Standby in the supermarket car park, four o’clock in the morning.
One day I’ll paint this. One day I’ll hang a wide, windscreen-shaped canvas on the living room wall so any time of day or night I could put myself back in this seat and wallow in the desolation of the scene – the recycling bins, the advertising hoardings, the pay-at-the-pump petrol station, the blasted saplings, the factory units beyond the hedge. But where would you buy the colours you’d need? And if you had them, how would you mix them, how would you spread them out, to even hint at the leached-out, down-lit, washed-up inhumanity of the place?
A car pulls over at the recycling bins. An elderly man gets out and begins popping bottles and cans through the correct holes.
Who does that at four in the morning?
We watch him from the cab. He folds the carrier bags as they become empty and piles them up on the roof of his car. He couldn’t do that if it were windy, I think. What would he do if it were windy? He finishes, rolls the bags up, secures them with an elastic band, stows them in the boot.
He drives off.
The car park is empty again.
Busy? Jesus – worst ever! Non-stop all day, every one a proper job. The last one was an arrest in the street outside a shopping centre. I was on my own for about five minutes until Chas came by off duty and pitched in, thank God. Then a crew turned up, so that was a relief. There were a couple of PCSO’s on scene, but I might as well’ve grabbed two shop dummies out of the window, stuck a yellow jacket on them and stood them up next to us all the crowd control they did. Honestly, there must’ve been about two hundred people milling about. The crush was so bad our bags were getting kicked over. One woman was right at the front with her hand over her mouth like this, like she was going to chuck. I said to her: You don’t have to watch this, love. Why don’t you just fuck off and let us do our job? But anyway – we got a few shocks in, he went down the usual PEA – Asystole route. We collared and boarded him in the end because – that was the other thing – he’d whacked his head on some railings as he went down and had this horrible boggy mass at the back of his head. We ran him in, but it was academic. Resus was crammed when we got there. We were coming in the door just as the porters were coming out with that lovely box trolley they have with the green tarp. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d been wheeling a handcart. But it cleared a space for us, and the team were nicely warmed up. Honestly – a fucking war zone.
The radio twitters and beeps. An all-call for a Category A breathing problem. Miles away. I hit the mute button and the cab’s silent again. Rae is slumped forward on the wheel, using her arms as a pillow. There’s a scene in that fifties film of The Time Machine where Rod Taylor is powering forwards through time. Slowly at first, the moon and sun chasing each other across the glass roof of the conservatory, and then more quickly, his house falling away around him as the dial spins on the dashboard and hundreds of years fly past, the scene changing constantly and quickly until suddenly a mountain rises up around the machine and he’s locked deep inside the rock, and it’s dark and cold, and he despairs that it’s his fate to be trapped like that forever, as the dial spins through tens of thousands of years until at last the mountain is eroded away and he’s back in the air again.
I check my watch. We’ve been here twenty minutes.
We had an elderly woman burned up in a fire. Fell asleep in her chair, smoking a fag. Dot dot dot. Trumpton were there and they pulled her out – no mean feat, considering her size. Twenty stone, at least. But there was nothing to be done. She was pretty comprehensively cooked. We took her on the vehicle, out of the public gaze, and then it was down to the mortuary. I had to bin my uniform. That’s our truck out front, all the doors open. I wouldn’t take that one for a while.
The car park seems to stretch on forever, following the curve of the planet. There surely cannot be enough cars in the world to fill all these marked out spaces. Where are the people to drive those cars? Where do they live? Instead of cars I watch as each space fills with people lying down asleep. Fragile, lucent figures, arriving alone and in family groups, drifting along, following the arrows, finding a gap, lying down. The petrol pumps unhook themselves and blow a peppermint scented mist across them. Birds fly over with messages held in their claws. One of them swoops down and in through the open window of the cab. It grabs me by the shoulder and begins to rock me backwards and forwards. I look up. Rae is shaking me. I was snoring.
I’ve never seen so much blood – and I’ve been to a few bloody ones. The kitchen was like a paddling pool. The poor old thing was lying on her back, one leg up on a stool. I thought they’d been a murder with a chainsaw or something, but what it was - she’d tripped as she’d come in from the garden and snagged a varicose vein on the concrete step. Amazing she was still alive, the blood she’d lost. And the air – it had a metally twang I’ve been tasting on and off all day. We were off the road for a good hour cleaning up the truck after that one. And the very next job we get? Breech birth infant resus. I’ve never been so tested in all the years I’ve been here. What can I say? That new kid I was on with? What a Jonah.
Rae hits the call button on the radio. After an age of static, Control gets back to us.
‘Vehicle calling, go ahead.’
‘We’ve been here about a thousand years, Control. Can we request an RTB?’
Another pause. Either end of the conversation studying the clock. We’ve been here forty minutes. They could insist we stay the hour.
But: ‘Return to Base, then. Thank you for your help.’
She replaces the handset on the little hook, grips the wheel and stares out across the car park.
‘Much as it pains me to leave this place,’ she says. Then starts the engine.
I never appreciated how sweet movement is until now.