My brother fell on the stairs. It’s my leg, he said, it’s doing it again. He slid all the way down, holding his right knee with both hands to stop the convulsions. Then his left leg started shaking. By now he was on his back on the landing. George, he said. George. I hadn’t heard him say my name like that since we were kids. An older brother stood for something then, an older sibling could protect his bro from hurt and bullies. Not from this. Jesus, I said, and Wait—as if there were someone I could call on to truly stop all this. I’ll call 999, I said, we’ll get an ambulance. No, he said. By now his whole body was shaking. Put something between his teeth, I thought. I don’t know where that came from, some Boy’s Life article? This was meant to stop him choking on his tongue. But he was breathing fine, though even his head shook now. I put a pillow under his head so it wouldn’t bang on the floor. I’m calling 999, I told him and ran into the kitchen. My hands were shaking too, it took me three tries to dial. 999, a woman said. We need an ambulance, I said, it’s my brother. All right, darling, the woman said. She had one of those voices with strata in it: a level of humor, a tranche of concern, a stratum of affection. Of course the affection was illusory, but that’s what it felt like. It’s all right, she said again. Tell me what’s wrong, is he breathing? Yeah, he’s breathing, but he’s in convulsions. I’m OK, Louis called from the landing, I don’t need an ambulance. Yes you do, I yelled back. All right, love, the woman said, I’m sending an ambulance now. It’s stopping, Louis said, I don’t need one. We were trying to get home, he’d only just left hospital, he didn’t want to go back in. He says it’s stopping, I told the woman. Maybe he doesn’t need an ambulance. It’s on its way, she said, it’ll be there in three minutes. I realized this landline summoned an address on her screen. It’s stopping, Louis called, I don’t want one OK? He says he doesn’t want one, I told the woman, I’m not sure … I hesitated; can you cancel that? Yes, she said, if you’re sure. But if it starts up again, I continued, can you send one again? I don’t know why I asked that question. Of course 999 could send an ambulance again, that was their job. Maybe I just wanted to stay on the line with someone who knew how to deal with a brother who went into convulsions for reasons that in the deepest sense I could not grasp. But she knew all that; even through the static of London phone lines she’d figured it out. Of course, darling, she said. You can call us anytime. Thank you, I said. I didn’t want her to hang up. In those few moments I’d fallen in love with her—or rather, we’d gone straight to the part of love that is caring, that is help. Thank you, I repeated. Take care of your brother, she said, and I went back to him. He was lying quietly, exhausted but not shaking. I sat down next to him on the floor. I’ll be fine, he said, I’ll be fine. If it happens again, I said, I’m calling 999.
*The British emergency number, the equivalent of 911 in the US