Saturday, September 03, 2011

the real thing

The fog has really come down now. It slides through the park, an implacable wall of grey, wiping the form and substance from everything, absorbing the shouts of the children, the muted chatter of the diners at the outside tables of the restaurant, the candles in their red glass bowls pulsing like the hearts of strange flowers with ragged petals of dark.
The ambulance thrums into place by the bins and boxes at the back of the café. A shadowy figure is there to meet it, the manager of the place, hugging his arms against the chill, smoking a cigarette.
‘He was sitting on a bench opposite for ages, then I saw him stagger off up the hill a little way and lay down on the path.’ He takes a generous pull of smoke, exhales, and for a second you could imagine here was the source of the fog. He smiles and taps the glowing end out to the side. ‘I think he must be pretty whacked out on something or other, but you’re the experts. You can just make out his shape – there!’
‘Thanks. Do you know who he is? Is there anyone with him?’
‘I haven’t seen him before and no, I think he’s alone.’
We walk up the path.
Children stop playing on the green in front of the restaurant. They stand strangely still, turning their whole bodies along with their eyes to watch us as we go.

Jez is lying on his back, his right hand across his forehead. As we approach he shouts out:
‘I’m not a bad person! I haven’t hurt anyone! Please! I haven’t done anything!’
‘It’s okay. We’ve only come here because people are worried about you. What’s your name?’
‘I’m not violent! I haven’t done anything wrong!’
‘No-one’s said you have. But you can understand how worried they were when they saw you lie down on the path. They think you’re not well.’
‘I’m not well. I’m mentally ill. Look!’
He bunches up the sleeves on both arms and even in this light you can make out the thickened stripes of white flesh where he’s cut himself in the past.’
‘That looks bad,’ I say. ‘You’ve obviously had a lot to put up with. But first things first. What’s your name?’
‘Jez. Jez. They know me there. They know me at the hospital.’
‘Okay, Jez. My name’s Spence and this is Frank. Our ambulance is parked just behind the café there. Will you come with us and have a chat about what’s going on tonight? It’s perfectly safe. There’s nothing to worry about. But you can’t be very comfortable down there. It’s a bit chilly to be lying on the floor.’
‘Help me up!’ he says, raising his left hand. ‘I’m frightened.’
‘Come on then.’
We help him up.
As soon as he’s upright he grimaces and pushes the heels of both his hands into his face. We both take a step back.
‘I’m not a violent person!’ he shouts. Then makes an incoherent growl of a noise, flecks of saliva playing about his small, white teeth.
‘Jez! Jez! Just try to ease off a bit, mate. Look. I believe you when you say you wouldn’t hurt anyone. But when you shout and carry on like this, you do come across as violent. I want you to try really hard to calm down.’
‘I’d never hurt you! I just want to hurt myself! I want to die!’
‘Jez. Look – there are lots of children in the park. Can you see - just about! All the children? You’ll scare them if you carry on like this. I know you don’t want to scare the children, do you? Hey?’
‘No. I don’t want to scare the children. But I’m losing my mind!
He looks around him, a strangely melodramatic movement, sweeping his arms out and to the side, arching his back and throwing wide-eyed looks to the right and left. ‘The fog!’ he gasps. ‘It makes everything so – different!’

We manage to calm him down and head back to the ambulance. As we walk along the path, a child stops bouncing a ball and clutches it to her, staring at the strange procession. Jez twitches and makes a turn as if to shout something to her, but we discretely lead him away, all the time finding the kind of bland encouragements you might make to a jittery horse. Frank opens the side door of the truck; the bright light from within spilling out suddenly, cutting a square of yellow in the cool, grey air around us. Jez draws back.
‘It’s okay,’ I say.
He looks at me, and I feel myself tense up, anticipating an attack. But instead he smiles, puts a hand on my shoulder and starts singing: You to me are everything, the sweetest song that I can sing, oh baby. Oh baby….
‘The Real Thing,’ says Frank. ‘Nineteen seventy six.’
We climb into the ambulance, and he shuts the door as gently as he can behind us.

9 comments:

Michael Morse said...

Great work, Spence! I've been away from here far too long, lost in my own little worlds. Your writing inspires me to do better, which I shall.

Spence said...

Hey Mike! Great to hear from you again. Hope everything's good with you, and Irene didn't bother you too much.

Karla said...

I can "see" everything that you describe. Mesmerizing! Hope this poor soul finds some relief.

Anonymous said...

aaaaagh what happened then?
lollipop
xx

Sabine said...

Aw Spence, what a job you have. How do you manage to stay steady in all of this!?
Moves me to bits, your writing.

Lynda Halliger-Otvos said...

Your manner with these marginal patients amazes me each time you write. Thanks for sharing.

Spence said...

karla - When we got to the hospital the nursing staff were v well aware of Jez. As were many of my colleagues. 'Jez? Oh yeah - we've been bringing him in ever since I started, and that was over ten years ago...'
So it's strange that I've not come across him before, but I have found that with some of our regulars - but in time, all 'frequent flyers' are visited...

In terms of him finding relief, though, I'm sorry to say it looks as if he's been suffering in this way for quite some time.

anon - The only way I could keep him calm was agreeing to sing him my favourite Pink Floyd song (off wish you were here - the title track) whilst he played the opening riff on air guitar. I must admit I quite enjoyed it, and it certainly seemed to work. When he was delivered to the hospital and I was chatting to colleagues o/s the dept., someone said to me: 'So - did you end up singing Pink Floyd numbers with him?' !!

sabine - I suppose the answer is I don't actually manage to stay all that steady. Superficially I appear to, but underneath the engine's working overtime, shuddering and shaking...

Lynda - I think that phrase 'marginal patients' pretty much sums it up. Often long term probs, intractable to everyone's best efforts. But I have to say, even though they're often really diff / awkward to deal with, they often compensate by being ultra vivid, and make good stories!

***

Thanks for all your lovely comments! V much appreciated.

Blogging to Bless said...

It is a rarity for a person to be able to write like this. You must realize this! Write a book :) I want to read it! This was just so eerie and sad and I should not have read it just before bed because I feel like I'm in the fog myself now.

Spence said...

Thanks v much B2B! I have been trying to write a book: I'll keep you posted of developments (at the third edit stage - prob finished in the new year). Not directly an ambulance book, though, more a psych thriller.
Thanks again for the lovely comment, and for reading the blog! :)