Richard is flat on his back, on his flattened backpack. The weight of his fall has spilled the contents around him – little square sticks of pastel colours, a tin of fixing spray, a notepad and graphite pencils. Many of the pastel sticks have fractured, and their richly coloured dust stains the carpet where his feet and legs have moved over them.
‘Excuse me stepping over you, Richard.’
There’s no other way to get into the flat, he’s so close to the door. Frank stays the other side. We both crouch down to him. His girlfriend, Marie, steps over him, too, and goes to sit down on a computer chair near his head. Her black mascara has mixed with her tears, giving her face an expression of molten anxiety.
‘I thought he was dead. He came back from shopping, he stood there in the doorway, he said “Am I losing my mind?” and then just collapsed. I didn’t know what to do. He went all blue. He was shaking. His eyes were just all wrong. I was terrified. Rich – you terrified me.’
‘Sorry. I’m all right now.’
‘Richard. Did you hurt yourself when you went down?’ I check him over but he seems fine.
‘Really. I don’t need you here. I didn’t call you.’
‘You couldn’t call anyone, Rich. You were dead. I was shit scared. I thought I’d lost you.’
He lies quite still, his eyes open, idly surveying the ceiling. A slightly built man in his mid twenties, pale cheeks, wide brown eyes, dark curly hair and a sparse goatee coiling from the point of his chin - he seems strangely out of time, like a seventeenth century courtier crash landed into black jeans and t-shirt.
‘I’m fine. Really.’
He crosses his legs and arms, and wriggles a bit on the backpack to get comfortable. ‘I’m not going to hospital.’
Marie stands up and moves over to the window.
‘You fucking better not do this to me!’ she wails. ‘You fucking better not! If you die I’m going to kill myself. There’s no-one else I care about.’
Rich raises his eyebrows. ‘I’m not going. I don’t have to.’
‘Well let’s think about that in a little bit,’ I say, unpegging the sats probe from his finger and noting the results. ‘How are you feeling right now?’
‘What can you remember?’
‘I ran up the stairs. I opened the door. I had this strange feeling in my head, like a zoning out. Everything felt stuffed up, yeah? Really close, but kind of hollow. I do remember saying “Am I losing my mind?” – because I felt like I was. Then the next thing I remember, you’re looking down at me. And that’s it. But I’m fine now.’
He pauses, licks his lips. Then without moving his head he turns his eyes up and raises his eyebrows again, as if he wasn’t talking to Marie so much as to a vision of her, he says: ‘Did I really go blue?’
‘Yes you fucking went blue. I never want to see that again. It was so, so scary.’
‘Well you did absolutely the right thing in calling for an ambulance,’ I tell her. ‘Marie, describe for us exactly what you saw when Rich collapsed.’
She describes what sounds like a tonic clonic fit.
‘Do you suffer from epilepsy, Rich?’
‘Ever had a fit before?’
‘Once. A month ago.’
‘And what happened with that?’
‘Nothing. I went to hospital. They let me go after an hour. Didn’t say anything.’
It doesn’t sound plausible, but I let it go.
‘What medications are you on? Any?’
‘I take a few things for depression. Well – I did. I stopped taking them last week. I didn’t see the point.’
‘Rich – what I’d like to do as a first stage is to get you out on to the ambulance so we can run a few tests. I promise we won’t do anything you don’t want to do. And we certainly won’t kidnap you. You don’t have to go to hospital if you don’t want to. But I have to say that I would strongly urge you to come with us today. It sounds like you may have had a fit, and I don’t know why. Imagine what would have happened if you’d had this fit alone. Imagine if you’d collapsed here today and Marie hadn’t been around to look after you. You could’ve died.’
‘I don’t care. I’m not going to hospital.’
Marie lets out an anguished moan. She pulls a crumpled leather sack towards her, dumps out the contents and paddles around in the debris for a pack of cigarettes and a lighter.
Rich laces his fingers, gently rubs his thumbs together.
‘I don’t have to.’
‘Well let’s just get down to the vehicle and do some tests. Okay?’
He rolls over and stands up in one clean movement, then – seeing the pastel crayons spread over the floor – begins to gather them up. He insists on sorting them right way up into the tray of a neat little portable wooden easel that he takes out of the rucksack. Marie watches him, alternately smoking the cigarette and biting the quick of her nail.
Job done, Rich wipes his hands on the back of his jeans, then turns to walk through the door. Suddenly, he stops to pick up three carrier bags.
‘I may as well take the recycling out,’ he says.
And just by the front door, without even seeming to look, he drops the plastic, the cardboard and the paper into their respective green bins.