Safe In The Knowledge
by Mark Phippen
This is suburbia. Rows of identical houses line the streets, the occasional splash of colour from a well-kept garden the only break in uniformity. The sound of a football match fills the air, interrupted only by the heavy bass pumping from the speakers of a passing car. People hurry by, struggling with umbrellas, children in wellingtons in tow. Others huddle under the protection of the canopy over the front of the local shop, waiting for the shower to pass. Ordinary. Except for the little man, with the question mark umbrella.
It is raining heavily, but the Doctor seems to care not a bit. He is whistling a merry tune, some chirpy little pop song that has wormed its way into his head due to his companion's constant playing of it over the TARDIS's sound system, and he walks along the street, twirling his umbrella like Charlie Chaplin. He hasn't even put it up.
He turns into a park, taking a moment to swing on the railings across the entrance - the ones they put up to stop children from cycling through it. It never works. The park is just a small patch of grass really, with a children's play area and a rather sorry looking flowerbed. The trodden down grass has become muddy in the rain, so the Doctor keeps to the slabbed pathway that cuts through the park.
Hopping from leg to leg, he bounds from one slab to the next in a haphazard, zigzag fashion, holding onto his hat as he gathers up speed, and stops only to avoid a collision with a tired looking woman pushing a pushchair.
The woman gives him an odd look, so the Doctor raises his hat.
'I'm trying not to step on the cracks in the pavement,' he explains.
'My daughter does that, but then she's only three,' replies the woman, 'What's your excuse?'
'Second childhood?' suggests the Doctor. 'Very common in middle age, I'm told.'
'Probably.' She says, smiling for the first time. 'Or maybe you just like to have fun. It's nice to have that freedom once and a while.' Her smile fades.
'Well, I'd better get home before this frozen stuff melts,' she says, indicating the Hypervalue carrier bags draped over the handles of the pushchair, 'or else the old man will kill me.'
The Doctor winces.
'What's the matter?' asks the woman.
'Don't go home. Not today.' The Doctor stares her right in the eyes now; his gaze transfixes her, hypnotic.
'What are you talking about? I've got to. I've got mouths to feed, and Harry is waiting for his dinner.' There's a six pack of lager sticking out of the top of a carrier bag.
'Have you got anywhere else to go, a relative, friend?'
'Well, there's my sister. She lives in Barston though, that's a bus ride away and I haven't got any money. All this stuff's on credit as it is.'
The Doctor fishes around in his pockets, turning out several items of a size the woman thinks are too big to all fit inside that little brown coat: a yo-yo, a cricket ball, a melted chocolate bar (and a half-eaten apple that goes straight into a nearby bin.) Eventually, and with an 'aha!' the Doctor pulls out a small bag, tied at the top with a piece of string. He hands the bag to the woman.
'There, that should be enough to cover it. Just make sure you take out the Jarkan currency. The coins make very nice pets, but I'm not sure the City Metropolitan Bus Co. take them yet.'
Something in those eyes tells the woman she should do as he says.
The Doctor stands and watches her walk towards the bus stop. The rain is easing now, but continues to drip from the rim of his hat. He pays it no attention, focused as he is on the woman and her pushchair.
It seems like an age, but eventually a red double decker bus pulls up at the stop, its destination reading 'Barston'. With a final glance back at the Doctor, the woman gathers her child in her arms, picks up the folded pushchair and steps aboard.
Still the Doctor stands there. He watches as the woman buys her ticket, puts the pushchair in the holder at the front of the bus, and moves down the aisle to find a seat, stumbling a little as the driver thoughtlessly pulls off. He watches as the bus pulls away, and continues to watch until it is out of his sight.
He is about to turn and walk away when another bus pulls up at the stop.
'Barston.' the notice reads. 'Typical.' the Doctor says.
And with that, he turns and walks away, pulling from his pocket a copy of the next day's local newspaper. He turns to page five. No longer does it report the death of a young mother from a violent blow to the stomach administered by her husband in a drunken rage. No longer does it report that the father hanged himself upon sobering up and discovering what he had done. No longer does it report that little Susie Trent had lost both her parents in a night of violence.
Smiling, the Doctor throws the paper into the bin, and looks around him. At the children playing, the parents gossiping, the people walking their dogs. The ordinary people of Earth who have their own horrors to face. Horrors every bit as terrifying as Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen. He can never hope to combat all of those horrors, but he does what he can.
Swinging again on the bars, the Doctor leaves the park and continues his journey, enjoying the sun that creeps through the parting rainclouds. Enjoying his favourite planet, safe in the knowledge that there will always be a bit of his hearts devoted to it.
© 1998 Mark Phippen