Eye mask. Lavender spray. Ear plugs. Phone off. All the things I do to avoid you, yet sometimes, somehow, you still sneak in. Usually complaining of how tired you are, failing to note the irony.
Then on about how you never get to go anywhere. I remind you that you do not have legs, but you talk over me to tell me how you do not approve of my boyfriend, my hair, my clothes, my weight, my carpet, my job. Which doesn’t matter. None of these things are for you. But I could build a concrete wall and your poison arrows would still corrode it over the course of one long sleepless blue-black night.
I grumble and snap on the lamp – sorry, your lamp – and get up to go to the bathroom. You say you are worried about the frequency of my urination (although in less formal terms). Was I drinking too much? The blanched skin and the two bruises for eyes that stare back at me while I wash my hands with an eco-friendly brand you call a waste of money for the amount you get might substantiate that claim. But it’s also perfectly normal to get up and go to the bathroom in one’s own home in the middle of the night. Not like the days when you’d hammer on the door, telling me I was taking too long, asking what on earth was I doing in there. Me unlocking the door as quietly as I could, emerging, running as fast as I could back to my room with my fingers grabbing the ends of my sleeves to make sure they’d cover the evidence.
Yes, you were always very good at playing the role of concerned mother.
By the time I slip back under my sheets, it’s game over. Sleep now seems unattainable, unfathomable. A distance finish line everyone else is dancing at, while I’m back here tripping over my laces. So I stay up and listen to you.
All words I’ve heard countless times before. No, not countless. Nothing is infinite. Or so a monkey at a typewriter once told me.
I fidget while you drone on and on. I look for things to pull at. Threads. Cuticles. Hair. I haven’t been to a hairdresser in years now, fearful that I’ll catch concerned looks between the fierce comb-wielders in the mirror when they see the bald spots.
Fearful of seeing myself in the mirror, too.
You remind me, even if not saying it outright, of everything you did without, all the opportunities you passed up, so you could be the space junk satellite to my shining star. I listen, knowing to try to interrupt, to protest, is futile. When you’re in your flow it would be like trying to stem Niagara Falls with a tampon.
Finally you wear yourself out and trudge back to your place.
Then. One magnificent morning after I achieve an epic four hours’ sleep I decide – to use one of your phrases that you would wheel out whenever I’d complain about a bully at school or too excitedly rejoice about a new band I’d discovered: “enough’s enough.”
I burst into your resting place with a boombox on my shoulder and a trumpet pressed to my mouth and rings on my fingers and bells on my toes.
Pack your things, I say. We’re going on a trip.
You panic and bombard me with a mess of questions. You sound like you want to talk me out of it but I see you get up and shuffle on your black trainers with the pink trim you bought from Shoe Zone that have yet to be worn outdoors. I see the pinpricks of light in your ink splotch eyes.
I let you think you’re in charge of all the minor details while we get ready to head to the train station. Yet somehow I’m the one to blame for missing the first train by about two minutes. We both pretend like you didn’t agonise over your brown coat and the white one for ten.
Finally, despite having to traverse a dangerously large gap you’d be writing to the head of National Rail to demand they rectify immediately, we’re on board. And I can tell you’re excited even if you are moaning about the cost of the tickets (which I paid for) and the sheer audacity of someone eating an egg sandwich (a stoning would be too kind) and why can’t they keep their kids under control and why was the ticket inspector flirting with you, didn’t he know she’s old enough to be his grandmother and to take my coat off or I won’t feel the benefit and don’t I think my nail varnish colour is a tad too young for me. And asking me why must I sigh like that.
I try to draw your attention to what’s outside the carriage.
Look, I say. Sheep.
I’m sure the little ‘uns would be very tasty with some mint sauce, you say.
I fall asleep sitting on my hands, hearing about everything that’s wrong with every resident in the village we’ve just passed, while I count the sheep. And their little ‘uns too.
I’m jolted awake by someone’s blimp-sized weekend bag knocking into my shoulder, wondering where I am and how I got here. I rush to the doors before the whistle blows, under the smirk of Inspector Flirt. It’s not until I reach a café that’s one of your favourite chains, although what they charge for a black coffee is daylight robbery, that I realise I’ve forgotten you and I make such an ungodly noise that someone drops their iced oat milk latte and someone else presses their child’s face to their chest, seemingly preferring to smother their heir rather than expose it to the same raw manifestation of loss that they will one day themselves have to deal with.
You always said you wanted an adventure, and now I’ve handed it to you on a grubby fold down tray of the 08:43 train to Manchester Victoria. Who knows where you’ll end up? Those fragments of you in a box in a white plastic carrier bag. I’ve still got enough of those bags to make Greta Thunberg want to put down her microphone and wander off into the gradually boiling and rising sea. I’ll never know why you were hoarding so many.
Later on, nursing a far too sweet hot chocolate now that there’s no voice to chastise me for it, I see you’ve made the evening news. You caused huge delays because a concerned traveller reported you and a bomb squad was brought in to safely detonate you. People who have jumped on the lines have caused less ruckus than you, mum.
And it slowly dawns on me that I’ve made you proud. At last.