[CW] Content Warning: Discussions of death, suicide & visceral descriptions of head trauma.
In the late 80s [I was in the] production of 'Off The Tracks', directed by Sheridan Greene, and written by Jean Kitson [at St Martins.] [Some of my peers were] Georgina Naidu, Michael Dalton, Karen Ingram.
This one time at St Martins... [a] wooden platform that Georgie Naidu was standing on while playing saxophone broke, and she fell through but kept standing up. Later I found out that she really hurt herself, but at the time we laughed.
Riding to work, I saw ahead of me a commotion. It was a woman standing under the train underpass, crouching over a form on the footpath. The woman was hunched. I saw that the form was a man who was lying directly under the train bridge. Had he fallen? Jumped? Cars went by. I stopped and looked at the man.
He was crumpled, with his right leg in an odd unnatural position, like a dummy. He was lying facing upwards, and underneath his head something was seeping. I thought of the line in William Golding’s ‘Lord Of The Flies’ when Piggy fell to his death on the rocks – ‘Then his head opened and stuff came out’. The man’s eyes were open but unseeing; glassy, wide, grey. They looked a little like old-fashioned boiled lollies. Or the bull’s eyes we dissected in geography class: quivering and bulbous. Unblinking. He was uttering sounds.
The woman was hysterical, and was on the phone to the ambulance people. She was jibbering and crying, though, and couldn’t seem to hear instructions. She kept wanting the traffic to stop. But no one did. I took the phone from her and put it to my ear. The voice on the other end of the phone said ‘… recovery position? Airway?’ ‘He’s making sounds’, I said. ‘Weird sounds. He must be alive. But he can’t understand or hear me. His eyes are open. But he can’t understand me’.
I heard the sirens then. I put the man in the recovery position, because I knew how to do this. The woman cried and wailed. I wanted her to shut up. ‘He is making sounds’, I said again to the voice on the phone. ‘His eyes look like bull’s eyes’. The voice said ‘Reassure the patient’. I patted the man. ‘It’s alright’, I said, and patted him again. He made the sounds.
The ambulance arrived with practical efficient people and machines and things in sterile plastic packets. I was conflicted about whether to stay on the phone. How did this work? Do I still help? Do I just go about my day? I stood there awkwardly watching the emergency workers, not quite close enough to impede. I leaned a little towards them. I tried to have a knowledgeable face. ‘Boggy’, said the ambulance officer. ‘The skull is boggy’.
I couldn’t stop thinking about that. What is a boggy skull. Boggy, like moss? Was that something to do with the seeping stuff? What was the seeping stuff? Cerebral fluid? Surely that was very bad? The crying woman’s phone was still in my hand. ‘He has a boggy skull!’ I said to the voice on the phone. The ambulance officer looked at me. ‘We’ll take it from here’, she said. She was a large woman with wide, capable thighs. ‘Goodbye’, I said unnecessarily to the voice on the phone.
I got back on my bike. The crying woman came towards me. She was red in the face. ‘I guess that’s it then’, she said. I guess that’s it then. I went on my way. Later, I wanted to find out about the man. Did he die? Did he jump or fall? What was the stuff coming out of his head? But I had no way of knowing where he went or who he was. I couldn’t just ring random hospitals asking about the man with the glassy bull’s eyes. So I went to work, ticking off tiny numbers in spreadsheets. I made spreadsheets all day.
Kate Hunter is a theatre-maker and researcher/academic, interested in subverting verbatim theatre techniques, working with objects to make sounds, and the post-human turn. I make work about diseases, dying, the body, memory, and sadness. She attended. St Martins in the late 80s.