Thursday, November 10, 2011


Through the band of shaded glass along the top of the windscreen, the moon is a tarnished penny, but Venus hangs clear beneath it. Maybe it’ll come down. Maybe it’ll land here soon, touchdown in that back garden, nuzzle in to a heap of leaves and sit there, shivering its light through the hedges, the greenhouse glass and cucumber stems, along concrete slabs and the ribbed backs of slugs, through a stand of bins, the spokes of a rusted bike, the handle of a fork buried in a heap of leaves, to the upstairs window, and the cautious pulling aside of a curtain.
‘Here they come.’
A police car crawls up the road and comes to a stop where our patient lives. Frank puts our lights on and drives the short distance over to join them.
Two police officers, one as short as the other is tall, stand by the gate that leads round the side to the garden.
‘If I have to come back to this guy one more time...’ says the small one. The tall one has his hands buried deep in the armholes of his stab vest and looks down on us all with no comment.
‘We’ve been called because he’s taken an overdose,’ I tell him, holding the gate open for Frank.
‘Sounds about right.’
‘And he’s living in a shed?’
We each use a torch, except the tall police officer, who lights his way with five hundred watts of disdain.
At the bottom of the garden is a shiplap tool shed, the felt roof adrift and hanging down, chicken wire over a plastic sheet window and a muffled voice talking on a mobile coming from under the door.
The small police officer pushes open the door.
‘Hello? Malcolm?’
Malcolm is sitting bunched up on a dirty mattress.
‘Yes. They’re here now. I’ll say bye bye, then. Bye bye.’
He finishes the call and then shields his eyes as he looks up.


Malcolm sits on the ambulance seat and stares at me as I go through the paperwork. A middle aged man as derelict and malodorous as the shed he’s been sleeping in.
‘A lot of boxes,’ he says, folding his arms and settling back in the chair.
‘That’s one way of putting it.’
He rolls his face back over his gums like a contestant in a gurning competition.
‘So. Malcolm. Have you done anything like this before?’
‘Like what before?’
‘Taken an overdose.’
‘Oh yes. Lots of times. And hung myself. And walked into the sea.’
‘Okay. And tonight – did you take this overdose to hurt yourself?’
‘Me? I just wanted to end it all – you know, the usual. Dad died this year.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
‘I went to prison. When I came out I moved back in with mum. But we don’t get on, really. We row a lot. She says she doesn’t want me in the house, so I’ve been sleeping in the shed.’
‘Isn’t that difficult?’
‘What? Sleeping in a shed?’
‘Well – with your mum in the house the other side of the garden?’
‘It’s all right. I sneak out in the early hours, and then back in again at night. But sometimes she comes down the garden and we have a row. She says I don’t understand this and that. I don’t understand how much she loved my dad. He may have beaten her now and again but she’s lost without him and what have I ever done? That kind of thing. She goes back in. You know.’
He leans over and frowns at the clipboard.
‘Where’s the box for that?’ he says.


jacksofbuxton said...

Seems fairly sanguine about it all Spence,I suppose the time to worry is when he isn't quite so relaxed about it all.

Still a waste of your time though,apart from giving you source material.

Cracking finishing line as well.

Pleasure to read as ever.

Spence Kennedy said...

It's a frustrating scenario, Jacks, and one we go to quite often. Long term, intractable MH problems with a large dose of social difficulty. A huge drain on agencies across the board, and difficult to see a resolution anytime soon. At least writing the blog means I can record it, though, which is something. It helps keep me sane (theoretically). :/

Unknown said...

The description of the setting was so captivatin, I would have never suspected where this post was leading.

I got a kick out of the description of the tall police officer with his 500 watts of disdain. Unfortunately, there are moments when I can relate to him rather well.

The whole scenario seems so hopeless, but who knows maybe, if they did have a box for it, things would get better.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks v much, Nari.

I had a lot of sympathy for the tall police officer, too. I know how hard it is when it seems you're pitching up to yet another hopeless case. But it goes in phases. I'm sure he'll be getting his share of high adrenaline / high reward jobs soon (let's hope so, anyway).

The World Through My Shoes said...

Another fantastic written piece Spence. Malcolm's story is a sad one and I hope he gets the help he needs. Thank you for giving us a peek into the world of mental health.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks v much Cheri.

Mental health is such a difficult area. I admire the MH teams for the work they do. An almost impossible task, given the added stresses of social deprivation, drink, drugs &c. I'm sure that Malcolm is getting help, but if he's deemed competent, he can't be forced to live differently. In many ways, the lengths that social / psych services go to to honour an individual's right to self-determination is quite inspiring (even if at times it can make you feel quite frustrated!)

Thanks for the comment, and for reading.