washed out (dangerous tides 2)

Keith opened the backseat passenger door and poked a thermometer in Barry’s ear.  Although he was swaddled in three blankets and clasping a fourth mug of tea, the cold blast of air combined with the peculiar ear sensation to set Barry’s core juddering again.  His temperature was rising but not all that quickly, according to Keith.  He wanted to take him in to get checked out, just as a precaution.  Barry had wanted to leave the scene immediately before realising he couldn’t.  All the services were on their way.   But he was recovering fine and definitely didn’t want to stay overnight anywhere.  A quick check-up sounded sensible enough.

Twenty minutes earlier the Paramedic had first appeared in front of him, a dark green-uniformed bald bloke in his early-forties of just below average height with a dark goatie.  Like everyone in a uniform, he’d spoken clearly about the situation and EXACTLY what was happening, like Barry was still under water.  Keith had been the latest in a reel of quick-changing people that started with the three figures who’d steered him away from the sea.  One was a dog-walker who hadn’t been either of the men directly propping him up as he staggered inland.  He had relieved Barry of his sodden camera, still slung round his neck, and carried it for several yards – perhaps so it felt as if he contributed in some way.  Then he gave it back to Barry and left the scene.

Another, a hard-faced middle-aged man, had stayed awhile and led him to a quiet corner behind the pub, away from the crowd of onlookers.  He’d seemed unsympathetically dutiful, as if he thought Barry another idiot but would serve him well.  He helped Barry out of his wet clothes, draped him with one of those foil capes marathon runners wear at the end of the race, told him to keep moving and ordered a mediterranean looking barman to make tea.  What was he doing in Wales?

The third man immediately on the scene, he couldn’t remember who the third man was at all.  Nothing about him came to mind.

A siren had grown louder outside before stopping altogether.  A siren for me, Barry thought, that in itself was deeply unsettling.  They’d moved into the pub’s empty conservatory extension, a dining room, and sat down, Barry still trembling, disgusted and humiliated at all of this.  Another uniformed man entered with Keith, a boxy machine, and blankets.  Barry was swaddled further and hooked up to the bleeping machine via several antennas suckered to his body.  The line-graph looked regular enough and the medics appeared content.  The ungraceful man who thought Barry an idiot excused himself at this point and Barry thanked him profusely for everything.

Barry kept thanking everyone around him profusely for everything, and apologising, keen not to miss anybody, not even the mediterranean looking barman for his excellent neverending supply of tea.

Unsuckered from the machine, Barry went to a toilet to take off his jeans and swaddle himself in more blankets.  Keith had shouted in after him to check he hadn’t collapsed.  Barry was trying not to think too hard about the secondary drowning thing Keith explained where swallowed sea water retrospectively swamps the lungs.  He hadn’t swallowed any, had he?  Another mug of tea was forced into his hands as he exited the gents and was shepherded to the car park and into the van of the Sea Rescue people.

There were three, or four of them?  Did they need that many?  One had an aggressive style of care: you do NOT worry about wasting all our time!  This is what we’re here for.

He was seated down in the heat-blasted van behind Miriam, another of the sea rescue team.  Hi, I’m Miriam, said Miriam, a kind-faced, early middle-aged lady.  Hi Miriam, said Barry.  Lovely sunset isn’t it?  And it was, still blazing down over the sea, firing embers into the last whispy clouds.  Her sympathy was more traditional and they spoke amiably of London, having lived in similar areas.

Barry glanced at himself in the rear view mirror above Miriam’s head.  Pale, washed-out, stupid prick.

That was when Keith opened the door and shoved a thermometer in Barry’s ear.  Warming slowly, Barry agreed to climb into Keith’s Paramedic van and be taken to a local hospital for a once over.  They spoke of Keith’s career and his football-playing aspirations, his new hobby of Squash, which he’d become good at too.

After an initial check requiring more suckers and machines, the main two-minute check, courtesy of a young affable Doctor, took about three hours to arrive.  Wear armbands next time, was his reassuring advice.  By this time Barry was tired and hungry and really wanting to be home.  He vaguely wondered if he was being missed at all, it being unusual for him to be unreachable for such a long period of time.

Keith returned to ferry Barry back to his car on the pitch-black, ice-cold seafront.  The sky was densely starlit but the sea, mere yards away, skulked silent, black and invisible.

His car was frozen over by the subzero temperatures and seawater had killed the remote locking of his key, meaning the vehicle was only accessible through the passenger door.  Having shuffled over the handbrake and experienced a freezing blast under the hospital dress chilling to his undercarriage, he sat in the driver’s seat.

He really hoped the engine would start.

He turned the key in the ignition and, except lights on the dashboard, nothing happened.  He slowly headbutted the steering wheel.

It wasn’t the best of days.  But obviously it could have been much worse.  That could be used as a caveat for every bad stroke of luck forever now, he supposed.  At least he didn’t die that one Sunday afternoon…  How long would that last?

Barry plucked the breakdown rescue card from the windscreen holder and, still swaddled in two blankets and a loose hospital garment of the kind women give birth in, he gingerly padded back over to Keith’s warm van.  After summoning the rescue service using the Paramedic’s mobile phone, Keith asked if he’d told anyone, if anyone should know.  It made Barry consider his parents, the one phone number he did know off the top of his head.  If they had tried calling, it was possible his Mum could be nervous.

Hello Mum, sorry to call so late.

Oh hello – she said cheerily – how are you?

Oh, fine – he bunched the blankets around his shoulders and wriggled his chilly bare feet – you?

Yes, all well here.

Good good.  Um, just a really quick one, Mum, I’m browsing online looking for Christmas presents for Amy.  Any ideas?

No, it’s hard buying for a one-year-old isn’t it?  Well I’m going up to see them all next week and I was planning on talking to them about it then because we’ll…

Barry’s attention drifted off at this point but a sixth sense enabled him to inject interested sounds which suggested he was listening, before clicking back in when his mother eventually paused.

– Oh, ok, that’s fine.  I just wondered, Barry said, importing finality and closure into his tone.  Sure I’ll think of something.

He ended the call with a cheery promise to speak soon and placed the mobile on the driver’s arm-rest.  Thanks Keith.

Wouldn’t wanna play you at poker, said Keith.

The rescue van only took twenty minutes to arrive.  A burly thick-set man named Darren.  Barry told him they suspected a flat battery, but after hearing the long story Darren figured that the key’s waterlogged electronics were responsible.  After surgery involving dismantling, air-conditioning powered drying, scraping, tweaking – all of which Barry thought took considerable dexterity for someone who looked like a bull, like Peter Crouch having a good touch for a tall man – the engine woke.

From the backseat of the Paramedic van, Barry saw the lights of his car ignite and the silhouetted chunky outline of Darren raise two jubilant arms aloft like he’d scored a winning goal.  Keith made a small, impressed whooping sound, Barry nearly cried with relief.

He could go home.

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