The snowstorm passed as quickly as it came. The next morning the sun was out so powerfully that by lunchtime most of the roads were clear again, leaving patches of snow and ice on gardens and bushes and pavements. Agnes Reynolds re-emerged from her house, bundled up in a ski-jacket, bobble hat, sunglasses, padded gloves and Hunter boots, and set out for the shops.
She got about fifty yards.
A treacherous sweep of black ice on the pavement corner, exacerbated by the awkward camber there, had her over before she even knew she was going. She landed awkwardly, her right leg twisting underneath her. She heard the snap of her ankle and knew it was broken. A neighbour hurried out with a blanket. Between them – incredibly – they managed to get the boot off, propped the leg up on Mrs Reynolds’ shopping bag, the foot lolling at a unhealthy tilt to the right, and waited for the ambulance.
‘I feel so stupid,’ she says as we strap her into a splint.
‘There’ve been plenty of falls today, Agnes. You’re not the first. I doubt you’ll be the last.’
‘But it’s so embarrassing.’
‘It’s an accident. One of those things.’
Despite the fact that there’s a woman sitting on the ground being attended to by paramedics, an ambulance right alongside, with only the narrowest route open along that stretch of pavement, several people still come past: a man with a fat brown Labrador, two old women, a man with a baby in a sling, and a kid listening to music on phones.
All of them slip.
The man with the Labrador makes the wildest shapes; the dog pulling him forwards at the same time as his feet whip out, so he has forward momentum to contend with. He manages to stay upright only by hugging a telegraph pole.
The two old women clasp each other in terror, their shopping bags whipping round them both like Gaucho bolas.
The man with the baby does a panicked bobbing from side to side with his arms protectively clamped round his cargo. He looks ashen, but the baby seems to like it.
The kid listening to his phone is my favourite. He makes the most catastrophic attempts to stay on his feet, an octopus on roller skates. But he manages it, then carries on walking without any change of expression. Incredibly, a couple of minutes later, just as we’re loading Agnes onto the trolley, he comes back, the same absorption in his phone. Again, the crazed dance of death over the black ice; again, he just manages to keep his feet. He passes by.
Agnes smiles and shrugs.
‘I’d better call Gary,’ she says, as the ambulance doors are slammed shut and we move off. ‘He’s working away from home again and won’t be back till the weekend.’
‘Will he come and see you at the hospital?’
‘I don’t think it’s necessary, do you? It’s a lot of bother for him.’
She takes her hat off and puts the phone to her ear. When Gary answers, a combination of his loud voice and the high volume of Agnes’ handset means I can hear every word.
- Gary? It’s Agnes.
- I can’t talk long, love, I'm in the middle of something.
- Gary? I've had an accident.
- You've what?
- I've had an accident. I fell over.
- On the pavement.
- What pavement?
- The end of the road.
- What road?
- But I'm all right. I think I've probably broken my ankle, though.
- Where did you say?
- I'm with the paramedics. I'm in an ambulance going to hospital. But don’t worry, Gary. I'm perfectly all right, apart from my ankle. I don’t think there’s any need for you to drop everything and come and see me. (She pulls the blanket away from the splint and stares down at her leg as if it belongs to someone else)
- No? Well...
- Honestly, Gary. I'm fine. I’ll probably be up there ages. You know what it’s like. I’ll give you a call and let you know how I'm getting on a bit later on. Okay?
- It’s just I'm in the middle of something.
- Don’t worry. An X-ray and a spot of plaster of Paris. That’s all it is. I’ll be fine.
- If you’re sure.
- I'm sure.- (long pause) What were you doing out anyway?