The sea is a sheet of liquid glass spreading in from the horizon, smooth around the worn wooden beams and concrete pillars of the old harbour wall, smooth around the pleasure boats and fishing boats riding at anchor, smooth around the jetty and the landing platforms, the steps down from the road, the ribs of ruined boats in the highest of the silt banks, black beneath the vast, shadowy bulk of the old swing bridge. The entire morning seems to leap up from this painfully bright surface; even the cormorant out near the harbour mouth has his wings outstretched, crucified by the surfeit of light.
Our patient, a middle-aged woman in a bulky blue winter coat, sits on a concrete block at the far end of the car park. She is hunched forwards like a fisherman asleep by the rod, her forearms supporting the weight of her upper body on her knees. Her left hand hangs down between her legs, fingers relaxed and open. In the other hand she has a Stanley knife.
‘Drop the knife! Now!’
The policeman who arrived on scene with us takes a step towards her, one arm out in front.
She turns her head. Her neck is gaping open.
‘Drop it now!’
She stands up. Her coat is undone, reveals pyjamas stained with blood. She drops the knife and looks at us all with an expression as glassy as the water. Incredibly, she manages to talk.
‘Leave me here,’ she rasps. ‘I need more time.’
‘Put your arms out to the side,’ the policeman says. His hands are bare, so I give him a pair of blue gloves. He snaps them on. ‘Do you have any other weapons?’
He pats her down, then takes a step back to let us grab the woman before she falls. We walk her onto the ambulance and lie her on the stretcher.
She has a grievous wound to her neck, a frank, butcher’s slice that parts it neatly left to right, the adipose tissue and muscles exposed, her trachea laid open – but she has missed the major blood vessels, the other incredible aspect of this injury. As she breathes, the air rushes in and out with a gently wet flapping noise. I soak a dressing in sterile water and place it across the wound.
‘Please. Just one more minute.’
She sounds leaden with fatigue, a lumpish, domestic figure fixated on the last chore of the day.
‘I was supposed to fall backwards into the water,’ she says. ‘I have a bug in my stomach.’
‘Don’t talk. Try not to talk,’ I tell her, gently tying the dressing in place.
‘I have a bug in my stomach. My husband and daughter cleaned up a mess that came out of me, and now they have it, too. I’ve given them my bug.’
She tries to make little shakes of her head. We tell her to be still. Rae strokes her forehead like a child with a fever. ‘Ssh.’
Back outside the ambulance, the policeman asks me how she is.
‘It looked pretty bad,’ he says. ‘Was that her windpipe?’
‘Yeah. She had a pretty good go at it,’ I say, pulling off my gloves. ‘We need to get off.’
‘I’ll follow in the car.’
He tucks in behind us, a sparkling, early morning punch through the rush hour traffic back into town.