This must be the fifth time I’ve heard Adele’s Someone like you on the radio today. But now, driving on lights and sirens across town at rush hour, it’s suddenly the perfect soundtrack. Forget heavy metal and rock n’roll - this is the stuff to get us there: banal, operatic melancholy. I sob through lights, nod tragically through petrol station forecourts – I know, I know – make Adele hand gestures as we bounce across traffic islands, shake my head sadly as cars indicate left and turn right. I understand all and I forgive all. By the grace of Adele, routes become available to us through the five o’clock chaos that only someone with bad mascara and a taste for tragedy could ever see. She possesses me utterly. Driver and Diva are one.
We get there in six.
But. Contrary to the notes, there is not a woman lying on the floor, questionable life status, forced entry required. Sheila is sitting up, swearing at the care assistant - and us - as we walk in the door.
Frank sits down on a Moroccan pouffe. I take the rattan chair.
Sheila nods at us, and almost pitches forwards again.
‘Whoa there, dobbin,’ says Frank, making it there in time and propping her up against the writing desk. ‘Okay?’
‘Go away. I don’t want you.’
I’m still coming down from the journey. And besides, I’ve been here so often it’s hard to know where to begin or what to say. There is a stack of ambulance sheets over on the cabinet, as proudly and neatly folded and as a billionaire’s hoard of bonds and stock options. I cross my legs and look around. Framed prints of ducks and orchids. Italianate alabaster nudes, an ancient mirror so beautifully carved the gilt folds around the oval seem to stir in the breeze from the door.
‘How are you, Sheila? What are you doing on the floor again?’
‘I found her,’ says the carer, coming in from the kitchen with a couple of bags of rubbish. ‘She couldn’t get up so I call. She very drunk. Again.’ She carries the bags outside; we hear such a loud clatter it sounds as if she’s decided to throw herself in there with them.
‘Your carer’s nice,’ says Frank.
‘I hate her.’
‘Why do you hate her, Sheila?’
‘Because she called.’
Sheila’s pattern of speech is always the same: one sentence school mistress, one sentence unhappy child.
‘She had to call us. You were on the floor. You’re still on the floor.’
‘What do you know about the state of my knees?’ she spits. Then: ‘I’m in so much pain and nobody cares.’
‘We do care Sheila. We care. The carer cares.’
None of this will work and we both know it. No amount of charm or chill, no hectoring, reasoning, bullying, no fancy word play or hilarious mime will make a difference. We’ll get her up. She’ll refuse to go to hospital. She’ll buy more vodka via the minicab that goes to the off licence for her and pushes it in through the cat flap. She’ll drink the vodka and pass out again.
‘Let’s at least get you up,’ says Frank. We do that. She screams and wails. The carer watches from the door.
‘She go to hospital?’
‘What do you think?’
‘You make report? The doctor he do something?’
‘Don’t hold your breath. It’s frustrating for everyone.’
Sheila dabs at her eyes, and her knee.
‘Oh just get out,’ she says. Then: ‘Is there nobody in the world who cares?’