A woman in a pastel pink terry towelling bath robe waves enthusiastically from the side of the road, a strange, bare-legged, marshmallow figure amongst the early morning commuters in their heavy coats and scarves, the piles of snow spread all around like spilled suds from a bath. Her legs are lobster red, and her hair has been roughly towelled dry, sticking out in tangled clumps. She smiles and jumps up and down in her slippers.
‘He’s down at the bottom of the basement stairs. I thought I heard someone calling.’ She turns and dog-slippers her way back across an icy yard, adding over her shoulder: ‘I was in the bath.’
She leads us to the top of a steep flight of worn stone stairs. A tall, elderly man is standing looking up at us from the bottom. His face is bloody, and the front of his old blue windcheater glistening.
‘Down here,’ he says, raising his arm.
‘Is he all right?’ says the woman, dropping the phone into the baggy pocket of her bath robe and then gathering the fluffy collar of it tightly around her neck. ‘I thought I’d better ring before I did anything else.’
‘Well let’s see. I think you should get inside, though. Thanks ever so much for your help’
‘That’s all right,’ she says, pushing her hair back.’ Then she waves down at the man. ‘Hope it goes well, Mr Chapman.’
‘Thank you, Brenda.’
Then she turns and hurries up the icy steps back into the house.
We pick our way down to Mr Chapman.
‘What’s happened to you, then?’
‘I was just bringing my car battery down for a charge and I slipped on the last step. I’m okay though. I wasn’t knocked out or anything.’
‘Any pain anywhere? Funny feelings in your arms or legs?’
‘Not a thing. My head stings where I scraped it on the wall, but that’s it. I don’t want to waste your time. I’m fine.’
‘Let’s just get you on to the vehicle, give you the once over and see what’s what,’ I tell him. ‘Are you sure you can make it up the steps?’
‘Yes, yes. Just move my battery into that alcove though, would you?’
Frank puts it out of the way and we head slowly back up the stairs.
‘How old are you, Mr Chapman?’
‘And how’s your health?’
‘Fine. Nothing wrong with me.’
He smiles, and his teeth have the usual bloodied definition of head injuries, each individual tooth highlighted with a dark line. ‘No pills or potions.’
‘And still driving, obviously.’
‘It’s my life,’ he says. We reach the ambulance. ‘I used to drive one of these, just after the war.’
‘Really? Well it’s an honour to have you aboard. Shame it’s not happier circumstances, but never mind. There you go. Make yourself comfortable on the trolley.’
‘Look, are you sure this is necessary? I could just go indoors and tidy myself up. You’ve got better things to be doing with your time.’
‘Right now, this is the most important thing for us, Mr Chapman. Let’s just get that jacket off. And – have – a – look at you.’
I start exploring his matted hair. It’s quickly apparent he has a significant wound – a palm sized skin flap exposing his skull.
‘This is quite serious, Mr Chapman,’ I tell him, soaking the area with saline and doing my best to bring it all together and tidy it up. ‘It’s pretty deep.’
‘Really? I don’t think so. I think I just need to go home.’
‘No, no. You’ll have to go to hospital with this one.’
‘Hospital?’ He swings his legs off the trolley. ‘I don’t think I need hospital. Can’t you just put a plaster on it? I’ve had worse.’
‘Absolutely not. This goes right down to the bone.’
‘Really. You’ll need stitches. Some proper looking after.’
He mutters something, then settles himself back on the trolley again. I carry on cleaning him up. After a moment he says: ‘I only wanted to put the battery on charge.’
‘You can do that later.’
‘I don’t want my car running down.’
‘It’ll be fine.’
‘I’ve always taken good care of my cars.’
I toss the bloody gauzes into a bag and Frank helps me bandage the wound up.
‘Are you sure this is absolutely necessary?’ Mr Chapman says, folding his arms.
‘We wouldn’t do it otherwise,’ I tell him.
There’s a pause. Eventually he says: ‘Can’t I just go back down and put the battery on charge?’
‘We need to get you to hospital, Mr Chapman.’
‘Brenda seems nice,’ says Frank, tidying up around us. ‘Jumping out of the bath like that. Running down the street.’
Mr Chapman looks up, tentatively patting the dressing on his head.
‘That’s one way of looking at it,’ he says.