Caroline sat waiting. ‘I just wanted to run through the results with you.’
Caroline smiled nervously; she had been expecting to receive a letter containing her assessment, not to have to come back to see the counsellor again. It took a huge chunk out of her day travelling across town and back and she had deadlines looming.
‘Well,’ said the counsellor sitting down and opening a file, ‘the good news is you’re not in the extreme category. The bad news is your family history and your history of drinking places you in the high-risk category.’
‘What does that mean, exactly?’
‘Well, the average woman has a one in eight chance of getting breast cancer over her lifetime – your odds are one in four.’
Caroline sat silently, remembering to breathe.
‘Do I qualify for the test?’
‘Well, what we would ideally like to do is run the test on your aunt. Because she has had breast cancer already, and it was pre-menopausal, there is a strong chance she might have the mutation. If she were to have it, then we would be more concerned about you. At this stage you don’t meet our criteria for a test – they’re very expensive and we have strict benchmarks in place. You don’t quite meet them. But if your aunt agreed to be tested, she would qualify. So, it’s really a matter for you to discuss with her.’
‘Oh. I see.’
‘Don’t be too concerned. You’re young and relatively healthy. At this stage we recommend you start having mammograms when you turn forty. You should also reduce your alcohol intake.’
‘Yeah, I’m trying.’ It’s been a shit of a week lady.
‘Right. Well, you’ll receive a letter in the next few weeks confirming your screening regimen. Also, don’t forget to let us know if your family history changes.’
The counsellor stood up, signalling she had no more to say. Caroline lingered, unsure.
‘Was there anything else?’
‘Ah, no. It’s just that I thought I’d just have the test and then I’d, you know, have some kind of certainty.’
The counsellor looked at her with sympathy.
‘I know. I wish I could give you a measure of reassurance. Unfortunately, we just don’t know enough about how genetic mutations interact with the lived environment. You should take heart that you are not in the high-risk category and you have no signs of cancer. You may be one of the lucky ones.’
She held out her hand. Caroline shook it.
‘Thank you for coming.’
Caroline took the stairs down to the foyer, feeling like a fraud as she passed dozens of patients wearing flimsy white gowns, some being pushed in wheelchairs, others pushing IV drip stands along in front of them, an assortment of men hobbling on crutches and pale women sitting dazed in moulded plastic chairs. Guilt tugged at her for feeling so sorry for herself when others were so much worse off. She shuddered at the thought of being sick enough to have to stay in such a depressing place, She hurried out the door into fresh air, hurrying down the path to escape the oppression as soon as she could.
Returning to her car, Caroline pushed the button on her key remote, only to realise she had left the damned thing unlocked.
‘Idiot,’ she chided herself. ‘After all that’s happened this week, that’d be the icing on the fucking cake.’ Teetering on the edge of tears, she forced thoughts of Tom from her head.
She yanked the door open, threw her handbag across into the passenger seat and slid in. Turning the key in the ignition, she froze when in the rear view mirror she spotted a black shape on the seat behind her.
‘Don’t panic,’ said a female voice, as black cloth unfolded to reveal a woman in her late twenties.
‘Who the fuck are you?’
‘I am a federal agent. Keep moving or we’re dead.’
‘Is this your idea of a joke?’
‘Caroline, put your foot on the accelerator and get us the hell out of here. Head for the Yamba Drive exit and turn right – Hindmarsh is jammed.’
Caroline did as she was told; she had seen the woman’s handgun.
‘How the hell do you know my name?’
‘Get moving,’ she said, turning around to check the cars behind them. ‘We’re heading to an apartment in Braddon. We’ll be okay once we get there.’
‘We? Who the fuck are you?’
‘My name’s Jo – Jo Carter. Nice to meet you, Ms Walker. Now just drive.’
Caroline Walker is from my three-part flash serial, 'The Taming of the Shrew'; Jo Carter is from my six-part flash serial, 'Betrayal'. You can find both stories over at The Penny Dreadful.