Saturday, February 15, 2014


Mitch has a Borgnine smile, a stretch of small teeth like someone just unzippered the bottom half of his face. It’s a utilitarian thing, a first line of defence, the kind of smile you might use no matter what. I can imagine him in the garage, wiping his hands on an oily rag, smiling in that way as a customer describes the dink dink noise from the engine, or smiling in the cluttered office as the accountant bawls him out about the state of his books, or in the pub, lowering his pint to watch his apprentice play pool. It’s an unsettling smile, a volatile mix of affable and aggressive, like he’s holding you there whilst he makes up his mind.
‘I didn’t get no reply when I rang, so I thought I’d come by and see,’ he says, smiling. He looks down at the bed, at his wife sprawled there, surrounded by empty blister packs. ‘You can’t keep doing this, Shirl,’ he says. ‘You really can’t.’

Shirl says she doesn’t want to go to hospital, but the pills have made her so drowsy it’s easy enough to coax her up, into boots and down the stairs.

Outside the rain has stopped and the sky is a beaten blue. Shirl’s hair whips around her face. She plucks at it ineffectually.
‘Three steps up. There you go.’
She lies back on the ambulance trolley and seems to fall straight asleep. She’s rousable though, enough to take sips from a bottle of activated charcoal. Her lips get stained with a pouty little circle of black, like a geisha.

‘Urgh,’ she says. ‘I don’t want it.’

‘Well you shouldn’t have taken all them pills then,’ smiles Mitch from the opposite chair. Then he plants his elbows squarely on his knees, leans forwards, and and massages his face with his big, calloused hands.
‘I don’t know,’ he says, sighing, straightening up again and looking at me. ‘I’ve had enough, mate. The mental health lot are worse than useless. You get some geezer from the crisis team come round, and all they do is bosh out more Valium. And the psychiatrist ‘aint much better. She just sits there sucking her glasses and scribbling notes. Hm. I see. And what about this and that? And then writes a prescription for more pills. I’ve had it up to here, mate.’

He smiles at me, and the distance between that smile and the resonant black of his eyes could not be more profound. 


jacksofbuxton said...

For some reason,after reading that Spence,the phrase "we're going to need a bigger boat" sprang to mind.

Spence Kennedy said...

What a great film that was! Plenty of great quotes from Jaws. 'You know the thing about a shark? He's got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eye.' Brilliant.

Lynda Halliger Otvos (Lynda M O) said...

The mental health system here in the States is as bad or worse than what you have. Why do we shun these folks who need help not stigmatization ?~! It has been friends of mine with temp problems and relatives of theirs with permanent problems and neither is getting any decent help.


Spence Kennedy said...

I wish I knew, Lynda. When you think of the number of people affected, you'd think there'd be far more resources dedicated to solving the problem - if only to address the social consequences / time lost to work etc. But here MH is definitely the 'poor relation' of the health system. What's needed are more beds for the acutely unwell, and more counselors for CBT and other therapies, but I don't see it changing any time soon, unfortunately.

Thanks for the comment, Lynda.

cogidubnus said...

It's Mitch I feel sorry he didn't have anything remotely like this in mind when he repeated the words "in sickness or in health"...but he seems to be sticking the course...

All the best


Spence Kennedy said...

Mitch was one of the good guys (as far as I could tell). So difficult for him - and God knows what the outlook is for both of them. Still - she survived this OD, and hopefully they'll get some effective support.

(Tactful pause)

:) Cheers, Dave!