The moon is so full and bright, its crater markings as distinct as the road we turn into, I feel I could drive there tonight. Up ahead, incongruously dressed for this freezing night in a halter top and multi-coloured ra-ra skirt, a young girl waves to us from the pavement. She rises up on her toes and leans out into the road; anyone would think she was hailing a cab. I drive up, put the hazards on. We climb out.
‘Are you the patient?’ Jerry asks, tucking the clipboard under his arm.
‘Yes. It’s me. I called. I need help.’
She folds her arms across her chest. Her hair is painted flaming scarlet, her lips a cherry red, but the rest of her in this weird lunar light seems translucently pale.
‘Okay. Well – let’s jump on the back, get you warmed up, and have a chat.’
A young man comes jogging down the street, shouting ‘Hey, wait for me.’
‘Do you know this man?’
‘Yes. He’s a friend. It’s okay.’
The man reaches us just as the woman has climbed up the steps on to the back of the vehicle. He has ropey, plaited hair, several piercings, and intelligent, clear blue eyes.
‘Is it okay with you guys if I come on board with Julie?’
‘If Julie says so.’
She nods, so we let him on, and shut the door behind us.
Jerry offers her a blanket. She hugs it around her shoulders.
‘So. What’s the problem, Julie?’
‘I was at this party. It was all fine and lovely and everything. They’re good friends. They so deserve better than me.’ She pauses, and seems to reset her shoulders beneath an invisible weight. Her friend leans across and grasps her hand. She continues. ‘Anyway - I had this sudden, overwhelming urge to kill myself. So I went into the bathroom to cut my arm, to take my mind off it, so to speak. But it didn’t work. And the urge just grew and grew and I knew I wouldn’t be able to escape from it. So I thought I’d better phone for help. So I phoned. And here I am.’
She starts to cry, great fat drops rolling out of her eyes, down her nose and onto her friend’s hand. He gathers her to him, and she buries her face in the crook of his shoulder.
‘Ssh,’ he whispers. ‘Ssh now.’
After a moment she collects herself. Jerry gives her some tissue. She blows her nose vigorously, then stares at the handkerchief as if she might find an explanation for her grief there.
‘Have you ever felt like this before?’
‘Yes,’ she says. ‘But never this bad. I’m having counselling.’ She looks into her friend’s face. ‘Nobody even knows I’m gone, PJ. I didn’t say goodbye or anything. What must they think of me?’
‘Don’t worry about that now,’ Jerry tells her. ‘First things first. Have you hurt yourself anywhere other than your arm?’
She holds it up; she has an abrasion where she raked the soft white skin of her forearm with a razor.
‘It’s nothing,’ she says. ‘It’s not serious. God – I know you’ve got better things to be doing with your time.’
‘Absolutely not,’ says Jerry. ‘In our line it’s strictly one job at a time. And right now you are that job. It takes as long as it takes. So don’t worry about that.’
There is a momentary silence in the ambulance. Jerry reaches behind him for the BP cuff. Julie wipes her nose on a fresh piece of tissue paper. PJ hunts around in his pockets for something. A car rushes past us in the street, making the ambulance rock slightly on its wheelbase. And I’m suddenly aware of the four of us in our cramped, well-lit little box, blinking by the side of an empty street in the early hours of the morning, a line of windows dark and sleeping a hundred yards to the front and a hundred yards to the back of us, whilst all the while the moon, scoured and battered and brilliant, higher now by a degree than when we first pulled up, slowly follows its blind nocturnal pathway across the sky.