On the driveway of the block of flats there is an elderly woman standing half in and half out of a car, one hand on the open door and the other fiddling with a bunch of keys.
‘Is it for Richardson? Flat forty?’ she says. ‘Have you come for my daughter, Jane?’
‘Who are you?’
‘I’m her mum.’
‘Yep, we’ve come for your daughter.’
There is a little boy in the passenger seat. He studies me through the dirty windscreen.
‘I’ll just go straight up the hospital and see you there,’ the woman says, getting back into the car.
We hurry on inside.
The lift descends and opens. Two woman like hyper inflated character balloons bustle and jostle each other as they struggle out of the lift with a couple of bichon frises.
‘Morning,’ I say to them.
They all look horrified.
We let them pass, then carry on up to the fifteenth floor.
The lift door opens onto a man so consumptively thin he could hide behind a cane.
‘Hurry up, guys. She’s really done it this time.’
He leads us through a stark and dirty flat into a galley kitchen where his ex-wife Jane is lying on her back, blue lipped and unmoving.
‘I think she took some heroin,’ he says. ‘I just nipped out to the shops to get some things in. I was only gone a minute. Do you think she’ll make it?’
I set to work clearing and securing her airway, using a BVM to breathe for her, whilst Rae draws up some narcan to counteract the effect of the heroin.
‘I was here about four days ago, same thing,’ says Rae. ‘She’s pushing her luck.’
‘There’s some dodgy gear about,’ the partner says. ‘I told her not to take it on her own.’
‘Can you fetch us her list of medications please?’ Rae asks him. As soon as he’s gone she says: ‘Exactly the same last time. Only then the little boy was in the sitting room on the couch, watching the whole thing. I reported it to social services, but I haven’t heard back yet. Did you see him in the car just now?’
‘Was that him?’
‘Yeah – with the grandma. I’m not happy about this. I wouldn’t mind betting they called the grandma over to make it look as if she had the kid the whole time.’
The partner comes in again with a scrip.
‘How’s she doing?’
‘She’s making some effort to breathe for herself now. It shouldn’t be long before she’s up and talking to us.’
‘Thanks for coming, guys.’
Jane sits on the edge of the sofa, smoking a roll-up. Mike, her ex, paces about anxiously.
‘Please don’t tell the social,’ she says. ‘I’ll lose my boy for sure.’
‘We’re worried about the way things are at the moment, Jane. Not just for you, but for Josh, too. What happens if you take an OD like today and he gets left on his own? What would he do? How would that be for him?’
‘But he doesn’t stay with me. He stays with his Grandma.’
‘He was here when this happened to you just the other week, Jane. It was me who brought you back from the dead then, too.’
‘I am grateful, and I’m sorry. But please don’t tell the social. They’ll get the wrong end of the stick and I’ll lose little Joshie. I don’t know what I’d do if they took Joshie away.’
She starts crying, dragging fixedly on the cigarette between sobs.
‘The boy’s okay,’ says Mike. ‘His grandma takes good care of him.’
‘You can see our worries, though, can’t you? You can see how it looks to us?’
‘Yeah – of course. But please – don’t tell the social.’
Jane refuses to come to hospital, even though we explain that narcan has a short half-life, and the effects will wear off soon.
‘I’ll be with Mike,’ she says. ‘I’ll be fine.’
She signs our release papers, and we leave. As soon as we’re back in the cab, we request some off-road time to fill in a Vulnerable Child form back on base.
The two women we passed in the lobby are exercising their dogs on the slopes in front of the tower block. They play out spools of line to let the dogs wander on the grass, chatting watchfully as the white woolly heads bob up and down, like miniature sheep, grazing.
‘They must shampoo those dogs every day,’ Rae says.
‘And blow dry them.’
I imagine the dogs standing patiently in an aluminium sink, suffering jug after jug of warm, cleansing water to wash the suds and the dirt away.
Good, clean, safe little dogs.
I wonder which floor they live on.