Isabel saw that her friend was shaking, and she put an arm about her shoulder. "That was ghastly!" she said. "Such a shock."
Jennifer closed her eyes. "He just came down . . . so quickly. Do you think he's still alive? Did you see?"
"I'm afraid he looked rather badly hurt," said Isabel, thinking, It's worse than that.
They went downstairs. A small crowd of people had gathered round the door into the stalls and there was a buzz of conversation. As Isabel and Jennifer drew near, a woman turned to them and said: "Somebody fell from the gods. He's in there."
Isabel nodded. "We saw it happen," she said. "We were up there."
"You saw it?" said the woman. "You actually saw it?"
"We saw him coming down," said Jennifer. "We were in the grand circle. He came down past us."
"How dreadful," said the woman. "To see it . . ."
The woman looked at Isabel with that sudden human intimacy that the witnessing of tragedy permitted.
"I don't know if we should be standing here," Isabel muttered, half to Jennifer, half to the other woman. "We'll just get in the way."
The other woman drew back. "One wants to do something," she said lamely.
"I do hope that he's all right," said Jennifer. "Falling all that way. He hit the edge of the circle, you know. It might have broken the fall a bit."
No, thought Isabel, it would have made it worse, perhaps; there would be two sets of injuries, the blow from the edge of the circle and injuries on the ground. She looked behind her; there was activity at the front door and then, against the wall, the flashing blue light of the ambulance outside.
"We must let them get through," said Jennifer, moving away from the knot of people at the door. "The ambulance men will need to get in."
They stood back as two men in loose green fatigues hurried past, carrying a folded stretcher. They were not long in coming out-less than a minute, it seemed-and then they went past, the young man laid out on the stretcher, his arms folded over his chest. Isabel turned away, anxious not to intrude, but she saw his face before she averted her gaze. She saw the halo of tousled dark hair and the fine features, undamaged. To be so beautiful, she thought, and now the end. She closed her eyes. She felt raw inside, empty. This poor young man, loved by somebody somewhere, whose world would end this evening, she thought, when the cruel news was broached. All that love invested in a future that would not materialise, ended in a second, in a fall from the gods.
She turned to Jennifer. "I'm going upstairs quickly," she said, her voice lowered. "Tell them that we saw it. Tell them I'll be back in a moment."
Jennifer nodded, looking about her to see who was in charge. There was confusion now. A woman was sobbing, one of the women who must have been standing in the stalls when he came down, and she was being comforted by a tall man in an evening jacket.
Isabel detached herself and made her way to one of the staircases that led up to the gods. She felt uneasy, and glanced behind her, but there was nobody around. She climbed up the last few stairs, through one of the archways that led to the steeply racked seating. It was quiet, and the lights suspended from the ceiling above were dimmed in their ornate glass bowls. She looked down, to the edge over which the boy had fallen. They had been standing almost immediately below the point at which he had dropped, which enabled her to calculate where he must have been standing before he slipped.
She made her way down to the parapet and edged along the front row of seats. Here was the brass rail over which he must have been leaning before, and there, down on the ground, a programme. She bent down and picked it up; its cover, she noticed, had a slight tear, but that was all. She replaced it where she had found it. Then she bent over and looked down over the edge. He must have been sitting here, at the very end of the row, where the upper circle met the wall. Had he been further in towards the middle, he would have landed in the grand circle; only at the end of the row was there a clear drop down to the stalls.
Excerpted from The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith, pages 3-11. Copyright© 2004 by Alexander McCall Smith. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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