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The Thirty Days of Magrat (part eight)

 
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Once Magrat’s breathing had returned to normal and she could unclench her fingers, Maisie went through notes of the people they were going to see with her. Some of the cases, most in fact, were what any medically trained person would call business as usual. A couple of them, however, even when couched in sanitised medical terminology, showed a disturbing story in the patient’s recent past. It was with quite a large degree of trepidation, therefore, that Magrat exited the car and followed Maisie towards the front door of the women’s hostel.

Across the road, in the front garden of the men’s hostel, the eyes of two of the residents watched the two nurses knock on the door. Without taking his eyes off the women’s building, one man tapped the other on the arm, prompting him to scoot indoors.

The last thing Magrat had expected to hear coming from the other side of the door was laughter. But there it was, children’s laughter mainly but with at least one adult voice joining in. Maisie opened the door and inside was a room full of noise and bright colours. Half of the kitchen area and all the way down the passage by the stairs, was given over to tiny tables and tinier chairs. The smell of poster paint and cooking cocooned everything in a sense of warm hominess and safety. All the walls and cupboard doors were covered in finger painted pictures of stick people and flowers and… and though some of them were of scenes of obvious violence, they were in the minority and displayed just as proudly as the others.

The obvious source of the laughter climbed awkwardly to her feet and removed her spaghetti wig, dropping the wobbly strands into the eagerly waiting hands of the toddlers and pre-schoolers clustered around her. With a silent instruction for the teenage helper to take over, the now wigless woman grabbed her crutch and made her way through the throng to where Maisie and Magrat stood in the doorway.

“I see you’ve got the crèche up and running nicely.” Maisie said by way of greeting.

The woman came to a halt, leaning heavily on her crutch and showing some discomfort. She spared Magrat a quick look of cold appraisal before turning back to Maisie.

“Yes. Hyle was very forthcoming with whatever we needed.”

Maisie noted the familiarity with the mayor’s name. But then, Stella McFarlen was the de facto leader of the current ensemble of refugees, both women and men, although that fact wasn’t totally accepted across the road. Stella was noticeably, not moving out of the way to let them in. Maisie kept the smile in her voice.

“I’ve come to check on the patients. You guys are first on my list today. Lucky old you, eh?”

Stella’s attention flicked to Magrat, standing just behind Maisie’s left shoulder, then back again.

“I see you’ve brought a friend.”

Although lost on the gaggle of infants happily now playing with the piles of coloured spaghetti, jelly and dough under the loose supervision of Stella’s helper, the rising tension was not at all lost on Maisie and Magrat.

Maisie held Stella’s stare.

“Magrat. This is Stella. She’s basically everyone’s Mom around here.”

Magrat lifted her free hand and waggled her fingers.

“Hi.”

Stella didn’t acknowledge the greeting. Maisie continued, careful to keep the same friendly tone.

“Stella. This is Magrat. She’s training to be a medic.”

Only now did Stella again look at the distinctly nervous Magrat.

“I know who she is. And I know what she is.”

Those words in this woman’s mouth put an injection of iron in Magrat’s spine. She lifted her chin and returned Stella’s stare. Stella’s eyes betrayed a hint of surprise before turning back to the head nurse.

“Bringing her here could be a big mistake.”

“We’re just here to treat those who need help Stella, that’s all. You’ve been in Hope long enough to know how it works.”

Stella moved to one side, allowing the two nurses access to the stairs. She grimaced as the movement sparked fresh pain.

“I do. But there are some who maybe see things another way.” She side nodded towards the stairs. “Up you go then. Queenie had a good night for a change and little Amy is itching to get out of that bed.”

As Maisie led Magrat up the steep stairs to the dormitory, Stella went back to the children.

“Come on kids.” She caught Maisie’s eye just before the nurse disappeared out of sight. “How about we all go into the parlour for story time?”



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