‘Does your son have far to come?’
‘No. He lives just the other side of town. He said he’d be over right away.’
‘He is good. I’m lucky.’
Peter stands in the doorway of his lounge, next to the portrait his son made of him back in the Seventies: a sombre, charcoal and chalk three-quarter length study of a monolithic figure meeting the future in an open neck shirt. It’s a close resemblance; apart from a certain hollowing and softening over time, it’s still the man himself framed in the doorway now, looking straight at us.
‘So. Have you got everything you need, Peter? Did you want to put a jacket on?’
Peter has taken an overdose of paracetamol. We’ve had so many of them lately, it’s like we’re standing in a field trying to hold back a rag-tag militia whose shuffling advance is beaten out on a big white drum marked 500mg.
‘I talked to Simon,’ he says. ‘He’ll meet us there.’
The ambulance tips and sways. The bright morning light cuts in through the window blinds and rakes the interior. Peter sits neatly in his seat, making only the smallest, most economical compensations to maintain his balance.
‘I just wanted to sleep,’ he says, resting his eyes on me. ‘I’m tired of all the effort. You know – getting up, eating breakfast…’ he breaks off, faced with a great channel of despair. Then he sighs and links his fingers neatly in his lap. ‘Let’s just say I was tired,’ he says.
‘Are you getting any help?’
‘Everyone’s been more than kind. I couldn’t have had better support. And Simon, he’s wonderful. But really – at the end of the day – what can anyone say? If it’s not working, it’s not working, and with the best will in the world there’s not anything anyone can do about it.’ A band of light scans his face; he closes his eyes and lets it. ‘I’m a disaster area,’ he says, opening his eyes as we suddenly move into the darker zone of an underpass. ‘Everything I touch falls to pieces.’
‘We’ll be there in five minutes.’
‘How are you feeling?’
‘I’m fine, thank you.’
He sits quite still and contained, despite the massive dose of paracetamol, the years that led to it, the hours he lay staring up at the ceiling from the early morning to the moment he picked up the phone and called his son – despite all these things, he maintains an impressive air of competence.
‘What line of work were you in before you retired?’ I ask him.
‘I was a diamond cutter,’ he says.
‘Wow,’ I say. ‘I’ve met people from about every other profession I can think of, but you’re my first diamond cutter.’
‘It’s a specialised field.’
I remember an article on the news recently about the discovery of a planet on the furthest reaches of the galaxy, a little planet so densely packed with carbon a good part of it must be pure diamond. I hesitate to mention it, for some reason.
‘So. How do you cut a diamond? I suppose you’d have to use another diamond.’
‘Diamonds do cut diamonds,’ he says. Then, after a pause: ‘But of course much of the process would be better described as a grinding.’