The house at the end of the street is strangely elevated, sitting on a steep rise like a grim urban decoration on a grassy cake. A tuck of steep concrete steps zigzags down from the front door, a black iron handrail running along the right side.
Rozka is sitting on the last step, holding a bloody handkerchief to the side of her face. Pavel, her partner, is speaking excitedly into a mobile; he steps out into the street and waves his free arm in the air. As I pull over, he grabs the handle and hauls the door open.
‘Whoa! Just slow things down a bit,’ I say, pulling the keys out of the ignition. ‘My colleague just needs to get a bag out of the back.’
‘Please. My wife,’ he says, stepping back onto the pavement, glancing up and down the street, into the sky, as if he were expecting a fleet of other vehicles and a helicopter. ‘She fell.’
‘Let’s have a look.’
You would think the two of them had been heading out to a fancy dress party if it wasn’t nine o’clock on a weekday morning; Pavel as Tony Montana, Rozka as – who, exactly? An ankle length black fur coat with a feathery black trim, ruched white blouse with pearls and earrings, a bone-clasped stack of crow black hair, blood red lipstick, and a pair of slingbacks so precipitous she could by-pass the stairs all together and step out of the house straight on to the street like a circus performer leaving for work.
‘I tripped,’ she says, looking up with her one good eye.
Frank checks her over. It looks as if she stumbled on the last step, pitched forwards onto the pavement, and gave herself a glancing blow on the side of her face which broke her sixties style glasses, giving her a small but stitchable cut just below the right eye. Luckily, everything else is fine.
We clean and dress the wound, help her up.
‘Love your shoes,’ says Frank. ‘I’d need a ladder to get into them, though.’
‘I know they’re a bit over the top, but I can’t help what I like.’
Pavel bowls across. As he talks, he waves his arms in the air to illustrate the magnitude of the accident. His shirt is unbuttoned to the belly, and the ropes of gold chain he wears around his neck tug and tangle in the thick grey curls of his chest hair.
‘You will kill yourself one day. One day you will fall from the very top of the stairs straight onto your head and your brains will be splashed across the road. How will that be, hey? How do you think that will be? What am I supposed to do then? I love you. You’re my baby and I love you for always. But I’ve told you and you do not listen.’
‘Pavel?’ says Frank, lowering his head. ‘If you wouldn’t mind just easing off a bit. Let’s try not to get too fired up.’
‘Sure, boss. Of course. You know best.’
But just as he steps away to make another call, Rozka starts talking at him rapidly and bitterly in Slovakian, and he is pulled back into the fray. We help her into the ambulance, and on the pretext of taking some observations in private, we gently close the door on him.
As soon as they are separated, Rozka resumes her placid demeanour.
‘Thank you for coming,’ she says. ‘It’s all so stupid.’
‘Pavel is obviously upset.’
‘He gets very excited about things and he hates my shoes. He’s always saying they’re too tall. But I like them. I’ve never had an accident before.’ She shrugs. ‘It’s just an unlucky day.’
Five minutes later we let Pavel on to the truck. He bounds on.
‘Thanks for everything, guys,’ he says. ‘Thanks.’
The two of them stare at each other, then Pavel reaches out both hands, clasps her face, studies her intently for a second or two at arm’s length, then kisses her gently on the forehead. It’s a touching moment. But just as Frank gives me the nod and I open the door to get out, Pavel hurls himself into another tirade.
‘Steps… shoes… brains…’
I close the door behind me, and put the radio on in the cab.