Monday, September 17, 2012


Janice is sitting on the sofa, eight roll-up cigarettes neatly finished and lined up in a fish-shaped dish on the coffee table in front of her. She is utterly still. She doesn’t even turn her head as we come in the door.
‘We understand you’ve taken an overdose, Janice.’
She nods.
‘What have you taken?’
She glances down at the torn blister packs on the sofa beside her.
‘All my meds for the next two weeks.’
I pick up the packs and start writing down the names of the meds.
‘Any alcohol with that?’ I say, sounding like a waiter.
She shakes her head.
‘Alcohol doesn’t agree with me,’ she says.
‘I think we’ve met before,’ says Rae. ‘Didn’t I take you in with something similar? A couple of weeks ago?’
Janice looks up and squints.
‘Yes. You did. I recognise you now.’
‘So what’s happened between then and now?’ 
Janice closes her eyes. ‘It’s the anniversary of the twin towers. I lost a good friend,’ she says.
 ‘Okay. Shall we go down to the ambulance, Janice? Have you got everything you need?’
The words seem to cross over slowly, a satellite delay. But then she sighs, leans forward, carefully gathers up her cigarettes and drops them in her pocket.


After we’ve handed Janice over at the hospital, Rae passes me a cup of coffee and we settle back into our cab seats. The A&E car park is crammed with vehicles – ambulances, cabs, private cars. It’s like a monster version of one of those puzzles where the tiles are all in the wrong order and you have to find the right sequence of moves to reveal the picture. We sip our coffee and watch it play out.
‘I suppose you can divide suicides into those that want to be found and those that don’t,’ I say.
‘I went to this one suicide a little while ago,’ says Rae. ‘A hanging, up in a tree. And I mean – way up. He’d climbed up this enormous old oak tree as far as he could go. It must have been a good fifty or sixty feet. And he was wearing this big black leather trench coat, and heavy black boots, like he was out of some industrial metal goth band, you know? A dog walker found him – surprise, surprise – god knows how. You don’t often look up, do you? That must have been a shock. When we got there it was still quite early in the morning, and I remember there were all these crows in the wood making this colossal fuss – caw, caw, caw - flying around and carrying on like they thought the guy was a giant crow trying to muscle in on their territory.’
She takes another sip of her coffee, then balances it on the dashboard to blow her nose.
‘There wasn’t anything we could do,’ she says, stuffing the tissue back into her pocket. ‘I sure as hell wasn’t going up there. I’m terrified of heights. I get stressed changing a light bulb. Anyway, the police came and took over. I never did find out who retrieved the body.’
She picks up her coffee again.
Janice emerges from the A&E entrance. She carefully pulls one of her roll-ups out of her pocket, lights it, then stands there quietly smoking, watching the traffic. 


jacksofbuxton said...

Nothing to be done for the ones that don't want to be found,but those that do,do they go in and out of A&E like Janice?

Spence Kennedy said...

Some of them do. But of course it's not an indication that they shouldn't be taken seriously. I think I'm right in saying that the 'cry for help' notion of this type of suicide attempt doesn't mean they're not serious. In other words, just because they've tried a number of times, doesn't mean they're unlikely to be 'successful' at some point. It's a difficult subject. Characters like Janice can present at A&E over a few years - despite the involvement of all sorts of psychiatric help. From our point of view it's one of those things where we bandage the cuts, make a note of the type & time of OD, convey to hospital - and hope that some other, more lasting solution can be found.

I suppose in this piece I was just struck by the difference between Janice and her slow, contemplative slide, and the awful brutality of the guy in the tree.