I can imagine the Georgian architect lowering his papers and making a sign in the air – a simple twist of his hand – and the staircase rising up in front of him, the DNA of his vision for the building: a towering iron and stone helix, with an elegant cherry wood handrail and black curlicue spindles, spiralling up from the black and white squares of the hallway, six storeys up to the angled white glass of the skylight above.
Two hundred years later, Dave – dead drunk, one month into a breakdown - climbs onto the handrail on the very top floor and says he wants to slide down. Dixie, his fiancée, and Rich, his best friend, both lunge forwards. Rich gets a hand to him just as Dave starts to fall off at the first turn, manages to grab him by the collar of his shirt and swing him away from a fatally simple plummet; but he’s at the fullest extent of his reach and as Dave pitches head first into the void he only manages to turn him into a more survivable fall before the hand rail breaks his grip. Dave flies in slow motion, somehow missing the next curve of the balcony below to land with a jarring crash flat on his back on the carpeted landing.
Dave is stretched out in front of me, completely still, breathing slow and shallow from the belly as I kneel down by his head. A wet patch of urine spreads darkly in the crotch of his jeans.
‘Can you talk to me, Dave? What can you tell me about the fall?’
His eyes are half open but he makes no sound or sign of recognition.
Rich squats down beside me. He moves quietly for such a powerfully built man; his great, tattooed forearms resting lightly on his knees, he slowly rubs his knuckles together as he talks.
‘How bad is he? I didn’t move him, that’s what they said on the phone. I’d know that anyway, from the army. But it’s a fuck of a way to fall, mate.’
Dixie sobs loudly when he says this, hugging herself on the deep windowsill of the landing window behind us. Her mascara has melted across her face, and she shivers despite the heat of the building.
‘Let’s have a look. What’s his health like normally?’
‘Fine. He’s a tough little nut. I tried to stop him, but when he gets an idea in his head...’
I reach gently under Dave’s neck and feel for any deformities.
‘Does that hurt?’
He stares up inertly.
Whilst I’m trying to gauge the extent of his injuries, the back-up ambulance arrives. I hear a crash of doors and a cluster of voices down below.
Rich stares me for a moment.
‘I know you,’ he says. ‘You took me in a few months ago when I had too much coke.’
‘I thought you looked familiar.’
‘I haven’t touched it since, mind. It proper freaked me out.’
‘Yeah. Funny you turning up.’
Whilst the crew is talking to someone way down in the hallway, Dave suddenly starts to moan and move about.
‘Keep still, mate. You’ve had a bad fall. You mustn’t move your head.’
‘What’s happened to me?’ he says. His eyes flick alight, two sharp and glassy beads; I feel suddenly compromised, like a chicken inadvertently waking a leopard. ‘Who the fuck are you? Where’s Dixie?’
Rich leans over him.
‘You fell off the banisters mate. About twenty feet, you cunt. You’re lucky to be alive.’
‘Get off me! Fuck off! Where’s Dixie?’
He shakes his head from side to side and struggles to get up.
‘Well his legs move all right.’
I let go of his head.
‘I’m not going to restrain him, Rich. It’ll only make things worse.’
Dave staggers to his feet, then groans and clutches his side.
‘You’ve had a significant fall,’ I say to him, as calmly and clearly as I can. ‘You have to keep still in case you’ve hurt yourself.’
He stares at me and frowns. ‘Who the fuck are you? You’re fucking dead.’ He bunches his fists and almost seems to waggle his hips, like a cat about to pounce.
‘Let me sort this,’ says Rich, stepping between us. He puts a massive hand in the centre of Dave’s chest. ‘Mate. Look at me. Look at me. It’s Rich. You’ve had an accident, mate. You slid down the banisters and fell off.’
‘I saved your life, mate. But listen. You’ve got to let the paramedics sort you out. You don’t know what you’ve done.’
Dixie sobs again from over by the window.
He thrashes his head from side to side, sensing rather than seeing her.
She comes running over to him, takes his head in her hands. They put their foreheads together, Dixie crying ‘Babe! Babe!’ and Dave roaring ‘My side hurts, babe! I’ve hurt my side.’
The back-up crew have made it to the top of the stairs now. They lean on the handrail, getting their breath and taking in the scene.
‘My side, babe! My neck! What’s happened to me?’
‘My baby! My babe!’
Rich pulls his phone out of his pocket and idly checks a text. Then he flips it off again and turns to me.
‘I suppose you get this a lot,’ he says.
I move back to talk to the crew.