We’re desperate to be off on time. We’ve all had several shifts, long overruns. Rae’s got a dinner date, Caz the student paramedic is meeting friends up town, and I feel like I’ve only seen the family long enough to kiss them goodbye or hello. Timing is everything, then, which is why Rae is driving like an urban fox, any trick or shimmy, whatever it takes to get us through the evening rush hour to the female, overdose in the centre of town.
‘Scoop and run,’ she says, flipping the ambulance arse-up, nose down and diving down a manhole. ‘Breathe in’
There are two guys of indeterminate age, raddled with rough living and rougher vodka, sitting out on the stoop of the block, watching the sun go down.
‘Is it Emma?’ says one.
‘Door’s open,’ says the other. They both lift their bottles in a hearty salute.
Deeper inside the building and we find another security door between us and the corridor we want. For a moment we wonder how we’re going to get through, because Emma isn’t answering her buzzer. I’m just about to go back and ask one of the stoop guys when Caz calmly reaches through the space where a pane of glass should be, and flips the latch.
‘I just thought it was very clean,’ I say.
We hurry on.
Emma’s front door is unlocked.
The hallway to the flat is lit by a shadeless bulb, a feeble spread of yellow light over walls daubed with words in turquoise paint: DIE TOM. I WANT TO HURT YOU BAD. TOM IS SCUM.
There’s a loud noise from the bedroom, something like a klaxon on a sinking submarine: BARRP BARRP BARRP BARRP.
Emma is naked on the bed, reading the text message that the hideous alarm has alerted her to.
With her pendulous breasts and generous folds of flesh rolling out over wide hips, all in the dip of the mattress, she reminds me of one of those Palaeolithic figurines carved in bone or stone, an abstract, totemic figure. But if the ice age women were carved to represent fertility, Emma has come to represent something else, something less productive and more despairing. She sobs, then chucks the mobile across the room, rolls over on to her side, and pulls an Arsenal quilt over her.
‘My head,’ she says, her voice muffled by the quilt. ‘I’ve got a bad feeling in my head.’
‘What bad feeling?’ says Caz.
Rae glances at her watch.
‘Shall we get you some slippers and a dressing gown, Emma?’ she says.I hurry off to find them.