‘She’s taken all the meds in my bag,’ says Paula, standing quietly in the junked-up hallway, her features restrained and pale. ‘She’s upstairs with Jake. Neither of them should be here. I’m not supposed to have anyone else.’
Frank steps into the kitchen to retrieve the tablet packets, whilst Paula leads me up the steep staircase, dragging her feet slightly, like a depressed estate agent showing the worst house on the list; on the landing, she nods to the banister rail that guards against the drop.
‘She hanged herself from that a couple of weeks ago.’
When we push the bedroom door open a little more, Jake straightens up from where he has been hunched over the bed.
‘Treat her well,’ he says, ‘Or I’ll be angry.’
‘Of course we’ll treat her well,’ I say. ‘If we didn’t, you’d have every right.’
‘Just bear it in mind,’ he says, and shuffles a little further down the bed.
Eva is hiding under the duvet.
‘I can’t believe you called the ambulance,’ she cries. ‘Why did you call the ambulance?’
‘Because you’ve taken all my tablets,’ says Paula, in the same, measured tone. ‘You need help.’
‘I just want to die. Why can’t I just be left alone to die?’
Jake leans back in to hug her through the covers – It’s okay, babe. Nothing’s happening, babe - smothering her with platitudes whilst throwing glances at us over his shoulder that are much more to the point.
‘Jake? I’m sorry but - are you a relative?’
Eva snatches the duvet cover aside. Her young face is plump with crying, her long black hair in tangles around her face. ‘He’s a friend, okay? I love you, Jake. I’m not going anywhere without you, Jake. Or you, Paula. Or Gary. Where’s Gary?’
Paula folds her arms.
‘Gary’s downstairs,’ she says.
For a moment I worry about Frank who’s still down in the kitchen, but he appears round the door at that moment clutching a fistful of packets.
‘Gary’s all right,’ he says.
‘We’ll sort out who’s coming in a minute, Eva. For now, we just need to figure out exactly what you’ve taken.’
‘I haven’t taken anything.’
‘Well we’ve got a difference of opinion there. Eva reckons you’ve taken all these tablets,’ I say, showing her the packets that Frank hands to me. Jake stands up.
‘I was with her the whole time. We had a few drinks. She had a couple of Diazepam. Or those pink ones. That’s it. I don’t know what she’s talking about.’
‘You do need to come with us, Eva’ I say. ‘I can’t say if you have or haven’t taken these tablets. But from our point of view we can’t take the chance. We couldn’t possibly just leave you here wondering if you’d taken such a big overdose. This is dangerous stuff.’
‘I just want to die.’
‘So let’s go to hospital and get things sorted.’
‘I’ll come with you,’ says Paula. ‘I’m the only sober one here.’
‘Jake and Gary could come up later. I’m afraid we’ve only got room for one person to come in the back.’
Amazingly Jake seems to accept this, but I make sure he goes down the stairs ahead of me, just in case. By the front door he meets up with Gary – a stooped, bearded young guy with scabbed knuckles and a sideways manner – and the two of them share a cigarette as we get ready to go.
At the bottom of the stairs Eva stops and suddenly pulls her t-shirt off over her head, exposing her breasts.
‘Eva – cover yourself up, please. We’re going outside to the ambulance.’
‘But I’m hot. I’m burning up.’
‘You need to keep your top on though.’
Paula helps her back into the t-shirt and we carry on out.
We’re five minutes away from the hospital and I’m trying to get the essential details down: most importantly, what the drugs are that I have in this collection, a disparate range of prescription analgesics, anti-psychotics, sedatives and paracetamol products. Eva alternates between pseudo-unconsciousness and a rapid gabble that veers from extravagant expressions of love to an unpleasant kind of clamped-down, black hysteria. She keeps sitting up suddenly and trying to climb off the trolley. She is naked from the waist up, scratching herself and thrashing around.
‘Keep yourself covered,’ I say. ‘We’re almost at the hospital.’
‘I can’t,’ she says. ‘I’m burning up. They’re only tits,’ she says. ‘They’re not even real.’
‘You’ve got to try to keep the blanket on.’
‘I want a kiss,’ she says to Paula. ‘Kiss me,’ – and she throws her legs over the side of the trolley.
‘Come on, Eva. Settle back. I don’t want you falling off. We’re almost there.’
Paula leans in and gives Eva a kiss.
‘Is this what happened to you when you took your overdose?’ Eva says as she reluctantly lets her go.
‘Yes. Exactly the same.’
‘Have you got any of that cream?’
Before I can stop them, Eva is over the side of the trolley again and Paula is rubbing a thick, white cream all over her arms and chest.
‘That should help,’ she says.
Eva suddenly grabs her black hair, tugs it off and throws it across the ambulance where it lands by the back door. Her real hair is a brutally cropped ginger red, sticking up in tufted clumps. She shuffles quickly down to the end of the trolley, grabs the BP cuff and lead and wraps it around her neck, then leans backwards to pull it tight. I jump up, scattering the pill packets and clipboard onto the floor and push her back upright.
‘Come on, Eva. This is just silly.’
I unwrap the chord from around her neck and throw it aside just as the ambulance draws up outside A&E. Frank reverses into the bay, and comes round to the back. He opens the door.
‘Just a minute whilst we get sorted here,’ I say, breathing hard behind Eva.
Frank takes the scene in: Eva half naked on the bed covered in white cream, Paula with her arms folded, the tatty black wig on the floor in front of him.
‘Spence.’ He clears his throat. ‘Maybe later you could show me where exactly in the manual it talks about this particular treatment,’ he says.