‘It’s the ambulance.’
‘Just a minute, please.’
The entire building seems to be asleep; it’s so quiet you can almost hear the miles of hallway carpet stretching their luxurious tufts upwards to the pools of light outside each flat door.
‘Okay. You may come in now’
The door opens with a little tug of air. Mrs Jessom stands revealed to us, a sad eyed lady of seventy odd years, aura of glade freshener and alcohol, wearing a voluminous leaf patterned housecoat so heavy and triangular on her she seems like the worn out clapper in an Arts and Crafts bell. She pats her hair.
‘I look a fright’
‘Can we come in for a chat?’
‘Of course. Do.’
She lets us in, then closes the door firmly behind us.
‘The living room, I think’.
We follow her across a polished parquet floor. I feel that my work boots are growing in size and awfulness as she leads us into a richly furnished front room, darkly expensive oil paintings on the walls, glass cabinets sparkling with porcelain treasures, a leather ottoman and braided pouffe, a regency striped chaises longue and an occasional table of walnut and cherry – everything smelling of beeswax and fuss, everything placed meticulously with respect to everything else. In fact, the lines and relationships between each piece in this room are so strong, merely the act of sitting down reads like a serious assault. I feel hot and hemmed in, but we’re here to talk about Mrs Jessom’s suicidal feelings, so I try to clear my head.
‘My name’s Spence. This is Rae, my partner. Now – could you tell us what’s happened tonight, Mrs Jessom?’
She sits, poised in a gilt chair, her fingers fretting away in her lap. She stares at me.
‘My husband died,’ she says.
‘I’m very sorry to hear that.’
‘I just don’t know what to do with myself anymore. It’s all too difficult. I don’t see the point.’
‘Was it very sudden?’
‘Was what sudden?’
‘Your husband’s death’
‘Yes. I suppose it was. I can’t remember it all that well’
‘When did your husband die?’
‘Yes. How long ago did he die?’
‘Eighteen years or so. ’
‘It must be hard,’ I say, nodding empathetically, whilst at the same time making a radical adjustment to my reading of this scene. ‘And has anything happened tonight in particular? Has anything set you off, made you feel bad for some reason?’
‘No. I always feel like this.’
‘So what did happen tonight?’
‘Well. I had my friend Susan round for drinks and a game of cards as per usual for a Wednesday night.’
‘That sounds like a nice thing to do’
‘One does one’s best. It’s more for Susan than for me, of course. She’s always – I don’t know – such a mope.’
‘Did you have much to drink?’
‘No. Just the usual. A glass or two of whisky. Nothing – hardcore.’
She uses the word hardcore with a little downward turn of the mouth and stiffening of the spine, as if she’s making every effort to communicate to us in words that we might understand.
‘And excuse me for asking this, but have you taken any tablets tonight or done anything that might cause you harm?’
‘Certainly not’ she says. ‘But these things, they’re always there, always available. And I often think – well, why not?’
‘But you haven’t tonight?’
‘But I haven’t tonight. I’ve been very good about it’
The interview continues, Rae joining in with questions and suggestions, making all the usual health checks and taking details, until we reach the point where Mrs Jessom needs to decide what she wants to happen tonight.
‘Of course we wouldn’t like to leave you here on your own if we thought you might hurt yourself in some way.’
‘I’m not going to do that. I suppose I just wanted someone to talk to. And now that’s done.’
‘You can always come with us up to the hospital and speak to someone there. I’m afraid we’re quite limited as far as time and practical things we can do.’
But as I’m saying this I know that if Mrs Jessom did come up to the hospital, she would spend hours on her own in a cubicle, with no access to anyone resembling a psychiatric nurse or counsellor. The hospital is poorly set up for emotional problems during the day; during the night, it’s actually the last place you’d want to take anyone who was feeling low.
‘I want to thank you for coming tonight,’ she says, standing up and concluding the interview. ‘I know you’re busy.’
‘Please – do call again if you’re feeling desperate. There’s always something to be done,’ I say, half expecting the porcelein fish on the table behind me to leap up and fracture at that particular falsehood.
Mrs Jessom leads us back towards the front door. I notice something for the first time, the life-sized figure of a little girl in a bright red raincoat, turned with her face to the wall and her arms crooked up as if she were crying. It’s a ghastly figure, and one that makes me shudder despite the flat’s stifling heat.
‘She’s – erm – she’s unusual’ I say.
‘Yes. I was given her some time ago. Don’t know why I keep hold of her. Silly really.’
She hauls open the door and we leave.
Back in the cab we look out over the sea, the moon bright and low in the sky, silvering the glassy black surface.
‘Waxing or waning’
‘Waning. I think.’
‘At least it’s not full, thank god. I’m really not in the mood for it tonight.’
We share some fruit flavoured chewing gum, and turn the music up.