Mr Weston lies on his back on the trolley, staring up at the lights in the hospital ceiling as we wheel him through. A large, fleshy man in his seventies, he’s been here a couple of days post-fall; now we’ve been asked to transfer him to a specialist neurological centre.
Just before we go into the lift, a woman and her young son appear in the lobby.
‘Is it all right if we…?’
‘Plenty of room.’
She hesitates, but everyone knows how slow these lifts are; it’ll be a while before the next one. She comes on, hugging the boy to her, occupying as little space as possible up near the buttons.
Suddenly, for the first time since loading him on the trolley, Mr Weston stirs.
‘…and the trajectory of the bullet was such that enormous trauma was experienced…. given the size and velocity of the round… massive cavitation….fully investigated, of course…’
The woman hugs her boy, one arm round his body, one round his head to cover his ears. I try to catch her eye, to reassure her they’ll be all right, but actually I’ve no idea what Mr Weston will say next.
She keeps her head down, staring at the floor as we descend.
Mr Weston is in a strange, dreamlike state. If you ask him a direct question he’ll answer, but then quickly trail off into some ongoing lecture about ballistic trauma.
‘Were you in the army before you retired?’ I ask him.
He rolls his eyes, his fattened senses trying to locate the source of the question. Without actually seeing me, he smiles and lifts a heavy hand.
‘Yes, sir. Twenty-five years a soldier.’
He moistens his lips, then sinks again.
‘…but then after the impact, the collateral damage… of course subsequent studies have borne this out… trauma volumes, kinetics… the pathways aren’t always easily anticipated, the geometry of these things is often complicated…’
It’s late at night. I wait with Mr Weston as Rae ducks outside to the ambulance to put the ramp down and open the doors. The wind cuts around her, barrelling through the great artificial valley of these hospital buildings; when we wheel Mr Weston out, the blankets we’ve so carefully tucked around him are pulled aside.
‘Soon have you in the warm.’
‘Yes. Of course,’ he says. ‘This is the problem.’
Mr Weston is lulled by the gentle rocking of the ambulance and the low-lit cabin. Now and again his eyes flicker open and he frowns, as if he’s mildly surprised to find himself on his back. I read his notes, make some observations, but with everything stable and not much to do, the warmth of the cabin, the gentle light and the hushing and splashing of the tyres along the wet road, it’s a struggle not to fall asleep myself. At one point the ambulance seems to jolt, and when I put my hand out I’m temporarily disoriented. Did the ambulance go over a bump, or was it me jerking awake?
Mr Weston has his eyes open as well. He makes vague alterations to his blankets as he stares up at the ceiling.
‘Almost there,’ I say. ‘Not long now.’
‘I was a teacher,’ he says, unexpectedly. ‘In civvy street.’
‘Oh? Really? What was your specialty?’
He pauses, then seems to melt away into the word: