Dead Writers in Rehab
Okay, I accept that both those other times, when it was all over, I could see they'd been right. I hated it at the time of course, especially the first one, when the whole concept of an intervention made me physically sick as they cornered me in the kitchen, in my pyjamas, and explained it to me. I was probably going to be sick anyway, given my condition, but ever since then I can't hear that word, intervention, without feeling the bile rising in my throat. I stood there with my back to the sink, gazing at them like some poor, dumb, bewildered badger about to be torn to pieces by a pack of slavering hounds who've somehow learned to speak a special smug, sanctimonious language all about denial and responsibility and co-dependency.
But they were right. It probably really did save my life. Especially the first time, when I woke up in what turned out to be The Priory. The second time was a bit different, as I knew what was happening and where I was being taken (which turned out to be a less expensive facility, because I wasn't selling so well by then, and the TV series hadn't been re-commissioned, and the screenplay had been given to someone else, to be 'improved' in the way that a heretic is improved by being burned at the stake). But that was rehab. This time the bastards have put me in a fucking nut house…
The corridor led to a doorway. The door was open. I walked through into a large room, tastefully decorated, mainly in blue. Some big French windows were letting in a generous helping of daylight and fresh air. All very pleasant. But you could strap me into an orange jump-suit and deprive me of all sensory stimuli, like some trembling peasant suspected by the CIA of harbouring unwholesome thoughts about democracy, and lead me into a room like this and whip the bag off my head, and I'd know exactly where I was. It takes more than a few coats of Dulux Blue Lagoon and some rubber tree plants to disguise an institution. There's something in the DNA of a building like this, whether it's a school, a prison or an old people's home. Bad vibes.
I looked around. I couldn't see any food but I could smell something cooking somewhere. There were three doorways out of the room, including the way I'd come in, and the French windows. A faint scent of something I recognised but couldn't name drifted in from the garden and mingled with the aroma of distant cooking. The food smelled good and I wondered which was the quickest route to its source.
I became aware of someone breathing heavily behind me. I turned to see a burly, grizzled man slumped in an armchair near the door I'd just come through. He was glaring at a woman who was sitting as far away from him as she could get while still remaining inside the room. She was about forty, with big eyes, and she looked tired. She was studiously ignoring him. The grizzled man, who had a scrubby beard and looked as though he might have mislaid a trawler somewhere nearby, turned his gaze slowly away from the woman and looked up at me. I thought for a moment there was something familiar about him, but when he spoke I could hear he was American, and I don't know any Americans who look like him although I know a Scottish barman with similar facial hair and the same mottled, rosy complexion of someone who likes to get drunk quickly and uses spirits to do it. The American squinted up at me and shaded his eyes with his hand as if I were an enemy aircraft coming out of the sun. He growled at me:
"How is it going with you?"
"I'm rather hungry."
"That's a good sign."
The woman on the other side of the room gave a faint snort. The American glared at her again. He seemed to lose interest in me. I heard a cough, and I noticed a person standing beside the French windows, apparently admiring the view. He turned towards me, took a few steps forward and performed a curt little bow.
"Sir, permit me to direct you to the commissary," he said.
I stared at him. He was a short, balding man with peculiar little glasses and an immense, bushy beard. He was wearing a kind of frock coat made of corduroy, with a waistcoat to match, and a pair of chequered trousers.
He walked up to me and held out his hand.
"May I introduce myself? I'm Wilkie Collins."
I shook his hand. "Foster James. Pleased to meet you."
"The pleasure is mine, sir. You are newly arrived among us, I believe?"
"Oh, yes," I said, grinning inanely, "fresh meat."
He frowned and seemed about to ask me something but then his face cleared.
"Fresh meat in search of fresh meat!" he said, and laughed. He had rather a nice laugh, for a raving lunatic. I laughed back at him politely, terrified that he might turn violent. He suddenly thrust out his arm and I sprang away from him, nearly falling over a low stool. He gave me an odd look.
"Allow me to escort you," he said. He bent his elbow and waggled it at me. I understood what was expected of me so I took his arm like a shy debutante and allowed him to guide me to the door opposite the one I came in through.
As we left the room I heard someone mutter something in which I caught only the word "asshole."