Dan meets us outside his mum’s house. He looks like a depilated bear gone punk, hair in spikes, a Damned t-shirt stretched over his belly, paws stuffed into a pair of rotten Converse All Stars, studs in his ears and nose and lip. Every bare patch of his skin carries a tattoo – ghostly figures, flaming pumpkins, a headless horseman, glaring skulls, all amongst a general tangle of black roses, Celtic knotwork and ivy.
‘Thanks for coming,’ he says, carefully lighting the cigarette he’s been rolling. ‘I thought I’d better give you the heads up.’
His mum is an alcoholic, he says. She’s been in and out of rehab, not doing too badly but gone off the rails this past week.
‘She’s started seeing things again,’ he says, flicking the match away across the drive. ‘Hearing voices. I phoned the unit and they said to call you.’
He takes us inside.
The bungalow has been built villa-style, with arches leading off from the main room, terracotta tiles on the floor, rugs here and there, and in the centre, an alcove with a statue of a saint raising his hand in blessing. The whole place should be flooded with sunshine – it’s a particularly bright afternoon – but all the blinds are drawn, and whatever bands of light make it through the slats only serve to accentuate the soupy darkness.
‘Through here,’ says Dan. ‘It’s a bit of a maze.’
He leads us through a sequence of rooms, each as gloomy as the last. He knocks on a bedroom door and we follow him in.
Mary is still in bed. She gathers the duvet tightly around her as we say hello.
‘It’s okay, mum. It’s okay. It’s just the ambulance. You remember I said I was going to call them, like the people at the centre told me? They’ve just come to see how you are.’
She scuttles back in the bed, rising up on the pillows into a semi-sitting position, and stares at us.
‘Be a love and open the window,’ she says. ‘He’s hiding over there in the curtains.’
‘Who is, mum?’
‘The man. The one I was telling you about. The one who’s been going on and on at me to drown myself. If you open the window he might go out in the garden and we can talk.’
Dan looks at us, then goes over to open the window.
‘There’s no-one here, mum,’ he says as he lifts the latch and pushes it open.
‘Can’t you see him?’ she says. ‘Really?’
She looks at me.
‘What about you?’
I sit down on a stool just off to the side and try to look as non-threatening as possible.
‘I can’t see anyone there, Mary. I think it’s probably one of those hallucinations you’ve had in the past. Do you think that’s possible?’
She roughly presses the heels of her hands into her eyes to clear them, then peers at me more closely. After a moment she reaches out to her bedside table and produces an alcometer.
‘I’ve been good,’ she says. ‘I’ve only been drinking enough to keep me on the level. Look.’
She shows me the screen, but the device is switched off.
‘That’s great,’ I say. ‘But these hallucinations are a bit worrying. Dan called the team at the unit about it, and they said to take you to hospital. Would that be okay?’
‘I’m fine,’ she says. ‘I can’t see the point.’
‘You need to go in again, mum,’ says Dan. ‘You’re not well.’
‘Aren’t I? I don’t know. I’d be fine if it weren’t for him.’
She looks over at the window, as we all do. And just at that moment a sudden breeze fills the curtains, gently rolling them in, and then back, and then in again.