The last time I came here we had to leave the ambulance up on the top road. The snow was too thick, and we couldn’t make it down the lane. Then, the light had been low and soft, a blue tint to it, like we were fathoms underwater. Now, even though it’s late at night, the sky is broad and clear, and there’s a hard edge to everything, to the lampposts, the fences, the parked cars, that cat.
Rae swings the ambulance down the narrow access lane. One of the care workers is at the end of it, waiting to guide us in. He strides backwards, snapping a look over his shoulder once in a while, his left arm pointing straight out to the side, his right hand wind-milling in that direction.
‘It’s like Heathrow airport,’ says Rae, but nods and smiles to the guy.
He looks familiar actually, but I struggle to place him. I don’t recognise the dreads, the piercings along each ear and in his nose, the tattoos and the facial hair. There’s something about the line of his face, though, the way he walks...
‘Hey, Spence. How’re you doing?’
We shake hands, twelve years, right there.
‘Wow! Good to see you.’
‘You too. How’re things?’
‘Excellent. Look – we’d better go on up and see Cassie, but maybe we could catch up soon?’
‘Let me just give you a quick heads-up. Cassie has only just come to us. She’s a long-time user. Heroin and alcohol, mostly. There are needles in there, so watch where you put yourself. Cassie’s had a bit of a crash tonight. I think she’s kind of bottomed-out, you know? She says she wants to go on a detox programme, and I really think she could make a go of it. I did explain to her that she needs to get a GP referral, but she’s been threatening to kill herself, so I’m not sure she’s really safe to be left alone. All right? Good to see you, mate. Small world, eh?’
He leads us upstairs to Cassie’s door, knocks, then opens the door saying: ‘Cassie? It’s Mick with the ambulance crew. Okay?’
The room is a functional box with a line of windows inaccessibly high up on one side, roughly provided with a bed, table, armchair, TV and kettle. You’d think to look at it that someone had said: Right - you’ve got five minutes. So the TV was plugged in here; the kettle there; the armchair dragged in front of the TV; the table by the armchair. Done. Out. It doesn’t help to have clothes spilling out of ripped bin bags in the corner, a half-eaten plate of ravioli and an empty bottle of vodka, a needle amongst a scattering of torn Rizla packets.
‘I heard them climbing on the roof last night,’ says Cassie. ‘They were muttering. They had something heavy. They were trying to get in.’
‘Okay, mate. Look – we’ve got the paramedics, like you said. They’ve come to help. Is that all right, Cass?’
She’s sitting in the sweated chaos of the bed, clutching the sheets either side of her, like they’re the one thing tethering her to this world. Cass is quietly spoken; despite the heroin and the alcohol, the prostitution, poor diet and countless other insults and abuses her addiction has wrought on her body over the years, she still seems like a nice Home Counties girl, unaccountably fallen on hard times.
‘Don’t tell my Dad,’ she says. ‘Promise me!’