Looking Down

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Book: Read Looking Down for Free Online
Authors: Frances Fyfield
Tags: UK
meant was adequate flesh on the bones, i.e. not actually starving. For the unidentified immigrants where he certified death, malnutrition and disease were obvious causes. What a cheerful occupation he had for three days a week: certifying death; identifying drug overdose, mentalinstability, drunkenness and bruises in the still living. It could explain a bleak outlook, but not entirely. It suited the needs of a man gone a little sour: he could be kind to them because he would probably never see them again and he preferred his contacts to be temporary. Like Edwin had always done, he supposed, afraid of the obligations of permanence.
    But something had changed. He had been called to the scene to assess the mental and physical health of the artist, and his interest should have stopped there. The artist was a novelty because of his age, sobriety and ability to articulate, while most of the doctor’s customers in the cells were young, speechless and brutal, spat rather than spoke and challenged his humanity as much as his ability to withstand halitosis at close quarters. He had only been called to the artist because of their doubts about his state of mind, and the bruise on his left cheek, which looked suspiciously like the familiar effect of a fist. About which the man made no complaint, although he winced when he was touched. A strong, able-bodied, older, but not old, man, definitely well nourished and obviously capable of shrugging off far worse.
    Semi-retirement did not suit John. He had too much time on his hands, and enough money not to be hungry, leaving a vacuum for haunting. A dead wife and a daughter who blamed him for it, a mild case of depression. And if guilty curiosity about a single death out of the hundreds he had seen was a substitute for the intellectual challenges that no longer inspired him, he had better get back to his garden. Or live somewhere else, with less rough trade and fewer memories – if only he could bring himself to leave the cliffs, which would haunt him more than anything else, because he knew the temptation to jump. Go right to the edge and launch himself into delirious nothingness. Fall prey to that belief that a man could fly, like Icarus, away from his own loneliness, into a less sterile sky.
    It was men who jumped. In his experience, female suicides preferred prettier, more controlled deaths, not in the presence of strangers. This one was surely pushed, and no one mourned her. He did not know why he took it upon himself to do so, or why it made him so angry.
    Poor, well-nourished little stranger.
    It was an area of strangers, and this was not, generally speaking, the sort of central London block where the occupiers of the different-sized flats associated with one another. Not much banging on the door opposite to borrow a cup of sugar, on account of the fact that half of the apartments were empty at any given time and only used by those in transit from the second house, or another country; there was the lack of a common language and circumstances. Some apartments were rented; of the other residents, half were rich, half not so rich, with at least one example of the league of distressed gentlefolk struggling to pay the service charges. No one knew who they all were, or on what terms they lived there – company let, money, inheritance, foreign money – except Fritz the porter and Sarah Fortune, who got much of her incomplete information from him and the rest from behaving as if this was not a remote, upmarket City abode where the very stairs looked discreet, but a small-town terraced street where the residents were related by common misfortune and it was perfectly OK to say hello and examine one another’s washing on a line. Even in the absence of any children, which might have united them all a little, the disingenuous approach of friendly curiosity tended to work, but then Sarah had always found that breaches of commonly held codes of manners usually did. If the inhabitant of an apartment

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