Billie sits at one end of the sofa in her tracksuit pyjamas looking ready to run, whilst storm clouds mass above the head of her father at the other end, a man so massy with anger he could be sculpted out of volcanic rock. He waves a scrip in the air.
‘Tight throat, dizziness, nausea, hearing voices, palpitations, muscular tremors, headache… she says she’s had all that since taking this rubbish.’
He drops the scrip at our feet.
Billie bites a nail.
‘It’s not so bad now,’ she says.
She had been prescribed Zopiclone to help her sleep, but says that an hour later she started to feel bad, phoned a helpline and they bounced her to 999.
‘I’m not normally like this.’
‘Have you got any pain anywhere?’ I ask her.
She rubs the centre of her chest with the heel of a hand.
‘And how long’s that been going on for?’
‘Ever since someone did CRP or something.’
‘CPR? Where they press on your chest to get your heart going?’
‘Yeah. That’s it. CPR. At football practice last week.’
‘That sounds bad. What happened?’
Billie hugs her knees, then whinces and resumes her former position.
‘I didn’t know much about it. I was playing football. The next thing, I’m in hospital, and they said someone had done CPR on me.’
‘Had something happened to your heart? What did the doctors say?’
‘They let me go after a few days. I’ve got some more tests to do. They didn’t say a whole lot, really.’
‘There’s nothing wrong with you,’ says the father. ‘It’s all bullshit.’
Up until that point I’d thought that anxiety and hyperventilation was the problem, but now I’m not so sure.
‘I think what we should do is go out to the ambulance, do a few tests and take it from there.’
She flicks a look at her father, then stands unsteadily and grabs the tracksuit top that’s slung over the back of the sofa. The room is sprayed lemon, impersonal, like a furniture storeroom after a sale. I help Billie outside; the father calls Frank back for something.
‘It’s up to you whether you want to go to A&E tonight,’ I tell her, as she sits on the trolley staring at me with her pupils so black and deep the light in the back of the ambulance seems to pour down inside them like mist down a drain. ‘All your observations are fine. I’m sure reading all the side-effects on the drug sheet didn’t help. They always tend to list every conceivable problem just to cover themselves. But I must admit that story about CPR on the playing field threw me a little. Perhaps you should go in, just for reassurance if nothing else.’
‘I’d like to.’
Just at that moment the back door opens and the father hauls himself up.
‘What are you doing?’ he says. I’m not sure if he means me or Billie.
‘You’re not going to that there hospital.’ He puts one hand up onto a grab rail and one hand flat against the window, his shirt riding up over his massive belly, and he hangs there obstructively, like a gigantic ape. ‘There’s nothing wrong with you.’
Billie examines her hands whilst I explain the reasoning behind the trip. Everything looks fine but given her recent history maybe it’s best if we go to the hospital. Just to make sure. For reassurance.
The father lets me finish, then turns his face slowly back to the girl without a change of expression.
‘There’s nothing wrong with you,’ he says, after a pause so freighted with contempt a needle in a lab must be scratching wildly backwards and forwards.
‘It’s Billie’s decision,’ I say.
Suddenly he drops his grip on the rail, turns, and leaves the ambulance, which bounces up an inch as he jumps the last step.
‘There’ll be hell to pay when I get back,’ she says to me, pulling a blanket up to her neck. ‘But at least it’ll be late and he’ll be asleep.’