She said, ‘Don’t be such a sook,’ and flashed him one of those looks of hers, suddenly flinging herself at him, arms around his neck, legs wrapped around his waist, locking together so that he couldn’t free himself. She hugged his head to her chest almost shrieking with laughter, so tightly that he had trouble breathing.
His arms flailed, seeking support from the bench somewhere behind him; he felt himself falling, her weight impossible to counterbalance, and she wriggled and squirmed so much that he knew he didn’t stand a chance. As they fell he tried to twist her around so that he wouldn’t fall on her and hurt her; though she deserved everything she got, really. But he loved her, and despite everything he forced her around before he hit the floor, her head crunching into his, one of her elbows smashing into his chest. He heard his rib crack.
They lay in silence for a moment, shocked by the fall, a tea-towel still in his hand, her hair over his face.
‘You all right?’
He couldn’t answer; he had no breath, for a start, and he was really, really scared to move, even to draw breath. Could it pierce his lung, the broken rib?
She lifted her head and looked at his face, saw the fear there and slowly drew her arms from around his neck and allowed his head to slowly sink to the floor. Her left leg was still under him.
‘What is it?’ His eyes were closed, and his face was as white as a face could be without being dead. She could see he wasn’t breathing. Pushing against him with her free leg, she drew the other from under him, and as he rolled onto his back he gasped for breath then let out one loud, shocking shriek.
His eyes were open now, and it was clear he was in terrible pain. His lips were drawn back from his teeth, his jaw clamped tight. ‘Broken ribs,’ he gasped, and brought his arms up to hug his chest.
She knelt over him, desperate now, her mind racing. Ambulance? Yes. She jumped to her feet and raced to the other room, grabbing the telephone and trying to remember what to do, running back to be beside him, kneeling again while dialling, sobbing a little as she realised that it was all her fault.
‘Police, fire or ambulance?’ inquired the telephonist, her voice flat, almost bored.
‘Putting you through.’ A series of clicks. Then ‘What address, please?’
She told him, and impatiently led him through the accident, and what she could see. They would be there very soon, she was told.
‘The ambos are coming,’ she told him, and he tried to nod, his eyes closed again. What should she do? She rushed to their bedroom, dragging the quilt from the bed and rushing back down the stairs. Careful, she told herself as her feet caught in the trailing quilt, careful. In the kitchen she draped the quilt over him, wondering as she did so if she should try to tuck it under him. No, better not to move him. She felt his forehead, dimpling with sweat. The skin cold, clammy. Shock, she recognised.
‘You okay, Babe?’ she asked. ‘Oh God, Babe, I’m such a dill. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I just didn’t think.’ That’s you all over, she said to herself... you just don’t think. A tear squeezed itself out, and ran slowly down her cheek to her jaw, quickly followed by another and then another, until they were streaming down her face and she could hardly see. ‘Babe,’ she said. ‘Oh Babe.’
The phone rang, and for a moment she couldn’t remember what to do to make the connection. She stared at it for a moment before pressing the right button. ‘Yes?’ she said.
‘Is that you?’
‘Oh Jane, it’s you. I’ve hurt him and he’s lying on the floor and we’re waiting for the ambulance.’
‘Hurt him? How?’
‘I was just messing around, and I jumped on him and he fell down and I landed on top of him and he can’t breathe properly and I’m scared, so scared...’ she couldn’t think of anything more to say.
‘You’ve called the ambulance? What did they say?’
‘That they’d be here very soon. I don’t know where they’re coming from. I think they know it’s urgent.’
‘Is he unconscious?’
She looked at him. His eyes were screwed tightly shut, which she supposed meant that he was in pain, so he couldn’t be unconscious. ‘I don’t think so.’ She shook him by the shoulder, gently. ‘Hey Babe, you awake?’
He gave the slightest of nods.
‘He’s awake,’ she said into the phone. ‘But he’s really hurting, and I can’t get him to tell me anything.’
‘Is it his head? Did he bang his head?’
‘I think he’s broken a rib. I fell on him and my elbow...’ she sobbed, unable to go on.
‘Okay. I’ll get off the phone in case it’s needed. Call me immediately you know anything and... give him my love, okay?’
She nodded dumbly, still sobbing, and held the phone to her ear until she heard it disconnect. ‘It was your mum, Babe,’ she told him when she could speak again. ‘She wanted me to tell you she loves you.’
He nodded once more, moving his head just slightly in confirmation.
She went to the front door, opened it and looked out hopefully, looking each way and cocking an ear. She could hear nothing. Leaving the door ajar she returned to the kitchen, wet the corner of a tea-towel, the one he had been holding, and knelt once more at his side. His eyes were still screwed up. She wiped his forehead with the wet tea-towel, because they always did that on the TV; perhaps it was to help keep patients cool? He was already cold, so she stopped wiping his forehead after a while.
‘Are they going to be long?’ she heard him ask. His voice was weak and low, so low she could hardly make out what he was saying. She knelt once again, bending forward and kissing him on the forehead. He was beginning to shiver. ‘No, they won’t be long,’ she told him. Where the hell are they? she asked herself.
There was a sudden knocking on the front door, loud and demanding. ‘Come in,’ she shouted. ‘Who is it?’
Two men stood in the kitchen doorway, each with a large bag. Blue overalls, soft peaked caps, badges on shoulders. One spoke into a radio microphone, but it was all jargon and she didn’t understand a word of it. There were muffled replies in a metallic tone, interrupted now and again by static.
‘What happened, love?’ the second man asked her. As he spoke he peeled back the quilt and took the wrist, holding it in the way her doctor did, searching for a pulse.
‘We were messing about and I jumped on him and he fell over and I landed on top of him and he’s really hurt he says his rib is broken and he hasn’t moved and he’s not breathing right...’
‘Okay, love. Now I’m just going to check a few things, so you go and tell my mate what happened, and we’ll sort that out later, okay?’
She nodded, then stood and watched as he took one of those cuff things they use for checking blood pressure, seeing how quickly and carefully he did everything, using a torch to look into his eyes, running his hands quickly over the limbs, turning the hands this way and that. ‘Bang his head at all, did he?’
She nodded, tears starting again.
‘Okay,’ he said eventually. ‘We’ll get him out of here.’ He undid his bag and brought out a syringe and a tiny bottle. ‘Just something to stop the pain,’ she heard the ambo say as he slipped the needle into the arm. Within seconds she saw his eyes relax, though he didn’t stop hugging his chest.
‘Oh,’ she cried as he turned his head to her and smiled. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, Babe.’ In seconds, it seemed, the other ambo had wheeled in a stretcher and done something clever to collapse it to floor level. On the stretcher lay a thin sheet of something, plastic or fibreglass, which they slid under their patient. In a well-practised move, the two men lifted him smoothly onto the stretcher and raised it once again. As they wheeled him through the house she could do nothing but stand and cry.
‘You coming with us?’ the second ambo asked, and she nodded through her tears, pulling herself together and getting her keys and bag, locking the house behind them.
One or two passers-by stopped to watch as they opened the back of the ambulance and slid the stretcher into place. She was still crying as she climbed into the front seat, as the ambulance pulled away gently, and she heard him say in a drowsy way to the ambo crouching beside him, ‘Don’t worry about her, she’s such a sook.’