The update from Control is unexpected.
Pt says she is dying. Has punched dog. Stand-off for police
I park up outside the block and turn the engine off.
It’s still early. Above the cooling and clicking of the engine, the sounds of sparrows squabbling in a tangle of shrubs by the roadside. The air through our open windows is super-fresh, the sky through my sunglasses mega-blue. Even the vapour trail of that plane could not be whiter or more perfectly formed.
A few minutes later, the computer screen buzzes again.
Patient not aggressive on phone. Safe to approach.
‘Hmm,’ says Rae, grabbing a pair of gloves.
The block is such a wretched slab of seventies planning even a morning like this couldn’t ease the pain. Refurbishment would only prolong the agony; razing to the ground is the only option.
Just as we stand at the intercom to buzz, a man in a helmet and biker jacket opens the door.
‘Good timing!’ I say to him, but he just shakes his head as he lets us through. I’m confused by his body language. Does it mean there’ve been calls to Sheila before? He didn’t want to let us in? Or he actually enjoyed the moment? But in his tinted visor and biker’s gear, I may as well try to second-guess the motivation of a robot. He slams the door behind us.
We walk a short way along a crapped-up balcony to Sheila’s flat, where the door stands open.
A plump Jack Russell waddles out, his tail crooked but wagging at least, his one good eye fixed up on us. With a wheezy bark that’s like a back-firing model steam engine, he clatters around our legs demanding attention.
‘Hello?’ says Rae, knocking on the door and pushing it wider.
The dog skitters ahead of us, round a corner.
‘In here. You can come in.’
The flat is a terrible mess, tossed papers, cans, unopened letters and scattered clothes, a whole bag of dog biscuits tipped onto a dirty plate, with a metal bowl of water beside it. Sheila is slumped against the far wall on a filthy mattress, as discarded as everything else here, her knees drawn up, her hands either side.
‘I’m surrounded by vigilantes and murderers,’ she says. ‘I’m dying of cancer. The drink is eating me up and I haven’t got long . That’s why I want Barney taken away. It don’t matter if I die in a flat with shit on the floor but Barney deserves better. He needs a walk and I just can’t do it. I’m dying, d’you see? Look at me. I’m Bi-Polar. I’m not the same person two minutes running. Barney can’t live like that no more. He just can’t. So take him away. Can you?’
Just at that moment Sheila’s phone rings. When she sees who it is she grimaces and passes it to Rae.
‘Brenda, my CPN,’ she says. ‘You talk to her. She’ll tell you all about it.’
Brenda says that Sheila is alcohol dependent. She’s been bad for a while, but lately she’s fallen off the edge, a serious decline, mental and physical. They’ve been trying for a while to get things sorted, but so far Sheila has resisted any help. Brenda says the situation is known about, though, and things are happening. She asks if we’d mind contacting the RSPCA to have Barney collected; Brenda will be making arrangements to treat Sheila a little later in the day.
I step back outside onto the balcony to make the call.
The RSPCA switchboard takes a while to answer, but when it does they take Barney’s details with a brisk but sympathetic manner that makes me think they’ve done this before. I describe the situation, Sheila’s problems, the appalling living conditions.
‘And you say she attacked the dog?’ says the operator.
‘That was what she told Control. But I can’t see any obvious signs. Barney has a damaged eye and a crimp in his tail, but they look like old injuries to me. He seems quite content in himself. He’s got food and water.’
‘Bless,’ says the operator. ‘And has Sheila said to you she wants him taken away, that she can’t cope?’
‘Yep. She was quite clear about it. Her CPN thinks it’s a good idea, too.’
‘Poor love. We’ll get someone out as soon as we can. Will Sheila be there to let us in, do you think?’
‘She says yes.’
‘Okay then. Thanks for your call.’
I go back inside and hand Sheila the phone back.
‘Thanks,’ she says. ‘I like men. You’re so – stubborn.’
Barney jumps up on the mattress next to her and she strokes his side.
‘I’d never be without him,’ she says. ‘I take him down the offie and he waits for me outside. I don’t tie him up, so he could run away. But he doesn’t. He just sits there and waits for me to come out. Everyone round here knows him.’
She looks up at us and winks. ‘That’s got to be worth something. D’ya think?’