Mark flinches when I wrap the blood pressure cuff round his arm.
‘Sorry it’s cold,’ I tell him.
‘It’s fine. It’s fine,’ he says.
He’s holding his arm straight out in front of him. I rest my hand on his wrist to ease it back down; he’s so tense it’s like positioning the arm on one of those jointed artist’s dolls.
‘Just relax it on your lap, Mark. Like that.’
‘Okay. Yep. Right.’
He stares at me as I work the bulb of the sphyg – so intensely it feels as if it’s not just the cuff I’m pumping up.
‘Is it high?’ he says.
‘It is high, yes. Do you suffer with that?’
‘No. Is it dangerous, do you think?’
‘I think you’re stressed at the moment and that’s putting it up. We’ll do it again in a little later and see if it’s come down.’
‘What if it doesn’t?’
‘Let’s just see how it’s doing ten minutes from now. I’m sure it’ll head south again.’
‘If you think.’
Along the corridor in the kitchen I can hear Rae talking to Mark’s wife, in low, serious tones. I know the kinds of things she’ll be asking. I wonder if he can hear them, too.
‘I understand you called the police earlier, Mark?’
‘Yes. Yes, I did. Earlier, yes.’
‘Why? What was that about?’
‘It was stupid, really. I know it was stupid. I had a bad night. I was restless. I’ve got a lot on my plate. What with the redundancy and one thing and another. I just couldn’t settle. My mind – my mind was whirring round and round. I couldn’t make sense of it all.’
‘So you called the police?’
‘The dog. I called them about the dog. I know it sounds stupid. But I got it into my head the dog was in danger.’
His jaw trembles and I know he’s about to cry.
‘I can see it’s been really stressful for you lately, Mark.’
He nods, wets his lips.
‘I think a lot of people get fixated on odd things when their mind’s in turmoil like that – especially in the early hours.’
‘I don’t want to worry anyone. I don’t want to worry my wife. Things are difficult for her, too.’
‘Are you looking after yourself, Mark? Eating, drinking okay? Getting enough exercise? You seem in pretty good shape.’
‘I cycle a lot. Run. Walk the dog.’
‘Where is the dog? She’s very well behaved, considering all the strange voices in the house.’
‘She’s upstairs in her crate. She’s a good girl.’
‘Why don’t you let her down? We’re fine with dogs.’
He goes out of the room. A few moments later there’s a thundering sound on the stairs and a Springer Spaniel charges in, wagging her tail, clambering over my bag, shoving her nose into it, then up into my face, leaping onto the sofa and immediately off again, overwhelmed by it all.
‘Meg! No!’ shouts Mark, following her into the room. He strides over to the sofa and she slinks after him, plumping herself down at his feet and then staring up at him, panting. He sits next to her, slowly, stiffly, holding his eyes closed for a moment or two, then taking a breath, and flicking them open again.‘Do you want to check my blood pressure?’ he says, holding out his arm.