Mrs Milgram greets us at the door of the flat with a diffident bob of her shoulders. A tall woman in her late forties, she has the lumpen quality of a giant parsnip, her broad hips tapering down to a pair of tiny feet, her head sprouting with a straggle of wet hair. Her thick glasses water down her eyes, which, along with the puffiness of her face and the droop of her chin, gives her a pale and peculiarly passive expression.
‘Hello. Thanks for coming,’ she whispers. ‘He’s in the living room. I’ll go and finish my hair off if that’s okay.’
She turns and hobbles back into the flat along a narrow corridor, waving us past as she goes into the bathroom. Everything comes off the corridor to the left, except for the living room at the far end. We head that way, squeezing past a clothes horse hung with sagging grey underwear, a cat scratching post, and a stack of lager trays, twenty cans per tray, ten trays tall.
Lennie is crouched at the edge of an L-shaped sofa, his arms folded across his middle. Behind him on a ledge is a crowd of empty lager cans; to his right, with its screen turned discretely away, a laptop. On the other side of the laptop there is a towel draped across the cushion of the sofa; on the other side of the towel is a porn magazine – MILFs and Matures. There are two spangly throws draped across the window on a washing line. The room has the fetid atmosphere of a place that has not seen enough sunlight, or had a window opened in a while, or the litter tray changed frequently enough.
Lennie tells us he’s twenty-five, which is about twenty-five short of what I would’ve guessed. Behind his full beard his face has the waxy yellow tinge of a candle that’s been kept at the back of the cupboard. He is so slight, if it wasn’t for the starch in his clothes he wouldn’t be able to sit up at all.
‘I haven’t eaten in two weeks,’ he says. ‘I haven’t been outside in five years.’
‘And have you been drinking much?’
‘Twenty cans a day, from when I wake up to when I go to bed.’
‘At the moment, Lennie, your chest is hurting because your heart is running too fast. We need to get you to hospital to have that slowed down. Okay?’
‘It’s the only option, mate. If you stay here your heart will become exhausted and eventually pack up. So come on – let’s grab your coat, shoes, phone and be on our way.’
‘Tell mum I need a clean pair of trousers. I’ve messed these.’
I unpack the chair and make it ready to carry Lennie out. In the minute it takes for Mrs Milgram to find his clean trousers, Frank says: ‘How do you get all that alcohol if you can’t go out? Presumably your Mum would struggle.’
‘No. It’s easy, really. I just shop online.’
‘Haven’t you seen the advert on the side of the truck, Frank?’ I say, wrapping Lennie in a blanket. ‘You shop, we drop.’
‘Mm,’ says Frank. ‘But not in this case.’