The Best of Times Short Story Competition

Spring 2022 Results

The 2021 AGM of the Allied Union of Elbows

Copyright © Cassie Hamer 2022

With a soft tap of his humerus Union President, Elbow-Cyrus, called the meeting to order. “Silence, silence, comrades.”

The elbows continued to jangle. From the podium, Elbow-Cyrus banged again, and the pain twanged his funny bone in a manner most uncomedic. The elbows fell silent.

“Item one on the agenda. A motion to demand minimum daily moisturisation standards in the—”

“Let’s just get to the strike,” called a strained, arthritic voice from the crowd. “This situation is completely beyond shea butter.”

The elbows murmured in agreement. Elbow-Cyrus extended his radius.

“Comrade-Elbows, I understand it’s been a difficult 12 months. We live in unprecedented times. We’ve all had to adapt and pivot—”

“Pivot!” The arthritic voice again, riddled with a tension that Cyrus would definitely ascribe to tennis – one of the few plague-friendly sports currently allowed. “It’s downright abuse,” Tennis-Elbow continued. “Have you any idea how many buttons I’ve had to push. Every time we come to a road, my human smashes me against those stupid pedestrian buttons. And don’t even get me started on the elevator lifts. Doesn’t he know you only need to press it once! He’s 52!”

“Mine’s the same.” Another voice from the crowd. Younger. Less wrinkled. “We go for a jog with a mate and he’s like BAM BAM BAM. Let’s bash humeruses. Every. Single. Bloody. Time. I’m so done. I’m dying. Dead.”

“And why are the hands getting all the attention?” Tennis-Elbow tried to extend. “We’re doing most of the work and getting none of the sanitiser? I’m SOAKED in germs.”

More voices, now bending and flexing over each other.

“It’s not like they’re even busy. I mean – put down the sourdough starter for one second and just wash me, right?”

“We need to do what the mouths did. They got those masks happening pretty quick smart. How’d they swing that? By teaming up with the noses. Strength in numbers.”

“Maybe we should enter into talks with shoulders? They’re as idle as ever, if you discount the online pilates.”

“You know, I’ve heard that even the bloody knees are applying for JobKeeper. All the joints are on the take. It’s disgusting.”

Cyrus flexed his bicep. “Comrades, I think we can all agree that we elbows have been taken for granted but let’s be reasonable—”

The chant started up the back and rippled forward like a wave. “Strike! Strike! Strike!” Cyrus surveyed the crowded, and folded, curling in on himself like a pangolin.

That night in bed, he couldn’t sleep. A strike. What would he do tomorrow? No bending. No extending. How would the human cope? Cross a road? Take a lift? Say hello to his work colleagues?

On the mattress next to him, his companion of five years, Elsa-Elbow, snuggled further under the covers. “Relax, Cyrus. It’s just one day. The humans will figure out how much they need us and we’ll be back tomorrow. You’ll see.”

In the morning, Cyrus watched his human leave the bed, confused at his floppy arm. Where had his elbow gone?

Cyrus burrowed further under the covers and had a further, more disturbing thought. What if the humans worked out how to function without them? What if the elbows never got another day’s work again? Surely it was better to be taken for granted than not taken out at all? All day, he lay in bed and worried about the fingers doing his work. Pressing his buttons. Doing his greetings. Transferring germs from plague-riddled noses onto goodness knows what surfaces. Didn’t the human understand the risks he was taking? Cyrus turned on the radio for the Premier’s press conference but could barely focus on the words, even the one they kept repeating. That new letter of the Greek alphabet.

In the evening, the human returned to bed. From the pillow, Cyrus held his breath and waited. The human rocked and rolled. He rubbed his arm, the bit above where Cyrus should have been.

“What’s going on with him?” Elsa-Elbow whispered from under the doona.

“I don’t know.”

When the human finally fell asleep, Cyrus tip-toed down his arm. In the fleshy part of the bicep he found it - a small, white, round sticker, a miniature full-moon in the dark.

“Ah-ha,” he said quietly.

“What is it? What did you find?”

For a second, Cyrus didn’t speak. Instead, he imagined all the little antibodies, running through the human’s veins, up and down his arm, through his heart and brain and down into his legs and toes. He thought of every little amazing thing that was happening and could not be seen.

“Cyrus? What are you doing?” Elsa sounded afraid.

He bent himself back and forth. “I’m going back to work.”

“But the strike—”

“There is no more strike, Elsa. It’s over, don’t you see? It’s done. He’s jabbed. He doesn’t need me anymore, not like I need him.”

“But my human’s ten years younger than yours. She can’t get the vaccine yet.”

“She will.”

Elbow-Cyrus allowed his joint to lengthen with luxurious relief and satisfaction. His human was deficient in so many regards – he took hours choosing shows on Netflix, his sourdough never rose properly, and PE with Joe made him pant in a manner most unbecoming – but he was not a complete idiot. The jab was proof.

In the bed next to him, Elsa-Elbow cried quietly. Cyrus sighed. After the stress of the AGM and the strike, what he needed was sleep. “What is it now?”

“I don’t know. I’m so cold, but I’m boiling hot. I don’t understand.”

This wasn’t unusual for Elsa’s lady-human, whose core body temperature was at least 3 degrees lower than that of Cyrus’s man-human. “Just wait for her to remove a layer or two. You know she always wears too much to bed.”

“I’m sore and achy. I don’t feel well, Cyrus.” Elsa quivered. “What’s wrong with me?”

“Nothing, Elsa. You’re fine. It’s just nerves. Go to sleep.” He rolled back, ready for the land of nod.

But Elsa’s human gutturally cleared her throat. And deep in Cyrus’s cartilage, he visualised little aerosols of that spiked-ball virus expectorating wildly among the dust motes and carbon and oxygen particles of the black night air.

Ah, well. No real bother. The lady-human was young and fit, judging by the quantity of lycra in her wardrobe. She would be fine. The man-human was jabbed. Tomorrow, he could call another extraordinary AGM to rescind the strike. Christmas was coming. The humans would need them for the shopping. He closed his eyes and that word popped into his head, that one he’d heard on the radio today. He rolled it around his joint like a marble, enjoying its smooth consonants.

Omicron, he murmured. Omicron.

How soothing.