I am afraid of Tom’s room. I am afraid of what I will see the next time I go in, with the hoover and pick my way through the socks and the pants and the paint and canvas boards, looking for bits of floor to suck clean. I am afraid of the sealed tubs (ice cream, empty, relics of meals that Tom doesn’t attend) and what they contain. I am afraid of the notebooks and the scribblings, pen on paper or blood on sheets, tacked to the walls. I hold the nozzle to the picture rails and try to ignore the winding glass intestine, filled with my son’s faeces that hangs, precariously, above the head of his bed.
Tom doesn’t show me his art anymore. He doesn’t bound into the living room with crayon sketches of Mummy, Daddy and Benji. He doesn’t run from the school gates, into my arms, thrusting egg box dragons and papier mache pigs into my hands. Sometimes I don’t see him for days. I ask, when he returns. Try to make conversation. Try for a connection with my only child. Tom grins, holds out his hands, covered in something (I’m too afraid to ask) and shrugs and goes. Goes back into his bedroom, curtains closed, furiously scratching, scraping, sawing and shouting. I tap on the door. Keep it down, son. Please. Tom doesn’t hear. Tom is creating.
When he sidles into the kitchen, grabs an apple from the fridge, I ask “How was college? Are you getting good grades?” Tom laughs at me, bites into his apple and selects a milkshake (always strawberry, always was). He shakes his head. “You don’t get it do you?” I smile, keep chopping, keep slicing vegetables, keep running the onion under the tap so my eyes don’t sting. There are dead mice, decapitated, under his bed and toilet roll, strung from the ceiling, ‘FUCK’ scrawled along its length in thick marker pen. I shrug, suggest bolognaise for dinner. “I’ll add extra garlic. The way you like it. The way you used to like it.” Tom doesn’t want bolognaise. He doesn’t want meat. Meat is murder but he’ll keep pinning dead mice to chipboard displays, slitting them open, twisting intestines into heart-shaped frames.
I push open the door to his room. This is my house but Tom’s room is his own. He made that clear. He screamed in my face when I pulled the sheets from the walls, threw them in the washing machine and boil-washed away the blood. “If you want me to leave you’re going the right way about it, Mum.” I held the sheets to my face, rubbed brushed cotton against my skin. Like baby bedding, warm and soft. Tom yanked it from my hands and stared at the place where the blood used to be. He shook his head, dropped the sheet to the floor. “Keep out, Mum. I can leave and I will.”
I can’t touch but I can hoover. I can pick my way between the detritus and the filth. I can suck up the dust, the hair and the sawdust. I can leave fresh sheets on the end of his bed.