The last time I was here the hostel was being refurbished, a building site, covered in snow. The access road, a steep driveway fenced high up on either side and difficult to navigate at the best of times, had disappeared beneath a thick covering, so we left the ambulance on the top road and continued on foot. It was late at night, everything was hunkered down; the only sound was the crumping of our boots in the snow.
But that was six months ago, and the season has flipped on its head. The sun is up, the snow has long gone, and with it the security fences and portakabins, the temporary lighting and hulking steel containers. In its place is a quadrangle so new it could have dropped fully formed from the sky. There is a glittering crust on the limestone paving slabs that crackles as we walk on it. Either side, grass lies in unsettled slabs on the earth, the shrubs in the freshly chipped beds are tied with white tags, the timber of the bicycle rack and refuse point is raw and untainted, and the pond in the centre of it all, flat and lifeless, pea green with an algae bloom, has been planted with lilies, their new leaves just visible as faint shadows curling up from the black plastic planters on the bottom.
The site manager had no idea anyone had called for an ambulance.
‘Eddie? I think he’s in. Why? Is he ill – well, of course he must be ill. Here, I’ll go in with you.’
She seems too young for this; she swaps the handheld radio about between her hands as if she doesn’t know how to carry it all, the clipboard, the radio, the large bunch of keys.
At Eddie’s room she knocks gently and puts her ear to the door.
‘Eddie? Are you okay? Did you call an ambulance?’
There is a faint noise from behind the door, so the warden puts the key in the lock and lets us all in.
Eddie has pulled all three blinds down, and the room is lit only by the thin strip of bright daylight that underscores each of them, and by the light that spills in around us from the corridor. The man himself is lying on his back on the sofa, one muscular arm crooked up to partially cover his face, the other gripping a coverless duvet to his chest.
The room looks ransacked. Family photos scattered around the floor, a laptop and cables, DVDs and CDs lying out of their cases, cans of beer, letters from the council, bank statements, free magazines, an upended ashtray. The only order in the room is along the far wall, behind the sofa, where Eddie has stacked a number of tool boxes around an angle grinder and a canvas bag of clothing. Dominating the room, standing between the door and the sofa, is a metal gantry from which a red leather Lonsdale punch bag hangs. The bag has words scrawled on it in black marker pen: Louise XXX, My Girl, I heart Shelley.
‘Eddie? We had a call from a third party who said they were worried about you. They said you’d been talking strangely, threatening to hurt yourself.’
He drops his arm from his face and studies us.
‘Eddie. Have you hurt yourself?’
‘Have you taken any pills, for example?’
‘No. I said I would but I didn’t.’
‘So – it’s just alcohol?’
‘And you haven’t cut yourself, or anything like that?’
The three of us stand quietly for a moment.
The scheme manager shifts her weight, and taps the aerial of her radio on her leg.
Eddie suddenly sits up, puts his bare feet flat on the carpet, and then presses his eyes with the heels of his hands. When he lowers them again he looks at us and seems to see us for the first time. He says: ‘God. Why are you here?’
The punch bag hangs between us all, perfectly still.