The fireplace has been ripped out, the hole boarded up and crudely plastered. Standing in front of it on what used to be the hearth is a medium-sized fish tank supported on a plain wooden side table. The fish tank is full, with a layer of coloured stones, a bunch of floating weed, but no fish. Aside from the tank and table, the only pieces of furniture in the room are a TV and a brown, two-seater sofa. The floorboards are bare and untreated. There are no pictures on the wall. Hanging in front of the windows are four or five lumpish crystals of different colours, suspended on crocheted lines thumb-tacked to the ceiling. The back door is visible from here, a chair leant back under the handle, a couple of brooms wedged between the floor and the middle section, a tangle of rope wrapped around everything and running up and back to a curtain rail. The doors to the other rooms coming off the hall are closed. The hall is dark.
Barbara is sitting on the sofa, her hands neatly folded in her lap. She’s wearing a heavy tweed coat, a dark cashmere scarf and a furry, pointy-eared balaclava. She seems dazed, disconnected, like I’m talking to a woman who’d been turned into a bear and was only half-way back.
‘I knew there was something wrong as soon as I come out of the restaurant. My head was all swimmy. I couldn’t hardly put one foot in front of the other. I felt like I was drunk. How I made it home I don’t know. It was definitely something they’d put in it. I only had one mouthful and I knew something was up. And when I looked in the burger there was all this slimy stuff. I should’ve thought when I went in they’d try something.
‘I’ve been all right lately. Not too bad. I used to drink a lot but not so much now. I’m much better than I was. A few years ago I had some rushing sensations in my heart – you know? – had all kinds of tests. They couldn’t find nothing and nothing much happened.
‘I take care of myself, though. I’m careful what I eat. I always check things. Like if I open a yogurt and there’s all that watery stuff I throw it away and open another. God knows why they do that. Do you?
‘The only thing I can think is I’m not sleeping as good as what I normally do. Normally I try to get eight hours solid. I know about it if I don’t. These last few months I haven’t really been sleeping much. I have all these thoughts going round my head and I have to get up and watch telly or something. Have a cup of tea.
‘I’ve had these people breaking in all the time. That’s why I’ve had to double bolt the windows and prop them things up against the back door. Not that it does any good. They still get in. I had to tape up the letterbox because they were climbing in through that, but as I say, nothing seems to work. I hung them crystals in the window ‘cos I thought the light shining through might put them off. We’ll see. We’ll see.
‘Not that they do all that much when they’re in. Last night they put a dab of paint on the curtains. The night before it was just a bit of straw lying in the middle of the floorboards. Still, I don’t like them being around. It’s quite upsetting, really.
‘What’s wrong with me?
‘I bet you think I’m crazy. Is that what you think? But I’ve told you what’s going on. You can see for yourself what I have to put up with. And if that sounds crazy, I’m sorry.
‘Does it sound crazy?
‘Well, does it?’