George is wearing so many layers it’s difficult to get to his arm for the blood pressure. And the more layers he sheds, the more the ambulance is filled with his body odour, a mature and seamy fug that speaks of airless rooms, empty cupboards, spotted curtains, damp corners.
For some reason he has an elastic band around his wrist.
‘What’s that for, George? To remind you of something?’
He stares at me, his face pale and slumped with the shock of it all.
‘Seventy years I’ve been driving and never had an accident. Seventy years and now this.’
He looks at me, his eyes watery and preternaturally large behind the thumbed lenses of his spectacles.
‘If you’d told me this morning what was going to happen I wouldn’t have bothered.’
‘Where are you living these days, George?’
‘I’ve got two places and that’ s half the trouble. One of them’s what you might call my old address where I keep all my stuff, and the other is where I live most of the time, where my post goes, so I suppose you’ll want that?’
‘My nephew’s always on at me to sell ‘em both. I know he just wants to put me away so I can die and he can have the money. And now this. I suppose you’ll take me to hospital, then they’ll put me in a home, and that’ll be that. Still, I suppose it had to happen sooner or later.’
He grips my arm.
‘Why now, though?’
‘One thing at a time, George. There – just relax your arm.’
We run our tests. Everything checks out. He’s still pretty shaken after the accident, though, and there are concerns about his overall state of health.
‘Anything else you want out of the car before we go?’ I ask him.
‘Just my bag,’ he says. ‘It’s got my phone and keys.’
The traffic is starting to clear now. The first ambulance on scene has taken the other patient, and the police have moved George’s car to the side.
‘Look at the state of it,’ says the officer. ‘I bet he’s been sleeping in there.’
‘I wouldn’t be surprised.’
‘Are you taking him to hospital?’
‘Yeah. He’s pretty shaken up.’
‘Not as much as the pedestrian,’ says the officer, nodding to the bullseye on the windscreen. ‘Apparently he ended up doing a cartwheel over the bonnet.’
‘Yep. George drove straight through a red light. Poor guy didn’t stand a chance. Scary, when you think of it. All those Georges out there.’
The officer follows me back onto the ambulance and pulls a breathalyser out of his pocket.
‘Now then!’ he says.
George stares at him with the same slack expression he’s had the whole time.
‘Seventy years I’ve been driving,’ he says. ‘I learned in the army. And I was so good, I ended up on staff, driving the General about.’‘Driving the General?’ says the police officer, snapping the mouthpiece onto the breathalyser. ‘Well that sounds – a long time ago.’