Lea is lying in the middle of the dance floor, star-fished tragically like she spun out of a fast move, slowed up and stayed there. Her eyelashes are flickering with the effort of keeping her pupils rolled up zombie style. The rest of the club is jumping around as normal, but Lea has created a little cell of attention around her: two friends, one crying on the other’s shoulder, some others leaning in, struggling to be heard over the bass beats – something about a spiked drink, a fall, a fit – and a couple of bouncers trying to keep the area clear.
Did she hurt herself when she fell?
Did she go down boom with a clatter?
No. She just kinda went.
We need to get her out of the club as quickly as possible. I crouch down next to her and shout her name in one ear, whilst surreptitiously pressing my finger in the space behind the other. She gasps, sits up and pats my hand away.
Lea. We need to get you somewhere safe. Let’s stand you up and help you out to the ambulance. It’s quieter there. More comfortable. Yeah? Ready?
With Rae one side and me the other we walk her towards the entrance, the bouncers carrying our bags, ploughing relentlessly through the crowds like two carthorses in frockcoats communicating with the farmer by chin-mic.
Outside on the forecourt, the air is deliciously fresh. Lea bends forwards and vomits. We wait for that to pass, then carry on walking.
Clubbers lean in, laughing and cheering and comic-swerving the mess as we head up to the truck.
Inside – doors shut, the whirring of the heater, the bright downspots of the cabin lights – the whole thing feels nothing less than sanctuary.
‘Right. That’s better.’
Lea’s twenty, a student at the university. A tall, gawky twenty year old in Gothic clothes, a pentagram pendant, black nail polish, black PVC trousers, pixie boots. When I roll the sleeves of her black lace top up to put the BP cuff on, there are a series of parallel pale scars on her forearm.
Talking to her is difficult. She’s perfectly lucid, but now and again she flops her head to the side and appears to go unconscious. Ella, the first friend, is upset by this; Chloe, the other, has lost interest, distracted by the novelty of being on an ambulance, looking around and saying cute things about the equipment.
‘She collapsed and had a fit last year,’ says Ella, blowing her nose on some tissue Rae gives her. ‘They did all kinds of tests but couldn’t find what was wrong. What do you think it is? We’ve got to find a cure! We can’t go on like this! Oh my God! Shall I call her mum?’
‘Well – it’s four in the morning. Why don’t we find out exactly what’s happening and then maybe give her a call a little later.’
Lea groans, opens her eyes and looks between us all, her confused face as off-the-peg as her unco face.
‘Hi Lea! How are you feeling?’
‘Wha’?’ she says.
‘You collapsed in the club, for some reason. Tell us about last year, Lea. What happened then?’
She puts her free hand over her face.
‘The nurse said I was faking it. The bitch.’
‘But they ran some tests did they? An EEG for example?’
She shrugs, then lowers her hand and makes a grab for the vomit bowl.
‘Is this like – for zapping dead people?’ says Chloe. Whilst Lea vomits into the bowl, Chloe strokes the screen of the Lifepak. ‘Clear!’ she says.
‘Chloe – don’t!’ says Ella. ‘Lea’s had a fit or been spiked or something and you’re clowning around like you don’t care.’
‘I do care, El, but they obviously don’t think it’s anything.’
‘How much have you had to drink tonight, Lea?’ I ask her, writing stuff down on the clipboard.
‘Not much,’ she says, wiping her mouth with some tissue. ‘Not as much as I normally do. I know it’s not the drink.’
‘But sometimes you can lose track of what you’ve had. And other times your body doesn’t tolerate it quite as well.’
She shakes her head, then apparently without anything else to do, collapses into unconsciousness again.
‘Lea! Lea!’ shouts Ella, throwing her arms around her.
‘It’s okay, Ella,’ I tell her. ‘Don't worry. She’s ... erm... resting.’
‘Students, eh?’ says Chloe, sounding as war-weary as a ten year paramedic. She straightens the blanket over Lea’s feet. ‘You gotta love ‘em.’