The muddled wave of sycamore trees growing up along the embankment at the back, the viaduct rising high above the houses in a straight line to the heart of town, the shuttered pub on the other side of the road, the makeshift garage with the stack of tyres and the rusting car up on blocks – everything conspires to give this street a neglected, backwater feel.
I’m meeting up with Magda for a joint visit. There’s been a safeguarding raised against Bob’s wife Geena. We’re here to support each other, to see how he is, how things are today.
‘Jimmy boy!’ says Magda, tossing her hair back and holding it in place with her blingy sunglasses. ‘S’up?’
We talk a little about the situation before we knock.
‘I doubt she’ll even answer the door,’ I tell her. ‘Did you read the notes? She’s been turning everyone away. Going mad. And even when she lets them in, she abuses them and throws them out pretty quick.’
‘Sounds like my kinda girl.’
‘The social workers are on the case.’
‘She even swore at Pete the physio and threw him out.’
‘Peter? Man! That’s like being cruel to puppy.’
‘I know! So – I’m not sure how far we’ll get.’
‘You want me to go first, Jimmy? It might be dangerous.’
She goes up the steps to the front door and knocks, heavily, like a debt collector or something. We wait a while. She knocks again.
I’m just about to lean over the railings and peer through the front window when the door unexpectedly opens.
A sixty year old woman dressed in a hornet stripe jumper, purple slacks and velcro shoes, frowning at us with a pinched expression. It’s like a spiteful child picked a doll up by the face, stood her at the front door of the doll’s house, and got ready to shoot her with a BB gun.
‘What?’ she says.
‘Gemma! Hi there! My name is Magda and this is my colleague Jimmy. I’m so sorry to disturb you. We’re from the rapid response team and we’ve been asked to come see your husband, Bob. It’s lovely to meet you.’
‘I told them. I don’t want you people coming round no more.’
‘I know, I know. It’s problem. But we won’t be long, Gemma, I promise you. Just a hi and a bye kind of deal. Trust me. You’ll hardly know we were here.’
There’s a tense pause that the rumbling of a passing train does nothing to ease. I fully expect Gemma to slam the door, but Magda generously interprets the hesitation as an invitation, and starts moving forward. And really, when Magda starts walking forwards it’s very difficult to say no. So instead Gemma flattens herself to the wall, closes her eyes and lets us pass.
‘That’s very kind of you, Gemma. I appreciate that. Thank you very much, darling. Through here…?’
I follow Magda into the house. It’s tall and dark and watchful. A narrow hallway leads off to the kitchen out back, the sitting room to our left.
‘Bob!’ says Magda. ‘There you are! Hello mate!’
Bob is sitting behind the door in a high-backed chair, a zimmer frame to the right. He’s dressed in stripes, too, although his are blue like his eyes and easier to look at. Everything about him is the opposite to Gemma. They could be the figures in an emotional weather clock: Bob summer, Gemma winter.
‘Hello!’ he says, holding his arms left and right like he’s known her all his life. ‘What’s all this about, then?’
Magda explains who we are whilst I get my obs kit out. Bob is wearing shorts, so it’s immediately apparent to both of us that he has a wound on his leg.
‘What have you been up to, Bobby? How you hurt your leg like this?’
She bends down to look. Gemma, who up to this point has been sitting on the arm of a sofa like a storm on the horizon, suddenly springs up, hurries over, and clutches the zimmer frame with white knuckles.
‘You are not to look at that!’ she says. ‘I’m his wife! I take care of him!’
‘Well – yes – I understand this, Gemma, but you know we are here to see Bob. And to be honest with you, unless you have Power of Attorney…’
‘I DO have Power of Attorney!’
‘Great! That’s great! So now, of course, we need to see paperwork. You have paperwork, Gemma?’
Gemma gives a huff, releases the zimmer frame and stomps back to the sofa.
‘I’m his wife!’ she thunders. ‘I say what happens.’
Magda shrugs this off and chats to Bob whilst I clean and dress the wound. I want to take a photograph, but I’m conscious of Gemma staring at me and I think if I do the flash of it will tip her over the edge. She’ll probably snatch up that large, ceramic pelican and smash it over my head, Magda or no Magda. So I finish off with a set of obs – all of which are fine. I can feel the rumbling of her teeth grinding through the floorboards, although it might just be another train.
‘So tell me, Bobby? Tell me what happen with leg,’ says Magda.
‘I fell out of bed,’ he says, and then slowly, and irresistibly, he turns to look at his wife.