Once a year your accredited family doctor undergoes retraining in CPR. Commanded to forget previous models she learns the latest tweak, he meets the newest gadget.
It’s pleasant, collegial, unreal. They practise on a manikin. The plastic model lacks the saliva the pinking agonal froth. There are no dentures to yank out in a fret of haste, no sweat on the body that foretasted its death, no lips of purple grey in a face of grey.
My phone rang. It was a nurse in an outback hamlet no-one ever hears of. I know the nurse. I know her clinic.
“Howard? Thank goodness!”
A great indraft of air.
“There’s been a death. I have to report it.”
“There was a fight. They’ve been rioting and fighting all week…” The nurse’s voice thinned and rose an octave. She gulped air.
“Someone raced into the clinic and called me out into the street. They said there was a man who was hit and fell and wouldn’t wake up. I looked down the street and I could see him, lying there. I ran and I asked what happened: a witness said he copped a glancing blow to the chin. He said it wasn’t forceful.
I did CPR. I worked on him for a long while. I’m alone here. The only nurse. A copper helped me.
“Howard, I know him. It was Billy. He’s a lovely old man, gentle, you know. He was an old stockman. He always wore his old cowboy hat and his stockman’s boots. And now he’s dead!.
“Howard, we don’t have a morgue here. What do I do?”
I ran through the formalities, the bureaucracy of sudden death. There was a noise in the background, a moaning, wailing. Behind that, angry voices, shouting.
The nurse listened and took notes. Our conversation neared its end. Her work demanded and pressed but she didn’t seem ready to finish. She would be busy through the day with phone calls to the coroner, to the bush undertaker, and to the director of regional and remote nurses. There’d be the paperwork. And then she’d go home: home to her donger, the bedsitter that is really a shipping container; home to the memory of cold lips and the gentle fellow she liked and she couldn’t bring back.
“Howard, he’s lying here in the clinic. I checked him again in case I was wrong. But there’s no chest movement and I can’t hear a heartbeat. His pupils are dilated and they don’t react to the light. Is there anything else?”
There wasn’t anything else.
“Howard, Billy’s gone and now there’ll be Payback. He’s still wearing his hat and his boots.”