‘What did you use to cut yourself?’
‘A knife I got from the kitchen.’
‘Have you still got it on you, or...?’
‘I chucked it. Listen to me, yeah? You don’t understand what it’s like. I’m having a mental breakdown. I just can’t cope with it no more. If I don’t get some help, trust me, I’m going to do something. I’m going to throw myself under a bus.’
‘I can see you’re under a lot of stress.’
‘Stress? Jesus Christ! You don’t understand what it’s like. I mean, I can’t.... I haven’t....’
Cherie chokes down on her tears, sobbing uncontrollably by the side of the road for a moment.
‘If you think you’ll be all right in the car...’ I say to her.
She presses a wad of tissue to her eyes.
‘...I can drive you to the hospital where you can talk to someone about how you’re feeling. How does that sound?’
She nods, picks up her handbag, and follows me to the car.
‘’Scuse the mess,’ I say, grabbing the box of gloves, lunchbox, spare sheets, the clipboard from the front seat, and throwing them all in the back.
‘Don’t worry about it,’ she says.
I shut her door, and climb in the other side.
‘I’m not a bad person, yeah?’ she says. ‘They’re trying to make out I am but I’m not. I’ve tried, you know? I’ve tried so hard. My mum says I do too much for him and she’s right. But I wanted to make a home for us both. I shouldn’t have given up what I did and now I’ve got nothing. I let my friends go ‘cos he was jealous. I let my place go in town. You don’t understand what it’s like. And now he’s gone off down the gym, and he’ll be drinking with his mates, and I won’t see him till later, all pissed up. And we haven’t even got a telly.’
Cherie is strikingly pretty, with long, auburn hair and dark eyes. If Disney ever thought of casting a gritty, urban version of Aladdin, she’d be a shoe-in for Princess Jasmine. With Jeremy Kyle as Jafar.
I pass her more tissue.
‘D’you know what?’ she says, blowing her nose and then sighing – a deep and shuddering thing – before tearing the damp tissue into shreds. ‘His family, yeah? His family have got it in for me, big time. Ever since my Dad came round and punched him in the mouth. That’s when my Mother-in-Law jumped on top of me and bit my arm. She took such a chunk out they had to do skin grafts. So she goes down for ABH, yeah, and then his brothers go round and put my Dad in hospital. So now he’s cut me off, and I ‘aint got no-one. You don’t understand what it’s like. I’m stuck in that flat with no electric, no friends, no money. No family anymore. I’m going out of my head. Do you know what I’m saying? If I don’t get some help today I’m going do something. I want to get that knife, stick it in my chest and let all the pressure out. It’s all too much. I can’t bear it. I can’t.’
She starts crying again. But whether it’s the movement of the car, the feeling that something is finally happening, or the fact she’s been able to vent some of her frustration, she seems to calm down, and her tears gradually subside.
Suddenly she sits up straight and slaps me on the shoulder.
‘Have a look. Over there,’ she says, leaning forward, her voice hard and glittering. ‘That’s where I live.’
She follows it as we pass, then settles back in the seat and flicks her hair back.‘What a fakkin’ dump,’ she says. ‘Scuse the language.’