Vanessa’s friend Sarah comes out to meet us.
‘Promise me you’ll be discrete.’
‘I mean it. You can’t tell a soul. Not anyone – it’s very important. And the other thing is, we can’t possibly go to the local A and E. You have to take her somewhere else. Anywhere but here.’
‘Okay. Shall we go inside and say hello?’
‘She’s a nurse. We’re nurses. There. If they see her being wheeled in she can kiss goodbye to that promotion.’
‘No-one need know.’
‘She wouldn’t have let me call you if she thought you were going to take her there. No way.’
‘Where is she?’
‘She’s had a bad year. Her boyfriend dumped her, restricted practice at work, family things – a holy trinity of shit. So you can’t blame her for hitting the skids. But it’s a blip. It’s not the end of the world. You know what management are like, though. You can’t trust them to see the big picture. So you’ve got to promise me.’
‘I’m sure we can sort something out. Where are we going?’
Sarah leads us past a giant yucca in the lounge-kitchenette to the closed door of the room out back. She knocks, pauses, pushes it open.
The bedroom is so cluttered we have to pick our way in. Vanessa lies face up on the bed, swaddled in a coverless duvet, surrounded by a scattering of possessions – odd pairs of shoes, empty shoe boxes, clothes, underwear, a Netbook – and, crucially, a bottle of vodka and a few ragged strips of Diazepam. Above everything, the pastel painting of an angel hugging his knees on one wall, a blank TV on the other.
With the amber light filtering through the drapes, it’s like we’ve broken through into a modern version of Tutankhamen’s tomb, except instead of a golden flail she holds a remote control, and instead of a cravat, Frank wears a stethoscope round his neck.
‘Hello Vanessa. How are you feeling?’
Her eyelashes tremble as she struggles to open her eyes against a mess of mascara.
‘Oh Jesus!’ she says when she sees us all standing around her bed. ‘How embarrassing is this?’