Monday 18 December 2023

ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL? by Madeleine McDonald,whisky

 A man elbowed and pushed his way through the tightly packed crowd of revellers, triggering angry complaints. ‘Let me through. It’s an emergency! Let me through.’ Squeezing round a street corner, he stumbled out of breath into the late-night pharmacy, and banged on the screen that protected the counter staff from drunks and drug addicts.

‘Hurry, please. It’s for my baby.’

A woman took the crumpled prescription form with a reassuring smile. ‘You made it just in time.’ She pressed a button and metal shutters clattered down over the front door. ‘I’ll let you out the back way.’

As he waited, the customer’s ragged breathing subsided. He looked round the ordered shelves under harsh strip lighting. A digital clock above the door showed the time and date. It was 23:59 on December 31, 2023.

The street fell silent, waiting. Somewhere a loudspeaker started the countdown and the crowd joined in.

The baby’s father ignored the jubilation. His mind was at home, with his beloved daughter. Would he make it back in time?

A roar erupted outside. The blue figures on the digital clock turned.



‘Here you are.’

The distraught father clutched a small brown bottle. ‘God bless you, sir.’

‘Don’t thank me. Thank Alexander Fleming. These antibiotics are lifesavers. Off with you now, and don’t forget, one teaspoonful in her milk, four times a day.’

The pharmacist watched the relieved father run along the deserted street until fog swallowed him from view. He bolted the door, walked through to the back room, and stoked the fire before pouring himself a whisky. He pondered a philosophical conundrum.

The newly discovered antibiotics worked miracles, according to his medical colleagues. He had just handed over medicine that would save a child’s life. However, that very morning he had read an interesting article on overpopulation, predicting wars, famines and migrations on an unprecedented scale.

Only a year ago the parents would have wrapped wet flannel round their daughter’s tiny, feverish body and prayed, unable to afford medicine for her. Now post-war England offered free health care to all. Now the child would survive. She might have a half a dozen grandchildren, and what if they in turn all survived with the help of the new wonder drugs?

He dozed in his chair, and woke in time to raise a glass to the New Year and the post-war world. The socialist government spoke of building a New Jerusalem on the ashes of war, and even their political opponents—of which he was one—acknowledged that the old order could never be restored. One way or another, victory meant change. Were the optimists on the right side of history?

He raised his glass again in mock salute. ‘Dr Fleming, Comrade Atlee, do you know what you’ve unleashed?’

About the author 

Madeleine McDonald's published work ranges from newspaper columns to Shakespearean sonnets and historical novels. 

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