A tall, thin red-bricked building with a bay window almost obscured on the left by a vigorous growth of wisteria. A decorative fan-light above the front door, lion-head knocker, mosaic tiles, antique boot scraper – everything perfectly in keeping with the rest of the Edwardian terrace.
A mournful, moon-faced man in a dark suit and tie is staring at us through the window.
I wave as I climb out of the cab.
He pulls back.
Cynthia opens the door when we knock. Behind her, a care worker is standing half-way up the stairs.
‘I don’t know what to do,’ says Cynthia. ‘What can I do?’
‘Shall we come in?’
‘I don’t want to go to the railway station.’
‘You don’t have to if you don’t want to.’
‘What’s to stop me?’
The care worker joins us in the hallway.
‘Cynthia called you from her room,’ he says. ‘She’s had these feeling before – haven’t you Cynth? – and we’ve discussed the things she can do to help herself through them. But of course we can’t stop her calling the ambulance.’
‘Shall we have a chat, Cynthia?’
She leads us into her room, and sits down on the unmade bed.
Despite the high ceiling,the air is thick with stale smoke. What light there is comes filtering through a hang of heavy yellow drapes. A radio plays thinly by the side of the bed. The wardrobe at the foot of the bed stands open, a line of empty hangers on the rail. Just to the side of it is a pile of boxes and suitcases, some still open and their contents spilling out.
‘We’re just in the process of moving,’ says the care worker, closing the door. ‘We’ll be in the new place this time tomorrow, won’t we, Cynth? That’s exciting.’
‘What’s to stop me going to the railway station?’ she says, her eyes drilled deep either side of her nose.
Just beside the bed there’s a piece of paper tacked to the wall – an action list.
Don’t lie on the bed smoking and listening to music all day it says. You don’t want those dark thoughts taking over. Keep busy! Go for a walk up town and treat yourself – a coffee, maybe, and something nice from the shops. Come back and have a lovely soak in the bath. You deserve it! And so on. Upbeat advice, bullet points, capitals, smileys, exclamation marks. Tidy your room. It’s amazing how good a thorough-going spring clean can make you feel!
‘I don’t know what to do,’ she says. ‘Will you take me to the hospital?’
‘Do you remember what the psychiatrist said, Cynth? She said she doesn’t want you going up there anymore’ says the care worker. ‘She said you’d be better off taking your medication and staying here. With all your comforts, and people to talk to. We’ve got lots to do, Cynth. We’re moving out tomorrow. There’s plenty to keep you busy.’
She hasn’t moved on the bed, staring at me, gripping the frame of it either side of her legs like she’s ready to spring up at any moment.
‘Your care worker’s right,’ I say. ‘I’m not sure what more they can do for you up at A&E. It’s so crowded. Not nearly as comfortable as your room here.’
‘But they’d keep an eye on me, though. They’d stop me going to the railway station. Wouldn’t they?’
‘They’d do their best, Cynthia. But they can’t sit with you all day.’
‘Who’s going to stop me, then?’
‘You’ve managed so far today, haven’t you? And that’s really good. You’ve managed to stop yourself going to the railway station, haven’t you?’