Midnight, and the moon rides low above us, trawling the world for heat. We smack and rub our hands, scan the cottage with a flashlight. Frank raps the knocker, and the sound echoes along the black lane.
A moment, and the door opens.
‘Thank you so much for coming,’ says Edward, stepping aside and ushering us forward. ‘Come in. Come in. You’ll catch your death out there.’
He turns and we follow him into a cosily lit kitchen diner. The ancient brick fireplace in the far wall arches over a wood burning stove, where a bright heap of logs blazes and snaps. Around it, pinned across the exposed brickwork, lithocuts of dogs leaping through winter scenes; watercolours of elm trees, wheat fields and crows; and family photos, children and adults, separate, together, their forms and colours merging, ghosting beyond the glass.
‘It certainly is bitter tonight,’ he says, settling back into his chair. There is a cup of cocoa on the oak side table, a pair of bifocals, and a book of poetry by Seamus Heaney face down beside it.
‘Brass monkey sends his apologies,’ says Frank.
‘So what’s been happening tonight, Edward?’ I say, squatting down beside his chair.
‘Well I started feeling this pain in my chest,’ he says, describing a little circle with his index finger in the middle of his jersey. ‘I got a bit worried and phoned the out of hours doctor, and he said he was going to pass it on to the ambulance, because he thought it was just possible I might be having a heart attack. I don’t think I am, though. Do you?’
‘I don’t know. Have you got the pain now?’
‘No. Sod’s law, of course. Almost as soon as I hung up, it seemed to go.’
‘There you are. We don’t even need to turn up and we make people better,’ says Frank, going over to the stove, standing in front of it and raising the tail of his jacket. ‘Ahhhh! That’s more like it.’
‘I don’t want to be a nuisance, chaps. I’m so terribly sorry for calling you out on a night like this.’
‘Don’t worry yourself about that, Edward. The most important thing is to make sure you’re okay.’
We go through the usual questions for chest pain, take a few readings.
‘We need to get you out to the vehicle and do a proper ECG. Is that okay?’
‘Yes. Of course. Whatever you think. Would it be okay if I just called my daughter Stephanie and told her what’s happening?’
‘Sure. Go ahead.’
‘Will I be going to hospital, do you think?’
‘I’m afraid so. You can’t be too careful with chest pain.’
He dials the number.
Frank puts our equipment back in the bag and I write down a few details.
Edward gets through.
‘Hello, Steph? It’s daddy. Look the paramedics are here and they think it’s probably best if I go with them to hospital. I’m so sorry to be a nuisance, dear. But I’m perfectly all right. The pain’s gone and I’m feeling okay. Please don’t worry yourself… No, no. I’m absolutely fine. I’ll be there for a few hours. I’ll let you know when I know more….. No, darling. It’s late and you’ve got work tomorrow….. Honestly darling, it’s very sweet of you but…. well, if you’re sure. I’m so sorry. I’ll see you up there, then? Love you.’
He rings off, gently puts the phone back in its cradle. His hand lingers there for a second.
‘She’s a sweetie,’ he says. ‘And she’s got work tomorrow.’
‘Duvet day,’ says Frank. ‘I’ll write her a note.’
‘Would you? That’s kind,’ says Edward.
He stands up and Frank hands him his jacket.
‘Jane would say I was making a fuss over nothing. And she’d be absolutely right, of course.’
‘Is your wife…?’
‘She died a few years ago, now. Quite a few years, actually. Nineteen eighty five.’
He pauses, his jacket half on, inclining his head, as if someone was calling to him and he couldn’t quite hear. I go to help him finish dressing, a log cracks on the fire, the moment passes.
‘Shall we?’ he says, then reaches up to a hook by the door, takes down a hat, and pulls it on firmly. ‘Lay on, Macduff.’