‘The woman on the phone said I had to get down on the floor and press up and down on his chest, but I couldn’t, not with my condition.’
I’m sitting with Steve on a broad yellow sofa; from our position we can see and hear the crews working on his father in the kitchen – the calm requests and comments, the beeping of the metronome, the passing of seconds and then minutes as relentlessly as the sweep of the second hand on the clock above the doorway.
‘See his feet moving? Is he conscious?’
‘No. It’s a mechanical thing, because of the chest compressions. Are you sure you don’t want to come and sit a bit further off, Steve? It’s an upsetting thing to watch.’
‘He’d want me here. I won’t leave him.’ Steve inhales wetly, then looks down to the tissue in his hand, absently watching it turn over and over in his fingers.
‘I knew something wasn’t right,’ he says. ‘We’ve got this routine. Dad gets up at half five, comes down to the kitchen, has a cup of tea and takes his pills, puts the washing on, sets out the breakfast things, then comes up to run me a bath and get me out of bed. But when I opened my eyes the house was quiet, and I looked at the alarm clock and it said half past eight, so I just knew something had happened. He’s dead, isn’t he?’
‘We’re doing everything we can, Steve. You’ve got the best team possible in there. If anyone can help your dad it’s them. We’ve just got to wait and see.’
‘But I know he’s dead. His tea was cold. There’s nothing you can do. I just wish I could’ve done something myself, but it’s difficult enough to walk, let alone get on the floor.’
‘You called the ambulance, Steve. That’s the main thing. You did everything you could.’
‘He’s dead though. I can’t believe it.’
In contrast to the crowded kitchen off to our left, the sitting room stretches out around us cool and quiet, thrumming with order in the early morning sunshine, every picture and ornament, cushion and cabinet freshly dusted and meticulously placed.
‘You keep a lovely home,’ I say to Steve. ‘How long have you lived here?’
‘We moved when my mum died. About ten years now.’
‘It’s so bright.’
‘Yeah. It really catches the sun.’
‘Lovely garden out there, too, by the looks of it.’
‘He never stopped.’
He runs up against the idea of that, and pauses a while. Then he reaches for the phone on a side table.
‘Can you call Janice for me?’ he says, handing it over. Then: ‘Wait. No. I’ll do it.’
Time slips slowly through the house.
In a neighbouring garden, some children come out to jump on a trampoline; their shouts rising happily on the bright blue air.
The activity in the kitchen changes, becomes less focused, more contemplative, post event. The metronome is switched off. The lead paramedic comes in and kneels beside Steve. He says they did all they could and gave him every chance, but it was probably just too long since he collapsed. He says Steve’s Dad has died, and he’s sorry. He says he knows it’s no consolation, but in his experience, by the look of everything, it would’ve been quick.
‘I’m sorry for your loss.’
‘It’s not your fault.’
The team withdraws, the kitchen gets tidied, everything the same – the cup of tea and the handful of pills on the breakfast counter – but now Steve’s Dad lying on the floor beneath a blanket, his head on a pillow.
‘I want to kiss him goodbye but I can’t get down there,’ he says.
‘Shall we make your Dad comfortable on this sofa?’
‘No. He wouldn’t want that. He wouldn’t want to mess it up.’
‘We can put sheets and things down.’
‘No. Could you just lift him up so I can kiss him, then leave him back where he is?’
‘I’ll talk to the others.’
Frank gets a scoop stretcher from the truck. We load Steve’s Dad onto it, then lift him up onto the counter. I bring Steve into the room; he hobbles over and kisses his Dad on the cheek.
‘I’m sorry, Dad,’ he says, over and over again.
His Dad’s face has the haughtiness of death, a wax representation of the man that was, but easing imperceptibly, like the impression of a footprint at the edge of an ocean, succumbing grain by grain to the dissolution of all things.
‘You can make him comfortable on the floor again if you want,’ says Steve.
We lower him down.
In the neighbouring garden, the children are called in to breakfast.