Every time I visit Cutter Street I think of Platform 9 3/4 in Harry Potter. It takes the same crazy leap of faith to make the turn off the busy main drag, to shut your eyes and swing a right between the Pottery Play Barn and the Natural Funeral shop, where no sane person would ever think to hang a right without catastrophically jamming the nose of the car into an alleyway even a cat would pull its whiskers in to enter. But amazingly, the brick walls either side seem to lean away, like they respect anyone mad enough to come through. And the path quickly widens in a magical, funnel-like way, and suddenly you’re parking-up in a generous courtyard with an office block one side and a housing block the other, both of them dropped fully formed from the sky by a giant who wanted to keep them secret.
And all of this seems to fit, because I’ve been asked to come and see a patient who’s seeing ghosts.
The GP is querying a UTI. When they’re bad they can give you hallucinations, so it has to be the most likely explanation – certainly in Gerry’s case, who’s had them before, more vulnerable since he was fitted with a catheter a couple of years ago. The GP has already sent over a short course of antibiotics, just in case, and then asked for us to take bloods and get some more information.
I buzz Gerry’s number. He sounds confused when he answers through the intercom, but there’s a lot of crackling and interference. He doesn’t buzz the main door open, though, so I’m forced to go to Plan B, which is to ring the neighbour in the flat next to his. After a minute or two an elderly guy in a Chelsea football shirt and jogging bottoms appears. It’s strange to see him in those clothes, like he aged seventy years on the journey from his flat to the main door.
‘You’ve come for Gerry,’ he says.
‘Yes. Sorry to bother you. The doctor sent me.’
He bats the air – whether to say it’s no bother or he doesn’t believe in doctors, it’s hard to say.
‘This way,’ he says, turns and leads me in an odd, shuffle trot through the deserted lobby to the foot of the stairs.
Gerry is standing at the top, looking down.
‘Oh!’ I say. ‘You must be Gerry!’
‘I found him outside’ says the guy in the football kit. ‘Says the doctor sent him or something.’
‘I was coming down to let you in,’ says Gerry.
‘That’s great!’ I say. ‘Are you alright if we go to your flat and have a quick chat?’
He stands there, holding onto the rail, thinking about it.
For some reason I say:
‘Permission to come aboard, sir?’ and salute.
Football guy laughs.
‘I’ll pipe you up,’ he says, and makes a toothless whistle.
Gerry salutes, too, which I take as a good sign. Football guy slaps me on the shoulder, says: ‘If you want me I’ll be in my flat. Flat number one.’
‘I rang flat five though,’ I say.
‘Oh. That’s right. I meant five. What did I say?’
‘No. Five. Flat five. I’ll be in flat five.’
I’m not sure if he’s confused or covering for something, but I don’t have a chance to form more of an idea because he turns on the spot and shuffle-trots off.
‘Come on then,’ says Gerry, turning and walking off down the hallway. I sprint up the steps to catch up with him.
Gerry’s flat is lush. It’s filled with dark wooden antiques, old prints of The Great Exhibition and whatnot, marble busts, fern jardinieres and dominating the whole thing, centre stage on a circular, teak dining table, a huge ceramic parrot.
‘How are you feeling?’ I ask Gerry as he settles down in his armchair.
‘Fine,’ he says. ‘I don’t know what all the rumpus is about.’
‘I think the doctor was worried you might have an infection or something.’
‘Why would they think that?’
‘They said you were seeing things. Is that right?’
‘Yes,’ he says. ‘But I’ve been seeing them since I was six.’
‘What kind of things?’
He raises his shoulders, purses his lips, raises his eyebrows, shakes his head repeatedly from side to side, then completely relaxes again. It’s a funny, all-in-one expression, like he’s concentrating all his confusion into one, short mega-shrug.
‘Oh… people – mostly,’ he says.
He strokes the leather arms of his chair.
‘But I’ve always been interested in… you know… what’s it called…?’
‘Yes. That’s it. The occult. I used to be in a group… a whaddyacallit?… god, my memory… ?’
‘I don’t know. A coven?’
‘No. When you all come together and summon the spirits.’
‘Is it? Anyway, I’ve always had the gift.’
‘Do the ghosts worry you?’
‘No. Not at all. Yesterday it was my mum, dad and sister. They’ve been dead twenty years but they were drifting through the flat.’
‘That must’ve been quite nice to see them.’
‘They didn’t stay long.’
I’m tempted to make a crack about that, but I hold off in case it doesn’t help.
I take his blood pressure, temperature and so on. Everything checks out.
‘The doctor wants some blood, too,’ I say.
‘Typical vampire,’ says Gerry.