An ancient woman is sitting on a bench by the front door of the block. She’s wearing a scarlet beret, red lipstick, red scarf, a heavy red coat and red shoes. Even her shopping bag is red. She gives me a broad, square smile as I say hello – and all in all it’s hard to resist she’s en route to a fancy dress party dressed as a letterbox.
‘Keep warm,’ I say, unnecessarily, as she’s wearing so many clothes she’s technically still indoors.
‘Oh – I don’t mind,!’ she says, batting the air. ‘It’s February you’ve got to watch.’
‘Or April,’ I say. ‘April is the cruelest month.’
‘April? Who said that?’
‘Some poet or other.’
‘April? That’s Spring! When all the blossom comes out!’
‘You’re right!’ I say. ‘I’ve never really thought about it. Maybe he was being ironic?’
She shrugs and pulls her shopping trolley closer.
‘I like April,’ she says. ‘But then I’m not a poet.’
Meanwhile, Jorge has buzzed the number of Mr Henry, the patient we’ve come to see. We’ve been told how hostile and non-compliant he is, so we give him plenty of time to answer. He hasn’t been picking up his phone, so we’re bound to simply turn up, on spec. Just before Jorge gives up and buzzes again, the intercom crackles on.
Who the fucking hell is that buzzing? Stop buzzing! Will you stop with the fucking buzzing? I get to the button as fast as I can! I’ll fucking fall over. All these people! My God! What d’you want…?
Just as Jorge leans in to say who we are, the door clicks as Mr Henry releases it.
I look back at the woman on the bench. She smiles and shrugs, and directs her gaze outwards.
Mr Henry had declined a visit from the therapists who’d come round the previous day. Our job is to follow that visit up, read him the riot act, and see what helps he needs.
There’s a holly wreath on his flat door, but I’m guessing it’s there more for the needles than the seasonal goodwill.
Jorge takes a breath, and knocks.
‘Come in!’ screams Mr Henry. ‘Will you just fucking come in? COME IN!’
Jorge tries the door. It’s locked.
‘The door’s locked,’ says Jorge.
‘What the fuck is it now?’
Jorge leans in closer and speaks up.
‘You’ll need to open the door for us because it’s locked…’
‘Stop fucking shouting!’ yells Mr Henry. ‘I’m going as fast as I can! You fucking people! Do you want me to fucking kill myself…?’
We take a step back.
‘Do you think he’ll shoot me through the door?’ says Jorge.
He laughs, but we both step a little more to the side.
After an age of swearing and cursing from inside the flat, the lock flips and Jorge slowly pushes it open. A pale, round face looms round the side of it. It’s like being confronted by a nursery rhyme illustration for Hey Diddle Diddle – except a more adult version, where the man in the moon has an alcohol problem and can’t fucking bear the cat, the fiddle, the cow and anyone else who happens past.
‘What the fuck do YOU want?’ he says. But before we can capitalise on the situation and leave, Mr Henry suddenly seems much more compliant. ‘You’d best come in,’ he says, timidly. We follow him inside.
He positions himself in front of a leather BarcaLounger, lets go of his zimmer frame, and drops into it like a paratrooper exiting a plane. Except – he screams as he drops, and swears inordinately as he bounces a couple of times in the great, black catcher’s mitt of the chair.
‘Fuck! Fuck! FUCK!’ he says.
‘Where does it hurt?’ I ask, when he comes to a stop.
He stares up at me, and for a moment I think he’s going to throw something. But the moment passes and he nods for us both to sit down on two formal dining chairs just opposite.
‘I don’t like people standing over me,’ he says, simply and conversationally. The tone is so different it’s disorienting.
‘Now…,’ he says, after a theatrical age, ‘… wear’s my hat?’
‘Yes! My FUCKING HAT!’
‘Mr Henry! There’s really no call for you to shout at us and carry on like this. We’ve been nothing but polite since we came here, Mr Henry. Listen – we’ve come to help you, and we really will try to do that. But your part of the contract is to be polite, not swear and…’
‘Fetch me my hat, SIR,’ he says.
‘Well. Seeing as you asked nicely…’
There’s a dark fedora on a pile of old newspapers over by the window. I hand it to him.
‘No!’ he shouts. ‘NO!’
‘What do you mean, no?’
He relaxes back in the chair.
‘Feel the brim,’ ‘he says. ‘The luxury of pure felt.’