Thursday, February 12, 2009

the dressing gown

Mr Clarke is sitting on the floor of the hallway with his long spindly legs stretched out in front of him and his face in his hands.
‘Thanks for coming so quickly,’ he says in a conversational tone as I peer round the door. ‘Really, that was most quick.’ He puts his hands down either side of his blue boxer shorts, and feebly tries to shuffle backwards a little. The bright overhead light exposes a body slack with age and illness.
‘Have you hurt yourself, Mr Clarke?’
‘What? No, no. I’m fine. I banged my head a little but nothing really. I just need a hand getting back up.’ Then – quite unexpectedly – he leans forwards, puts his face in his hands again and gives a muffled sob. ‘I don’t know what’s happening to me. I really don’t.’
I crouch down next to him.
‘Come on Mr Clarke. Let’s get you off the floor and sitting comfortably. Then we’ll have a chat and see what’s what.’
Frank finds a white metal perching chair, positions it behind Mr Clarke, then we help him to his feet.
‘So tell me how you came to be on the floor?’
He looks straight at me.
‘I haven’t slept a wink. There are people in the flat. Horrible people. They’re terrorising me.’
‘What people? What do you mean?’
‘They’re up all night playing spiteful tricks and games. They run around, tip me out of bed, trip me up. I can’t go on like this. I can’t get any rest.’
‘But there’s no-one else in the flat, Mr Clarke. Who are these people?’
He studies me carefully.
‘I say people. More like creatures, really. Oh I know what you’ll think. But - see that dressing gown over there?’
He nods towards a pale cream gown draped over the arm of a chair in the sitting room.
‘Any clothes like that, dropped on the floor or around. These filthy creatures come in the night, and any discarded clothes they wriggle into and bring to life. It’s the clothes – the clothes with the creatures inside them. That’s what’s doing all the damage. And I can’t go on!’ He covers his face again. ‘Am I losing my mind?’
‘Well, it sounds to me as if you’re suffering hallucinations for some reason. I think you should come with us to hospital so you can see a doctor and get the once over.’
I take his temperature – a point up. He says his urine has been stinging lately, so I tell him that urinary tract infections can play havoc with your sense of what’s real or not. It seems to calm him. He blows his nose on some kitchen towel and waits with me whilst Frank goes to fetch our carry chair. Occasionally he throws an uneasy look over to the dressing gown, as if he expects it to jump up and run at us.

There are two large pictures on the wall facing us, both aerial photographs of London and Venice. Next to them, amongst a spread of family photos, gappy school prints, faded letters and graduation mementoes, there is a group of three little studio portraits of Mr Clarke, all apparently taken at the same time. I flick between them, trying to spot the difference, but each appears to be identical: the study of a middle-aged man in three-quarter profile, his full black hair clipped, greased and combed, his mouth slightly parted and his even white teeth on display, looking out onto the world with professional containment.


Wren said...

What a horror for that man, alone and terrified by the dark strangeness of his own mind. Thank goodness he was able to call an ambulance, Spence, so he could be safe and get help. Here in the U.S., a call like that would cost the caller hundreds of dollars if he had no medical insurance. I know people complain about the NHS in Great Britain, but it's a much better system in terms of everyone who needs it (and those that don't, unfortunately)can use it.

Spence Kennedy said...

It must be horribly disturbing, to see such nightmarish images whilst you're awake.

The closest I've come to it has been when I've had a dream that's left me confused immediately on waking up. That brief period of adjustment, of making sense of my surroundings - well, if that continued on into the day, I don't know how I'd cope!

I'm glad we have an NHS, free at point of use. Sometimes, with the frequent nuisance callers, I wonder if a charge could be levied to act as a deterrent - but then the thought that patients like Mr Clarke might also be put off calling makes me think that the system is probably best left as it is.
:) Sx