I let myself in through the kitchen door of Terry's house, intending to make the coffee myself before he could offer to microwave me some and found him sat at the kitchen table with his head in his hands, looking almost asleep. Seizing the opportunity, I checked the water level in the white electric jug kettle and flicked the switch to turn it on before saying hello.
"You look knackered, dude," I said. "Is your mum keeping you on your toes?"
Terry's mum, Mrs. M to me, had bruised her hip during a riot at the post-office a few days ago and had been advised to stay in bed for a few days by her doctor. Much to the surprise of us all, she'd been doing so as well.
"Mum's not too bad," said Terry, his eyes barely opening any wider. "I'll have a cup if you're making it. But between her and the exchange student and the job I don't seem to get much time for anything else anymore."
The kettle boiled quickly, and I pulled two cups from the dishwasher and looked for the jar of coffee.
"Is the student still in the manacles?" I said carefully. Terry's mum had taken in a Polish exchange student a few weeks ago in order, she'd said, to augment her pension a little. I had been a little surprised to find out that that was why Terry had been installing manacles in the spare room, and then felt I'd been told too much when I learned that the student was mostly kept chained up and in a gimp mask while he was in the house. Apparantly this was part of the arrangement.
"Yes, well, he likes it, doesn't he." said Terry, and there was something furtive about the way he said it that made me realise that the student wasn't the only one who liked it. I decided it was better to be ignorant and content than aware and trying to wash my brain out with carbolic soap.
"So, what's your mum doing while she's confined to bed? Has she had a lot of visitors? I know she's popular down at the WI," I said. "Although it was a bit weird, where those crack dealers tried to land-mine the driveway and blew themselves up."
"She's phoning radio talk-shows," said Terry, and there was a new note of depression in his voice. "I had the social services round here two days ago, because they'd traced her number. She'd phoned up one of those radio agony aunts and convinced her that she was being held in the basement of a nursing home as a sex-slave for geriatrics."
I burst out laughing, and because I'd just picked the kettle up to pour the water, I splashed boiling water all over the counter-top. I looked for a dishcloth to mop up the spill.
"Of course," he continued, "I couldn't let them look round, because they'd have found the exchange student and they'd get the wrong idea, and mum's bedroom still has all the bones in from when she was in Italy, so in the end I slipped some of mum's Valium into their coffee and drove them out to the Copperfield estate and left them there. I'm not proud of that."
"Did any of them get out alive?" I was shocked, this kind of thinking was what I expected of Terry's mum, not Terry.
"They've not been back. But she keeps phoning the stations and winding them up."
"Worse than pretending to be an old-age sex slave?"
Terry sighed, and took the cup of coffee from me, and turned on the radio on the shelf behind him.
"...well, Joanne, I've been scared of open spaces for a long time now, and I've not been out of my little flat since November last year," said a familiar voice. I looked at Terry, and mouthed your mum! and he nodded back. "But then recently I'd started to feel a little bit confined. You know, when you're looking at the same walls all the time, you start to get itchy feet."
"Well yes," said the soft tones of the radio show's agony aunt. "So, have I got this straight? You've been agoraphobic for a while, and last November it got so bad that you no longer wanted to leave the flat?"
"I don't know about the agriculture thingy, but yes, that's right. Only now I'm not very comfortable staying in the flat."
"Well, how do you feel about going outside?" said the agony aunt. "Have you tried just opening your front door and looking at the outside from the safety of your hall?"
Suddenly we heard a banging sound on the radio, echoed from upstairs. I looked at Terry, and I could see tears in his eyes. He just shook his head, so I carried on listening.
"Oh there's someone at the door," said Terry's mum. "I hate the hall, it's so small, and I feel like the walls are closing in on me when I'm in there. Hang on while I see who's there."
There was a pause, and then she spoke again, sounding frightened. "Oh Joanne, there's men hammering nails into boards across my door!"
Terry reached up and turned the radio off again.
"She did this yesterday as well," he said. "She's going to tell that poor woman that she's being boarded in, and then a petrol bomb will come through the letter box, but she'll be too scared to leave the house, and too claustrophobic to hide anywhere in the house that might protect her. The one yesterday had a nervous breakdown on air.
I finished my coffee in one gulp and put the cup down on the counter top. "Your mother's a remarkable woman, Terry."