Thursday, July 16, 2009


Ella Mae.
More an ululating cry than a name.
Ella Mae.
With a name like that you’d expect a Southern American dowager cooling herself beneath the frangipani with a cheroot and a banana daiquiri. What you get is a crazy old nurse - piratical eye patch, wide-brimmed hat - hunched on a mobility scooter, hooking at the scenery with a nicotine-dipped finger.

The latest job Control sends through to us is to Ella’s address. Before Rae even acknowledges receipt, she calls up the dispatcher.
‘Can’t she be dealt with over the phone?’
‘The line went dead, so I’m afraid we’ve got to attend.’

Ella Mae lives in a house that must once have been part of the old chapel next door. Perhaps a sexton lived here, simply and devoutly, rising with the sun every day to oil the pews, dust the books, water the stone planters and wash the steps. But the chapel has long since surrendered its prayerful space to mezzanine floors, sofa beds and plasma screen TVs. And if the adjoining house ever maintained a quiet devotion, that energy has been abstracted now into something altogether more fallen, more tragically human.
The stone planters are filled with lurid plastic flowers and wired bees, fragments of mirror, twirling seaside windmill sticks, dolls and damaged plaster birds. There are notices taped to the glass in the door, written in a cramped and furious hand, threatening actions, offering warnings, describing on-going litigations. Amongst the notices are random postcards faded with age: Puffins on the Gower Peninsula; Greetings from Hawaii. Public safety announcements from the national press. Black and white photographs arching back from the glass as they curl in on themselves.
Rae raps on a glass pane.
‘She gets exactly one minute.’
But Ella Mae has been staking out the door. The filthy net curtain that hangs behind all the paper in the window is immediately hooked aside, and her gaunt face looms out.
‘Who is it?’
‘The ambulance, Ella. Open up.’
‘What do you want?’
‘Well that’s exactly what we’d like to know from you. Open the door please.’
We hear a crash as she reverses her scooter.
Rae turns the handle and pushes the door aside.
A caustic fug of smoke envelopes us.
‘Put your cigarette out, Ella. We’re not coming in until you do. In fact, not even then. We’ll stand here in the fresh air whilst you tell us why you called the ambulance.’

It’s difficult to understand her when she talks. Even if her false teeth – glitteringly grey and black, like the scales on a mackerel – actually fit her mouth; even if she hadn’t ripped up her voice with an unbroken chain of cigarettes stretching tip to tip from VE day to this knock on the door; even if she hadn’t drunk a bottle and a half of vodka tonight, her thoughts are so whirled around and mixed into each other it’s almost impossible to follow what she is saying. The only thing you can do is let your mind roam freely through her speech, picking up odd scraps of sense and laying them down jigsaw-style until a pattern emerges.
‘So nothing new has happened tonight?’
This seems to be the case.
‘We’ll be going then, Ella Mae. You know you’re not allowed to do this. You know you’re wasting time and stopping someone else from getting help, someone who might really need it. You used to be a nurse. You should know these things.’

But Ella seems to be saying that there is someone else in the house.
Someone called Musketeer.
‘Do they need our help?’
Ella nods as if we were idiots, then reverses further into the living room, a space so junked she really could do with a bucket on the scooter, like a mini-JCB.
‘Hello?’ shouts Rae, then we wait and listen. ‘Hello? Anyone there?’

After a pause, which Ella takes advantage of to light another cigarette, Rae says:
‘This is ridiculous. Ella. We’re off. Please don’t call again.’

But just as we turn to go, we hear it.
A faint call from deep inside the house.
‘Hello? Anyone there?’
That call again.
Ella sits puffing on her cigarette, staring at us triumphantly.
‘Musketeer,’ she says.
We brave the smoke and follow the scooter-width track through the junked up space of the living room out to the hallway. Incredibly, there is an elderly man nesting in a space he has made amongst all the books and magazines that completely obscure the bottom of the stairs. He is wrapped in a blue quilted sleeping bag.
‘Hello,’ he says.
‘Are you Musketeer?’
He smiles and tries to smooth down his wild, white hair.
‘Don’t listen to her,’ he says, then mimes someone sipping from a glass. ‘All night,’ he adds as a rider. ‘Crazy.’
‘So you’re okay, are you?’
‘I’m fine. Just trying to get some sleep, you know?’
Ella has made it through to the hallway, too.
Now she is saying there is something in the bathroom, too.
We look at Musketeer.
‘Oh, there is,’ he says, with a simple smile. ‘Take a look for yourself.’
This is the furthest either of us has made it into Ella’s lair. The light doesn’t seem to work here. I hold my torch up and we take careful steps towards the bathroom door, a slide-aside affair, half off its tracks and revealing an awful looking cavern beyond. I push the door more firmly aside.
The bathroom is as junked as the rest of the house.
I prod around with the torch throwing ghastly shadows against the walls until Rae finds a light chord and snaps it on.
There is a foetid smell coming from the bath.
We go over to it.
For a moment it looks as if there is someone in there, hiding under a clothes horse that has been dumped across the top and then covered with rags. But when I reach down to touch it, the shape is revealed as a bundle of filthy clothes.
‘I want a report made of this,’ says Ella from the hallway. ‘An official report.’
From his nest back in the hallway, Musketeer gives a low, appreciative laugh.
‘I’ll never get to sleep at this rate,’ he chuckles.


Eclipse said...

so so random!

loveinvienna said...

Don't leave it there! What was it? Human or animal? (Vegetable? Mineral?) Sounds like an... interesting place. Does she collect random people? :)

Liv xxx

Janie got a gun said...

I so love reading your blog, it's so descriptive and interesting. You must be great to actually work with!

Pegintrude said...

How do you write so beautifully about such utterly mundane things?

Deborah Parr said...

wow. That reads like a Raymond Chandler. With you as Humphrey Bogart, of course! Amazing stuff

Spence Kennedy said...

Claire - I suppose it is pretty random! But it's the kind of stuff I like the most; you think a situation is going to go one way, and it suddenly goes another.

Liv - I guess that in this case she did actually pick up an NFA from the front or somewhere, and that the awful clothes in the bath were his. (They were awful - stained, is all I'll say).

Hey Janie! Thanks for that!
As far as being good to work with, you'd have to ask Rae. I'm sure she'd tell you how moody I was, how I came out with stupid things for no apparent reason, how I got a suspicious amount of pleasure from kicking doors in, how I snored like a bear.

Hey Pegintrude!
I suppose it's like drawing. If you look hard enough at anything it becomes interesting.
The other thing is that I find it therapeutic to try to recall as much as possible about some of these incidents. It helps make sense of it, in a way.
I don't think I'll ever be able to write fiction, though. Creating and maintaining a plot - that's the thing I'd really like to get sorted.

Thanks Deborah!
Funnily enough I was talking to a friend of mine today about Raymond Chandler. He said that whenever RC found his plot had stalled, he'd have someone burst through the door with a gun! Maybe I should do that a bit more with this blog...

Thanks for all your comments :0) x

Deborah Parr said...

There is a good Raymond Chandler quote - "The streets were dark with something more than night" - which I think would make a grand title for some of your posts - sounds like the kind of feeling the Emergency services would know very well.

Spence Kennedy said...

That's a great quote!

My 3 favourite crime writers: Raymond Chandler, Elmore Leonard and Jim Thompson. They've all got that dirty, hard-boiled style.

Anonymous said...

Why is it always dark in the house when you are trying to avoid furniture in the hallway by walking along the top of a rolled up rug. At least with the scooter there is a little path. Since she was a nurse she probably won't take medicine and won't see a doctor but wants company. Here (South Carolina, USA), one lady called the police all the time, then got them to bring in some wood. Some people are the same in every country.
Sharon- Social Worker

Spence Kennedy said...

Hey Sharon!

Here it seems that just a handful of people are responsible for a disproportionate number of calls.

It's amazing how far they're allowed to go with their repeated calls before any action is taken. You'd have thought it would've made economic sense to target them long before they got to be such a nuisance. I know it's a tricky problem, but you can spot the new frequent fliers a mile off...

I suppose it is some consolation that it's a problem in the USA, too - despite the patient being expected to pay for the ambulance, presumably?

Unknown said...

Great post, Spence.

It's pretty sad that they're everywhere, isn't it? We have our share of calls like this, too.

It's enough to drive you a little bit nuts.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Walt. You're right - they do drive you nuts. Only this morning we had yet another call from one of our regulars - last call at the end of a night shift when you're not at your best. In her case there's a court case pending, but even so we had no choice but attend. Actually you get to the stage where you chat to them a little bit like friends, even though you know that's not going to help the situation, as half the time they're ringing just to see someone. But it's difficult to be stern at 6 in the morning. The easiest thing is to accept that you're there, do what you have to do, and move on.
This particular caller already has an army of professionals on her case, from psychiatrists to social workers - but still, 6am, there we are with our bags, writing out a patient form that we don't even have to ask the details of any more...

Hope you're well. Cheers for the comment, Walt :0)