Jessica Farrington had been trying not to inhale too deeply for quite some time now; she was sat with Tarquin in the waiting room of Upper Widdershins Walk-in Minor Injuries Department. Earlier this morning, she had been rudely interrupted en route to her Pilates class, by the voice of Mrs Downing at full volume over the in-car speaker.
Mrs Downing had some kind of non-teaching role at St Margaret’s ; she presumptuously signed off her emails as ‘PA to The Headmaster’ but Jessica knew she wasn’t ; according to Mrs Harper - who did volunteer reading with Year 1 - Mrs Downing wasted most of her day administering Calpol, organising leavers’ collections and procuring popularity with the older children by playing “What’s The Time Mr Wolf?” in the staff corridor at wet play time. Judging from Mrs Downing’s exasperated tone this morning, a letter to the governors would be a kindness as clearly the woman was employed beyond her capability.
The interruption had come just as the car had begun auto-reverse into the last available ‘mother and child’ parking space at Prettyside Health & Fitness Club. Jessica had seen the school’s number light up on the screen and had intended to call back after her Banana Java Turmeric Smoothie, but for some inexplicable reason the car had answered the call and Mrs Downing was now audibly unavoidable. Infuriatingly, this was not the first time the XC90 had made a decision without her consent; however, the frequency of the malfunctions had increased since her husband had driven the car. While Jessica relished the prospect of a debate on the interpretation of liability, it was going to be a struggle convincing the manufacturer that familial incompetence and fatuousness should be covered under the warranty.
Mrs Downing was worried about some ‘tell-tale’ spots - whatever that meant - on the back of Tarquin’s hand and, having noticed him scratching in assembly, thought it prudent that he should be ‘kept apart’ from the other children. Jessica had given permission for him to be isolated immediately but that, apparently, was not what she had meant. Jessica wasn’t entirely sure why the school had rung her, but Mrs Downing might understand a plainer kind of English:
“What do you want me to do?”
The tirade which followed this polite enquiry, reinforced Jessica’s resolve to relieve the poor woman of the strain she was evidently under. Jessica had only tried to explain that there had been no spots when she had dropped Tarquin at the gate first thing this morning and, if indeed, he did have some scabs already, this must surely be a sign of his robust immune response, fast metabolism and general good health.
Mrs Downing didn’t agree, and her reply might have been considered by some as aggressive and condemnatory in tone. However, Jessica’s mother had told her many times before, that people suffering ‘Mental Health’ weren’t doing it on purpose and couldn’t really help it. So, magnanimously, Jessica agreed to collect Tarquin from the front office as soon as she could; she would have to miss her class this morning and drink her smoothie in a takeaway cup.
Tarquin was fidgeting on the chair; he said the flash wipe he was sat on was stinging the back of his legs but his agitation was undoubtedly attributable to the scaremongering of irresponsible and unqualified staff at St Margaret’s ; Mrs Downing appeared oblivious to the fact that careless banter about chicken pox, doctors and intervention could leave a sensitive six year old boy with permanent scars !
Despite the rather institutional décor, and the distinct lack of courtesy at Reception, Jessica preferred The Minor Injuries Unit to her local Surgery. Broken legs and heart conditions weren’t contagious and knowing your place in a queue by taking a number from a machine was so much better than gambling with delays caused by protracted home visits, superfluous pensioners, neurotic new parents and serial hypochondriacs.
She told Tarquin to sit still while she went to the desk to enquire why the previous patient was taking so long. As she crossed the waiting room, Tommy Dunne came through the automatic doors with a black eye and a handkerchief loosely wrapped around a bloodied hand, held aloft above his head : Mrs Dunne followed closely behind and saw Jessica before she could take evasive manoeuvres:
“Am I pleased to see a friendly face...”, she said.
Possibly a rhetorical question ... and hopefully a chance to get away ....
“Boys eh. What’s Tarquin been up to then?”
A direct question: that was more difficult.... but the ghastly woman didn’t seem to require an answer and just continued wittering away:
“I could have done with staying in bed this morning ...you haven’t got a tissue, have you?”
Jessica heard the words but didn’t process them in time ; she took the brunt of the force, as Mrs Dunne projected her germs without inhibition or restraint over every clean surface and uninfected living thing between her and the farthest wall.
“Bless You” came the polite response from Reception.