Pleasant, in a Race-you-to-Retirement kind of way.
Bins lined up for the bi-weekly collection. Adequate parking. Hedges, lawns, sensible trees. The houses distinguishable by number only, or the colour of the front door. The street you’d want to illustrate your article: Caught in the nets: Love and death in a typical English street..
We trawl along the street, looking for a white Fiat Panda, and a crying woman.
Rae parks just beyond the car. We walk right and left of it, cops in a bad movie.
The woman is sitting behind the wheel, a handkerchief pressed to her face. She doesn’t acknowledge us at all, so Rae raps gently on the window. The woman frees up a hand to wind it down.
‘Hello’ says Rae. ‘It’s the ambulance.’
The woman gives a hurried little nod, like she knew all along.
‘How can we help?’
The woman presses the handkerchief harder.
‘Are you hurt at all? Do you have any pain?’
The woman gives a splutter like a cynical laugh, then briefly holds out the handkerchief like that was evidence of pain in itself, then carries on crying.
‘Okay. I tell you what. How about you come on to the ambulance with us? We can talk a bit more privately there. We’re not going to drive off or do anything you don’t want to do. How does that sound?’
The woman nods again, gives a shuddering sigh, then collects her bag and phone and steps out of the car. I go on ahead to prep the cabin; the two of them step on board a moment later.
‘Great. There you go – some more tissue for you. Now then. My name’s Rae. This is Spence. I’m afraid we haven’t been told all that much. Just that you might be having some kind of crisis. Is that right?’
Slowly, with enormous patience, Rae teases the story out of the woman. Her name is Judith. She’s a mature student, a trainee teacher. Things have been getting difficult lately. The stresses of her new job, fights at home with her eldest son, her mother falling ill, her boyfriend going cold on the relationship. She’d had problems with depression before. She thought she had it beat. She’d been off the medication for a couple of years at least. But then driving back from school today – thinking of all the things she had to do that evening, the lesson plans, what they were going to have for dinner, how she was going to fit in a visit to her mum, whether to phone Kevin or not – she suddenly felt so overwhelmed she put the radio on to take her mind off it all. They were playing an old Gilbert O’Sullivan song: Alone again, naturally. Her eyes started to fill, so she pulled over to get her breath. But then she started crying hard, and couldn’t stop. After half an hour she didn’t know what to do. She phoned a helpline. They must have called the ambulance. She was sorry about it. She was embarrassed.
Rae talks things through. Gently does a few checks, just to make sure there was nothing else going on. When it comes to deciding what to do, she goes through the options. Judith has stopped crying now. We phone her surgery and make an appointment for that evening. She thanks us. We see her back to her car.
In the cab again. Rae turns the engine over and we sit there a while, finishing the paperwork. We watch Judith drive away. There’s no other sign of life in the street. It wouldn’t surprise me if the sky suddenly snapped out and a voice called out over an intercom: Clear the set please. Studio closing.
‘I don’t know the song she mentioned’ says Rae. ‘Do you?’
‘Yep. I certainly do.’
‘How does it go?’
‘Did you ever see that horror film, The Ring?’
‘Yeah. Especially the original. That was pretty intense.’
‘Well Alone Again, Naturally’s the musical equivalent. You can’t ever, ever listen to it.’