A man and a woman are sitting on a yellow sofa facing Agnes, a hyper-inflated, twenty-four stone woman sweating quietly in a vast, raspberry coloured dressing-gown. The woman has a folder resting in her lap, the man has his legs crossed and his hands laced around one knee; both have a glossy aura of control around them. In fact, they are so measured, from the encouraging tilt of their heads and their warm, empathetic smiles, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a camera moving in from the edge of the carpet and a floor manager in headphones urgently pointing at the woman with a pen.
‘Hi Guys!’ the woman says. ‘I’m Amanda, this is Paul…’
‘Thank you so much for coming.’
‘Really appreciate it,’ says Paul. ‘Good to have you here.’
‘So let me fill you in,’ says Amanda, lacing her fingers together and placing her hands neatly in her lap. ‘We work for the Crisis Outreach Team.’
Paul nods, smiles, discretely checks his watch.
‘We had an appointment to come out to see Agnes today as part of our continuing package of home support – didn’t we, Agnes?’
‘We already knew that Agnes had been up to A and E this morning with a stomach complaint, but the doctors were happy for her to come home with some paracetamol for pain relief. Unfortunately Agnes had a bit of an episode in the early afternoon – isn’t that right, Agnes?’
‘To the extent that she decided to take her own life by swallowing all the paracetamol. About forty, all told. Is that fair, Agnes?’
‘Of course as soon as we found out what had happened, we all had a chat about it and decided the best thing to do would be to call you guys – the experts – and see what you had to say about it. And here we all are!’
Amanda finishes brightly, rattling her nails on the folder cover as if she couldn’t wait to open it up and share some delicious recipe.
‘Do you mind if I sit down?’ I say to Agnes.
Amanda and Paul budge up; Amanda pats the cushion next to her. I sit down.
She looks at me.
‘How are you feeling?’
‘Felt sick? Been sick?’
She shakes her head.
‘The thing is, Agnes, that’s a pretty dangerous dose of paracetamol, as I’m sure you’re aware. We need to get you down the hospital so the doctors can treat you for it. I know it’s a nuisance – given that you were only down there this morning. But it’s just one of those things. How would you feel about coming with us to the hospital?’
She purses her lips and closes her eyes.
‘If I have to go, I have to go,’ she says.
‘Excellent!’ says Amanda.
‘Good. Good,’ says Paul. He leans forwards and looks at me. ‘Good,’ he says again.
‘Okay. So. Do you have everything you need? Phone, keys, slippers?’
‘And how would you feel about walking out? Nice and slow – and if anything changes and you feel a bit faint we’ll reconsider our options. But for now – a short stroll out to the vehicle? What do you say?’
Agnes begins rocking backwards and forwards to build enough momentum to break free of her chair. When she stands up, her dressing-gown hangs like a circus tent from the dropping-off point of her chest.
We stand up, too.
‘Well that’s great!’ says Amanda. ‘I’m glad!’
It’s all so measured and pleasant I half expect the phantom floor manager to gesture with his pen again – And we’re OUT!. Congrats all round. Don’t forget to leave your mikes. Debrief upstairs in five.
Amanda throws her folder behind her on the yellow sofa. It opens to reveal empty pages. Paul rips his earphones out and loosens his tie. ‘I swear if I have to do another overdose…’ ‘Did you hear from your agent yet?’… ‘Where’s my double espresso? Don’t make me ask twice.’
Agnes waits by the door.