An evil traffic mastermind has taken over the city. There is no route through town, no backstreet, rat-run, bridleway or smuggler’s path that does not sooner or later crash up against road works. The gas men, the water men, the cable men, the council men, the men who carry out the remedial work after all the other men have gone - the town is infested, over-run, congested, the whole grid in thrall to a sequence of flashing lights, red and white barricades and cones, cones, cones. During the mid part of the day it’s maddening enough, but at rush hour your only hope of reaching the other side of town before sunset is by hot air balloon.
And on top of all that, I was only at this address yesterday.
‘She self-discharged,’ says Control. ‘A CPN made contact back at the address today and says she’s taken another overdose.’
Molly has a history of overdoses and self-harm as chaotic and livid as the scars up her arms.
‘It took us ages to persuade her to come in,’ I tell Frank as he takes a shortcut through a main sewer. ‘And she lives at the bottom of a steep flight of steps. We had a hell of a job keeping her from pitching over backwards the whole time.’
Frank crashes up through a manhole cover, then presses a button I’ve never seen before that sets the axles up on stilts so he can pass above the cars.
‘And then when she was on board, I had to stop her from rolling off the trolley, and lighting cigarettes, and throwing the contents of her bag about.’
‘You’re not selling this job overmuch,’ he says, dropping the cab back down onto the chassis, converting it into a boat, and launching us off the promenade into the sea. ‘I was supposed to be going out tonight.’
We reach the address in good time, considering.
Jo, the CPN, greets us at the door.
‘Molly has taken thirty paracetamol. I’ve told her she needs to go into hospital and be treated, and to try not to walk out.’
‘I’ve met Molly before. I was the crew that took her in yesterday,’ I tell her.
‘Oh. So you’ll know the back history.’
She leads us inside.
Molly is slumped on an armchair as enveloping as a fungal bloom.
‘I’m not going to hospital,’ she sighs. The smoke from her cigarette ripples up to the ceiling. ‘I’ll just walk out again.’
Between the CPN, me and Frank, and Molly’s friend Jack – who was here yesterday, and who glitters on the fringes of the room like a gypsy whose prophecy has come to pass - we try every angle, every point of reasoning and emotional leverage to encourage Molly to leave the chair. But like the chair itself she simply absorbs all our efforts, soaking them up with the smoke and the heat from the fire and the muted images from the TV.
‘I thought you cared for me,’ she breathes, turning her shining eyes on Jo. ‘Why are you doing this?’
‘I do care about you, Molly. That’s why I called the ambulance. You’ve taken a damaging amount of paracetamol and you need to go to the hospital for treatment. I wouldn’t have called the ambulance if I didn’t care.’
‘Come on Molly,’ says Frank. ‘The sooner you get to the hospital, the sooner you can be back again.’
Molly doesn’t respond. She doesn’t even tap off her ash.
‘I just want to leave,’ she breathes.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I just want to leave the hospital.’
‘You’re not in the hospital, Molly. You’re at home.’
‘No. When I’m in the hospital I just want to leave.’
‘I’ll be straight with you Molly. If you don’t go with the ambulance now, I’ll have to go back to the team and make arrangements to bring in the police. That won’t be nice, will it? For you or for anyone. And all that will happen is the police will take you to hospital instead. So whatever happens, you have to go to hospital. At least this way you can go at your own speed, with these guys, and get treated all the quicker, and be back without any trouble. But the other way is a section. Do you understand, Molly? Which has implications. So what do you say? Hmm?’
Molly stares at the smoke rising in an unbroken line from her hand.
‘I just want to leave,’ she says.
I shift my position on the sofa, but I seem to have become part of it, my trousers melded into the covers, my hip bones hooked into the springs. Jack grins at me from across the room. He understands. He knows I’m trapped. But it doesn’t matter. Nothing else is moving, will ever move. We are entering a new age now, an ice age of immobility, and the traffic is a glacier of metal and rubber, inching to a halt on the road above us.