‘I need ice, Jan. Please. I’ll bleed out otherwise.’
Jack is sitting hunched over on the sofa, a wicker wastebasket lined with a plastic bag set on the coffee table in front of him, spilling over with bloodied kitchen towel. He has a freezer bag filled with crushed ice draped over the back of his neck. Jan, his girlfriend, the woman whose flat this is, stands by in attendance, smiling apologetically and wiping her hands on a tea towel.
‘Okay, Jack. I’ll see if there’s any left.’
Jack makes a dreadful, dredging kind of retch, and a clot like a plump red jelly flops out of his mouth into the basket.
‘I had an operation on my polyps two weeks ago,’ he gasps. ‘Started bleeding and it wouldn’t stop. Ended up in ITU for a week. They kicked me out a few days ago. I’ve been bleeding on and off like this ever since. Up to A&E twice, had my nose packed out, sent home. I told them – I’m gonna bleed and bleed and bleed, but would they listen? No. No one ever listens. So here we are. Have you got ice on your truck?’
‘We’ve got those chemical ice packs.’
‘They’re no good. I need ice.’
‘Let’s see how you get on with them, Jack.’
Reluctantly he submits to having the old pack taken off and one of our packs put in its place.
‘You should wrap it first,’ he says.
‘No, no. They’re designed for contact with the skin.’
‘It’s not cold enough.’
‘It’ll get cold. Give it time.’
Jan comes in with another freezer bag of ice.
‘Give me that,’ says Jack, blindly swiping the air in her general direction. ‘This thing’s no bloody good at all.’
‘I’ll follow up in the car,’ says Jan, gently putting the bag of ice around his neck with the formality of an alderman hanging a gold chain around the neck of the mayor. ‘To keep our options open.’
‘Someone’s got to do something,’ he says, then gags, and begins hauling a rope of congealed blood from his mouth that goes on for so long it’s like watching a magician haul a line of flags from his sleeve. I want to applaud when it comes to an end, but simply watch quietly as it follows everything else into the basket. ‘When I stand up, watch my trousers,’ says Jack, when he gets his breath back. ‘That’ll be the next thing.’
‘Don’t worry. I’m on your trousers,’ I say, as we manoeuvre the carry chair into position.
‘I won’t need that,’ he says. ‘I have to keep forward. That’s no good.’
He stands up. His trousers are firmly belted, but I give them a tug, just to make sure.
‘Hey! Steady!’ he says.
I hand him a vomit bowl, and he allows Jan to take away the basket.
‘So where’s this sodding ambulance?’ he says. With one hand around the bowl and the other grasping his nose, he shuffles out of the room and down the corridor. But suddenly he stops, and turns his head slightly to the side.
‘And just for your information,’ he rasps, ‘when we get to the hospital, I’m not doing a damned thing until you get me more ice.’