Ray’s wife Anne meets us at the top of the steps.
‘He’s lying on his side. I can’t move him. I think there’s something wrong with his breathing.’
‘Where is he?’
‘In the kitchen. But he’s big …’
We hurry in to the flat. Ray is lying on his left side on the floor of a narrow, galley kitchen, a pool of yellow vomit around him on the vinyl tiles. He is gasping spasmodically like a landed fish, his hands and nose and lips already a mottled grey blue. I feel for a pulse at his neck.
‘Nope. Agonal. We need to get him on his back.’
‘You be careful,’ Anne says, peering in over Frank’s shoulder. ‘He must be eighteen stone.’
I’d guess at least twenty-two. I grab his belt with one hand and guide his head with the other whilst Frank reaches in and uses Ray’s crooked legs as leverage. We manage to turn him on to his back in one haul, then reposition our grips and slide him a couple of feet away from the mess to a clearer space near the entrance. I pull his shirt up and start chest compressions; his eighty year old chest immediately snaps and cracks, giving beneath my hands like an old wicker basket.
‘Anne? When was the last time anyone saw Ray on his feet?’
‘I should say about half an hour ago.’
‘So he’s been down at least twenty minutes or so.’
Frank sticks the pads on and sparks up the defib.
‘Off’ he says, then after a moment: ‘PEA – on you go.’
‘Is he going to be all right?’ Anne says, one hand abstractedly plucking at the loose folds of skin beneath her chin.
‘He’s very poorly at the minute, Anne. His heart’s not working properly. This’ll be difficult for you to see. Why don’t you go out into another room whilst we do what we can? Is there anyone around who can sit with you?’
Just then a deep male voice sounds from along the corridor.
‘Stanley Green! says Frank, looking up from the head end where he takes care of ventilations. ‘I didn’t know you lived round here.’
A thick set guy with electric white hair and Fifties sideburns shows his face around the corner.
‘I live upstairs, Frankie. It’s Ray, is it? I saw the ambulance.’
Stanley watches me working on him for a second or two. Then he takes Ray’s wife by the shoulder. ‘Come on,’ he says. ‘Let’s go next door for a bit.’
‘Just before you go – Anne? What’s Ray’s medical history? What does he suffer with?’
‘Oh you name it,’ she says. ‘Do you want me to fetch you his appointment card? He’s supposed to be going in for a check-up in a couple of days. I suppose I’ll have to cancel that now.’
‘And how was his health today? Was he complaining of anything particularly?’
‘No. He was in a good mood. We were going out later.’
She frowns, watching me compress her husband’s chest but not seeming to connect with the desperate nature of my actions.
‘I’ll have to have a ring around,’ she says absently.
‘Come on, Anne. Let’s go and wait outside and let these guys do what they do.’
‘Do you want to know anything else? Towels? Water?’
‘No. Thanks. We’re fine. You go with Stanley and we’ll carry on. There’ll be another crew arriving in a moment to help us out. Maybe you could talk to one of them and give them all Ray’s details.’
‘Will do,’ she says, and Stanley leads her off.
An hour later and we all agree there’s nothing more to be done. Ray had a brief moment when it looked like his pulse might make a comeback, but it proved to be a false, adrenalized dawn (as they often are). We stand back from his body and begin to organise a clear-up. Frank goes to speak to Anne. After a few seconds I hear an agonised howl from a room out back. After a moment Frank re-appears.
‘I told her she could come in after we’ve cleaned him up,’ he says.
We drag him out of the kitchen and onto the carpet. It looks more comfortable than lying on the bare lino. We wipe his face, adjust his clothes, lie him neatly, place a clean white blanket over his length.
‘Are you going to extubate?’ I say to the paramedic.
‘No. I’ve got to leave it in situ for the coroner.’
But it seems a shame. Stanley comes in to the room and blanches when he sees his friend lying on the floor. But then he motions behind him for Anne to come in, and she takes her place by his side. After a moment she says weakly:
‘What’s that sticking out of his mouth?’
‘That was a tube to help him breathe. We’ve had to leave it in, I’m afraid.’
‘For the post mortem.’
We start to ferry our kit out of the way, discretely moving around Ray as he lies there, massive, motionless, jarringly out of place, run aground on the threshold of his kitchen. As I retrieve a scattering of drug packets from just the other side of him I notice the small bookcase, a CD player on the top shelf, rows of neatly stacked CDs beneath it. There is a tall, faded looking CD box leaning against the player where Ray left it: Dean Martin, posing in an open-necked, black silk shirt and rumpled cream jacket. Memories are Made of This.