Marissa is crying because her back is hurting again. It’s a long-term problem, and really the meds she’s been prescribed should help. She’s borne the discomfort of this episode as long as she could from the small hours of the morning, hanging out for when her doctor’s surgery opened. But it’s all got too much, she’s called the non-emergency number for advice, and for some reason they’ve bounced it on to us.
She’s perched on a huge brown sofa at one end of a living room so vast it could be the deck of an aircraft carrier. And in fact, Marissa’s three-year-old daughter Kate is busy trying to take off, showing us how fast she can travel on her scooter from one end to the other.
‘Be careful on that sweetie,’ says Marissa, just as she crashes into Rae’s para bag.
‘Oops! Are you okay?’
She nods, then climbs up next to her mum, who anxiously tries to guard her posture.
‘You’ve got your hands full,’ I say to her.
She snorts, and winces.
‘Wait till the twins are up,’ she says.
And exactly on cue, there’s a sudden rumbling sound overhead; a harassed male voice, then a hurried lump of footsteps along a hallway and down the stairs. From the chaotic tumble of it all you’d think they kept goats upstairs, but the baby gate crashes open and two tiny boys gambol in.
It’s impossible to tell one from the other. Both have identical Peppa Pig pyjamas; both have tangled black hair; both have pointy little chins and bright gray eyes, tiny rows of teeth like porpoises on the lookout for fish and mischief; both catch up short when they see the two huge visitors in green. They hold on to each other, then do a comedy creep over to where Marissa is semi-cuddling Kate.
‘Go easy, boys,’ she says, then sighs: ‘You wouldn’t believe how much energy they have.’
Marissa’s husband Dave follows them into the room. He already looks exhausted. He sits down on the carpet, leans against the wall, and watches the whole scene unfold in front of him as if it was a continuation of a particularly vivid dream he’d been having.
There’s not much for me to do. I write down a few observations as Rae calls them out, the full address, date of birth, telephone number and such, but after that it’s more down to Rae to take an overview and decide what to do next. My job seems to be keeping the twins amused. They’re wary at first, circling at a distance, disappearing for a few seconds and then popping up behind me, behind the bag, behind the curtains, giggling and carrying on. Whenever I spot them and pull a monster face they shriek and run away. When they come back they start to bring various toys: a fluffy dog, a fluffy chicken, a fluffy rabbit. One of them comes and sits next to me, whilst the other one throws himself head first into the only other available space on the sofa.
‘Careful, Billy,’ says Marissa. But instead of being careful, Billy rights himself and immediately starts rocking violently backwards and forwards, slamming his head into the cushions.
‘He’s a bit of a head banger is our Billy,’ she says.
Kate watches everything from the seat next to her mum.
Meanwhile, Billy’s brother Jack is staring at me, willing me to do something.
I pick up the rabbit, point it at him, and work its paw so it’s waving.
Hello Jack. How are you?
You know what I’m going to do, Jack? I’m going to SIT ON YOUR HEAD!
I put the rabbit on Jack’s head.
But instead of sitting still so the rabbit can balance there, Jack gives a convulsive jerk of his body and tosses his head – so much so that he plunges straight back off the sofa onto the carpet, his bare feet flying up in the air and his hands making a mad grab for anything as he falls.
‘Oh my god!’ shouts Marissa, turning and holding her back at the same time.
‘Hmm? What?’ says David, opening his eyes.
Rae stops writing and looks at me.
Billy bangs backwards and forwards, screaming with laughter.
I help Jack up.Kate says: ‘Again!’