Monday, April 30, 2007


The first thing Margaret does after opening the door is to lead us into the kitchen.
'There', she says, proudly pointing down to a splash of crimson on the lino. 'That's me, that is.'
She is holding a flannel to the back of her head. Although she is about forty, she stands with a childlike hunch to her shoulders, as if she is expecting instructions, or perhaps some shouting. She is wearing a saggy old, shiny arsed tracksuit; her straight black hair is flecked with flakes and curls in at the neck like a costume wig.
'Margaret - let's sit down for a minute and see what's what,' I say. She slumps off into the sitting room and plops herself down on the sofa amongst dozens of sheets of drawings. She fishes one up for us. A line of men sitting cross-legged and looking off to the left, each with a flame coming out of the top of his head. They are identical, drawn with a poor grasp of perspective that makes their limbs seem broken rather than folded. Their faces - the repeated face - is just familiar enough to give me a stab of recognition.
'Who's this?' I ask.
'Oh. OK.'
She offers up another. That face again, but close up and smiling, wearing a Robin Hood cap.
I recognise him. Errol Flynn.
'I copied the video cover,' she says.
'Excellent, Margaret. Right. Let's have a look at your head.'
There's no wound to speak of, just a minor abrasion. Margaret answers all our questions, so she won't need a trip up to A&E. She tells us she fell over when she had another fit, and banged her head on the kitchen wall. Although her medication has been working well lately, she still averages a fit or two a month. I fill out the form and make the usual run of observations. Whilst I take these, Rae asks her about her drawings, and the two big black and white photographs on the wall, side by side, seemingly taken minutes apart. One is of a woman in bat winged specs holding up Margaret as a smiling toddler, her hair flying out like pine shavings. In the foreground, the muzzle of an enormous dog emerges darkly.
'That's Bobby,' says Margaret, as I dab at her head. 'He was a cross between an Airedale and a Great Dane.'
The other picture is of Margaret again, with the same frilly dress and curls, laughing and hurling herself forwards on the swing.
'I was raped by my brother for seven years,' she says suddenly. 'From the age of seven, in fact.'
'Oh. My goodness. Have you spoken to anyone about this?'
Margaret ignores the question and holds up another drawing instead. With the same, neutrally informative tone she says: 'Look. This is one I did as if I was flying over the house.'
There is a moment's silence, then a muted roar sounds from outside and reverberates through the room.
'Hark at that rain,' says Rae. 'We'll be getting wet later.'
The pattern of the rain on the patio windows smears watery shadows over everything.
'I fell down the stairs once,' says Margaret.
'Was that a fit as well?'
'No. It was the cat. It wound itself round my legs. The plumber was at the bottom. He'd just taken the old toilet out. I fell all the way down and landed on top of him. He ended up with his head wedged in the toilet. They had to walk him out to the ambulance holding either side.'
I take a step backwards with the beauty of this image.
'That's fantastic!'
Margaret looks up at me. 'Maybe, but the plumber was furious.'

Friday, April 20, 2007

polaroids of pets and their owners

#1 A woman is lying on the pavement in front of a rusty promenade bench. Her knees are drawn up to her belly, trying to make her waterproof jacket into a kind of cut off sleeping bag. Her arms are curled to pillow her face, but you can't see it because of a tangled spread of black and grey curls . On the bench behind her, wedged between a khaki green shoulder bag and a stack of free magazines, a teddy bear. It is over-stuffed, made of caramel cloth worn down to the ticking at the hot spots. The arms and legs stick out gingerbread man style. It has a pink ribbon around its neck, with two little plastic bells. It has a flat face, no ears. Its nose is higher than its eyes.

#2 A woman is lying on a sofa, groaning. Her left hand is flat against the left side of her chest; her right hand lies over her left. She is breathing quickly, from the stomach. On the floor over by the open french windows is a large porcelain collie. It is sitting obediently, looking up, its head cocked slightly to the right. The glaze on the dog is so thick it blurs the colours beneath, like the photo of something taken in low light. There is a layer of dust over the thing, especially along the nose, but at the right ear there is a new, white chip.

#1 An elderly woman is lying on her back on a single bed. Her neck is arched back over the pillow, the crown of her head pressed against the padded headboard. Her eyes are wide, fixed at a point on the ceiling. Her mouth is gaping open, at an angle which acts to partially lever the bottom set of her false teeth up and out. Her right arm is hidden beneath the rucked blue pattern counterpane that the left hand has grasped and drawn up around her chest. On the second single bed that lies alongside this one is a large elderly Beagle. Its wide white forepaws are expertly draped over the edge, upon which the Beagle has patiently rested its head. Its ears hang down either side. It watches the woman.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


We have trouble locating flat number 32, the scene of female 40 assault/lacerations/ dangerous body area. It's dark, it's late, we're transparent with fatigue. Eventually we figure out that all the even numbers must be located round the side of the flats that face the street. The flat we want is a few buildings back, so I reverse into a convenient parking bay. I press the KRS button - which allows the engine to keep running even though you take the key with you - and follow Rae up the path to the hidden door.
She knocks, waits, knocks again.
Eventually a bolt is drawn back and the door opens a crack. A woman peers out from the harshly lit interior, holding a blood-spotted kitchen towel to her forehead.
'Oh. You.' She sounds disappointed.
'Come in.' She shuffles back to the sofa, sits down, and picks her cigarette back up from the ashtray. She makes no dabbing motions at the wound on her head; it's as if her left hand is frozen there. But there is so little blood, either on the kitchen towel or on her T-shirt - one penny-sized spot on the right shoulder - that I think the wound cannot be serious.
'Could you put that out, please?', Rae says.
'What? Really? Oh.' Her face crumples along with the cigarette. 'What's next?'
This is peculiar. I feel like a policeman. I self-consciously uncross my arms.
'I don't know,' says Rae, 'You tell us. I mean - you called us, didn't you?'
The woman nods. I exchange a look with Rae.
'First things first,' Rae goes on. 'What's your name?'
'OK, Lynette. Now, can you tell us what's happened tonight?'
I glance around the room. From the sofa Lynette faces a TV/video combination crammed precariously onto a maple-veneer stand along with a cluster of videos whose titles have been writtten and crossed out a number of times; a bad painting of a ship on one wall; an oval mirror on another, and then a beaded curtain separating the living room from the kitchen area. Another door leads off, presumably into a bedroom and bathroom. The whole is no bigger than a generous hotel room, and is just as anonymously furnished.
Lynette purses her lips. In her baggy brown T-shirt and her saggy cream trousers she sits on the sofa like a badly drawn bear. We wait for the story.
'A man came round. He wanted me to pay him the money I owe, but when I told him I didn't have it he punched me in the head. He said if I didn't have it when he came by again tomorrow he'd put all my windows in.' A pause, then she adds: 'And then break my legs with a brick.'
'When did this happen?'
'I don't know. An hour ago, I suppose.'
'Did you call the police?'
'No. I couldn't. He took the SIM card out of my phone.'
'Couldn't you have gone next door and asked them for help?'
'I didn't want to bother them.' Lynette reaches for another cigarette, and then draws her hand back slowly. I want to ask her how she called for the ambulance, but for some reason I don't. 'Anyway,' she continues, 'I know this is all to do with that stupid package I found when I moved in here. Letters and such. Drugs. I threw them all away but they won't believe me.'
'Well - let's have a look at your head, Lynette.' She peels away the kitchen towel.
There, in the middle of her forehead, is an extraordinary L-shaped incision. Full thickness, its puckered edges can be moved apart to reveal the skull beneath. There is very little blood from the wound, now, though it must have bled considerably when it was made. And it would seem by its condition to have been made longer than an hour ago.
'Lynette - this is quite a wound you have here. I'm afraid you're going to need a trip to hospital to have it sewn up. Tell us how you came by it again? Did the guy have a knife on him or something?'
'No. Just his fist. I was getting up from the sofa and he punched me back down. He had a big gold ring on, I think.'
'Janet - I have to ask you a few things. Have you been drinking tonight?'
'Okay. And are you on any medication?'
'Not really. I have some mental health issues, I'll admit. I don't see any sense in lying about these things. So I do take a few things for that. I've got a list somewhere.'
'And have you taken any recreational drugs tonight?'
'Oh. I suppose you saw the pipe, then.'
'No. I didn't see any pipe. I just have to ask these things as we need to know all the facts so we can treat you appropriately.'
'Well, I'll admit that I am a user. I have had a bit of a drug problem in the past, I may as well admit, but nothing serious. When they stitch this up - will I have a scar?'
'I think you probably will,' says Rae, 'Like Harry Potter - a little lightning stroke there.'
Lynette is impassive. She does not seem to know Harry Potter. She sighs, and begins hauling herself up from the sofa. She stuffs her pockets with her tobacco and lighter and purse.
'Let's get going,' she says.
'Will you be reporting this to the police?', says Rae, taking her arm as she stumbles towards the door.
'The police?,' she snorts. 'They wouldn't believe it.'