One of the carers is waiting for us at the doorway to the house.
‘Front room,’ she says, pointing to her right.
Her colleague is pumping up and down on May’s chest, at the feet of May’s husband Geoffrey, who sits watching the whole thing from his armchair by the window. I take over compressions whilst Rae quickly unpacks the bag and sets to work.
‘This might be distressing for you to watch, Geoffrey,’ I say to him over my shoulder as I feel May’s ancient ribs crackle and snap beneath the heel of my hand. ‘Wouldn’t you rather go next door for a while?’
Both carers come over to help him up. We pause compressions just long enough to move May down sufficiently to give them room. They shuffle off into the kitchen, the two carers either side, Geoffrey in the middle with his frame.
‘I think she’s been down a while,’ says Rae when they’re out of ear shot. The defib shows a resoundingly flat line, and although May still feels warm, her pupils are fixed, and there’s a torpor to her eyelids and face.
The first carer comes back in.
‘Anything I can do?’ he says.
‘So what happened, exactly?’
He tells us they’d only just arrived themselves, found May unresponsive in the armchair beside Geoffrey.
‘Geoffrey thought she’d gone,’ says the carer. ‘But I wasn’t sure when. She was okay at breakfast, but that was a couple of hours ago.’
‘How’s May’s health?’
He waggles his hand from side to side. ‘Not eating and drinking all that well the last few weeks. Antibiotics for an infection, but nothing major. It’s all a bit of a shock.’
‘How old is she?’
Rae has the laryngoscope in May’s mouth now, pushing down the tongue to visualise the cords.
‘She’s definitely been down a little while,’ she says.
But we’ve started, and with no absolute certainty about times, we’re obliged to continue.
Twenty minutes later we stop CPR and record the time of death.
We start clearing up the room, making May comfortable and presentable. A cushion and a blanket.
The carer brushes her hair.
‘She was a character,’ he says. ‘A bit sharp sometimes. You were never in any doubt what she thought. But once you got used to her ways she was brilliant. A heart of gold.’
He straightens up and takes a last look at her.
‘Goodnight, May,’ he says. Then he quietly put the brush back on the side table, and goes back out to the kitchen.
Geoffrey has a tartan rug over his shoulders, a cup of tea in his hands.
‘She’s gone, hasn’t she?’ he says when I walk in.
‘I’m so sorry, Geoffrey. We did everything we could, but I’m afraid May has died.’
He closes his eyes, not crying so much as blindly absorbing the shock of the word, powerfully sharp and sudden, like I’d just shot an arrow into an old tree.
‘I held her hand,’ he says after a while. ‘I didn’t want her to go.’
The carers are sitting either side of him. One takes his tea so he doesn’t spill it, the other hands him a tissue.
‘Thank you for all you’ve done,’ he says. ‘You’ve been kind.’
Just beyond the three of them is a large patio window. It’s been raining all morning, but it’s got progressively worse and now a storm has come in. The black and twisted branches of an ancient apple tree just beyond the terrace whip violently back and forth, and fierce gusts of rain rattle across the glass.
‘Oh my good God’ says a carer.
Everyone but Geoffrey looks up.