A street lamp switches off just as we pull into the road, like I blinked and made it happen. It disorients me for a second, but then I carry on looking for the number. In the end the house we want is easy to spot, a police car parked outside.
‘I don’t know if you know the story or not,’ says the police woman, waiting in the hallway. ‘Charlie woke up around three and found his wife Vera missing and the front door open. He called us, we did a quick recce of the area and found her in her nightdress about four streets away, crouching behind a van. She wasn’t distressed or anything – in fact, it was really weird. It was like the most natural thing in the world for her to be out and about in the early hours barefoot in her nightdress. Anyway, we brought her home, warmed her up and called you guys. There just through here in the sitting room. The daughter’s here with them. She only lives down the road.’
We follow her into the sitting room.
‘Hello! Hello! It’s the ambulance!’ I say, overly brightly, like a party entertainer. I nod at Charlie, a frail old man of eighty, hugging his knees through his dressing gown, rocking backwards and forwards and sucking his teeth; his daughter Suzie, jangling a bunch of keys, and Vera, her long grey hair wild about her shoulders. She is sitting on the edge of her armchair, cradling a mug of tea and looking around with the kind of benign confusion you might see on someone who woke up to find themselves on stage.
‘So – Vera? What’s been going on this morning? I’ve heard a little bit from the police. It’s all a bit strange isn’t it? How are you feeling?’
‘I feel fine, absolutely fine. I can’t explain it. It’s just one of those things. When I woke up there was a strange man in the room and I didn’t like it so I had to get out. I didn’t have time to put anything on, so I just went.’
‘A strange man?’
‘I’ve never seen him before. But I didn’t like him and I just had to go.’
‘Has this happened before?’
I look across at her husband and he shakes his head.
‘This is what I don’t understand,’ he says. ‘It’s completely out of character.’
I look back to Vera, quietly sipping her tea.
‘Do you mind if we check you over?’
She puts the mug aside.
‘Honestly, I feel fine,’ she says.
‘No pain anywhere? Headaches, blurred vision, dizziness?’
‘Nothing at all.’
‘Shortness of breath? Sick? Anything unusual at all?’
‘I was a bit shivery, you know, but I expect that’s because I’ve been running around in my nightie.’
‘I expect so.’
Whilst Rae runs through the observations, I take some notes. Vera is as old as her husband but the two of them enjoy perfect health. Nothing in her past medical history, nothing recently.
‘Have you noticed any discomfort going to the toilet just lately? When you pass water, for instance? Does it sting?’
‘No. And I’m very good about drinking, aren’t I, Charlie?’
He nods, and bites his lip anxiously.
‘What do you think it could be? he says.
‘I don’t know. It’s all very odd. Have you ever had any lucid dreams before, Vera? Sleep-walking? That sort of thing?’
She shakes her head.
‘I’m a good sleeper,’ she says. ‘I can drop off anywhere.’
‘She could sleep on a rope,’ says Charlie. ‘Me - I’m hopeless’
‘Is it all right if we stand down now, guys? says the police woman. ‘I don’t think there’s much more we can add.’
‘Thank you so much for what you did,’ says Suzie, getting up to show them out.
‘Our pleasure,’ says the police woman. ‘I’m glad it had a happy ending. Night all.’
Charlie shakes her hand, then looks back at me.
‘What do you think?’ he says.
‘I don’t know. The strange thing is all your observations are completely normal, Vera. It could be the start of a urinary tract infection. They’ve been known to make you a bit confused sometimes. Or maybe it was some form of mini-stroke. I’ve not heard of that particular symptom, but you never know. From our point of view, the safest thing would be to take you down the hospital for a check-up and maybe a blood test...’
‘I’m not going to hospital,’ says Vera. ‘Absolutely out of the question.’
‘She’s got a fear of hospitals,’ says Charlie.
‘Okay. Well – I suppose it’s not so far off that your surgery will be open. At the very least you’re going to need a chat to your doctor, to see what they have to say. How about that?’
She nods and picks up her tea again.
‘And don’t forget – the slightest thing happening between then and now – anything out of the ordinary, anything that you’re worried about – call us back. Okay?’
I finish writing the paperwork.
Vera studies me for a moment, then Charlie, and finally Suzie, who's come back to stand in the doorway.‘Well, just one,’ she says at last. ‘Who was he?’