Stephen is being sent to a psych unit in another town because there are no beds here.
‘Sorry it’s such a long way,’ says Rae. ‘And so late.’
‘It’s not your fault,’ says Stephen, hauling an enormous black sports bag onto his shoulder.
‘Can we help with that?’
‘No. Thanks. I’m fine.’
A nurse comes over with a file of notes, but it turns out they’re the wrong ones –Steven, not Stephen. She tuts and goes away again.
The idea that we might take the wrong person hangs unspoken on the air between us. We make other, safer comments.
The nurse comes back, apologises – she has to go to the office to do some photocopying.
Stephen puts his bag down again.
The person in the opposite bed has been staring at us all this time; he doesn’t acknowledge me when I nod in his direction. I wonder if it’s Steven.
Stephen pushes his huge steel glasses up his nose, tips his head back slightly, and stares in the direction of the nurses’ station. Picks his bag up, puts it down again.
A long drive out, but easy enough. After midnight, and this busy commuter route has been cleansed of traffic. The moon is low and full, more like a ghostly sun. Its light has a strange effect on everything, on me.
I’m dreaming about driving.
I open the window and take deep breaths.
I’ve not been to this unit before. Even the sat nav seems vague. But after some last minute adjustments, I pull up outside.
The lobby is empty, hard-lit. When I buzz the ward there’s a long wait before anyone comes to let us in. Stephen waits anxiously between us.
‘It’s a long way for anyone to come and visit,’ he says.
‘It’s not your fault,’ he says again. And then: ‘I’m a bit nervous. I don’t know what to expect.’
‘That’s natural,’ says Rae, looking around. ‘But it looks like a nice place.’
Two women come down to greet us, both in their early twenties, both dressed in jeans and t-shirts. They introduce themselves, shake Stephen’s hand, lead us back upstairs. In the ward itself one of them shows Stephen to his room whilst the other asks us if we want a coffee. She swipes us into a room, and goes off to make it.
The room has a stack of chairs in one corner, a bookshelf of DVDs, and a wide, beech veneer conference table in the centre. Rae sits one side of it, I sit the other. I put my feet up on a chair.
‘Thanks for coming,’ I say. ‘Shall we begin?’
The chair cuts into my back so I put my feet down again.
How are you feeling? she says.
The outside windows are more like panels in an aquarium – thick Perspex panels secured with rivets.
The nurse comes back with two plastic cups of coffee.
‘Take your time,’ she says with a smile, and goes out again.
We sip our coffee, yawn, chat.
Suddenly Rae nods at something she’s seen behind me.
I turn round and see someone pressed up against the security glass, a middle-aged man in a zipped-up top. Because he’s standing so close to the glass, and because his hood is pulled low over his forehead, I can only make out the smallest fragment of light reflected in his eyes. He doesn’t acknowledge that we’ve seen him. His breath mists up the glass.
After a moment, I turn back to Rae. Raise my eyebrows. Finish my coffee.
The man has gone when the nurse returns to let us out again.
Suddenly there are screams and ripping sounds from a room across the way.‘Don’t worry,’ she says. ‘Film night.’