Mr Bacton is sitting in a supermarket wheelchair, discretely hidden behind a supermarket mobile screen, on the edge of the supermarket car park. With his neck in a white cervical collar and in his large flat cap, he could be a giant species of mushroom wheeled out for the village parade. A community responder stands behind him holding him by the stem, whilst around him, chatting happily amongst themselves, are the supermarket first aider and her excitable young assistant; the supermarket manager, Mr Bacton’s wife, a police officer, and an anguished middle-aged woman who massages her hands and moves restlessly from foot to foot, looking everywhere but at Mr Bacton.
Frank circulates, playing the crowd; I go up to the responder who gives me the basic story, the injuries she found, the worst being some central neck pain. Mr Bacton remains at the centre of the whole drama, splendidly immobile, deeply unimpressed.
‘Keep your head nice and still whilst I have a feel, Mr Bacton. Is it a bony pain, here, right in the middle, would you say? Or is it more off to the side?’
‘Is it what?’
‘Does it hurt here – right here – in the middle – where I’m pressing? Or is the pain more to the side?’
I give him the once over; apart from his neck and some superficial grazes, he seems to have come through remarkably intact.
‘So tell me what happened, Mr Bacton.’
‘I told them already.’
‘I know, I know. I just want to hear it for myself so I can get the story straight.’
He flicks his tongue over his lips and sighs.
‘I was walking behind my wife along the pavement to the supermarket. We stopped at the zebra crossing. Eventually a woman waved for us to go on. I admit we were a little bit slow: my wife had her hip done last year and I’ve got arthritis, you see. Anyway, when we reached the other side, I turned to give the driver a cheery wave.’ He sighs. ‘That’s when she ran me over.’
The supermarket first aider’s assistant bounces up and down behind me.
‘Shall I help you get the trolley out?’ he pants. ‘Do you need some blankets fetching?’
‘Yeah. Good idea. Go get some blankets.’
He bounds off.
‘Because of the neck pain you’re describing and the mechanism of injury, we’ve got to assume the worst and take you to hospital as flat as we can. We’ll put you in a vacuum mattress, and strap you up so you won’t move about en route. Purely precautionary. I’m sure it’s all fine.’
‘Yes. Well,’ he says.
‘I’ll follow in the car,’ says Mrs Bacton.
Mr Bacton stiffens. He tries to turn his head but the responder has a good grip.
‘Keep very still,’ she says, and smiles at me over the top of his cap.
‘Are you sure, Dorothy?’ he says. ‘You know what happened last time.’
Suddenly she doesn’t seem all that sure.
‘Is it difficult parking at the hospital?’
‘This time of day it shouldn’t be too bad,’ I say, picturing the parking Armageddon that is A&E. ‘You’ll be fine.’
The first aider’s assistant has come bounding back with an armful of blankets. He peers over the top of them.
‘Where do you want them?’ he says.
Mr Bacton looks across at him. I could swear he growls.