Our early update: two patients, both out of the car, no further ambulances required, fire and police on scene.
The black four by four is up on its nearside, balanced diagonally across the middle of this orderly suburban street. Lying there with its chunky tyres and pristine chassis exposed, it is jarringly out of context, like a fridge-freezer upside down in the middle of a kitchen.
As often seems to happen when something extraordinary cuts across the usual run of the day, there is an extemporary carnival feel to the air. The fire crews are standing around examining the car, their cheerful comments shouted one to the other above the fat diesel thrumming of their trucks; the police are striding about with fluorescent bonhomie taking names, putting up temporary signs, directing events; first aiders are introducing themselves, offering help and information; blankets and other supplies are being ferried out of houses, and groups are gathering at strategic viewpoints to mark out what they think happened, to wave to people they know, and take pictures with their phones.
Sitting on a pavement propped against a wall, her left arm supported up in the air by a first aider, is a middle-aged woman with her right hand covering her eyes, sobbing. A man in a suit is standing nearby talking to a traffic cop.
‘Are you the driver?’ I ask him.
‘I’m fine. Really. Look – just see to my wife, would you?’
I go over to the woman and crouch down beside her.
She was the passenger in the front seat. The car had clipped a pedestrian island in the middle of the road, flipped over onto its side, and when the glass shattered it cut her arm. I check her over, but it seems this is her only injury. We help her into the ambulance and make her comfortable on the trolley. The husband comes on board and takes a seat next to her.
As I clean and dress her wounds, Rae asks the usual run of questions which the woman answers in a whisper. Her husband groans and puts his face in his hands.
Then he straightens up again as his phone rings, rubs his eyes briskly, blows out his cheeks, roots the phone out of his jacket and says: ‘Gerry. Sorry. I can’t talk now. We’ve had a bit of an accident and Jean’s been hurt – not badly, thank God. I’ll give you a call in a minute or two. Okay? Bye.’
He presses it off and drops it onto the seat next to him. ‘Sorry about that.’
Jean starts crying again.
‘I just can’t believe our luck.’
The man puts a hand on her shoulder as I finish tying off the bandage.
‘We were up all last night. Jean had a miscarriage. We were supposed to come in to the hospital for a check-up. That’s where we were headed when we crashed. I can only think I must have fallen asleep at the wheel. I can’t believe it happened. I’m so, so sorry, Jean.’
She puts a hand on top of his, and then rests her pale cheek there, too.
The phone rings again. He picks it up and looks at it with his free hand.
Suddenly there is a vigorous rap-rap-rap on the ambulance door. It opens, and the traffic cop puts his head round the opening.
‘How’re we all doing?’ he says, brightly.