The last drag of light along the horizon. Dusk doesn’t sound right as a word - or maybe it sounds exactly right: dust, musk, dark – a fragile composite, a material thing, ghosting the landscape, reducing these isolated farm houses to a yard light, a tractor beam, a smudge of tree or hedgerow, wall or gate, a mirror of sky in a ditch, a scattering of shapes in a field. The higher we get the more it feels like flying. But the ambulance pitches and rolls, and finally the long road to the top of the escarpment turns us up onto the forecourt of the pub there.
It's been a warm and busy day, but the coming night is sorting the last visitors into those that stay for a pint and those that don’t. Car boots are open and people are sitting in them changing their boots; a man tips a bottle of water into the upturned mouth of a dog; a kitchen porter lounges round the bins and smokes as he watches us; shadows of late walkers on the footpath coming in; the interior lights of the pub blazing through its acres of glass; and from all around the sensation that we’re the focal point of an unfolding drama.
A man steps up to the window and plays his part.
‘The car park at the far end, mate, as far as you can go. There’s a load of police there. You can’t miss it.’
But you could. It’s surprising how the police van and the ambulance car are subsumed in the general confusion of shapes at the edge. A stand of Scots Pine rise up on the right; on the left, a great vacancy of dark, smelling of height and distance. The road surface is unmetalled rock.
A group of three or four police officers chatting and kicking around. We say hello, they point us over to a dark saloon car parked with its bonnet to the edge of the car park. The off-side rear door is shut, but every other one stands open. The lights are off, and all we can see as we walk over is the shape of a paramedic kneeling by the driver’s door. The window of the passenger door behind it is partially open, the gap stuffed with shredded paper. The driver is still behind the wheel, the seat pushed back, his filthy hands resting in his lap. A battered looking guy in his thirties. It looks as if he’s been living in the car.
‘Hi guys. I’ve only just got here myself. But anyway - this is Simon. Simon has tried to gas himself, unfortunately. He ran a pipe from the exhaust and kept the engine running for – how long, would you say, Simon?’
Simon speaks with his face pointing forwards, like an astronaut stunned by the curve of the earth through his windscreen.
‘An hour? I lost track.’
‘So. About an hour then. Maybe unconscious, not sure. Simon’s also took a bit of heroin, so he’s got a few things going on. A member of the public found him.’
Between us we help him out of the car, discreetly making sure he doesn’t have anything on him that he might suddenly use against himself, or us. But he walks calmly and steadily to the ambulance, and we sit him on a chair. I go to swap the oxygen spigot from the far side to the outlet nearest to him, but some reason it won’t click in.
‘Here. Give it to me. I’m an engineer.’
With his powerful, filthy hands he turns the spigot around until it snaps into place. He tests the flow, then relaxes his hands again. ‘I’m good at that shit,’ he says.
I put the mask on him and run through a set of obs whilst my crewmate negotiates with the police. At one point Simon raises his arms out to the side, turns his hands from side to side and flexes his fingers. He looks like a man coming out of a deep freeze.
‘I’ve fucked this up as well,’ he says. ‘I wasn’t supposed to wake up.’
Then he opens his eyes and studies me glassily.
‘I don’t even have any money to pay the fine when the police take the car.’
‘Don’t worry about that,’ I say, and then: ‘Try not to worry about that. These are special circumstances. I’m sure we can work something out.’
Simon closes his eyes again, and then the only sound for a while is the oxygen, steadily hissing into the mask.