‘What did the message say?’
‘Something like: Please come home and look after Ralf. I think tonight’s my time.’ I knew something was wrong so I came straight back, found him standing on that chair with the dog’s lead round his neck, just about to hang himself.’
‘So you grabbed on to him…’
‘I grabbed on to him, we struggled for a bit, his head came out of the lead and we both fell in this corner, where he is now.’
Steve is lying flat on his back on the concrete floor of the basement, his legs neatly pointing towards the steps that come down from the street, my gloved hands around his head to keep him still. A chair lies on its side in the alcove off to our right, a deeply shadowed arch cut into the ground beneath the pavement. His eyes are open, staring disconnectedly at the patterned dog lead hanging down towards us from one of the thick black railings.
Someone walks past on the pavement above, animated by the strobing blue lights of our ambulance.
The door to the basement flat is open. Radiohead plays loudly from a room inside: No surprises.
‘I’ll turn it off,’ Annie says, and steps over him.
When she comes back out she has a carrier bag.
‘His meds, what’s left of them. It looks like he’s taken quite a few diazepam.’
A second ambulance arrives above us. We need help putting Steve on a spinal board and getting him up those stairs.
‘Has he done this before?’
‘Only the overdose thing. He took all the dog’s meds last time.’
Annie puts the carrier bag down in the entrance and stands up.
‘I’ve just got to go inside and see about Ralf,’ she says, but at that moment a stiff-legged Staffordshire bull terrier clacks onto the threshold and stands there with its nose up, taking in the scene. The light from inside gives his elderly white flanks and blockish head a chalky, statuesque appearance, like a monument to a dog magically come to life.
But now the second crew are carefully picking their way down the steps with a spinal board, blankets, stuff. Space is so tight down here, every move we make from now on will have to be negotiated first, like a traumatic version of Twister.
‘Come on, Ralf,’ says Annie, ‘let’s get you back on the sofa, mate.’
He gives one disapproving, sneezing kind of huff, then follows her back inside.