We step outside to give the family time alone with Bill.
The house is part of a long and steeply-banked estate cut into the side of a valley. Way off in the distance, the last of the farms that used to dominate the landscape stand hard against the sky on the valley rim, horses roaming the high-sided fields, scatterings of sheep, smoke from a brush clearance. The day has risen with dizzying clarity. You can almost hear the fizz of sap rising in the hedges and trees and shrubs, filaments of green springing from the dark networks of branches; intense bursts of colour from the daffodils, anemones, forsythia, camellia. The edge of everything, every nick and stretch, from the flick of a pigeon’s eye to the splinters on the rough cut timbers being delivered next door, everything hangs with a clarity of focus as bright as the ringing sky above us.
‘Everything all right?’ says the delivery guy, wiping the back of a gloved hand across his forehead.
‘Not all that great, to be honest.’
‘Oh. Is the van all right up there or d’you want it moved?’
‘You’re fine. Thanks anyway.’
‘Give us a shout if you need a hand.’
He walks back up the steep steps to grab another timber.
The police arrive. We meet them at the top of the path.
‘Thanks for coming. Nothing suspicious. What it is – we’ve got a seventy seven year old – Bill. Got up at six as usual to make the breakfast. His wife Ellen didn’t hear anything more from him, went down about seven thirty or so and found him lying on his side in the kitchen, not breathing. She says he opened his eyes when she shook him, but didn’t say anything. Couldn’t move him or do any CPR. We got here and did what we could, another crew backed us up, but it wasn’t any good. Asystole throughout. The rest of the family – son and daughter in law – came by about five minutes after we got here. They’re all in the sitting room, pretty upset. Come on in. I’ll introduce you.’
One of the officers stays with the family whilst I take the other into the kitchen to inspect the body. We’ve tidied our clutter away, put back the oven gloves I used to kneel on when I did the compressions, mopped up the bile-stained vomit, wiped Bill’s face clean and closed his eyes. He lies on his back with a blanket under his head and another stretched over his length. Only his face is visible, waxy and slack, and the tips of his slippers poking out from the bottom of the blanket, angled left and right.
‘He was in hospital a few months ago about some breathlessness and fluid retention, discharged with query heart failure and an upcoming heart appointment, but other than that his health was pretty good. Apparently Bill had complained of some chest pain last night but he’s always been a stubborn so-and-so and just wanted to go to bed with a hot water bottle. Was out all day yesterday on his bike, up town buying flowers.’
I hand the officer copies of the paperwork, and leave him to it. We say goodbye to the family as we pass by the sitting room on the way out.
As we step onto the patio, I’m struck full on again by the force of colour and light outside. It feels as if I’ve been given a pair of x-ray specs, so dreadful in their scope that every hidden network, from the water pipes running under the path to the tiniest capillary bed in my nail; from the sapwood in that laurel tree to the spidery crystalline threads in the granite; from the red blood cells drifting down and pooling in Bill’s veins to the molecules of chlorophyll hustling light in the cells of the grass - an infinite, unremitting network of being and becoming, reaching out, growing and connecting, breaking up and then blindly making good again.
We pick up our bags, walk back up to the ambulance, and I radio control to tell them how things stand.