Sunday, February 20, 2011


I can imagine the Georgian architect lowering his papers and making a sign in the air – a simple twist of his hand – and the staircase rising up in front of him, the DNA of his vision for the building: a towering iron and stone helix, with an elegant cherry wood handrail and black curlicue spindles, spiralling up from the black and white squares of the hallway, six storeys up to the angled white glass of the skylight above.

Two hundred years later, Dave – dead drunk, one month into a breakdown - climbs onto the handrail on the very top floor and says he wants to slide down. Dixie, his fiancée, and Rich, his best friend, both lunge forwards. Rich gets a hand to him just as Dave starts to fall off at the first turn, manages to grab him by the collar of his shirt and swing him away from a fatally simple plummet; but he’s at the fullest extent of his reach and as Dave pitches head first into the void he only manages to turn him into a more survivable fall before the hand rail breaks his grip. Dave flies in slow motion, somehow missing the next curve of the balcony below to land with a jarring crash flat on his back on the carpeted landing.

Dave is stretched out in front of me, completely still, breathing slow and shallow from the belly as I kneel down by his head. A wet patch of urine spreads darkly in the crotch of his jeans.
‘Can you talk to me, Dave? What can you tell me about the fall?’
His eyes are half open but he makes no sound or sign of recognition.
Rich squats down beside me. He moves quietly for such a powerfully built man; his great, tattooed forearms resting lightly on his knees, he slowly rubs his knuckles together as he talks.
‘How bad is he? I didn’t move him, that’s what they said on the phone. I’d know that anyway, from the army. But it’s a fuck of a way to fall, mate.’
Dixie sobs loudly when he says this, hugging herself on the deep windowsill of the landing window behind us. Her mascara has melted across her face, and she shivers despite the heat of the building.
‘Let’s have a look. What’s his health like normally?’
‘Fine. He’s a tough little nut. I tried to stop him, but when he gets an idea in his head...’
I reach gently under Dave’s neck and feel for any deformities.
‘Does that hurt?’
He stares up inertly.
Whilst I’m trying to gauge the extent of his injuries, the back-up ambulance arrives. I hear a crash of doors and a cluster of voices down below.
Rich stares me for a moment.
‘I know you,’ he says. ‘You took me in a few months ago when I had too much coke.’
‘I thought you looked familiar.’
‘I haven’t touched it since, mind. It proper freaked me out.’
‘I bet.’
‘Yeah. Funny you turning up.’
‘Small world.’
‘And high.’
Whilst the crew is talking to someone way down in the hallway, Dave suddenly starts to moan and move about.
‘Keep still, mate. You’ve had a bad fall. You mustn’t move your head.’
‘What’s happened to me?’ he says. His eyes flick alight, two sharp and glassy beads; I feel suddenly compromised, like a chicken inadvertently waking a leopard. ‘Who the fuck are you? Where’s Dixie?’
Rich leans over him.
‘You fell off the banisters mate. About twenty feet, you cunt. You’re lucky to be alive.’
‘Get off me! Fuck off! Where’s Dixie?’
He shakes his head from side to side and struggles to get up.
‘Well his legs move all right.’
I let go of his head.
‘I’m not going to restrain him, Rich. It’ll only make things worse.’
Dave staggers to his feet, then groans and clutches his side.
‘You’ve had a significant fall,’ I say to him, as calmly and clearly as I can. ‘You have to keep still in case you’ve hurt yourself.’
He stares at me and frowns. ‘Who the fuck are you? You’re fucking dead.’ He bunches his fists and almost seems to waggle his hips, like a cat about to pounce.
‘Let me sort this,’ says Rich, stepping between us. He puts a massive hand in the centre of Dave’s chest. ‘Mate. Look at me. Look at me. It’s Rich. You’ve had an accident, mate. You slid down the banisters and fell off.’
‘Fuck off.’
‘I saved your life, mate. But listen. You’ve got to let the paramedics sort you out. You don’t know what you’ve done.’
‘Where’s Dixie?’
Dixie sobs again from over by the window.
He thrashes his head from side to side, sensing rather than seeing her.
‘Dixie! Dixie!’
She comes running over to him, takes his head in her hands. They put their foreheads together, Dixie crying ‘Babe! Babe!’ and Dave roaring ‘My side hurts, babe! I’ve hurt my side.’
The back-up crew have made it to the top of the stairs now. They lean on the handrail, getting their breath and taking in the scene.
‘My side, babe! My neck! What’s happened to me?’
‘My baby! My babe!’
Rich pulls his phone out of his pocket and idly checks a text. Then he flips it off again and turns to me.
‘I suppose you get this a lot,’ he says.
I move back to talk to the crew.


BB said...

I can't believe he got up! Tough old nut is right. Probably being drunk is what saved him.

Jane Brideson said...

What a fall. Made me feel ill to imagine it.
I don't know how you managed to get Dave calmed and into the ambulance, he must have been so shocked.
Hope he was OK eventually ?

Spence Kennedy said...

BB - Incredible that he came through that. Def a tough nut. But sober, no doubt he would've perished!

Jane - We didn't really manage to get him calmed. We were an hour getting to hospital, even though it was only five minutes away. He was persistently aggressive and combative - so much so, that we had the police attend. They stood off out of sight, but it was comforting to know they were there. I've no idea how badly injured he was. My impression was that - despite the dreadful fall - he was fine! :/

Unknown said...

It amazes me to think of the traumas people are able to survive. Too bad Dixie wasn't more help. She seemed to have the best chance to get him calmed down.

I loved the description of architectural intent at the beginning. The beauty and lines of an artist's mind becoming a vehicle of mayhem to the whims of a drunken one.

jacksofbuxton said...

I think drunks tend to fall like little children,they don't brace themselves in any way and just sort of land.Whereas a sober person prepares and tenses up.

If this bloke is a regular gig,it might be worth getting hold of a few old mattresses to leave at the bottom of the stairs.

Spence Kennedy said...

Nari - In the end it was only a combination of Dixie and Rich that coaxed him down to the truck. He was persistently combative though - whether that was a head injury or his natural state exacerbated by the alcohol it was diff to say. The whole job took about an hour and a half (and the hospital's only round the corner!)

JoB - I think that's def true. He pretty much floated through the air and survived a fall that would've killed a sober person. I take the suggestion for future care of this patient. Maybe I should go on Dragon's Den with a drunk suit - it inflates when it senses an imminent impact... :/

Cheers for the comments!

Tony Van Helsing said...

It's hard to feel any sympathy for a dickhead who gets aggressive with the people who are trying to help him.

Crosby Kenyon said...

Dave's predicament and outcome has its own twisted logic. What leads to his behavior saves him in the end. Do you suppose it's in his DNA?

Spence Kennedy said...

TVH - I know what you mean. We got very frustrated with the guy. But you have to cut him some slack - sometimes aggressiveness is a symptom (cerebral irritation). Although in his case, it was almost certainly plain cussedness.

CK - He was a wiry terrier of a guy. Ex army and tough as you might think. I expect he's climbed over some pretty dangerous things in his time...

Thanks for the comments :)

Anonymous said...

BB, a drunk driver drove his car head-on, at speed, into a car being driven by one of my relatives. My relative was seriously injured, with a fractured hip among other things, and trapped in the wreckage.

The drunk got out of his car and fled into the night. While ambulance crews treated my relative, police dog handlers went after the drunk. They found him just under two miles from the crash scene. He was combative and still intent on getting home.

When the police took him to the ground, the one on his legs discovered his hand was wet. He thought it was urine, but torchlight revealed the truth. It was blood. Another ambulance was called.

When the case came to court, it emerged the drunk driver had fractured a leg in multiple places, including an open fracture. And he'd still covered almost two miles.

(I'll leave it at that. My thoughts on drunks are probably best left unsaid.)

Spence Kennedy said...

Dreadful story, Stonehead. Sorry to hear your relative had to suffer like that - hope they've recovered well.

It is amazing what injuries people can tolerate in the heat of the moment (and under the influence). I've seen a bouncer walk out of a club on a gross dislocated fracture of the ankle!

Alcohol's a lovely thing, but there's really no end to the problems it can bring. Scary, really.

Cheers for the comment.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately my relative never fully recovered from the fractured hip. It took a long time before he was able to walk again and he always had to use a stick when he did. As I said, my thoughts on drunks are not printable.

Spence Kennedy said...

V sorry to hear that, Stonehead. I hope the driver was suitably punished - although that's something you can never bank on, either. I think permanently revoking their driving licence would be a start.