A policewoman intercepts us as we pull up outside the house.
‘It looks like Chelsea might be suffering alcohol withdrawal,’ she says. ‘We got a call from her to say there was an intruder in the house. When we got here, she was outside in a bit of a state saying he was hiding in the cupboard. Mate – it’s a tiny little box for the electric meter. A cat wouldn’t fit in it. Anyway, we had a good look round the rest of the house and reassured her. Didn’t find a thing. It’s all quiet now. She’s upstairs on the sofa with my colleague. What else can I tell you? We’ve been here before, nothing serious, all alcohol related. She was meant to go the substance misuse people this morning to start on a programme. We gave them a call and the woman there said to call you guys, because if she’s having serious hallucinations and hearing voices, she should probably go to hospital. Anyway. See what you think.’
The policewoman moves off to make a few calls. I knock on the door, shout up ‘Ambulance!’ and we trudge up a flight of worn blue stairs to the living room.
‘Oh my good god, look who’s coming up now,’ says Chelsea. ‘That’s all I need. I’m not sick you know. You’re not carting me off to hospital.’
She is sitting on the edge of the sofa, a straight line from her hips to her eyes. She is a curious mixture, a cut-up collage of a woman; dance instructor, northern comic, clairvoyant. Her eyes are lightly underscored with sleeplessness, and she holds herself perfectly still as she talks, but despite the strange context of our visit and a living room crowded with uniforms, she seems remarkably sanguine.
I pull up a chair and lay the clipboard across my lap.
‘Chelsea? We heard a little bit from the police about what happened, but I’m still not exactly clear. Can you tell me what’s been going on?’
‘Right. What it was – this man broke in to the house and wouldn’t go. He was chasing me round, saying stupid things, you know, whispering, singing and carrying on and stuff. I kept trying to get him out but he just wouldn’t go and I got really scared. Then he jumped in the cupboard and I could hear him whispering behind the door. So I ran out and called police. When they got here he’d gone, thank god. All I need is to change the locks and I’ll be fine. Honest. There’s nothing else going on. I’m not mad.’
‘The thing is Chelsea, there are some aspects to the story that don’t quite add up. You know this cupboard the man hid in? The police say it’s really, really small. Too small for anyone to hide in. So from our point of view, you can’t blame us for thinking maybe what you were having was some kind of hallucination.’
‘Once he was out I was fine. I just need the locks changing.’
‘The police said you’re due to start an alcohol detox programme soon.’
‘Yeah. I was supposed to go this morning, but all this business stuffed it up.’
‘When was the last time you had a drink, Chelsea?’
‘Four days. Maybe five.’
‘I think it’s a brilliant thing to do. It’s definitely worth it, but it’s going to be tough. You know more about this stuff than me, though. All the side effects.’
‘Yeah. I’ve done it before. I know what happens.’
‘So you know you can suffer with hallucinations – incredibly vivid, you can’t tell them from the real thing – but hallucinations nonetheless.’
‘So do you think it’s possible this man in the cupboard could’ve been a hallucination? Horrible and scary, but not what you might call real?’
She stares at me.
‘But now he’s gone, you can all bugger off.’
‘Let’s just check your blood pressure and what have you. There are other things that can upset your balance, and we ought to rule them out before we decide what to do next.’
‘Fair enough. Only hurry up ‘cos I need to go out and get some fags.’
Frank runs through the procedure whilst I fill out the paperwork.
The flat is geometrically tidy, everything laid out on an invisible grid. It’s like sitting in an Etch-O-Sketch drawing of a room, angular and flat, with a spikiness to the air that even the bright morning sunlight spilling in through the window does little to warm.
‘Everything checks out,’ I say.
‘Good. I could’ve told you that and saved you the bother.’
‘The only thing that’s unusual is this story about the intruder, though.’
‘I’ve told you. He was behaving very odd, all the things he was saying, the way he said them. I was scared. Anybody would be. You would be. And then when he shut himself away in that cupboard, I didn’t know what else to do but get the police. Now he’s gone, I’ll be fine. Honest.’
She smiles at us pleasantly.
‘All I need do is change those bloody locks,’ she says.