The long and the short of it was, we fell out with Control.
A tone of voice thing, I suppose. A misinterpretation. These things are always worse when you can’t actually see the person in front of you. But whatever the reason, after the disagreement, you could almost hear the scritch scritch scratch of the black swan’s quill as our name was written into the ledger.
Sure enough, the very next job, we’re sent on a long-distance mental health transfer, one that almost guarantees us a late finish. We check the details, the times. A non-urgent job that could happily wait all afternoon; they’ve given it to us almost as soon as it came in. They’ve stitched us up.
‘Is there no-one else who could take this one?’ I ask. ‘Wouldn’t it suit a link crew better?’
‘Yep. I know where you’re coming from. But the police say they’re worried about this chap and want him out of the cells asap. Sorry.’
I put the radio back in its clip, but really I want to rip it off the dash and throw it out the window.
Buzzed through into the custody suite, the heavy steel doors clunking shut behind us. The broad circular sweep of the raised dais that dominates the centre, its segmented stations like the compartments on a gigantic roulette wheel, with a computer terminal and officer perched where the number would be written. It’s as busy as ever. Police officers checking people in, checking them out, administrators moving about up on the stage with bundles of paper, ziplocked clear plastic personal possession bags with yellow security tags, phone calls, shouted requests, jokes. We catch the eye of the Custody Sergeant who smiles and asks if we’ve come for Jack. He buzzes through and asks for Jack to be brought out.
‘What’s the score with Jack, then? We haven’t been told much.’
‘A Section Two, but he’s good as gold. A bit confused – well, very confused, actually, but no trouble.’
‘Just out of interest, did you put in a request to have Jack taken out as soon as possible?’
The Sergeant looks nonplussed.
‘Well. It’s nice to have these things taken care of in good time. But nothing especially pressing, I don’t think.’
I look at Rae and sigh.
The Sergeant pulls out the Section papers.
‘It says here Jack was found wandering the streets with a bread knife...’
‘A bread knife?’
‘Yeah. I know. But he wasn’t ... like ... ‘ He widens his eyes and performs the universal mime for psycho. ‘More that he wandered out of his house half-way through slicing some bread. Anyway, Jack’s at risk to himself and possibly others – only possibly. Needs assessing. Probably dementia but there’s no diagnosis yet. Okay? Happy with that? I really don’t think he needs an escort.’
Jack is led out by a police officer. A sallow, slack-faced man in his late seventies, Jack looks like he’d just been woken from a long and troubling sleep. He shuffles forwards, looking around him with filmy grey eyes, both hands clutching the waistband of his tracksuit bottoms, his bare feet making a gentle slapping noise on the marmoleum.
‘This way, Jack,’ says the police officer. ‘Shall we put your slippers on?’
He starts to take them out of the bag, but then finds that one of them is soiled.
‘Or maybe you’ll be all right out to the ambulance,’ he says, then hands me the bag.
Together we lead him out.
Rae’s the attendant on this one. All I have to do is drive. It’s a resonantly blue day, the sky swept with tails of thin white cloud. I think about the misunderstanding we’ve had with Control. It still rankles; we’ll be way off patch just a couple of hours before we finish, with the likelihood of a long overrun. It gives me a twist of frustration to think of the corner we’re in with nothing to be done about it. I go over all the ways we could get our own back, but it only seems to make the frustration tighten a notch. So instead I try to disengage from the whole stupid scene, to think about all those things beyond Control’s control, which really, is everything – certainly everything of importance. I try to put into action the old dictum that it’s not the things that other people do that make you angry, it’s your response to those things. If you decide not to respond in an angry way, you’ve won.
It works a little. Not much like a victory, it has to be said, but an easing, at least. I put the radio on, and the music helps, too. The roads are pretty clear. We make the hospital in good time.
The nurse who receives us is so warm and caring, Jack almost floats inside. At one point he lets go of his trackie bottoms and they slide down to his ankles.
‘Oops! Let’s just restore those for you. There! Onwards!’
The ward seems to be filled with Jack-a-likes: elderly men wandering round, randomly trying door handles, picking at the artwork on the walls, or staring out of the window at the daffodils. Two of them latch on to us as we go along the corridor, but again, quite aimlessly, as if they were responding to a curious thickening of the air rather than a new visitor.
Another nurse comes out of the office and takes Jack off to his room to get settled.
The first nurse asks us if we’d like some tea. She shows us out to the veranda, then goes back inside to make it.
We sit there in the sunshine, tipping our heads back to drink in the sky through our sunglasses.
A hawk circles overhead, harried by crows.
The sunshine leans in through the branches of the horse chestnut whose leaves are just starting to burst out now, plump with potential.
Just to the side of my seat is a little flowerbed, part herb patch, part daffodil bed. At the end of it someone’s stuck a strange little scarecrow, only about a foot high, made of sticks. They’ve taken a lot of trouble to make it a pair of dungarees with little brass buttons and fastenings, a check shirt, with bits of straw sticking out the sleeve ends. They haven’t given it a face, but in some ways it looks all the happier for it. A face would only get in the way.
There are big, laminated signs on the windows of the various rooms: TV Lounge, Kitchen, Games. On the locked cover of the gas meter beneath one of the windows someone has written some graffiti. It takes me a while to figure out what it says from here, because the letters are so rough. But eventually, by relaxing my eyes, I think I can tell what it says.Have a nice day.