A dark, wet night.
A juicy scrunch as I step on a snail.
‘What a dreadful night!’ I say, reaching over to flip the latch of the garden gate, getting soaked as I brush up against the hedge.
‘Especially for the snail,’ says Rae.
Enid is waiting for us at the door, clutching the fluffy collar of her pink dressing gown around her neck, the light from the hallway spilling out around her onto the wet path.
‘He’s in the kitchen,’ she says, shuffling ahead. ‘Bert’s out looking for his other slipper.’
Enrico is slumped on a high-rise kitchen chair, resting his bloodied head against the door frame. He has on a khaki jacket and jumper, but below the waist just a pair of boxer shorts.
‘He’s ninety-six you know,’ says Enid, standing next to him and holding his hand. ‘I mean, I’m eight-three. But ninety-six.’ She gives his hand a squeeze. ‘Aren’t you, petal?’
Enrico lives over the road. He was going up to bed when he tripped and fell backwards, cracking his head on the way down. He managed to get himself up again, but instead of dialling 999 he decided to come over to Enid and Bert for help. It took a while for them to answer because they’d gone to bed, and anyway, they were nervous about opening the door so late at night. I mean, who could it possibly be? When they did they found poor Enrico, slumped amongst the pots and snails in the rain. They helped him into the kitchen, called us.
He has a nasty head wound, the scalp scraped open at the top, the dull cream of his skull below.
‘What? What’s this?’ he mumbles.
‘He hasn’t got his hearing aids in,’ says Enid.
I give him the quick once over. It’s going to be difficult to fit a collar on him because of his size and shape. We decide to get him out to the vehicle and immobilise him there on a vacuum mattress, as naturally and comfortably as we can.
I dress his head wound whilst Rae goes to fetch a carry chair.
‘What’s your past medical history?’ I shout in his ear.
‘Your past medical history. What do you suffer with?’
After a moment he raises his left arm.
‘What am I looking at?’ I shout.
‘It’s his arm,’ says Enid.
‘What’s wrong with your arm?’ I shout in his ear.
‘Strafed. By the Luftwaffe,’ he rumbles. When I push up his sleeve I can make out the scar tissue, visible as an odd ruck of pale skin, an incomplete tattoo.
Rae comes in with the chair.
As we’re helping Enrico onto it, there’s a stamping of feet in the hallway and Bert appears, a mac over his pyjamas, a torch in his hand.
‘I went up and down,’ he says, ‘but I couldn’t find it.’
He stands next to Enid as we help Enrico onto the chair. They watch with an appalled slack to them, witnesses to something they probably guessed must happen sometime soon but that came so unexpectedly tonight.
They snap out of it, though – Enid to move the hall table out of our way; Bert to light the path.
* * *
We’re rocking gently along to the hospital. I’ve dimmed the lights in the back. Enrico is held snug by the rigid sides of the vacuum mattress, the criss-crossing straps, the head blocks, the blankets. He opens his eyes when I ask him questions, but otherwise lies as still as an Egyptian mummy.
‘Who’s your next of kin?’ I ask him.
‘My mother and father,’ he says.
I stroke him on the shoulder and carry on writing.
He breathes gently and easily and seems to fall asleep for a minute or two, but then suddenly opens his eyes wide, his mouth open – not in fear, though. More in wonder.
‘What is it?’ I say, leaning forward in my seat again. ‘What’s wrong, Enrico?’‘I can see a naked man,’ he says, looking up at the ceiling. ‘A naked man, shining.’