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The Thirty Days of Magrat (part twelve)

 
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Magrat had a chance to demonstrate this supposed ‘edge’ a couple of days later when Maisie had insisted the teenager join her in helping with one of the head nurse’s new duties at the school.

Back in the camp, head lice weren’t much of a problem. If you were found to be riddled with them you had your head shaved and then your scalp was liberally painted with potassium permanganate. This had the duel benefit of not only killing the lice but also letting everyone know by your now very purple, very bald head. Apparently, however, this was a method of last resort in the civilised world, and especially so with children.

In school, then, the plan was for Magrat to control the line of kids waiting their turn to step forward and have their hair pulled and their scalp prodded by the famously ferocious nurse Maisie. The other part of Magrat’s job was to complete the notes in each child’s medical record as they reluctantly stepped up to face the masked and be-gloved nemesis known to every school-aged child as Nitty Nora the Head Explorer.

Should the unfortunate victim be found to be infected, it was also Magrat’s job to fill in the form, that badge of shame, which had to be taken home to the parents. Still, Magrat thought, as she filled out the date and details on another child’s notes, it was better than having a purple head.

All in all, everything was going well, no lice had been found, and the line was half the length it had been originally. Children, though, get bored easily and the noise level was rising even as the queue was getting smaller.

Magrat caught an annoyed glance from Maisie so got up from her child-sized desk and walked down the line of the dozen or so waiting kids who were lined up against the wall.

“Quieten down you lot.” The noise continued so Magrat took a bigger breath. “I said be quiet. Nobody moves until there’s quiet.”

This produced a small lessening of the noise level, but enough for Magrat to hear above the general hubbub, the end of one bravado filled sentence.

“… an’ she don’t scare me.”

Magrat stopped, she stood perfectly still. The noise around her faded away and when she turned around it was clear by the looks on the faces of the kids to either side of him just who the loudmouth was.

The boy was only about eleven or twelve, but bigger than his friends on either side, who were now sliding along the wall away from him. Some might have described him as ‘beefy’, because early puberty had unfortunately given him muscles before his time. Magrat had known many such as she was growing up. Drudges were easy targets to their like.

She stood in front of the boy and bent down, putting her hands on her knees and bringing her unsmiling face so close to the kid’s own that he had to twist his head to avoid their noses touching.

“So, you’re not scared of me, are you?”

Very aware of his friends and everyone else in the line staring at him, the kid managed to shake his head.

Now the thinnest smile formed slowly on Magrat’s lips.

“Oh, but you should be, you know. Do you know why?”

“N..No.”

Magrat looked up and down the line of wide-eyed mix of freckled and spotty faces.

“Because in my job, I get to find out where each and every one of you little horrors live.”

The boy swallowed and Magrat sensed a general tightening of sphincters all along the line. She stood up and the dangerous grin once again became the friendly smile.

“So then. Not another word from any of you, so that nice nurse Maisie can get on with her job in peace. Okay?”

Across the room, Maisie and the girl with the messed-up hair who sat in her clutches, unfroze as one and the inspection for unwanted hitchhikers continued.

Children have wild imaginations. Thirty different versions of what had happened made it home to their parents that afternoon. That evening even more descriptive versions were being shared in the Black Beer, the Wafflehouse and other places where the adult residents of Hope gathered.

The upshot was, that over the next week or so, and for a variety or reasons depending on which story they believed, Magrat and Maisie’s house visits were met with an unprecedented level of politeness and cooperation. In the clinic, parents who brought their children in asked specifically for Magrat to see them, giving the bemused young nurse a meaningful wink as she tended to their very well-behaved offspring.

And, talking of offspring, the middle son of Arch Stanton had taken to following Magrat around after school and even hanging around outside the clinic until chased away by whichever Lightbearer was on duty at the time. The fact that he always appeared cleaner than usual and wearing his least patched dungarees suggested his reasons for doing so were, well, ‘normal’ for a twelve-year-old boy.

There were no more unpleasant incidents either. That is until the final week of Magrat’s time in Hope Springs when one Harold Johnson ran into the clinic one morning clutching his hand.



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