Someone has opened a box of devils tonight; they howl through the dark canyon of these houses, mauling the trees, whipping the parked cars with great tails of rain, rocking the ambulance from side to side as we come to a stop outside the only house with a light in the window.
‘Madre de Dios.’
‘Police en route.’
‘Let’s have a look anyway.’
A woman calling about a nine year old girl; the call taker heard screams in the background.
Even though I have a good hold of the ambulance door, my arm is almost wrenched from my shoulder as the wind snatches it away. I struggle to slam it shut, then with one hand holding the edges of my jacket together and the other gripping onto my bag, I step across black water to the pavement and then up an overgrown path to the front door where a woman stands jiggling and swaying with a baby on her hip.
‘What a night,’ she says as we stamp into the hallway. I don’t think she means the storm.
From upstairs, a child screams out. The mother absorbs the sound, as glassily subdued as the baby on her hip.
‘I don’t know what to do any more.’
‘Who’s that?’ shouts the child upstairs. ‘Who’s come in? I want to see them. I want to know who it is.’
‘It’s the ambulance, Tammy. They’ve come to see if they can help.’
‘Oh my God! Oh my God! I’m not going to hospital! I’m not going! I have to see them. I have to explain. I’m in such pain. Send them up to me! Send them up!’
Frank stays to talk to Mum in the kitchen. I go up.
Tammy is scrunched up in the middle of the bed, her knees drawn up with her hands elbow to elbow beneath them. A pillow rests on her legs, just in front of her face. She turns and stares at me through a curtain of sweated yellow hair as I step into the room.
‘What a night, Tammy!’
Outside the wind rages along the house front; the curtains fill and turn in the draught, as somewhere off in another room a door bangs rhythmically. Even though the windows are closed, it’s as if the storm had found a way through and torn everything up. The carpet is scattered with picture books, magazines, CDs, half-dressed dolls. The chaos extends up the walls, where certificates, photos and drawings jostle amongst the pulsing red hearts of the wallpaper. With the banging of the door and the twisting of the curtains it’s easy to imagine the whole room turning over and over like the drum of a washing machine, everything mixed and falling inside, wall to floor to wall, with Tammy’s drawn face peering anxiously through the glass.
‘Hello. My name’s Spence.’
‘No one understands. No one cares and no one does anything. I know I should sleep and I want to sleep but I can’t because if I do I’ll only wake up feeling like I do now, so bad and just so fed up. I’m fed up!’
Suddenly she pushes her face into the pillow, takes a shoulder full of air and screams as loudly as she can.
I push some books off an armchair and sit down.
The pillow soaks up the scream. Finally she raises her face again. She stares at me, then starts in again as quickly as if nothing had happened.
‘I feel so bad. I feel as if my arms and legs are going to fly away and leave me on the bed like a – like a dead dog. Does anyone know what’s happening to me? I’m sick and I’m never going to get better. I desperately want to go to sleep but the bad part won’t let me. I’ve got a good part and a bad part, and the bad part’s taking over.’
She lowers her face to the pillow and screams again. When that one passes and she raises her head again, I say as calmly as I can:
‘Tammy? You’re perfectly safe here. There’s nothing bad going to happen and there’s nothing can hurt you. You’re safe in your lovely room, in your comfy bed. Mum’s here, your little baby sister, we’re all here, and I know the wind’s going mad outside but it can’t get in and everything’s okay. You’re feeling bad at the minute but that will pass. You’re very tired and soon you’ll be asleep, and in the morning you’ll wake up and feel so much better.’
‘There are monsters in my sleep. They’re waiting for me. They’ll get me.’
‘No they won’t. We won’t let them. When you go to sleep you’ll be completely relaxed and rested, and in the morning the sun will shine and you’ll be fine.’
My words sound written out in crayon, phoney, unbelievable.
Tammy stares at me.
‘I’m not going to hospital.’
‘I’m not going taking you to hospital. It’s horrible weather outside. You’re much better off all tucked up and cosy in here. We’ll think of something else.’
Frank appears in the doorway behind me.
‘Can I borrow him?’ he says.
‘Won’t be a second.’
I follow him back downstairs to where the mother stands waiting with the baby.
‘Tammy’s been like this for a month or so,’ he says. ‘She’s been checked out by the doctor a few times, nothing wrong. There’s a referral to the child mental health team – next week? – but we’ve got to think how mum’s going to get through tonight.’
‘She won’t go to the hospital,’ says the woman, kissing the baby on the forehead.
‘But we could get the doctor out tonight. At least they’d be able to give her something if talking doesn’t do the trick.’
The woman leans back against the wall and gently nuzzles the baby’s hair.
‘Can you believe it? Their useless father says he doesn’t want to come round and see them.’
Tammy shouts down the stairs again.
‘What are you saying? I can hear you. What are you saying?’
She screams again.
The police arrive outside.
Frank goes to meet them as I go back up the stairs.
‘Hang on, Tammy,’ I say. ‘It’s okay.’ But when the front door opens a sudden rush of air pushes past me, as if the wind is reaching in through the house to snatch the girl away, up from the bed and out through the window, gathering her shrieks to its black and furious centre.