It was freezing outside. Matt tried once more to slip his gloved fingers under the crack in the window’s edge and force the pane open. With one last determined push, it groaned upwards and allowed him to slip into the basement below. The dank room was walled with dusty filing cabinets and piled high with damp cardboard boxes. The air was stale and there was an unnerving humming from behind one of the doors. He assumed it emanated from a boiler and immediately welcomed the sound of warmth. No matter how unpleasant the current surroundings, they were certainly warmer, almost tropical, compared with outside. He shut the window behind him and looked out with fondness at the derelict school next door. That had been quite a squat, but the recent addition of floodlights and guard-dogs meant he was definitely sleeping here tonight.
Matt took stock of the room and began to rearrange the boxes, unpacked his sleeping bag and sat down. He felt he could make this place quite homely if only he could convince his nose to overlook the intense aroma of mildew. The light was fading outside so he began to search the walls for a light switch, having judged the clinic and its surroundings deserted enough to avoid detection. He rightly assumed that the occupants of the encompassing tower blocks had their own worries and cared little about the carbon footprint of an NHS outpost that had left a few lights on. The computers upstairs were always left on anyway.
The strip lights buzzed on and illuminated the room. Curling posters advertising various charities and helplines charted the history of the place; from office to filing room and finally all-purpose dumping ground. In the corner was a crate of forlorn-looking toys. These included a handful of counting blocs, a pile of brown paged story books and several unfriendly looking stuffed animals Matt would later use for a pillow, when they had stopped grimacing.
He began to inspect one of the boxes and lifted its dusty lid to find it stuffed with pale green folders. He took the top one which had “Strictly Confidential: Not to be taken out of the hospital” on its cover in bold print, followed by a name and date of birth scrawled on the spine in marker pen. He leafed through the pages to find, a handful of appointment letters, a thin report and a few sparse notes at the back. Scanning through the letters the phrase “Department of Child and Family Psychiatry” found his eye. His interest caught, he discarded the meagre arrangement of dates and times in the folder in front of him and began to search for a larger file with more rewarding contents.
Then he saw the drawing. A child’s picture, etched in crude strokes of crayon, crumpled in the corner of the container. At first glance it seemed to be an average picture of a park scene; green grass, rudimentary flowers, a man with in big blue jacket walking a shaggy dog shaped like a mop and a girl on a swing, except perhaps for the fact that it was raining. Then Matt looked closer and saw that the expressions on the faces were all wrong. The man had an evil look in his eye, and it wasn’t raining, the girl had filled the sky with tears that flowed upward from her eyes. There was a name in the top left hand corner: Harriet Walker.
He found her notes at the bottom of the crate. They consisted of two large folders teeming with paper; half of it was loose and spilt onto the floor when he lifted them out. He spent the next few minutes trying to organise them into a chronology of events and sat down to read.
5th September ’96 Harriet attended the clinic with her mother today for her first assessment. She was initially referred by her Head of Year due to behavioural problems and conduct disorder issues. Mum described a history of confrontational and defiant behaviour and angry outbursts that she believes stem from the breakdown in relations with her husband. Mrs Walker informed me that she had a physically abusive relationship with her husband and she has raised the possibility that he may also have been abusive to Harriet, even though she was never witness to this herself. Child is no longer at risk as father has returned to his native country and currently has no contact with H. No Social Services referral required. Plan: to offer a further session with Harriet, on a one to one basis, to try to establish if any abuse carried out. If none found, refer to tier 2 service for counselling to work out her anger issues as no serious mental illness found.
11th September ’96: Harriet DNA her appointment. T/c to mum revealed H not feeling well. Rescheduled for next week.
20th September ’96: Harriet and mother attended though it was apparent that H was reluctant to come and had to be coerced by Mrs Walker. Saw H alone, she appeared withdrawn, with flat affect and poor eye contact. I was alarmed by the striking contrast in presentation from the initial assessment two weeks ago where H has been outspoken and rebellious. Tried to engage H with the session with great difficulty, so asked H to draw how she felt. She produced a series of pictures that were somewhat disturbing. Plan: To discuss drawings with consultant and suggest possibility of offering art psychotherapy intervention.
Matt turned the page to find another picture, this time, a collage of cuttings from what looked like waiting room magazines; of the kind called Woman’s Monthly and Girl’s Room. These were wholesome little pictures from family life; a girl in her early teens cuddling a kitten, a women applying make-up, a child brushing her doll’s hair, but they were alarmingly interspersed with household cleaning products. One girl had a bleach bottle pouring into her eyes, another had fabric softener jutting from her lips, and the most disturbing image was of a young baby whose skin was being grated with a scourer.
Suddenly his skin tingled and the hair on the nape of his neck stood tall. He had heard a door slam and footsteps above his head. The building had been deserted and it was now well past opening hours. He thought perhaps that one of the doctors had forgotten something and decided to wait it out. Long minutes ticked by as he tracked the movement of the footsteps on the ceiling, wondering whether he should make a break for the window. Then finally after several cistern gurglings, the whir of a hoover began and he relaxed: the cleaner.
His instincts told him to leave immediately, hide his things and return a little later when the clinic was again deserted. But he was engrossed in the story and began to read on although a few pages were missing and the dates jumped:
12th January ‘97: Mum and H attended 5th session with Leila Smith, Art Psychotherapist, Dr Kendal, Consultant Psychiatrist, and myself in the observation room. LS reports that she is amazed by H’s technical development since the introduction of oil paints several weeks ago. She has begun to articulate her feelings on large canvasses in elaborate styles. Mother reports that H no longer socialises, has lost all interest in television and spends hours in her room painting with no reprieve. School have reported that her aggressive behaviour is no longer a problem but they expressed concerns about her increasingly withdrawn behaviour, stating that “H seems to be an entirely different person”. Today she painted the clinic itself (see storage tube)…
Matt paused to rummage in the box and unravelled a large canvas from a plastic tube. The clinic stared back at him; a large decrepit Georgian building with decorative urns on the rooftop and an NHS blue door. She had depicted the dilapidated essence of the building well, but it was the roses that captivated the viewer. They climbed out of the flowerbeds in deep carmine shades and wrapped around the walls and windows in elaborate patterns, as delicate as a snowflake but as suffocating as a pillow held over the face. Then he noticed it, a figure in a downstairs window, he estimated it was standing in the same place the footsteps were coming from now. Footsteps! A light in the hallway flicked on and a key rattled in the door, opening, to reveal a man in blue overalls, holding a mop shaped like a dog.