Michaela has arranged herself on the sofa, Swanson-style, her white silk chinoiserie gown crumpled around her with meticulous abandon, her dry hair sprouting out like thatch from beneath an alice band she looks to have stolen from a barrel maker. Her legs are Ice Age in their hairiness: she has one hoofing great foot placed flat on the carpet, the other up on a low leather pouffe, the big toe of that foot oozing blood from the nail.
‘Hi guys,’ she rasps, ‘thanks for coming. I don’t want to waste your time, but I didn’t know what else to do.’
We have run from the other side of town on one of the busiest nights of the year. Traumatic haemorrhage / lacerations. Downgraded from Category A to B. And then in the notes: Torn toe nail. Control were as embarrassed to send it as we were to receive it, but their best efforts to PSIAM the call had failed, and we were required to attend.
I put my bag down next to the pouffe and kneel at the altar of pointless calls.
‘How did this happen then, Michaela?’
‘Well. It’s all so stupid. I feel such a fool. I was cutting my nails, and I seem to have overdone it on this one. I’ve been having problems with my leg ever since I was beaten up at a fairground ten years ago and had my hip pinned. It’s been a long haul. I’ve got such a lot going on with me.’
‘You’ll have to look at my folder. I’ve no idea. But it’s all there.’
‘Where’s your folder?’
She waves vaguely over to the kitchenette. ‘Over there somewhere. By the drug safe, maybe. You’ll see it.’
Frank goes over to look. I put an inco pad underneath the foot to protect the pouffe, then investigate the wound with a syringe of sterile water and some gauze. The nail has split vertically from the root, leaving about half in situ.
‘What will happen to me? Will I need surgery?’
At this moment the flat door is flung aside and a large man hurries in, looking like a six foot toddler in multi-coloured dungarees, a banana yellow t-shirt and red leather boots. His hair is as curly as Michaela’s is straight. They look as if they have pulled costumes from the same dressing up bag.
‘What’s up, Mikey? Everything okay? I saw the ambulance!’
‘Everything’s fine, don’t panic,’ I tell him. Michaela slumps back on the sofa and puts the back of her hand to her forehead.
‘I didn’t want to bother anyone,’ she says. ‘I just felt so – helpless.’
‘Why didn’t you call me?’
‘I didn’t like to. You know me. Soldiering on.’
The large man looks at me earnestedly. ‘Please. If there’s anything I can do to help. Anything at all. We’re all really so grateful you came.’
‘Yes. They’ve been absolutely marvelous,’ says Michaela, brightening. ‘So – good looking, too.’
‘Well if there’s a silver lining, darling, you’ll find it,’ the large man says, pushing some sweaty bangs back from his face and blowing out his cheeks. ‘God, you keep it hot in here.’
I dress the wound.
‘Michaela – there’s not much to be done with this. I’ve cleaned it and put on a temporary dressing which should keep you going tonight. Then first thing I want you to go to your GP and see the practice nurse to get something more permanent sorted out. And maybe see your GP about your ongoing problems.’
I look over to the kitchenette. Frank is thumbing through a thick yellow care folder. He smiles at me as he turns another page and writes something else down on our form.
‘Don’t I need a new nail or something? Plastic surgery?’
‘It’ll grow back before you know it, so – no – I think you’ll be fine.’
‘I simply didn’t know what to do.’
‘Try to bear in mind that the ambulance is really busy, especially at this time of year. I don’t think this really needed us coming out to you.’
‘I’m so, so sorry for wasting your time.’
I tidy up. Frank comes over and hands Michaela the non-conveyance form which she signs with a grand, stage door flourish.
‘Once again – thank you both so much for racing to my rescue,’ she says, giving me back the pen. ‘It means such a lot to me.’
‘Okay. Just – take it easy with those clippers.’
‘I’d get somebody else to do it, but my feet are too ticklish.’
She smiles with as much warmth and breadth as her layers of foundation and blusher will permit.
‘I promise I’ll hold back in future. But if I thought I might get you two again…’ She lets the idea hang in the air with the scent from the apple and cinammon candles on the mantelpiece; but when she drops her head coquetishly, by the candles’ flickering lights she suddenly reminds me of my dad’s eldest brother, Uncle Ted. With his toolbox head, spade hands and flat nose, that old army boxing champ and P&O steward would struggle to look alluring, too.