Wednesday, October 07, 2009

the fifth horseman

This morning when I saw I was down to work with Aidan, well, I may as well have climbed into the cab and shaken hands with The Grim Reaper. If ever a vacancy came up for a fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse, the only thing that would prevent Aidan getting the job are his looks. He would be marked down for clear blue eyes, gently freckled skin and that particularly engaging brand of innocent mischievousness you only ever see in children aged about twenty-five.

So – as is the norm for Aidan – we started the day with a difficult and fatal cardiac arrest at home, and then worked our way on through a paediatric respiratory distress in a public park through fits and falls of varying horror to a builder on a building site crying on the precipice of a heart attack. Aidan’s emotional working rhythm seems to be the doom-laden gong of a slave galley, his days characterised by a succession of terribly traumatised people in awful situations. No-one is immune – except Aidan, of course. He smiles and jokes and tweets and calmly smokes his roll-ups between jobs, the still eye of the hurricane, moving quietly across town as houses burst into fragments around him, and people run screaming into the streets.

‘Another chest pain, another dollar’ he says, piling the ambulance through the homeward bound traffic with such disdain cars bounce off our windscreen like hailstones. ‘Give me a break.’

The evening is grey blue and flat. A pervasive drizzle has rolled in off the sea and mugged the streets of all vitality. The statue of an angel holding up an olive branch marks the place on the promenade we need. When we pull up, I expect her to stuff it under her robes, climb down off the plinth and run off down the empty promenade. Surely she knows even a bronze angel would be in danger around Aidan.

‘There he is.’

A man bent over at the deserted coffee kiosk, supporting himself on the wooden shelf. But as I get closer I realise that he’s not in trouble, he’s just looking for a scrap of shelter whilst he makes a phone call. He frowns at me as I approach, and carries on frowning as I apologise and walk away.

‘No. There.’

An NFA windmilling from a sheltered bench further along the prom. I hunch my shoulders against the weather and head over.

John is sitting as drawn in as he can on the worn slatted bench, his hands buried deep in the pockets of his jacket, his chin tucked down into the collar. He only raises his eyes as I introduce myself, then gives a shuddering cough like a seal on a sandbank.

‘I didn’t call you,’ he says. ‘One of the others did.’
‘Well now we’re here – what’s been going on?’
‘My chest hurts.’
He takes out a reddened hand and makes a passing gesture. ‘It burns, all round here. Round the back.’ He tells me he has been feeling below par for a couple of weeks, a cold coming on. Four days ago he became homeless – ‘It’s complicated. There are two sides to every story.’ Spent most of the time since then sitting on this bench looking out to sea.
‘It’s got to the stage I can’t even stand up. I feel so sick and dizzy.’

We get him onto the ambulance. I help him out of several layers so I can listen to his chest, but I hardly need a stethoscope.

‘You have a chest infection,’ I tell him, draping the stethoscope over my shoulders and reaching for the thermometer. ‘You really need to come with us to hospital to get some treatment.’
He puts a t-shirt back on, the only one of his clothes to feel damp with sweat rather than rain, and shakes his head.
‘I’d rather not. They make me nervous,’ he says.
‘If you spend any more time outside you’ll become very ill indeed,’ I tell him.
Aidan takes another blood pressure and gives John a reassuring smile.
‘Come on mate,’ he says. ‘We’ll only be back for you later if you don’t.’

And I don’t doubt it’s the truth.

8 comments:

bluwren said...

"A pervasive drizzle has rolled in off the sea and mugged the streets of all vitality."

Fabulously descriptive. You make me smile, Spence. Does this sort of thing come to you effortlessly? It sure reads that way.

As to the last post regarding the death of your father: I wanted to comment, but found I couldn't. It was very well-written, but it so shook and moved me (it brought back the weeks of my own father's final illness) that I couldn't think of what to say. Now? I'll just say thank you.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks BW! It's really very kind of you to be so encouraging.

There are lots of things about writing that I find difficult. One of them is not over writing, being too purple-prosey. My favourite writers (mostly American, I have to say) always crack on with the story, but manage to come up with new and interesting ways of putting across a scene. That's something I'd definitely aspire to.

Thanks for the comment about the last post, too. It was particularly difficult to write, but I wanted to get something down. I hope your father didn't suffer unduly, and everything went as well as can be expected at times like these. xx

Gia's Spot said...

Is it okay to say that was a great post? You always manage to bring Aidan and friends (!) into my head with such great descriptions I feel I can almost touch them! Thanks for sharing your stories with me! (as if I am the only one who stops by for a read!)

lulu's missives said...

Hey Spence,
Struggling with homework, so I thought I'd read your 'stuff' instead.
Such vivid descriptiveness.
"He would be marked down for clear blue eyes, gently freckled skin and that particularly engaging brand of innocent mischievousness you only ever see in children aged about twenty-five." I love this bit.
Wow!
Ok, I'm off to bed, feeling more than useless and have 'Dragon Lady' tomorrow.
x jo

Gerry said...

As I read this post I thought it had a certain American Noir sensibility. You're very good at the telling detail. The accumulating pile of facts. The poker face that melts. You use elements of American style when it suits you to do so, but the true value of what you write is that it comes out of your own experience and your own view of the world. It has a strong sense of place.

Margaret Atwood describes the writer as Trickster. I find that an accurate and liberating image.

Keep writing.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hey Gia!
Yep - it's always okay to say it's a great post (heh heh heh). Thanks!
Lovely as he is, I'm not sure I'd want Aidan in my head, though (shiver).

Hi Jo
Homework. Argh! That's something that puts me off doing any more studying. It's bad enough trying to help the girls with theirs...

And who is this 'Dragon Lady'? Will she be marking the homework? If she doesn't like it, I can imagine her holding it up in front of the class and breathing on it. xx

Hey Gerry
I do like that American Noir thing. I've been reading some Elmore Leonard lately - fantastic.

Interesting about the Trickster. I've always thought about that figure as someone who had 'access all areas' - someone who could move from light to dark, with nothing out of bounds. A playful, unpredictable figure. Def a good patron saint for anyone - comedian, painter, writer, singer - anyone trying to turn something creative out of everyday experience.

kmkat said...

I especially loved the cars bouncing off your windscreen like hailstones, but I'm shallow like that. :-) And your descriptions of Aidan. "...as houses burst ito gragments around him, and people run screaming into the streets."

Trickster is a great role model for a writer.

And Elmore Leonard writes the best dialog EVAH!

Spence Kennedy said...

Hey KMKat!
I tell you who else is great at dialogue: Charles Bukoswki. But he's even rougher than EL in many respects. A dodgy geezer by all accounts, but I love his writing. x