This playground has a post-Apocalyptic feel. Set up some years ago on a rise overlooking the great grey spread of the city, now the damaged seats of its swings rock gently backwards and forwards, worked by the ghosts of children long since grown up and gone. Mature weeds thick as trees rise up around the margins; the yellow slide stands water-stained and peeling; even the roundabout seems more like an abandoned instrument of torture than a plaything.
There is a cratered path that leads up alongside the playground, eventually widening into a patch of open ground and a signposted footpath to the downs. A woman with a child in a red buggy waves us along in that direction, then hurries off, the buggy wheels skittering on the grey granite chippings, the child leaning out to look backwards and see what the mother is so afraid of.
We come to a battered blue car with the driver’s door standing open.
A man is lying flat on his back on the ground, at right angles to the car, his arms spread out either side of him. There is another man kneeling beside him. He puts his mobile phone away as I jump out of the cab.
‘My brother,’ he says.
‘He’s got a pulse but he’s not breathing,’ I say to Rae. As she pulls out the resus and drugs bags I crouch down at the unconscious man’s head, lift his chin forwards to open his airway, and prise open his eyelids to check his pupils.
‘When did he take the heroin?’ I ask the man. He raises his eyebrows, smiles and shrugs, turning the palms of his hands towards me in the internationally accepted mime for: I’d like to help you, but…
‘We’re not the police. We just need to know so we can treat your brother. What’s his name?’
‘Did he smoke or inject?’
The man scratches his head roughly, then says:
‘Fifteen minutes ago.’
An ambulance car wallows along the pathway and scrunches to a stop next to us, kicking up a cloud of dust that’s snatched up by the wind and carried off towards town.
Rae hands me an airway which I put into Rich’s mouth, and then the BVM and oxygen so I can start bagging him. Frank is with us now. I ask him to draw up a syringe of Narcan. But just as he gets the kit together, Rich makes a sudden convulsive gagging motion, reaches in to pull out the airway, and sits up.
‘You see the effect I have?’ says Frank.
‘Hello, Rich. You were a little bit flat, mate,’ I say. He sits staring vacantly at the car, turns to look at me, then back to the car, like a man who has woken up inside a dream but doesn’t yet know how to influence what happens next.
A woman walks past with a black and white collie.
‘Morning!’ she says brightly, hauling on the dog’s lead, striding off towards the footpath. ‘Lovely morning!’ The dog regards us with fierce yellow eyes.
‘How are you feeling now, Rich?’
His brother gives him a push on the shoulder.
‘You were blue, mate. Honestly. You were so gone.’
Rich studies him with the expression we just saw on the collie dog.
‘Come and sit on the ambulance so we can check you over.’
We help him up.
As he leans forward and his t-shirt drops back, I notice he has a tattoo at the angle of his neck: a pair of angel wings either side of an Egyptian eye.
He sits up on the ambulance and submits to an examination. We leave the door open. The sky is overcast, but now and again the sun breaks through and touches a tiny row of houses way off on the far side of town with a gilding splash of light.
‘I’m supposed to be at work today,’ he says, rubbing his face. ‘I’m a Painter and Decorator.’
‘I can’t imagine getting smacked up can do much for your roller technique,’ says Frank, leaning against the door jamb, smoking a roll-up.
Rich looks at him. ‘I can’t help it.’
‘It must cost you a fair bit.’
‘Sixty pounds a day.’
‘Sixty? That’s a lot of paint.’
‘You could say.’
Rich’s brother has been back over at the car, but he comes back carrying a little white puppy.
‘Look what we bought yesterday,’ he says, holding it up in the air. Wrinkled and fat, its paws spread helplessly either side of the man’s encircling hands, the puppy could pass for the Lamb of God, hoisted up on a mountain top, hairless and helpless and utterly subject to the vagaries of a world it knows nothing about.