‘Read my essays if you want to see how intelligent I am,’ he says, gesturing to the shelf of brightly coloured files behind him. ‘C’est n’a pas difficile.’
‘So – what’s happened tonight, Michael? Why have we been called?’
‘It was against my express wishes,’ he says. ‘I’ve studied the European Convention on Human Rights. I’ll happily talk you through it sometime, when I’m feeling better. But the thing is I’m sick – have been for some while. I’ve been speaking to Dr Everard Sprailes about it. Do you know him?’
‘Oh. Well - Dr Everard Sprailes has a PhD in Neuroscience. I would call him myself but I’m temporarily incapacitated as you can see. Dr Sprailes will be able to take a scan of my head and tell me what the problem is.’ Michael taps out some more ash and sighs. ‘And I’ll be able to have a conversation at the appropriate level. Apologies for the smoking, by the way. I know it’s self-destructive. I know I shall die of cancer one day, but at the moment I think it’s the least of my worries.’
Michael’s father has been standing out in the hallway. A tall, kindly-looking man with a hunch to his shoulders like he’s been living in small spaces too long, excuses himself into the room and sits opposite his son.
‘I require you to leave now,’ says Michael, rattling his padlock. ‘Now! I’m sorry, father. I love you and I respect you but I cannot submit to your homeopathy – I will not submit to your homeopathy – you’ve damaged me in ways that cannot be forgiven, and I want you to leave.’
The father gets up.
‘But first fetch me some tea.’
He goes out.
Michael reaches for the vodka bottle and takes a long pull from it as I speak, studying me from round the side of it.
‘Can I just say, Michael – it’s probably best if you don’t drink any more alcohol. Only – if we go to the hospital – if that’s what you decide to do – then the fact that you’ve drunk all this vodka will only delay your being assessed by the duty psych team.’
Michael slowly lowers the bottle.
‘Do you honestly think I’m not aware of these things? This bottle is filled with water. Water, with a zest of lemon and honey. Okay? But thank you for your input.’
He wrinkles his nose and lips, closes his eyes and gives his head a quick little shake from side to side.
‘Look. If you can’t get me Dr Everard Sprailes then I really don’t know what you’re here for. I’m exhausted. I’ve spent the night researching my condition on the internet and I’ve come up with some fascinating links which I may or may not share with you. I can tell you’re concerned about the padlock – here…’
He slips his hand out of the lock, which turns out not to have been fastened, unwraps it from the chair and tosses it in my direction.
‘Yes, I’m suicidal. Yes, I’m ill. But if you insist we go to the hospital then I’ll agree solely on the understanding that we contact Dr Sprailes at the earliest opportunity.’
Michael’s dad appears at the door again, with a cup of tea.
‘You!’ he shouts. ‘I thought I told you to get out.’
His dad turns to go again.
‘But you can leave the tea.’