Photo by Buchen Wang on Unsplash

Ruth sat in the bathroom stall, working to gain control of her panic and sobs. She circled through her thoughts again. Despite saving for the past three decades and living frugal, it wasn’t enough to retire on. Being an essential worker during a pandemic is terrifying. You’re guaranteed a job as long as you can healthy. You’d think the biggest risk to a dietary aide would be fallen arches.

At the moment, the only other businesses that were hiring were consider essential. The ones she qualified for were public facing and would riskier yet. Meadow Pines Care Home has been doing daily temperature checks. Cheap disposable masks became standard after someone from the records office fell ill. They were so sick they had to be admitted to the hospital. A single mask must last all week because of the shortages.

Greg, one of the cart runners, asked about clear face shields. Our manager, Toni, actually laughed at him. ‘You don’t have direct contact with the residents. You don’t need them,’ she had said. She did her best to embarrass him in front of the whole morning shift.

The next day, he wore a pair of shop goggles. Toni mocked him throughout the morning tray line. He ignored her which only increased her anger. Since then, Ruth and five others have taken to wearing them. Toni calls them Seven Dwarfs. A majority of the kitchen staff envisions Toni as the Wicked Queen rather than Snow White.

The bathroom was quiet, so Ruth blew her nose and left the stall. Sharon was at the mirror brushing her hair back into a ponytail so she could curl it up into a hairnet. The golden cross on her necklace glinted in the dim restroom light. “Are you okay, Ruth?”

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