Thursday, October 04, 2007

manhattan by night

We’ve just cleared up from our first job of the evening, way out in Oldport. A man had been dancing along the pavement outside his house, playing his tin whistle, when he fell down an uncovered manhole and scraped his shin. I was surprised that he escaped with such minor injuries. He lay contentedly sprawled on some tie-dye cushions like some down-at-heel sultan whilst his girlfriend talked – with worrying intensity – about infection, fractures, compartment syndrome. I had cleaned the graze and offered some reassurance whilst the man stroked his wispy black beard and stared down at me lovingly.

Back in the cab, finishing off the paperwork, I put the cab light on. The grey evening sky is plump with rain; thick spots begin to rattle down on the cab. And then a red call comes through on the terrafix: along with the address, the description of the problem reads Man with bag on head. We laugh, just as Control calls up on the radio asking us to advise and assess as this patient is possibly deceased. I ask for the police to attend as well; Control tells me that they are already en route.

‘Are they all like this in Oldport?’ I ask Richard as he puts the blue lights on and we bully our way out into the traffic.
‘Absolutely every last one,’ he laughs. ‘But the houses are affordable.’

We pull up outside the address, one of a long row of light coloured semi-detached houses, each one only differentiated from the other by the colour of the door and the condition of the little white wooden balcony over the living room window. Through the downpour I can see two men standing hunched over mugs in the doorway. I jump out, haul out the resus bag, and then walk over to them.
‘Hello,’ I say briskly, ‘What’s the problem?’
Whilst one of the men stares at me, glassily white as his mug, the other takes a bracing sip and then turns to lead me up the stairs.
‘We’ve been away for the weekend’, he says. ‘We came back and found him like this.’
‘Is he a relative of yours?’
‘A friend.’ And opening the little bedroom door, he stands aside to let me through.

There is a naked man lying on his back on the bed over by the window. He is obviously dead. Even through this sixty watt gloom I can see the post mortem staining – the blotchy tide mark on the underside of his body where the blood has pooled. But then, without this marker, there would still stretch out a profound distance between us, the living ones at the door, and the dead one posed and frozen over there on that bed. The difference resonates on the chill air as the rain rails down outside.
As I walk into the room I check the details: a clutter of little plastic popper bottles and something that looks like a small thermos flask around his feet; his penis lolling darkly up onto his abdomen from its tightened scrotal sack; his arms fixed upright, crooked ninety degrees at the elbow, his hands and fingers delicately curled. I am reminded of Millais’ portrait of Ophelia, drifting off to her doom on a dark river. But whilst that Ophelia wore an expression of sensuous detachment, this one is racked by a monstrous Elvis sneer, and for a second I wonder why - until I understand that he has something stretched tightly over his head, nose and mouth.

Richard stands beside me. ‘Whoa!’ he says.

‘Isn’t that – a condom?’ I say.
The nipple shaped crest, designed to catch his ejaculate but filled here instead with a quantity of stale air and some nitrous oxide, pokes up like the button on a joke policeman’s helmet. Through the translucent rubber bubble the man’s eyes stare out at us, his eyelids half-closed.

Richard nudges me, and gives an infinitesimal shake of the head to let me know that he doesn’t think I should mention the condom again.

‘Could you go to the vehicle and ask for an ETA, please?’ he says, pleasantly. And then leads the friend back out of the room to ask him further questions.

I pick up the resus bag and turn to follow them out. My last impression of the scene is of the picture that hangs above the man’s bed, a cheap, gold-framed print: Manhattan by night.

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