Gary’s asleep when the psych nurse opens the room and shows us in. She shakes him gently by the foot; he groans, rolls over and shields his eyes.
‘Transport’s here,’ she says. ‘Come on Gary.’
He sits up and blinks. Fumbles around on a side table amongst papers and newspapers, finds a pair of heavy black frames, puts them on, blinks at us through them.
‘Sorry to wake you so early, Gary,’ I tell him. ‘We’ll wait outside for you to get ready.’
‘Can’t I go like this?’ he says. He obviously just wants to walk straight out, for speed, but he’s only wearing hospital trousers. It might be twenty-four degrees in this secure room, but outside the stars are out and there’s a rime of frost on everything.
‘No rush,’ says the nurse. We leave him to it.
Outside she gives us the basics. Gary was sectioned in the street by the police. No violence to himself or others, low risk. Has had some diazepam just in case, and to help with any alcohol withdrawal. Is going to the only available psych bed, thirty miles north.
‘Last month was worse,’ she says, handing me the paperwork. ‘Last month there were no beds anywhere. Last month he’d have been going to Alaska.’
‘Cut-backs?’ I say. ‘Is that the problem?’
She shrugs. ‘Cut-backs. Demand.’
Gary gets ready pretty quick and we walk outside. I settle him next to me in the back and we set off.
I put the small overhead spots on and turn the big lights off.
‘Mood lighting,’ I say – my usual quip when I do this. But the way the spots glint off his glasses, it doesn’t seem so appropriate, suddenly.
‘Fine,’ he says. ‘Thank you. Thanks. Where am I going again?’
‘To another psychiatric hospital, Gary. So you can get better. It’s a nice place. I’ve been there before.’
‘You’ve been there?’
I want to add Not as a patient. But I don’t. ‘Plenty of art on the walls,’ I say instead, which sounds like we’re admitting him to a museum.
* * *
He’s calm en route. We chat about this and that.
‘How were the police?’ I ask him. ‘It’s not an easy situation.’
‘No – but they were great. No complaints at all.’
‘That’s good to hear.’
He asks me about my job, how I got into it, the kinds of things we come across. He asks me about the equipment in the back and I point the main things out from my seat.
‘What’s that?’ he says. ‘A cat-flap?’
Everyone notices it. For some reason the fitters used a cat-flap for the bin.
‘What about the cat?’ he says.
‘Never seen it,’ I tell him.
* * *
‘I’ve been drinking a lot more lately. A few drugs. Stuff. I suppose it was all getting a bit out of hand. Then dad died. I don’t know. I thought I was getting through it. Now this.’
He takes his glasses off, pinches his nose, like it’s quicker to adjust the bone than the frames.
‘I didn’t hurt anyone, though,’ he says, looking at me. There’s a tremor to him, a sweat of recognition. ‘Thank Christ I didn’t hurt anyone. Have you got family?’
I tell him I’ve got two girls, eight and twelve.
‘Have they been hurt?’ he says.
‘No. They’re fine,’ I tell him. ‘They’re absolutely fine.’
We’re silent for a while. He yawns so widely every minute or so I think his head will tip right off. But each time he comes back to himself, to his warmly illuminated seat, and the scattering of papers on the trolley in front of him.
‘Sorry,’ he says.
‘It’s late, Gary. I’m yawning too.’
‘You can’t yawn. You’ve got to stay awake.’
‘I suppose so.’
After a while he tells me what happened. How he’d got it into his head he was a paramedic on a call, a terrible emergency no-one wanted him to get to. He’d driven at speed through town with his head out of the window shouting nee nah nee nah. Until the police pulled him over on a main road, when he jumped out and stood there, with his arms outstretched in the middle of everything, screaming for kitchen towel.
‘Kitchen towel?’‘I didn’t know what I was saying,’ he says, folding his arms tightly, yawning again. ‘I thought it was an emergency.’