Paul the social worker is waiting for us out on the pavement; he leans out on tip-toes and waves his folder in the air to attract our attention.
‘It’s a difficult situation,’ he says as we gather round the cab of the truck. ‘Mrs Macaulay doesn’t want to go to hospital, so I’m not sure how successful we’re going to be. We might have to get the police involved, but let’s see how far we get with a little gentle talking first.’
A small, gently rounded man, he stands in the sunshine radiating as much empathy and goodwill as a freshly laundered soft toy. He adjusts his glasses and smiles. ‘Such a beautiful day today. Anyway chaps. Mrs Macaulay is eighty-four, going downhill a bit these past few months. Recent diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia with a query on dementia. Non-compliant with meds since the start of the year, self-neglect generally, abusive. Not sure about the actual threat of violence. Her grandson Jeremy is here. I’ll introduce you.’ He holds up the folder. ‘I’ve got all the paperwork, of course.’
He leads us up a set of steep concrete steps to the open door of a small, red-brick house. A weathered thirty-year-old man appears from inside, licking a roll-up cigarette and lighting it with the air of someone ready to stand back and await developments.
‘She’s locked herself up in the bedroom,’ he says, tossing the match into the garden and then squinting up and down the street. He picks a strand of tobacco from his bottom lip and looks us over. ‘She says she’s not going.’
Paul grimaces. ‘I know. I know. It’s tricky.’
‘Tricky!’ says Jeremy. ‘Good luck. She was spoon feeding a doll all last night.’ He stands aside to let us pass through a cloud of blue smoke. ‘But watch yourself. She’s already waved a Bowie knife in my face, and she keeps an iron bar by the bed.’
‘Mm. Maybe we’d better get the police along,’ says Paul, hugging the folder to his chest at the bottom of the stairs.
‘I don’t mind having a word through the door in the meantime,’ I say to him. ‘I’ll jump back down if she comes out swinging.’
As I walk up, I think about that scene in Psycho where the detective gets stabbed up on the landing; the camera watching from high up in the corner of the ceiling as Mrs Bates scuttles out and plants a carving knife in his chest. But this isn’t the Bates residence. There’s an old Hoover on the landing, and a bunch of appliqué violets in a frame on the wall.
‘Hello? Mrs Macaulay?’ I say, laying a hand lightly on the door – a cheap, three ply affair with a straight lever handle and a mortice lock.
‘Go away.’ The voice is high pitched and quivering, like a young girl pretending to be old. ‘Leave me alone.’
‘Mrs Macaulay? My name’s Spence. I’m with the ambulance. Can you open the door so I can say hello properly?’
‘I said go away! I’m not going to let you take me. I know you. You’ve want to drag me out and dump me. You want to cut me up. And I won’t let you. Go away.’
‘Mrs Macaulay? We’re just worried about your health. We’re worried you’re not yourself and we want to help.’
There is a sudden thump against the door and I pull back.
‘I’ll kill you!’ she screams. ‘You’re not taking me.’
‘Come on, Mrs Macaulay. We’ve just come here because Jeremy and your family are worried you’re not well.’
‘I have no family. They’re all dead.’
Suddenly there is the sound of someone stumbling over furniture to get to the other side of the room, then screams through the window ‘Help me! Help!’.
‘The police are en route,’ says Paul up the stairs.
Silence from the room.
‘Mrs Macaulay?’ I say at the door again. ‘Are you okay?’
I hear her clumping slowly back towards the door.
‘Why are you still here?’ she says at last, breathing hard close up to the crack. ‘I’ve told you. I’m not going to be dragged off and cut about.’
‘All we want is to meet you face to face. Come on. Open the door and say hello.’
There is a pause, and then she whispers: ‘Why don’t you fuck off back home to your prostitute wife?’
Later that morning we’re driving through the backstreets.
‘Look at that,’ I say to Frank, nodding to a run down café on the corner. ‘That’s got to be the worst name in the history of catering. Burpers.’
‘I always thought Sam n’Ella’s could really work,’ he says.
‘And then, if you were a hairdressers, maybe you could call yourself Crawlers.’
‘I’m thinking of opening a swimwear shop: Crabbies.’
‘Talking of names,’ he says. ‘You didn’t tell me Mrs Macaulay knew your wife.’