Friday, September 16, 2011

fag in one hand, can in the other

I’m guessing that the window three floors above me is the window to flat fifty-one. They’d said in the notes it was difficult to understand the patient because of the loud music in the background; even from down here, his Sounds from the Seventies album is horribly clear.
Getting in should be simple: press the button, ask for access, get buzzed into the foyer, wait for the safe to be opened remotely, retrieve the pass key.
‘Hello, Red Line Remote Care Facility Jeremy speaking how may I be of assistance?’
‘Hello. It’s Spence from the ambulance here on a call to flat fifty-one. Could you let me in please?’
‘Just confirming – ambulance attendance to flat fifty one – requesting remote access. Is that correct?’
‘Yes. Thanks.’
‘One moment please, Vince.’
I stand back. A series of piercing electronic squawks, until finally the door clicks and I go through.
‘Thanks,’ I shout over my shoulder.
‘You’re welcome. Anything else I can help you with this evening?’
But the door has shut behind me and I can’t reply.
I wait in the foyer for the safe to open.

Nothing happens.

Terry Jacks is playing now. I let him get as far as saying goodbye to his Papa before I give up, go back outside and press the buzzer again.

‘Hello, Red Line Remote Care Facility Jeremy speaking how may I be of assistance?’
‘It’s me again, Jeremy. The safe didn’t open.
‘Can I just confirm who I am speaking to?’
‘Yep. It’s Spence, the ambulance man from just a second ago.’
‘I see. Thank you, Vince. How can I help?’
‘The safe didn’t open. I need the key to fifty-one.’
‘Thank you. Buzzing you through now.’
‘Thanks.’
The door clicks and I go back into the little foyer.
Flat fifty-one. It’s a wonder all his neighbours aren’t massing outside with firebrands and pitchforks.
Sweet. Are you ready Steve? Uh-huh. Andy? Yeah….
The safe remains closed.
… well all right fellas. Let’s go!

I go back outside and buzz.
‘Hello, Red Line Remote Care Facility Jeremy speaking how may I be of assistance?’
‘Yeah – Jeremy? Spence. Nothing’s happening, mate.’
‘Can I just confirm…’
‘Yep. Flat fifty-one. Look - I need the key otherwise I’ll have to kick the door in.’
‘You must let the front door close properly before the safe will open. Are you doing that?’
‘Yep.’
‘Okay. Sorry for the inconvenience, Vince. I’ll clear the call and re-send the signal. Try it now.’
He buzzes open the door. I walk through and close it firmly behind me.
Once the door is closed I can hear him on the intercom asking me if the safe is open, but he can’t hear my reply because the door is closed. By the time I get back to the intercom, jamming the front door open with my bag, he has gone.

I snatch up the bag and head for the lifts.

Of course the door’s open anyway.
‘Hello? Ambulance?’
The room is lit by a large plasma TV and a feeble yellow lamp on a table scattered with encrusted dishes, scattered cans and a littering of papers and letters. The air has a greasy rub to it; the floor is dark and sticky underfoot, as if he’d decided to skim the lino with burnt toffee.
‘Hello?’
A man emerges from the kitchen. He is an extraordinary sight – an adult sized chicken in a dirty parka, a can of lager in one hand, a spitty-little roll-up in the other. He has an astonished look to his face, as if a giant caterpillar had just materialised in front of him.
‘Can you turn the music off, please?’
‘What? Hurumph. I say – who?’
‘I said can you turn the music off? I need to talk to you. Look. I’ll do it for you.’

Leo Sayer, chopped off mid-need.

‘There. That’s better. My name’s Spence. I understand you called Red Line and said you needed help.’
‘Did I? Well – harrumph. Who-ha! What a turn up? Hey? Who’d have thought it?’
And he begins strutting around the bare flat, picking up his feet just exactly like a cockerel parading around the yard. Even his arms are bent and pulled back at the elbow like stubby wings. If it wasn’t for the intense set of his eyes and the grimly realistic chaos of the scene, I’d think we were being filmed.
He high-steps over to the window, rests both arms on the ledge and then raises one of his legs up behind him like a dancer warming up before a ballet about Care in the Community.
‘Who-oo! Harrumph! There. Look. Shit – what? A fag? A can? That’s a can, isn’t it? Faak! Mazing!’
I get his name from a blister pack that I exhume with my fingertips from a heap on the sofa.
‘Mick? My name’s Spence. What’s happened tonight?’
‘Wha’s happened? Nuffing’s happened? Hey? Who-ha. Harrumph. Wha?’
The TV is showing Cameron and Sarkozy in Tripoli.
‘Look at that! Wow! Mazing. Fag! Can! It’s all there. What?’
‘Mick – I’ve never met you before, but I’m guessing this isn’t normal for you. Have you got any pain at the moment?’
‘Pain? Wha’y’say? Faak n’ell. Tha’s a bit of luck, mate. Who?’

He carries on striding about. He reminds me of a music hall turn – someone like Max Wall, with the same kind of intonation, lopping off his words with an under bite, cluttering his dialogue with random questions, non sequiturs, and a periodic amazement that he should find himself here, now, in this flat, with a fag in one hand and a can of lager in the other.
‘Do you have a CPN, Mick?’
‘What? Mm? A CPN? Yes mate. Harrumph. I’m CPN’d up to here, mate. Lovely. Who? Ah-hum. They smoke hookahs, don’t they? Faak.’
‘Who do?’
‘The Arabs’
‘Mick? Did they give you a number you can call when things get a bit out of hand?’
‘Out of hand? Harrumph. Ah-hoo. Tell you what, mate …’
He struts over and stands right up close, his globe grey eyes flickering slightly like miniature versions of the TV behind me. He looks stage right, stage left, then smiles, spins around and chickens it back over to the window.
‘Fag in one hand. Can in the other. Faak. What? Harrumph.’

4 comments:

jacksofbuxton said...

He sounds a little bit like a parrot to me Spence.

I'd have been tempted to tell Jeremy he doesn't need to keep repeating the company spiel,but you're much more tolerant of these things than me Spence.

SQWAAAARKK pieces of eight

Bear said...

Joy, Fun, and Seasons in the Sun indeed.

petrolhead said...

This job sounds very strange, it must have been quite intimidating to be alone with such an unpredictable character. What happened in the end? Did he go to A&E?

Spence said...

JoB - Sometimes you have to wait ages for the spiel to be delivered - and once is quite enough! But maybe in his defence, maybe he monitors a whole rack of lights and got confused about who he'd spoken to already...

Bear - Skinned our hearts & skinned our knees...

PH - No - he didn't want to go to hospital. I chatted on the phone to the charge nurse at the psych hospital - she was happy he wasn't an immediate risk to himself & others; she reported the call to his team.