The fog has come in quickly from the sea tonight, running cold through every aspect of the town, past the dark windows of the houses and offices, across the pavement flags, even into the breath of the people huddled at the taxi rank. The fog is claiming it all, freezing it, possessing it utterly, reducing the town to a particled grey blur, a bark in the distance, a hush.
‘I suppose they mean this fountain.’
We take a torch and climb out of the ambulance.
The gardens spread out in front of us, massy and dark, a muddle of trees on the periphery, silhouettes of shrubs and benches, whilst in the centre, rising silent and black, the fountain itself. Across the other side is a public convenience converted into a cafe. We can just make out two NFAs sheltering under the overhang of the roof, but they seem happy enough, so we ignore them. Instead we walk on towards the fountain, to see if our patient’s there.
I put the light of my torch around the bottom of it, the empty basin, and then up the central column. Three grotesque iron fish lie on their chins, twisting their tails and up together to support the first of three scallop-shaped bowls. Duck-lipped, bug-eyed, the nearest one stares back at me. I get the feeling if I stayed here much longer the fog and cold would creep up my legs until I was petrified, like him. Because of course, this is the secret, this is how these things are made, in fogs like this. In five minutes I’ll be just another public sculpture, in a black iron Hi-Vis, with a caught expression, like the fish. In memoriam: EMT. A traffic cone on my head every summer.
Rae’s found him – I can’t believe I walked right past – an elderly man, lying on his side beneath a bench, scrunched up as small as he can make himself, hidden beneath layers of jumpers, coats, a hood and a beanie.
‘Are you all right, mate?’
He groans awake.
Meanwhile, the two figures from the cafe have wandered over to see what’s wrong.
‘It’s only Jed.’
‘What’s he done now?’
‘Someone passing on a bus saw him lying on the ground and thought he’d died or something.’
‘No! He hasn’t died. Has he?’
‘Jed? Jed? Have you died, mate?’
Jed groans some more, and pulls his hood more firmly over his head.
Rae plays the light over him.
‘We’ve just got to reassure ourselves you’re okay and don’t want our help, Jed. Sorry to bother you, but it’s a bit cold to be lying out here like this, don’t you think?’
‘What’s the alternative?’ says one of the guys.
‘Round to your place?’
The other one stares at Rae like the fountain fish.
‘You’re nice,’ he gapes. ‘You can come and stay in our Garden of Eden anytime.’
‘Yeah,’ says the other. ‘Come on, Eve. I’ll let you lick my apple.’
‘Okay, guys’ she says. ‘That’s enough.’ Then to Jed. ‘Do you want our help, mate, or shall we just leave you to it?’
‘Well that’s pretty clear.’
She straightens up.
‘It’s just drink,’ says one of the NFAs.
‘It’s a good job he is drunk n’all,’ says the other. ‘Otherwise he’d get a bit...’ He adopts a gentlemanly fisticuff pose. ‘Know what I mean?’
‘Anyway, if you could keep an eye on him,’ says Rae when he’s done. ‘Try and persuade him to sit with you by the cafe. It’s too exposed out here.’
‘Right you are, Eve,’ says one.
They turn and head back to their pile of things over at the cafe; we go back to the ambulance.
‘Hang on a minute,’ says Rae.
She nips inside the cabin, fetches out a blanket, then walks over to Jed again and drapes it over him.‘There you go,’ she says. ‘Keep warm, mate.’