There was a crowd gathered around the old lady. She was face-down on the pavement outside a little pub, a policeman crouched beside her. Her hair was bright white against the grimy concrete and grey afternoon.
I spend my weekends calling ambulances for people who've fallen over, so I absently assumed that someone was on their way to help her up. She'd have a cup of tea and that would be that. Just like it was at work. Hang up, next call, next old person.
We huddled close as we waited for the Glasgow bus. The ambulance arrived, there was no siren. I thought about my weekend job and how easy it was to detach, to forget you were dealing with real lives. Sometimes I would swing in my chair between calls, grumbling about my lack of weekend and trying to think of the money. A lovely old man fell over last week, he was unhurt but it would take half an hour for his son to arrive and help him up. I can wait hen, nae bother, came his watery voice from the living room floor.
As I hung up he'd started to whistle, that wobbly tuneless whistle that's unmistakeably elderly. I pictured him laying there patiently, carpet brushing his nose. I tried to comprehend being at a point in life when you had no choice but to wait. But then the next call came through and I moved on – smoke detector, 95-year-old lady, I'm just baking a potato, dear.
It was sobering now to watch things happening for real. My heart sank as we realised the ambulance guys weren't in a hurry. The crowd trickled away and they moved her tiny form onto the stretcher. When they finally got back into the vehicle, they didn't turn the lights on.
As we got on our bus, it has hard to shake the image of her on the ground, the peak hour pedestrians swirling above her. She'd looked like your regular wee lady heading down to the shops, and now she was gone.
It kind of set the mood for the evening. We were in Glasgow to see Stereolab, their second gig since Mary Hansen's death. How strange it must have felt for them. The French chick was now placed centre stage and seemed tentative and distant. The gig was fantastic, but even a Stereolab ignoramus like me could tell the energy was different. Bright breezy songs were now tinged with heaviness. No amount of drunk singing Glaswegians can quite fill the space of a person.
When we got back to Edinburgh, our breath shot out ahead of us in the icy air. The odd person wandered past the little pub, hands stuffed deep in pockets or devouring greasy chips. There was still a puddle of blood on the ground, glistening under the streetlight. And it stayed there another two days, until the Thursday rain washed it away.