''I suppose we all become our parents eventually... I just never imaged that you would become my mother.'' - James Vine
Sal knows everything about everyone, and she always knows what to do.
Yasmeen's not envious – it's not as though she wanted this job, anyway, she'd be much happier back in a lab, where everything is nice and sterile – but she sees the way the patients' faces fall when they have to see her instead of Sal.
She knows how they feel. She feels the same way.
It's not that she doesn't like the people in the village, or that she doesn't want to get to know them – she does. But when someone comes in, and they're covered in bruises, or warts, or a flaky, peely rash, all she can see is that. Everything shrinks down until there's only something to be afraid of, to run away from, and not a person who needs help.
She does her best, with Sal's encouragement. She knows it isn't good enough, really, but she can't quite bring herself to try any harder when she knows that Sal will do it for her, and the patients will prefer it that way.
She tells herself she doesn't feel inadequate – this just isn't the right job for her.
* * *
It's having a child that makes the difference, in the end. She's overjoyed when the test comes back positive – after all, they've been trying for a long time. But as the months go by, the idea of giving birth slowly overwhelms her.
'I can't do it.' she says to James. 'I just can't. You know how I get... it's just... disgusting.'
And so James pulls some strings and they book her in for a caesarean. Nice and sterile.
The baby has other ideas.
* * *
'I can't do it, I can't do it!' Yasmeen cries. 'Sal, make it stop!'
There's supposed to be two weeks to go, and she's kneeling on the floor in Sal's living room and it's all wrong, her body is betraying her, it's happening too fast.
'It's too late,' says Sal, calmly.
'Can we at least get her to the surgery?' James asks. 'Where it's clean?'
'James,' Sal says, patiently. 'You're the doctor. Do you honestly think we'll get her there? Anyway, I only hoovered yesterday, it's fine in here. Ring the midwife and fetch some towels.'
And after that there's mostly a long blur of terror and pain and disgust, and James and Sal's voices saying encouraging things, and hands squeezing hers, and then it's over, it's done, she's done it.
'Do you want to hold her?' Sal asks.
And Yasmeen does.
Sal's cleaned the baby off a little but she's still sort of gross, but the part of Yasmeen that wants to hold her child shouts down the part that's afraid – and there she is, and the baby's skin is touching hers, and it's all right, nothing bad is happening, and it's the best feeling in the world.
* * *
It's not as though everything is easy after that. But when she goes back to work, Yasmeen finds it easier not to recoil from a nasty cut or a weeping sore. Perhaps it's just that the months at home, learning to deal with the baby sick and nappy changing that Sal refuses to deal with for her, have desensitised her.
That's the sensible explanation, but Yasmeen thinks perhaps it's more like, on her way out, the baby helped destroy some sort of barrier between her and the world that Yasmeen had never realised was there.
She tries very hard. She still wears gloves all the time, but she'll touch people, and she only occasionally needs to run out of the room for some fresh air. She gets so good at giving injections that she's generally less scared than the patient.
* * *
She doesn't know exactly when it happened. Probably when she started going to the playgroup, meeting the other mothers. There's an instant familiarity, a recognition between comrades in arms. People start to say hello to her in the street more, when she's pushing the buggy. She finds herself gossiping with Janine in the Spar, lingering in the post office to chat to Megan. The members of the Guild fall over themselves to babysit.
When people mention her now, she's 'Yasmeen, from the surgery', or 'Yasmeen that helps at Silver Surfers', and not just that stranger that James Vine married.
* * *
'Look,' says Sal, gratefully accepting Yasmeen's help as she lowers herself carefully onto the sofa, 'I'm retiring. For good. You've got to learn to do it.'
It's the last hurdle.
'It's just another body part, you know,' Sal continues. 'Look, do you want to practice on me? I don't mind.'
'No, no, that's all right,' Yasmeen says, hurriedly. 'I'll do it.'
'Mary Waters is booked in on Monday,' says Sal. 'You could do her.'
On Monday, shaky and sweating, her stomach lurching, she does her first smear test. It's not that bad, really.
* * *
It's a five minute walk from the school gates to the surgery. It takes Yasmeen twenty minutes, every morning, without fail.
Susie, her lollipop duties over until afternoon, stops for a chat. Janine and her wife have forgotten when they're supposed to bring the baby into the surgery to be weighed. Kate, in her chairwoman's regalia, has urgent Guild business that needs attending to, and only Yasmeen can help. Every walk through the village is a conversation.
It's not been the same since Sal died, but it's not all that different, either.
Yasmeen knows everything about everyone, and she always knows what to do.