A first, all the ambulance crew can see are two strips of rubber snaking down the highway and disappearing over a bank. Down the hillside, torchlight picks out a car steaming and creaking against a tree.
Crew members scramble down.
The tree has won this argument. Paint flakes off twisted metal. Beads of glass glisten like glowworms amongst the bush. A dark form lies hunched over the steering wheel.
They expect the worst, but then a slight movement gives them hope. Heartbeats race. A door is wrenched open.
A blood-covered man tilts his head back, spits out two teeth.
“Where’s my phone gone? Was just texting the missus I’m nearly home.”
My handbag slaps my hip as I climb into the ambulance. It echoes the erratic beating of my heart, the laboured beating of hers.
My handbag catches on the stretcher’s metal frame when I swing my legs up. The strap squeezes my windpipe, making my breath hitch. Her breath comes fast and shallow, muffled by an oxygen mask. The paramedic asks me questions I should know the answers to.
My handbag weighs heavy on my shoulder after they take her from my arms and lay her on a hospital bed. Her eyes, half shut, never leave me. My hands, free from their burden, shake. I clench the strap between my fingers.
The paramedic can’t see him standing behind her in the ambulance.
Each time she leans forward to check my pulse he swims into view, smiling that dopey smile, his head tilted to one side.
“There there, love. It’s not so bad, death. You’ve had a good innings and the children don’t need you any more. We’ll be together again soon. Think of that!”
Two years free of him. Is that all I’m to have? And will the last emotion I feel in this life be irritation, and not the peace that I crave?
The paramedic catches my eye, sees the horror there, assumes I fear death, fear the nothingness.
There was no time. There were no seconds. Only force, air, tarmac. Pain, light, dark.
I am upside down. I am falling. I am spinning. I am inert.
I am sick. A hand on my shoulder. A voice. Voices. I gather fragments.
“Call an ambulance.”
“Where’s the car?”
“What’s your name?”
“Harry.” And that’s me, and it’s all I can muster before I turn and I hurl.
And the pain is a thousand knives in my abdomen.
And there are sirens.
But who will tell him?
Thumb-swiper, validator. Nice one. Six connections. Four interests.
Who will tell him? The café on the corner, that’s where.
Arms, stretcher, elevation. Slam, shut, black.
“111-What’s your emergency? Police, fire or ambulance?”
“Amblince. Please hurry.”
“What’s your name, love?”
“Sophie, I’m six. Mummy’s head’s all blooded and she won’t wake up. This is Mummy’s phone.”
“Is anyone with you Sophie?”
“No. Daddy’s in ‘stralia now. Mummy’s room’s all messy too. Wake up Mummy!”
“Where do you live Sophie?”
“Thirty Totara Street Howick.”
“Good, Sophie. Someone will come soon. Do you know the siren noise?”
“Well, listen and tell me when you hear one outside.”
“We’re at Auntie’s place. Auntie’s away.”
“What! Do you know auntie’s address?”
“No… Oh, yay! Amblince man’s here. I can hear him coming up the stairs. Bye.”
“No Sophie! Sophie? Sophie!”
My dreams: Wen I grow up, I went to be a supperhero. I will wer a supperhero costum with blue and yellow strips and I will help peepl wen they need me. Evryboddy will now how to call me for help and wen they call I will go to them in my speshal supperhero car. It will go really fast and have supperhero powers to help peepl. If sumone gets in trubble and herts themself I will go ther really fast and make shore that they get to hospital wer the doctor can make them better. I will be called Suppermaddy.
Barbara brandished her new Gold Card as she caught the 10 am train to town. Stepping onto the platform, she tripped and fell. With a loud crack, her ankle snapped beneath her. A crowd gathered.
“Call an ambulance. Dial 111,” someone shouted.
“Don’t look at your foot,” urged another. It stuck out at right angles like the wing of a roast chicken.
“What’s the pain out of 10?” asked the paramedic, lifting her onto a stretcher.
The ambulance driver called ahead to A and E. “We are on our way with an elderly lady on board,” he said.
“Poor thing,” muttered Barbara as the siren started up. “I hope she’s okay.”
Tyres crunch on gravel. She holds the mohair close. Warm folds of comfort, security.
Notices the soft shoots of spring. Soon they’ll turn to golden trumpets, blue flags of hope, scarlet-fringed joy. She’d planted them last autumn. Before.
Crunching is closer. An engine stops, doors bang. Then more crunching, feet this time. Closer and closer.
“Hello, love.” A gentle voice.
Caring arms lift her body. Another bed. She reaches for the mohair.
“Here you go, dear. Take it with you.”
Seth’s blanket, still fragrant with Imperial Leather. A remnant of love.
She’s wreathed in yellow and green, ensconced in clinical kindness. A gear engages, a siren screams, a light flashes ‘Ambulance.’
I’ve only ever done this once.
One. One. One.
“Ambulance. My flatmate’s dead. How do I know? She’s on the floor. She’s been there two nights. No, I can’t talk to her. I can’t open the door. I know because she hasn’t moved. I can see underneath.”
The operator keeps me on the phone until they arrive. The police car jams to a stop. The ambulance wails urgently behind. Officers from both vehicles move fast towards me. I am sitting on the doorstep. One officer stays with me. The others shove Sheree’s door open.
They are here for nearly two hours.
Then, job done, both vehicles take their time to leave.
It was quick, unexpected, and painful. Jim writhed as ambulance staff worked to examine him.
“I suspect your appendix is infected. You will need further tests at the hospital.”
Expletive laden groans escaped as they eased the stretcher through the hallway.
The siren faded, leaving a compelling quietness. This was not the time for indecision.
“Wake up girls, we have places to be.”
I paid for petrol with cash I found in his wallet. With the car now full, the prospect of free choice was intoxicating.
“Are we going home, mummy?”
“No we aren’t. See up there, we’re going to follow that star. Anyone know a good song about stars?”