Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Old injuries

I ring the doorbell but get no answer. Have we got the right address? A third party made the call. Why aren't they here? I smile at Rae and look up at the lighted window. And then further up, on into the black sky. 'Aren't the stars clear tonight?' I say, in an effort to wake up. I clap my rubber-gloved hands together. 'Fuck it's cold'.
We hear footsteps on the stairs, a light goes on in the hallway, and a moment later the door opens. A woman with a dessicated smile peers out at us.
'Ambulance,' I say.
'He's in the bath,' she says, and then, as she turns to go back up the stairs, 'you're welcome to him.'
As I follow her up I ask what his name is. Malcolm. And her name? Sheila, his girlfriend.
She steps over something on the stairs - a vegetable knife.
'What's the knife doing there?' I ask.
'That's where I threw it after I took it off him.'
I pass a weighted look back to Rae. Is this the point where we should excuse ourselves and retreat to wait for police back-up? But I'm sufficiently new to this game to think I can cope with anything, and I don't want to sit outside in the truck whilst the police struggle to find the resources, so I carry on after the woman, with Rae - reluctantly or not, I'm not sure - in my wake. I check the shadows and doorways carefully when we reach the landing. I've seen 'Psycho'. I'm ready for anything.
'So - where is Malcolm?'
Malcolm is crammed into a three-quarters full bath, naked except for his glasses, his arms hanging over the sides, his feet hooked up beneath the taps, his shriveled penis swaying gently just below the surface of the water like a sea-anemone.
'What's happened, Malcolm? What's wrong?' I say, putting my board and bag down and kneeling on the bath mat.
'He's taken a load of pills and I hope he dies,' says Sheila, and then walks off into the sitting room.
He slowly turns his face to look at me. Pulls off his glasses and dips them in the water to clear the steam. Puts them back on and stares at me. There is a sweat on him, and I don't know if it's from the bath, the effects of the pills, or the stress. But he doesn't seem stressed. He looks just as if he has been interrupted taking a leisurely soak, and is mildly interested to see who it is.
'I just want to die,' he says, with a matter of fact smack of the lips. 'I'm no use to anyone.' And then he turns his face forward again.
'First things first', I say. 'Can I take your pulse?' He doesn't say no, so tentatively I reach out to touch his wrist. 'What have you taken tonight?'
He recites the list. 'Ibuprofen, Citalopram, Irbesartan.'
'And how much did you take?'
'All of it.'
'All of your medication?'
I see the cartons in the little wicker basket under the sink.
'And were they full packets?'
The face turns towards me again.
'I was going to do this.' he says, and performs a perfunctory little mime of drawing a knife across his wrists. 'But I don't like blood.'
I fish out the cartons and set them by the board for later.
Rae stands by the bathroom doorway and we exchange a look. I make myself comfortable on the toilet beside the bath and tell him that I think he should come with us to hospital, that the amount he has taken - particularly the painkillers - could cause him some harm.
'I don't care. Good. I want them to.'
The woman re-appears at the door with a cigarette right up by her cheek for easy access.
'He left his wife two years ago and she doesn't want him to see the boys.' Suck/blow. 'And after this - don't think you'll ever see them again.'
Rae leads the woman back into the sitting room. I watch Malcolm carefully to see his reaction, but he seems supported and oblivious in the bath.
'So you're taking medication for depression?' I say.
'It's not working,' he says, and then with a damp snort: 'Obviously'.
'The way I see it,' I say after a pause in which I have to fight a growing self-consciousness about any words I will try to say.
'The way I see it is that depression is just another chronic illness like any other illness, and you can get treatment for it, and adjust that treatment or start something new if things aren't working out. But the important thing to remember is that these dark feelings you have at the moment are just like feeling sick with the flu, or dizzy with an ear infection. You have to put yourself in a position to get some help. One step at a time. First - come to hospital with us to look at what drugs you've taken tonight. And then - take it from there.'
'If not for your sake, then at least for all those people that love and care about you.'
'No-one cares about me.'
'Your boys.'
'Better off without me.'
'Your girlfriend. She called the ambulance, after all.'
'I don't know why. She hates me. Especially now. It's all too much. I've had enough.'
Rae is back in the doorway. She comes at the problem from a different angle.
'Malcolm - what you've taken won't kill you but it may damage your kidneys and put you on dialysis for the rest of your life. That will certainly make things worse.'
He suddenly drops his knees below the water line, pulls his arms in.
'You seem all right. I don't want to be trouble.'
'Don't worry about it. It's all the same to us. But the thing is - we can't call the police and have you arrested and dragged out of here kicking and screaming. We can't force you to come to hospital if you don't want to. But all that will happen is that you'll send us away, you'll get weaker and eventually fall unconscious, and we'll come straight back and take you in anyway, so whatever happens, you're bound to end up in hospital. It's just that if you come now, you'll be giving yourself more of a chance to avoid any long term damage and get yourself in a position where you can do something about your problems. What do you say?'
There is a long pause. Rae ushers Sheila away who looks like she wants to come and throw something else in the bath. Eventually, Malcolm sits up.
'I'm a taxi driver. I'll lose my licence after this.'
'How will they ever know?'
But as he stands up in a cascade of water and reaches for a towel, I'm thinking that he may be right.
He dries himself off ineffectually, drops the towel to the floor, and then pads off down the hall into the bedroom to get some clothes. He has the bearish lope of heavy men, with his hands hanging loosely by his side and the palms pointing backwards. I notice a thickly crimped line on the skin of his left shoulder.
'That's an interesting scar', I say after him. 'How did you get that?'
'Oh that', he says, tugging some trousers up over his damp legs, and swaying precariously. 'That's from my rugby days. Years ago. That's an old injury.'

No comments: