The bed people are in the bedroom, setting up the bed.
‘How long will it take for the mattress to inflate?’ I ask them.
‘Half an hour or so. You get a green light at the bottom when it’s ready. Not something you can rush, unfortunately.’
I knew this was going to be trouble. I knew it when the job came through: Pressure relief mattress due for delivery. Help required with transfer. Wife on scene for access. An address way over the other side of town. Barely half an hour from our finishing time. And a journey back against the rush hour traffic. Querying the need for us to attend was fruitless. It was unusual, but for whatever reason Control had committed a resource, and we had to go. Half-way there we thought we’d escaped, diverted to a male, unco, in the street. But the male turned out not to be quite as unco as first thought, and ran off before we got there.
They sent the bed job straight back through again.
When Mrs Chastain answers the door her manner is so chilly I wonder if she thinks we’re bed people, too. Which in a way, I suppose we are.
‘Can I ask your name?’ I say, stepping into the lobby.
‘Mrs Chastain,’ she clips. ‘Well you’re here now, so that’s something. When I spoke to your people they said it might be four hours, and even then they couldn’t guarantee it.’
‘I know. You see, we’re an emergency ambulance, so other calls take priority. In fact, we were diverted to an unconscious male on the way here…’
She sighs. ‘Anyway, you’re here. The bed people are just setting up the new bed now. Apparently it takes a little while for the mattress to inflate.’
‘You’ve let a fly in.’
‘A bluebottle. I can’t stand them. Open the door and pray it makes its own way out.’
‘I’ve got a self-closing fly-screen on the back door,’ she says. ‘This one shouldn’t need it because it’s got the lobby. But you left the outside door open when you came through.’
She goes back into the bedroom to superintend the bed people. We exchange a look, then follow.
The bed people are hot and exhausted. But despite all this, they still manage to be scrupulously polite. Mrs Chastain responds with glacial suspicion.
‘Make sure it’s all properly connected,’ she says. ‘All the bolts tightened up.’
‘No worries. Oh – by the way. Don’t use a fitted sheet on the mattress,’ says the Leader of the Bed People. ‘It interferes with the action.’
‘I don’t use fitted sheets. I used to be a nurse. I know all this.’
‘Lovely. There. Now. All set up. Just got to wait for the mattress to fill.’
He gives us a wild look, the kind of thing you might see in a wrecked sailor struggling ashore.
‘We’ll just be outside getting some air,’ he says.
Mr Chastain is asleep in the old bed. None of the activity has roused him at all, a combination of his medication and general infirmity. He’s propped up on a dozen cushions, his swollen arms out on the coverlet. Mrs Chastain sighs, and ushers us back out into the lobby.
‘I can make you tea if you’d like?’ she says.
That would be great.
Whilst she goes into the kitchen, Rae radios Control to ask if there’s a more local crew who could take this job on. They tell her that things are so busy, if we clear up now we’d only cop something else and be late off. Our fate is sealed.
We wait for our tea, and for the mattress to fill.
There’s a large porcelain figurine on an ornate stand in the lobby – a Twenties flapper struggling to hold her hat on with one hand and the lead of an Afghan hound in the other. I copy the pose just as Mrs Chastain comes back in with the tea. I pretend to be stretching my back. She frowns, then hands me a delicate china cup. The handle is so small I have to pinch it between my index finger and thumb.
‘There are some coffee grounds in there, too. They fell in accidentally. Anyway. This is most important. Whatever you do, do not disturb Mr Chastain,’ she says. ‘He’s in a very delicate state and I don’t want him upset in any way.’
‘No harsh moves. Nothing sudden or rough.’
‘Okay. We’ll do our best. Thanks for the tea.’
There’s a knock on the door.
Mrs Chastain starts, then smoothes her skirt and goes to answer it.
It’s Bunny and Deidre, come to help.
‘We saw the Bed People outside. Anything needs doing?’
‘No, dear, thank you. Although – I might need a hand moving some furniture from the front room.’
They smile at us; we raise our cups to them.
‘I’ve just had a thought,’ says Mrs Chastain. ‘Have you still got the sliding sheet William had?’
‘Yes, I think I do.’
‘You couldn’t fetch it across, could you? Only we’ll be moving him soon.’
‘We’ve got all that stuff,’ I say to her, but Mrs Chastain doesn’t seem to hear, turning on the spot and swishing back into the bedroom again. But just as she reaches the bedroom door, she suddenly turns and strides back into the lobby again, sticking both fingers in her mouth and giving a piercing whistle, right by Rae’s ear, who almost throws her tea in the air.
‘Found one!’ says Mrs Chastain. ‘Don’t worry!’