Fragile by PR Woods

Dr Martinelli sits behind his desk, stiff as a new-ironed soldier guarding a barricade. She sits, facing the man who isn’t a proper doctor, to her husband’s left, as always. It’s where she sleeps. It’s how they walk, side by side. When he stretches his fingers out, for comfort or guidance, it’s where she’ll be.

“There can be no mistake of identity or intention I’m afraid.”

She’s never liked Dr Martinelli, his overbearing manner, his unhidden irritation with people who waste his time by talking to him.

“But how?” her husband asks. It’s the wrong question.

Dr Martinelli’s tie, the chameleon-smooth leather desktop, the mock-tique clock’s hands – all of the same military green. Dr Martinelli, she notices, has tufts of hair in his nostrils. Involuntarily, she glances to her right. Her husband has, thankfully, trimmed his ear hair. She can only really see it when she peers in close at night, to unlock the secrets of his brain with her sleepless stare.

“Where is he now?” she asks. A practical question. The first step towards a solution.

“He’s with a police officer in the deputy headteacher’s office.”

“Guarded?” she asks.

“And for his own safety.”

“Will the girl press charges, do you think?”

Dr Martinelli’s eyebrows, also untrimmed, crease together like caterpillars fighting over the same patch of nettle. “Mrs Stephens, of course he will face charges.”

Pencils stand up straight in his desk tidy, all sharpened to a precise point. She’s sure there are red pens for marking error in the drawer, as well as ink cartridges, a penknife, a ball of rubber bands, a moleskin notepad. There won’t be tissues or paracetamol or vaseline.

“He’ll need a lawyer then,” her husband says, already calculating loss. “Is there anyone the school can recommend?”

“Mr Stephens, there is very little precedent for a situation of this gravity… However, I do have a friend, a former colleague, who may be able to … recommend someone. I will make enquiries.”

“Can I see him?” she asks. Will he look different, she thinks. Her son has the teenage curse of oily skin and hair, unable to stop the secretions of angst. He’s never even had a girlfriend, she thinks, picturing not her near-adult son but a toddler in a Thomas the Tank Engine T-shirt and no pants, bawling because he’d dropped Lammy in the river. 

“Lammy wetted!” he’d wailed. “Lammy gone!”

A first taste of grief as a much-chewed toy floated like a pooh stick down the River Wyle, a sweet grief that would be just a dream by the morning.

Biography: PR Woods lives in London. She has been published by East of the Web, Litro, the Manchester Review, Mslexia and Reflex Press, with a piece in Adda forthcoming.You can find her on Twitter @Pudsk.