Suddenly a curtain of fine water sweeps down from the night sky and closes across the world. I’m piloting a submarine, the headlamps straining forwards through the gloom; somebody clutching an umbrella glides past like a jellyfish; I see an elderly woman standing in a lighted doorway, clutching a dressing gown together at her chest with one hand and waving with the other; we turn out of the cab and swim across the pavement towards her.
‘What a night!’
‘Thank you so much for coming. I’m afraid Geoffrey isn’t too good. I just can’t seem to wake him.’
Her bungalow is a warm, yellow sanctuary. The water cascades noisily just behind us beyond the open door, but in here the air is quiet and bright, the walls neatly painted, hung with delicate portraits of people, and dogs, and people with dogs – on a low walnut table guarding the hallway is a marble statue of a Jack Russell, sitting on its haunches looking backwards over its shoulder, as if it had been turned to stone in the middle of a walk.
A black and white photograph of a young pilot; an oil painting of a young woman; a row of framed kennel club certificates.
And into a clinically white room where Geoffrey lies slumped on a pneumatic bed, his puffy face flushed red, breathing noisily. He has a nasal canula leading off to a cylinder of oxygen, and a catheter leading out from under the bed sheets to a bag hung on the side.
‘Geoffrey? Hello, Geoffrey – it’s the ambulance.’
He opens his eyes and grunts slightly. We sit him more upright and check him over.
Rae finds the care folder – emphysema, palliative care at home, no DNR.
Geoffrey’s wife Jean touches me on the arm.
‘I didn’t know what to do. I can’t cope if he’s as bad as this.’
It’s late at night. Despite the palliative care order, there’s nothing else available to us but to take him to hospital. We ask Geoffrey if he wants to go, and he nods.
‘Don’t worry, Jean. We’ll take good care of him.’
We can just fit the trolley into the house. I feel bad about the tracks the wheels make down the carpet, but Jean waves that aside. I have to move the table and the statue of the terrier to get along the hallway.
‘Ah, Gertie,’ says Jean, patting the statue on the head. ‘She was a good dog.’
I put the statue to one side, just by the doorway to the sitting room.
As we wheel Geoffrey back along the hallway, Jean asks us to wait a moment whilst she says goodbye to her husband. She pushes a few strands of white hair away from his eyes, looks at him intently, then kisses him lightly on the lips. He barely responds.
‘I hate to see him go to the hospital on his own, but I just can’t cope.’
‘It’s okay, Jean. No one will think badly of you.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Absolutely. Get some rest tonight. Call the hospital in the morning.’
She gives him one last stroke on the arm and we carry on down the hallway.
Looking ahead out of the front door, it seems as if the rain has stopped. We pass the living room. Gertie is there, looking over her shoulder. I expect her to run after us as we manoeuvre the trolley over the front step and head out into the shining dark.