‘Watch your step.’ But the little halogen clip-light on the policeman’s shoulder shines right in my eyes and makes it even more difficult. I feel my way up towards his voice.
‘They could’ve made this a bit harder,’ says Frank, striding up from the vehicle with a torch, suddenly illuminating the difference between the gate, the shrubs, the trash, the scaffolding, and the weirdly syncopated concrete steps. ‘All we need now is a boulder rolling down from the top.’
Inside, the house is a ruthlessly lit box of laminate flooring and cigarette smoke. Two men are chatting in the front room, the first a jaded and roughened older version of the other – a cherry-cheeked kid of twenty with glycerine curls and the choleric lines of an overfed pet.
‘She’s in the kitchen,’ the father version says, pointing with his fag. ‘Good luck.’
‘Relative of yours?’
‘And she’s taken some pills...?’
‘She’s always taking pills.’
‘Do you know what exactly?’
‘Here, give him the pack.’
He taps his son on the shoulder; the boy dips down and bobs up again with an empty blister pack and a carrier bag of assorted boxes and bottles.
‘A half bottle of vodka to wash them down with,’ he says.
Gloria is in the kitchen clutching on to the sink with a couple more police officers right and left. If her husband and son have been eating well, Gloria can only have been watching. She is a clawed and freeze-dried stick of a woman, a wig of bouffant blonde hair on a prematurely aged frame.
‘Fuck off. Leave me alone,’ she screams. ‘I’ll bite you.’
She turns her head to the side, bobs down her head and draws her lips back from a set of crooked yellow teeth; strings of foamy spittle thread the gape of her mouth.
‘Come on now, Gloria,’ says the police officer on that side, easily deflecting her attempt by manipulating her arm and shoulder. ‘Don’t be like that. It’s silly.’
‘We just want to help you, Gloria.’
She tips back her head and yells up at the ceiling in a sing-song voice. ‘All police are bastards. All police are bastards.’
‘Easy, Gloria. Easy. Look. The paramedics are here.’
He smiles at us as we come into the kitchen.
‘Hello Gloria,’ I say, coming round to face her. ‘My name’s Spence and we’ve got Frank here as well.’
‘You can fuck off, too,’ she says. ‘I’m not going. I just want to die here.’
‘I understand you’ve taken a few pills tonight.’
‘No. I haven’t done nothing.’
‘You really need to come with us to the hospital, Gloria.’
‘I’m not going. You can’t make me. I know my rights.’
‘We can’t very well leave you here, can we?’
She sags a little and the police officers hold her up.
‘Come on, Gloria. Let’s go out to the ambulance.’
‘We have to get her in,’ I tell the officers. ‘With everything she’s taken, the sooner the better.’
The police officers shake their heads.
‘Breach of the peace,’ they say, unhooking Gloria from the sink and guiding her out. It’s a strangely passive experience, like watching two police officers arresting a mop.
‘Can I at least get my shoes?’ she whimpers, her bare feet scarcely touching the floor.
‘Of course you can, Gloria,’ says the first officer. ‘Are they in the hall? You’ll need a nice, warm coat, too.’
The husband and son watch as we pass through the front room, the husband smoking, the son holding a remote control, tapping it impatiently, like a baton, up and down in the palm of his hand.