Rat-a-tat-tat-tat… tat… tat-tat.
My heart sank. Only one person on this planet knocks like that.
“This had better be good,” I muttered before yanking open the front door to reveal Gus wearing a duffel coat, furry gloves and a bobble hat. I blinked. Only the lightest of breezes kept me this side of sweating, whilst he was dressed up like Nanook of the North.
Still, it was an improvement on his last look: a diamanté studded Stetson and a pair of cerise hot pants. His ability to make it across town in one piece amazes me. But he usually only comes out during school hours or at night. Apart from today, this was an unexpected, but not a pleasant surprise. I beckoned him in and sat at the bottom of the stairs, watching his ritual spin, star-jump, spin routine. I keep the dresser in the hall clear for this reason.
Gus shook his head, the pompom on his hat bouncing in agitation. He tapped his nose, cupped his hands over his ears and pointed towards the back garden. Right, today we were obviously at home to Mr Paranoid. I nodded, and we set off towards the shed, stopping only to collect the tin helmets from the cupboard under the kitchen sink.
I went in first and set up the shower curtains while Gus performed the five ballet positions. Where he picked up that skill is a mystery, and thank god, I don’t have to join him in these rituals.
“Are you all right, Gus?” I said when we were both settled, then sat back, waiting for him to talk. He’d tell me why he’d come without an appointment in his own sweet time.
“Would you like a coffee?” I asked after twenty minutes of silence.
“You watched the meteor shower, didn’t you?” said Gus, the master of the non sequitur.
“Only for ten minutes,” I assured him, hoping he would change the subject.
“I warned you!” His hands beat a metallic tattoo on his head. “You told me you’d read The Day of the Triffids.”
“That’s a work of fiction.”
“Never heard of life imitating art?” He gave me a reproachful glare. “Now tell me what happened?”
“I ended up with one hell of a migraine and spent the next twenty-four hours lying in a darkened room with a damp flannel over my eyes.”
“And what?” I snapped at him.
“The flowers? What about the flowers?”
I was about to ask how he knew about them but realised I’d be wasting my time, so I told him how I threw out a vase of lilies because the smell made me as sick as a pig.
“Thought as much,” he nodded and then lowered his voice to a whisper. “I had to come and make sure you were okay. They came and told me about it this morning.”
“Did they come in person?” I never humour Gus: his grip on reality may be a little shaky, but he deserves to be treated with dignity.
“Yes, but they were very nice to me, and I did the cognitive training thing like you said, and they promised to give me plenty of warning next time.”
“Good.” My smile was genuine. These techniques were helping him more than the medication he took. I just hoped they wouldn’t put too many barriers up in his mind. When he’s on form, Gus helps me immensely. How else do you think I could afford my new car?