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â€œWhat the fuckâ€¦?â€ Iâ€™m running for the stairs, then take them three at a timeâ€”I can definitely shift a bit when the situation calls for it. I charge down the landing towards Rosie who is standing at the open door to Nathanâ€™s room. Her fingers are pressed into her ashen cheeks, her continuous screaming just getting louder and louder. Reaching her, I grab the tiny figure by the shoulders, spinning her away from the door. I can feel the small body shaking under my hands as, with Rosieâ€™s face pressed into my stomach, I stroke the dark hair in an instinctive attempt to calm her. I look over her head, dreading what sight awaits me. Blood-curdling murder? Horrific gory accident?
None of that. Mrs Richardson is there all right, on the floor, her legs tangled in the rather fetching navy and black duvet that has slid off Nathanâ€™s bed. She looks to be asleep. I hug Rosie tighter, tell herâ€”somewhat more optimistically than is perhaps justifiedâ€”that itâ€™s okay, and to wait for me where she is. Her screams have subsided into gulping sobs so I step into the room, and approach the still figure on the floor.
â€œMrs Richardson? Grace? Are you okay?â€ Stupid question.
Nervous, I kneel beside her and stretch out my hand. I half expect her to leap up with a shout of â€˜Boo!â€™ I think itâ€™s fair to say I would have made a disgusting mess on the inch-deep shag pile if she had. But sheâ€™s motionless, no response. My hands hovering, Iâ€™m not sure if, where to touch and desperately try to think what to do, how to find out if sheâ€™s alive.
â€œIs she breathing? Oh, Eva, is she dead? She canâ€™t be dead. Please. Please donâ€™t let her be deadâ€¦â€
â€œShhh, sweetheart, let me have a look.â€ Breathing, thereâ€™s a thought. Carefully watching her chest I see a faint quiver of movement there. Thank God! Encouraged, I at last take hold of her handâ€”itâ€™s warmâ€”and I feel for a pulse. Itâ€™s there. Faint, thready, but definitely there.
â€œRosie, sheâ€™s alive but we need an ambulance. Run down to the kitchen for my phone. Itâ€™s in my bag, on the table. Hurry, please.â€
As Rosie turns to scamper off, her wits now fully about her again, I lean down close, desperately scanning Mrs Richardsonâ€™s still face for any sign of consciousness.
â€œGrace? Grace, can you hear me?â€ I want to pick her up, shake her shoulders, but Iâ€™m scared of hurting her. I settle for leaning into her face, calling her name. Rosie comes skidding back seconds later, my phone in her hand. She thrusts it at me and I stand, pressing nine-nine-nine. The efficient disembodied voice responds, politely asking me which service I require.
â€œHello, yes, ambulance please. Our housekeeper has had an accident.â€
The next voice I hear is the ambulance service, asking me what the problem is.
â€œOur housekeeperâ€™s had an accident. Sheâ€™s unconscious.â€
The calm female voice asks me if I know what happened.
God knows. â€œA fall, perhaps. Sheâ€™s unconscious.â€
â€œHow long has she been unconscious?â€
Christ, why canâ€™t they just send a bloody ambulance? â€œI donâ€™t know. We just arrived home and found her like this. No, sheâ€™s not talking. Yes, sheâ€™s breathing.â€
At last the ambulance lady seems to get the message and starts asking for the location. I realise I donâ€™t even know the postcode. I look helplessly at Rosie, who rattles it off. Bless her, and bless Nathan and Grace for drilling it into her. Gathering my own wits now, I realise weâ€™re due a good wait as the nearest ambulance must be half an hour away. Thatâ€™s assuming they can even find this place. I give directions as best I can while Rosie disappears back out onto the landing.
At last the ambulance control room assures me that help is on the way and I hang up. I stand in the middle of the room, looking helplessly down at Mrs Richardson who has shown no sign of stirring. For the first time I look around, trying to imagine what on earth could have happened. At a loss, I kneel beside her again, taking her hand, stroking it. â€œItâ€™s okay, Grace, an ambulance will be here soon. Youâ€™ll be okay. Please, please be okay.â€
I hear Rosie come back in, stand behind me. Her little hand is on my shoulder. â€œUncle Tomâ€™s coming. Heâ€™ll be here in five minutes.â€
â€œI phoned Uncle Tom from the downstairs phone. Heâ€™s in the top meadow but heâ€™s on his quad and heâ€™ll be here in five minutes.â€ At my incredulous look she goes on to explain. â€œItâ€™s a long way round by road, but only a few minutes across the fields. Heâ€™ll be here soon.â€
I hug her for the clever, resourceful little wonder that she is. I never thought to call Tom, but of course heâ€™s our nearest neighbour. He knows the area. He can direct the ambulance crew. I start to feel a sense of reliefâ€”this bloody catastrophe might just turn out all right after all.
A faint rustle and moan behind me has me swirling around and once more leaning over Mrs Richardson, looking for some sign that she might be coming round. Her eyelids flutter, a brief flash of slate grey as she opens them a crack then lies still, silent again. Rosie is kneeling on her other side, we each have one of her hands in ours and Rosie is talking softly to her, tears once more rolling down her cheeks although the earlier panic has now gone. â€œNana, please wake up, Nana.â€
I feel the hand pressed between my palms flex slightly. I squeeze back to show Iâ€™ve felt the touch. â€œCan you hear us, Grace. Itâ€™s Rosie and Eva. Can you hear us? Please, open your eyesâ€¦â€ I glance across at Rosie, her little face trembling, and I reach over to stroke her wet cheek.
â€œSheâ€™ll be okay, love. Weâ€™ll look after her.â€ I hope Iâ€™m not making promises I canâ€™t keep.
â€œWhoâ€™ll look after us? Whoâ€™ll look after me? Iâ€™m scaredâ€¦â€ The whisper is faint, fearful, conveying the agony of doubt faced by a child whose world is about to shatter. And not for the first time.