Fragility- Short Story Challenge 19/09/2018




It was a long day, but they always were. The doctor grabbed his coat and turned off the light in his office. He said goodbye to Jenny, the nurse at the desk, and pushed outside in the Autumn cold. A gust of wind ran to meet him, scattering the crimson leaves, and he tugged at his coat, his face prickled by the cold. He took another glance at the surgery and saw Jenny talking on the phone. She smiled as she spoke, and her bright blue eyes were always shining, even if her dark hair had started to look tired and a bit unkempt. She had only been here for a couple of weeks, and he thought she was cute, but a bit too young for him, anyway. He wandered slowly to his car, the wind rustling the world around him.

He got back to his empty house, and darkness reigned. He had been here by himself since Liz left over a year ago, but he still expected to see her here, cooking dinner or napping on the couch, but she was gone, and never coming back. He still thought about her alot, almost always of the good times; lying together on the bed with candles lit after a hard days work, drifting in and out of sleep, or that fancy dress party where they dressed as Team Rocket. He thought about maybe going to visit her in the hospital, just to see her again, but he also knew he was purposeless forgetting the bad times they shared. He stepped into his kitchen, his body drained and heavy.

He turned on the radio as he fixed his microwave meal, and pretended he wasn’t alone. He watched the pasta in it’s plastic container spin in the orange light, and took it out, suddenly ravenous. He sat in his living room, illuminated by a frilly lamp that he hated, but Liz had loved, and watched reality TV. He was snoring by eight.

His dreams were fractured, of swirling violet light and yellow sparks, he found himself alone at the bottom of a hole. Above he could see his family, and Liz, but try as he could, when he called, they did not respond. In fact the hole appeared to be deepening, the gap of light further and further out of reach. He tried to scream, but darkness enveloped him. He woke with a start.

He couldn’t sleep much the rest of the night, even as he retreated to his bed. He awoke at 6, as he always did, and looked at his reflection. His eyes were red and baggy, and his stubble was unkempt. He washed his face but did not wake, and he trimmed at the unkempt stubble, letting only it’s shadow remain. He felt old, but tried to tell himself he still looked youthful for a man of thirty-four years. He reached the surgery at eight, dead on time. There was a time when he was happy to arrive even half an hour earlier, chatting to the nurses and preparing for his day, but that was no longer an inclination of his. He was usually the last doctor in the surgery, and often the first one out. He sometimes hated being back at the house, constantly reminded of Liz, but he hated being here more. Being a doctor was all he ever wanted, but the reality was something else.

His first appointment was a regular of his, Mrs Maddison, a seventy-six year old who had almost every surgery under the sun. He had put on his best and brightest smile, but frankly he hadn’t had enough coffee. He listened to her moan about her new self-diagnosed pain and tried to smile sweetly as he refilled her prescription, but he doubted it was more than a snarl. He was ready for home, and it wasn’t even nine yet.

The rest of the day trickled by at a torturers pace. Eventually his lunch break rolled over, and he stepped out to eat his lunch in his car, once again only the radio for company. It began to rain, clear droplets passing like little comets on his screen and it was here when he realised just how trapped he actually was. The day darkened as he spoke to patients and busied himself as best as he could. By the time the day was over he was once again drained, and the sky had been consumed by black ink.

He only had the one patient to see, before he could finally pack up, and he continued with his work until Jenny let him know she was here. He thanked her, and said he was ready, but that might have been a lie. He grabbed her folder and waited tentatively for the woman to enter. He heard a light knock and beckoned her in, and the young woman sat down. Tatiana Kurova was in her early twenties, and had pale skin and light hair. She had no make-up on, and the doctor noticed the dark circles around her eyes and a spot on her forehead. She was a pretty thing, almost fragile, looking decidedly under-weight. She sat formally, with her pale hands highlighted by red from the cold, fidgeting in front of her.

“How are you today, Tatiana?” He asked, trying to mask the weariness in his voice. He had only seen her once before for a check up when she had the flu, over a year ago, but she seemed different. She was quiet, even then, but now she looked thinner, meeker.

“Fine, thank you.” Her accent was heavy. She was from Estonia originally, before moving to London for a brief spell, and somehow ending up in Abbendor, far away from pretty much anything. He smiled and mused upon his computer.

“So what’s the problem?” He asked, briefly turning from the screen. She continued to fidget, and her eyes were pointed to the ground.

“I..feel sick. Every morning, for two weeks, I vomit..and sometimes when sleeping too..” That rang alarm bells for the doctor. The room was bright compared to the contrast of the darkened sky out the window, and the room was warm. She took off of her coat finally, revealing a black t-shirt underneath. The doctor couldn’t help but notice the markings on her arms. Bruises, scratches, and a sore on the underside of her elbow. She sniffed, and he returned to his screen, a hypothesis already forming. He asked her of her diet, and she replied she wasn’t eating much, especially now she felt sick. He asked about her sexual history and watched her blush and squirm. She admitted she had had sex within the past month.  He ran a quick test on her heartbeat, and found it irregular. He brought the stethoscope down to her stomach. Aha. Hypothesis confirmed.

“Well, congratulations, Tatiana, It looks like you’re pregnant.” He smiled, trying to be as sincere as possible. Tatiana did not smile. Her eyes were wide, and somehow she grew even paler. She stared in disbelief.

“, no, it cannot be..” The doctor saw her eyes begin to well up. Obviously not good news. She held her hands to her chest and began to sob. The doctor looked around awkwardly, looking for tissues or something, unsure if he should comfort her. His hand hovered in the air, and guilt washed over him.

“’s okay, maybe it is something else? Listen you can get a test, see for yourself..” He stuttered, suddenly unsure of himself. He had certainly not expected this reaction. He coughed awkwardly, and went to comfort her, but she grabbed her coat and stood up, dashing out of the door. He called out to her, but she brushed past the reception desk and out the door. His hands dropped to the side, guilt and defeat washing over him. He wandered back to his desk and sat heavily, emitting a deep sigh. Something caught his eye from his peripheral. Below the extra seat was a ring, gold with a red stone on top, gaudy as anything. He reached down to grab it, and twirled it in his fingers. He swallowed and tried to finish his work, but found himself distracted.

Later that evening he lay on his sofa, with a glass of wine on the coffee table beside him. The room was only lit by that damn lamp, but the house was silent. No TV, no radio, no company. He sat with the ring, still twirling it in his hand. He checked his watch. Eight-oh-four. He sat upright, and breathed deeply. Next to the glass of wine was the file on Tatiana. It was probably against every protocol, but he looked at her details and found a contact number, and penned it into his phone. The phone rang and his heartbeat accelerated. He gulped in anticipation.

“Hello?” The girl with the strong accent said.

“Ah-yes, hello, is that, is that Tatiana?” He fumbled. “Sorry to bother you so late, it’s Dr Rosenthal here, I just wanted to check up on you, s-see if you were okay, after today..” He gulped, throat suddenly dry. Instinctively, he reached for his wine, but decided otherwise.

“Ah Doctor, now is no good time..I..” She said, sounding worried.

“Well, I was wondering if you wanted to come in for another check up, I was a bit worried about your reaction earlier, I thought you might want to come talk about it. How are you fixed tomorrow, say three PM?” The words escaped him before he knew, he hadn’t checked his appointments for tomorrow, he was being stupid and reckless.

“I..I don’t know, I have to check..” She put the phone to one side, and the sound became muffled. He thought he could hear raised voices, as he waited somewhat impatiently. Soon she returned.

“Ok, is ok, I come visit tomorrow.” She sounded almost sad.

“Brilliant. Okay Tatiana, once again sorry for bothering you, come in tomorrow and we’ll do a more thorough check and see if that is-” He heard a click and the phone went silent. He put the phone back onto the coffee table, but he still found himself smiling.

Damn, I forgot to tell her about the ring.

The next morning he went to tell one fo the nurses about the impromptu appointment with Tatiana, and through sheer luck found out that his three-o’clock had to cancel. The ring stayed in his pocket for the duration of the morning.

By the time three o’clock had rolled by, he had found himself so engrossed in his work that he almost forgot she was returning. She entered the room in her same coat, and greeted him stiffly. He sensed there was no point in messing with pleasantries.

The minutes spent waiting for the test results were agonising, with her clearly not really wanting to know the answer. But soon the answer came, and as he suspected, he was right. She was pregnant. Again, she began to cry, but this time he felt more prepared. He leaned over to comfort her, one hand on her shoulder.

“Hey, hey’s okay. If this is an unplanned pregnancy..” He began, unable to help but think he was stating the obvious. “There are options..” He trailed off, hoping he wouldn’t have to use the A-word. Even as a medical professional, he still found it better to be sensitive to these kind of things. In a state of panic, an abortion can seem a terrible and daunting thing, and not always the right path.

“But I can’t… boss…he tell me we cannot get pregnant..” She said through intermittent sobs. The doctor looked at her.

“Tatiana…I..what is it you do for a living?” He asked, dreading the answer. He instinctively looked to her wrists, and she pulled them back to her chest, as if to hide. Once more, she picked up the coat without a word and left his office. He did not follow her this time, only dropping his gaze to the floor. The ring was still in his pocket.

He found himself in a daze for the rest of the afternoon. By the end of it, he wandered out into the cold air, and pulled the ring out, one more time. He had half a mind to hand it in to the nurses, but for some reason he didn’t. He stashed it back into his pocket and went home. He found himself laying on his sofa once more with a glass of wine, which soon turned into the bottle. He couldn’t help but wonder what made her so terrified, so reluctant to speak, but soon the alcohol began to taint his thoughts, and he thought about how selfish she had acted. He and Liz would have given anything to have brought a child into their lives, but try as they might, they never could. All things considered, maybe that was for the best, but he could still remember the prickling envy he felt when he felt that second heartbeat. He started to believe maybe it wasn’t guilt that had propelled him to contact her again, but some sense of profound and misguided loyalty to an unborn child.

It was well over a week, when he got the call. Someone from the Abbendor constabulary asking for him personally, to let them know they had found her body. He felt his heart sink past his diaphragm, and the world seemed to twist around him. Through stuttering lips, he managed to ask what had happened. The woman on the line told him they received a phone call from a young Eastern European girl that one of her friends was sick. Inside the address they had found almost a dozen girls co-habituating in what was supposed to be a three bedroom terrace. Probing questions proved the building had been transformed into a brothel, in the middle of a suburban area, and they linked it to a man named Josh Holcombe, who they had in custody. Tatiana’s body was found within, next to empty bottles of various prescription drugs, a needle and a bottle of vodka.

Dr Rosenthal felt like he had been hit in the stomach. Not a world you wanted to bring a little one into, huh, Tatiana? He told himself that, almost trying to justify her actions, but he had no idea, really, and he found himself unable to defend her in his own head. But he came to understand it. The ring was in a drawer under his desk, and he slid it onto his little finger, it only just managing to fit.

At the end of the day he found himself missing his bed and a bottle of wine. A wild start to the weekend. As he filled out some final papers, Jenny called out to him.

“What are you up to other the weekend Doctor? Anything exciting?” She asked with a smirk. For once he actually had an answer.

“Well, my dad is back in town tomorrow. He’s been away in the Middle East for a while, and I’m going to pick him up..” He replied absently. He had all but forgotten that, the return of Dr Rosenthal Sr. He grabbed his coat and bag and returned to his empty house and his comfy sofa. He told himself the more he drank, the less guilt he would feel. He drank alot that night.



Prompts used: Doctor/Prostitute/jewellery 


For more on the challenge, click here!

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