Monday, November 15, 2010

frills, cuffs and funny hats

It wasn’t so much a storm as wildly accelerated fog. All afternoon it had torn into town from off the sea, flinging itself against every surface, rattling street signs and hoardings to the rivet, kicking up litter spouts, punishing umbrellas, soaking anyone too desperate, stupid or dependent to stay indoors, scouring the pavements like a monstrous, hyperactive, supersaturating broom. But as night fell the storm magically lifted.
Now everything is still, raw, exhausted.
I park under a yellow lamp and we walk up the steps to the house.
Maddy waits on the top step for us.
‘Hi,’ she says, folding her arms across her chest. ‘Thanks for not putting your lights on.’ She looks down at her shoes. ‘I suppose you’d better come up.’
She turns and we follow her inside, a cold, vaulted hallway with a long and brightly coloured bank of letterboxes on the left, a jarring modern addition to the stained glass window above.
‘Sorry guys. I’m right at the top.’
Maddy leads us to the central staircase, taking us up through such a hotchpotch of partition walls, fire doors and screens it’s like she’s taking us up through the centre of a great stack of playing cards.
‘I don’t know about you but I’m gonna be needing an ambulance in a minute,’ wheezes Frank. Maddy laughs.
‘This is it. You made it.’
She pushes open her door and goes to sit on a little square sofa by an open window. There is half a bottle of wine on the coffee table in the middle, Scissor Sisters playing on the music system.
Frank sits down opposite her; I take a stool in the kitchenette.
‘I understand you may have taken an overdose, Maddy,’ he says, putting his clipboard on the floor and taking off his jacket. ‘Is that right?’
She nods.
‘What’ve you taken?’
‘Beta blockers, some analgesics – not a serious dose, though.’
‘And when did you take them?’
‘Since this afternoon. Over the course of about four hours.’
Maddy makes herself comfortable, hooking one foot under the opposite knee and leaning back onto the sofa, propping up her head on her right arm. Superficially she could be as easy as a celebrity being interviewed for a weekend supplement, but despite the muted light of her bedsitting room the pinched corners of her sadness still show.
‘I’m really sorry to bother you guys,’ she says. ‘I phoned that help line number, and the bastards called you on my behalf. I suppose they had a duty of care, or something.’
‘It’s no bother,’ says Frank. ‘We just want to make sure you’re okay.’
‘Oh I’m fine,’ she says. ‘I just wanted to get out of it, that’s all. I know it’s not a particularly dangerous dose I took. I used to be a nurse.’
‘Is there no-one else here?’
‘No. I’ve only just come back from Sardinia. My daughter and ex-partner are staying out there. I just needed to get back and sort myself out.’
Maddy pushes her hair back from her face and gives us both a reassuring smile. ‘But don’t worry. I’m not going to do anything stupid. More stupid, I should say.’
I run through some basic obs whilst Frank writes up the form. Maddy accedes to everything with quiet grace. Outside, the night drifts past the opened window, carrying with it a savour of the black ocean, shifting just beyond the reach of the promenade lights.
‘Still nursing?’ I ask.
She laughs.
‘No. I gave that up years ago when I had Julie. No – when I was nursing, it was all frills, cuffs and funny hats. We had a great laugh, though. I remember when I did my psych placement. It was at this huge Victorian institution. They’ve all closed down now, of course. God knows where they put everyone. But honestly, you should’ve seen it. The corridors went on forever. Miles and miles of arched brick ceilings, recessed doors. Boom, boom, boom, when you walked along it. You didn’t know who was staff and who was patient. It was great.’
‘Maybe you could get back into nursing?’
‘Nah. I don’t think they’d be impressed by all this,’ she says, picking an empty blister packet off the coffee table and waving it with a grin, the barrister with the comedy evidence.
‘They wouldn’t have to know, Maddy.’
‘Well,’ she says, dropping it again and settling back into the sofa. After a while she says: ‘Maybe. You never know.’


Cmeej said...

Just discovered your blog. It's great! Do you have any suggestions for some "funnier" stories?

Stacy said...

You paint the storm and the calm so well—Maddy seems to have such clear-eyed awareness, now that the emotional upheaval is (hopefully) over and done with. Here's wishing her well.

For what it's worth, my aunt started nursing during that era of frills and cuffs—I think she still starches all (and I do mean ALL) of her laundry to this day.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Cmeej
Some of them are funnier than others, I must admit. It's just the way they come out (and the nature of the job, I suppose) :/

Hi Stacy
She was incredibly clear and calm about the whole thing. V impressive.

Starching your uniform sounds so hard core. These days, when you get new uniform you can't wait to wash all the stiffness out of it! I bet she looked great in the old outfit, though.

Thanks for your comments!

Abblyfish Wibble Bartonia said...

This is such and interesting read ! Haven't read anything quite like it ! nice work. Shall look forward to reading more :) !


♫FEN♫ said...

i like you posts..interesting. hopefully I could learn something from here. Followed you.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks v much, Abby & Fen!

Nari said...

Thanks for the story. Absolutely superb writing. With this story, Maddy won't be alone in her pain any longer. Positive thoughts are heading her way. I hope she's prepared for the love.

California Girl said...

Well written descriptive piece. I think I'm gonna have to follow ya for more.

Mladen said...

'Outside, the night drifts past the opened window, carrying with it a savour of the black ocean, shifting just beyond the reach of the promenade lights.'

*drops dead*

Malastal said...

Another post that filled me with positive energy.

supra cruizer said...

funny story.

katman said...

It takes me a while to understand your post. Really interesting.

Spence Kennedy said...

I'm really overwhelmed by the number of warm and encouraging comments. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. :)

Mollie said...

I really enjoy your prose. I also think your experiences would translate very well into a TV drama series. Am also now following your blog.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Mollie. Maybe a cross between ER and The Simpsons... :0) x

Anonymous said...

'They wouldn't have to know, Maddy'

From personal experience I think that's bad advice Spense. And even if she chose not to divulge, again, from personal experience in the NHS, those at the top of the nursing hierarchy would find out anyway

mike said...

indeed, "You never know."

Spence Kennedy said...


I suppose I was just thinking of it in terms of a medical problem that would only 'exist' between Maddy and her doctor. If she applied to be a nurse and didn't tell them she'd been abusing various meds, how would they know? I mean, maybe they should know about it, but am I being naive and underestimating their reach? (Unless she started presenting symptoms of the problem at work).

Good to hear from you, CN. Hope you're well & cheers for the comment.

Hi Mike!
'you never know' - the kind of phrase you use all the time, but loaded with potential!

supra suban said...


Kirby Obsidian said...

A beautifully written piece, Spence. I appreciate your openness, generosity of spirit and the absence of judgement.
I'm a bit of a fellow traveler, doing outreach to homeless youth in Toronto.
Be Well!

Spence Kennedy said...

Hey Supra & Kirby! Thanks v much for your comments - hope everything's good with you. :)

Anonymous said...

Just found this blog. I must say i am impressed about your mad writing skill. LOVE IT.

Adrian said...

Only just found your blog and i have to say, the stories i've checked out of yours have all been brilliant. I enjoyed this one especially. The way you write made even a "less dramatic" experience a good read.

Spence Kennedy said...

Cheers SH & Adrian!