‘Been gardening?’ the doctor asked the boy.
‘How about playing guitar? Gaming?’
The doctor shuffled in her chair. The boy did not move.
‘Burns sometimes –’
‘But I haven’t been near fire.’
The doctor nodded. She held the boy’s hand. From his fingertips to his wrist extended a constellation of small, clear blisters. His other hand was the same.
‘Can’t you just, you know, pop them?’ the boy asked. He seemed unperturbed by the idea.
‘Well I could,’ said the doctor. ‘But we don’t like to do that unless it’s medically necessary. Left alone, they heal better. You want them to heal, don’t you?’
The boy shrugged as if it didn’t matter either way. He pushed on a blister with his thumb, the translucent serum it contained making one side balloon.
‘I wouldn’t keep doing that if I were you,’ said the doctor, ‘not unless your hands are sterilised.’
He stopped pushing, and fixed her with a hard stare.
‘What would happen if they got infected?’
‘I can’t see how they would all get infected,’ the doctor said.
‘One then,’ the boy said. ‘Just this one.’ He pushed at the blister again, the one furthest along his arm, just beneath the band of his watch.
‘Well, it might change colour. Yellow, or even green. It might be hot. It might become bacterially infected – secondary impetigo we call it. I could show you some pictures on the internet.’
The boy screwed up his face.
‘So are you going to tell me how you got them? Because I’ve never seen a spontaneous eruption of blisters like this before.’
‘Playing guitar,’ the boy said. ‘Gaming. Playing with fire.’
The doctor sighed and drew her legs up under her chair. She knew the boy’s parents were dead and that she could not ask them.
‘There’s one other thing,’ the doctor said, ‘that it could be.’
She turned to her computer, shook the mouse to wake it up, and typed some words into Google. She clicked on an image to enlarge it, and turned the screen to face the boy.
‘Do you know what that is?’
As the boy looked a knot formed in his stomach.
‘A bomb,’ he said.
‘That’s right,’ said the doctor. ‘A kind of bomb with a very dangerous chemical inside.’
‘But there are no bombs here,’ the boy said as the doctor turned back to face him.
‘Yesterday the wind changed,’ said the doctor. ‘Scientists don’t understand it yet but it is carrying things further than it has ever carried things before. There was a chemical attack two days ago in Syria.’
‘But Syria is so far away,’ said the boy, and pushed on a blister, a different one this time, until he could start to feel something trickling out.
‘Don’t play outside anymore,’ the doctor said.