Veronica’s flat is round to the side. There is a discrete number to guide us there – a metal square held out on a bracket, picked out in white and black. An aggregate concrete path, where the breeze block wall on the right has broken down over the years, yielding to a steep drop and a scrub patch of garden. At the front of it, a circle has been cleared and flattened with black plastic sheeting, weighed down with gravel like dried peas on a pie crust ready for baking, a deckchair in the middle of it all, screened from the road by a wild and straggling buddleia.
Veronica opens the door after a few minutes of persistent knocking. She stands holding onto the handle, dreaming us.
‘Can we come in and have a chat?’ I ask her.
She considers the question, but at last the door seems to answer for her, shucking her hand away, releasing her to drift back into the gloom. We follow her inside - a cramped flat with just enough room in the hallway to make the turn you require: sitting room, bedroom, bathroom. Veronica has come to rest in the galley kitchen; she leans against the worktop with her arms folded.
‘My name’s Spence. This is Frank. We were told you may have taken an overdose. Of paracetamol. Is that right?’
‘How much did you take, Veronica?’
But I can see for myself. Across the worktop is a scattering of torn pill envelopes, the large, soluble kind, and over in the sink, an empty bottle of vodka.
‘Did you take all these?’
She gives me a Stan Laurel look, a sad little thin-lipped, loose-necked waggle of achievement.
‘We need to take you down the hospital to get some treatment for this, Veronica. You’ve taken quite a bit.’
A shrug that almost puts her on the floor.
‘Let’s get your shoes and coat and things and head out to the ambulance, shall we?’
She shakes her head.
‘No. They don’t want me there. They can’t do nothing.’
‘Yes they can, Veronica. But one thing at a time. Let’s get your stuff together and go out to the ambulance. When did you take all these pills?’
‘I didn’t take enough.’
She starts to rip open another pack and I reach over and take it from her.
‘When did you take these, Veronica?’
‘Just now. An hour, maybe.’
‘OK. So the sooner we go the sooner we can get things started. All right? Let me get your bag for you.’
‘Don’t rush me. Okay? Just don’t – rush me.’
She pushes herself clear of the worktop and drifts downhill out of the kitchen and into the bedroom. When she bends over to grab a pair of shoes from under the bed it’s a miracle of gravity that she keeps her feet.
‘Easy there, Veronica,’ says Frank. ‘Here’s your phone, look.’
‘Thanks. Thank you.’
We help her sit on the bed. Suddenly she looks absolutely defeated. She points to a flowery brass frame with a sepia photo of a smiling young girl.
‘Tha’s my mum, that is,’ she says. ‘She died at Christmas.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
‘I miss her.’
‘I bet you do.’
‘And my dad’s just gone in to a home.’
‘You’ve obviously had a tough time of it, recently.’
‘It sounds like you’ve had a lot to deal with. A lot on your plate.’
‘I have. I have had a lot on my plate.’
She bends forward to pull on a shoe, but we prop her up again.
‘Let me get that for you,’ says Frank. ‘I used to work in a shoe shop. There. Try that on. We sell a lot of those.’
Veronica shakes her head.
‘Don’t worry about me,’ she says. ‘I know you’ve got a lot better things to be doing.’
‘Nope. You’re our patient now. That’s all we’re worried about. There. Let’s get you up and out to the ambulance.’
But she stays sitting.
‘I’ve got two brothers,’ she says. ‘One younger, one older, both equally useless. Do you know what? Not one of them will change one little thing about their lives to help. They haven’t even been to see Dad yet and he’s been there a month.’
‘That’s no good,’ I say. ‘They’ve got to do their share.’
Veronica shakes her head.
‘It’s just me,’ she says, smacking her lips drily. ‘Only me.’
She puts her hands down flat either side of her and closes her eyes. The room ticks quietly. A sudden void of silence opens up around her, and even though the double bed almost completely fills the space, the walls of the little bedroom fly out, and the floor and ceiling spin away, and the bed drops into a great black pit of nothing, with Veronica the centre of nothing, a breath at the vanishing centre.
We prod her awake.
‘Come on Veronica,’ says Frank. ‘Let’s go.’
‘Make sure you pull the handle up before you turn the lock,’ she says.