Rowan Close is so dark and definitively shut up for the night it can’t possibly be real. It feels like one of those cute miniature streets in a petting zoo, one mouse per house; if I reached out through the ambulance window I could gently lift a roof and see a ball of fur curled up in a nest of grass. But instead we pass noisily down to the end of the Close and park outside the only bungalow here that could be expecting us: number thirty-seven, Clara’s house.
We can see her crashing around inside, the curtainless windows thrown open, the stark box of her front room cruelly lit by a unshaded bulb. A ginger cat is cleaning itself on the window ledge. It stops with its paw half to its face as we come to the garden gate, thinks for a moment, then drops away into the bushes.
‘Garfield!’ she shouts from inside. ‘Oh don’t let Garfield go!’ But before she can reach the window she topples head first onto the sofa.
The front door is half open. We knock once and go inside.
‘What do you want?’ she pants, struggling to right herself as we follow the only clear trail through all the boxes of books, kitchen equipment, bedding, bags of trash, piles of magazines and other heaps of anonymous and unsorted detritus that clutter up her home.
‘I don’t know, Clara. You called us.’
She rights herself on the sofa and studies us for a moment. Her face is as boozily pink as her blancmange coloured top, its plunging neckline open to the waist, barely covering a pair of breasts so vast she looks like some great fertility totem from the stone age: the Venus of Willendorf pissed on pear cider, her great bare feet resting on a pile of spilled copper coins.
‘Yes. I do feel strange.’
‘In what way, strange, Clara?’
‘I fell over. Outside.’ She delicately picks aside some greasy strands of hair that are sticking to her cheek, then gives her head a demur shake. ‘I don’t know why.’
Suddenly she deflates a little, sags into herself and seems to fall asleep for a second or two. But just as suddenly she jerks awake again.
‘Please excuse the mess,’ she says. ‘I’m doing a spot of decorating.’
In a neat line by the sofa are four, one and a half litre bottles of Perry. Two of them are empty.
‘Oh I know what you’re thinking,’ she says, putting her hands down either side of her and bobbing her head forwards and back in an effort to build sufficient momentum to escape from the sofa – then settling back down again in defeat. ‘I know exactly what you’re thinking. The old bag’s drunk again. But I know what I can and can’t drink. I know what’s normal for me. And this…’ she sighs, gesturing to the room about her with a strange, spidery flip-flop motion of her hands. ‘..this falling over in the street business … this, is definitely, not normal.’