tea break

At first I wonder if the house numbers skip straight from twenty to twenty-four until I realise there’s actually a building behind that colossal hedge and tree. Without the benefit of a machete I make my way up crumbling concrete steps to the front door of number twenty-two, past masses of empty wine bottles half a dozen to a bag, tied at the top in neat little bundles I can only imagine delivered and collected by an alcoholic stork.
I knock on the door and wait.
Eventually, after a great deal of unbolting and unlocking, the door cracks and an elderly woman peers out.
‘Hello. I’m Jim from the Rapid Response team. At the hospital. Come to see Milly.’
‘What for?’
‘To see how you’re doing. The doctor referred us.’
‘Why?’
It’s difficult to tell her exactly what the doctor wrote. ETOH, Not coping at home. Self-neglect. Unsanitary living conditions.
‘Is it all right if I come in?’
‘You’ll have to wait in the hall. I’ve got to go to the toilet.’
‘Of course. You carry on. If there’s anything you want me to help you with…’
I want to go to the toilet and you’re stopping me! she says, pitching into such a wild tone it takes me by surprise.
‘Sorry,’ I say. ‘I’ll wait here whilst you go. I don’t want to get in the way.’
Well you are in the way!
‘If you’d rather I came back later…’
‘No, no. You’re here now,’ she says, easing back into a more settled voice. ‘I know you’re only doing your job.’
‘Look. You go to the loo and I’ll wait here, in the hall. Is that all right?’
She doesn’t answer, but shuffles back through the hallway to the bathroom. She doesn’t shut the door. I turn the other way, facing into the sitting room.
I’ve wet myself! she cries. I haven’t got any clean!
‘Would you like me to find you something? Some dry trousers…?’
What are you SAYING? You don’t know where anything is!
‘I could look.’
She doesn’t answer, but continues to swear and curse.
From where I stand the living room is as dreadful as the hallway.  It’s as if instead of a snowstorm, a fierce and prolonged trash blizzard has ripped through the place, obliterating the normal surface of things, the TV, the table, the sofa, the floor – every domestic profile distorted beneath a swollen and stratifiable layer of crap.
‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ I say, to prove to Milly I’m here to help, in a practical and non-threatening way, and to try to normalise an otherwise stressful situation.
Tea? she screams. TEA? A cup of TEA? What are you SAYING?
‘Well – it’s just – whether you’d like a cup of tea…’
You wouldn’t know where to start!
She wasn’t wrong.

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