And now little Charlie is banging on the door. He doesn’t understand why his dad has locked himself in there, and neither do I. All I know is that I started looking at myself in the mirror and now I can’t get out. And I’m sweating through my shirt, my tie hanging undone around my neck. And I’ve only just realised that my trousers are down around my ankles. I’m ridiculous. A grown man rooted to the floor with his trousers down. Imagine if Charlie was to see that? He’d be traumatised, confused, even more than I am.
“Daddy, I need a wee.” His voice comes through the door.
Shut up. Shh. Go away. Daddy needs – what does daddy need?
He bangs on the door again. And it’s like the noise is making it even hotter in here, the air getting even stuffier. But I can’t open the window. Even if I could move, I wouldn’t want to. Because that would be letting the morning in, letting the world in. And I can’t have that. Not right now.
I look down at the tap. I don’t know how it’s so shiny, so squeaky clean. I’ve never cleaned it. Mind you I’ve never cleaned anything in this house. Dear Maisy does all that. I wonder if she cleans even the taps or if they’re just naturally so sparkly. I can see a warped little me in it and I don’t want to. A sweaty little alien me staring up with slanty eyes. The normal sized reflection me in the mirror was enough.
Water. Water is what I need. But the tap is already turned, and water is already flowing out. And now that I’m focused on it all I can hear is it screaming at me. But I can’t move to turn it off. I can look at it all I want but I can’t move to turn it off. If I could get my hand to it, I could cool myself down, splash my face and feel freshness seep into me. But I can’t, so all I have is the screeching, like a steam train coming to plough into my skull.
I need to figure this this out but how can I figure anything out with that noise, that racket, that urgency? It’s the shiny tap and it’s the shower dripping into the bath and next door’s radio playing some electronic mess. And Charlie. Banging on the door again with his little fist.
What’s the rush? But there is a rush because his little bladder needs emptying. But can’t he just go elsewhere? Toilet training scrapped, the kid can piss where he wants right now. He’ll understand, maybe he’ll understand one day. When he’s this side of the door one weekday in his 40’s maybe he’ll understand. But hopefully not, because hopefully he’ll be more of a man. A real man who doesn’t lock his desperate kid out of the bathroom so he can stand sweating in front of the mirror with his trousers around his ankles.
There’s a muffled voice, coming from downstairs. “Is everything alright up there?”
It’s even worse now she’s piling into the scene. It needs to stop I need to get out I need to move I need to sort it out.
“Daddy’s in the toilet and I need it,” Charlie shouts back to her.
Before she comes up I need to say something. I need to keep her downstairs. My mouth flaps, but I can’t get anything out of it. Some sweat runs along my lips but the inside of my mouth is like sandpaper. I wrench my throat to try to get some spit but there’s nothing and it feels like my tonsils might rip.
A quiet grunt gets out and then I somehow manage to-
“I’ll just be a minute!” I call. It comes out croaky and weird, but at least I did it.
“We don’t really have a minute,” she says.
The clock on the wall confirms it, there is no minute. We’re in minus minutes. We’re on -4 minutes to be exact. I’ll probably be late for work now. Well not technically late if we left exactly now, but late for the standards I’ve set. I always get to the office fifteen minutes before the start of my shift and now I’ve messed that up. And she might be late, late to be round her mothers who always requires a morning coffee at exactly 9:00am otherwise she’ll flip and lose her mind and say we were always the worst branch of the family. And Charlie. Charlie will be late to school. He’ll walk in late and the other kids will mock him, mock him for being late. He’ll walk in all alone and they’ll already be sat at their desks and they’ll all turn around and look at him and the teacher will say “Charlie, what time do you call this?” And he’ll keep his head down and not answer and go red with embarrassment and that’s my fault right now for not moving.
Breathe, must breathe. Breathe so I can think. That stands to reason. You can’t think if you don’t have oxygen. Concentrate on it. Eyes closed.
In. (Through the nose)
Out. (Through the mouth)
That’s what they say isn’t it?
My nose rumbles and my stomach inflates.
My breath roars and somehow overpowers the noise of the tap.
I’m aware of my pulse like never before. So fast and clear, all through my body.
That consistent, rhythmic thumping keeping me alive.
Ignore her. Focus on this.
But the taps screeching fades in again.
Focus on the pulse. The thumping. The life in me.
But the shower drops more bombs in the bath. And the radio next door plays more electronic beats.
“Daddy I’m bursting!”
My pulse is gone. My eyes snap open.
“Come on Stephen we need to go! Let Charlie go to the toilet, for God’s sake!”
What if I don’t want to let him in what if I don’t want to go what if I don’t want anything to do with either of you or any of this anymore? What if it’s all pointless and nothing and I’m wasting my life and I’d rather stay in here and just wait for everything to blow over. Find out this is all just some dream I’m having when I’m fourteen and then I’ll wake up and get up and be alright and happy that I’m not 46 doing the same thing every day to passive aggressive indifference of every single person in my life and being stuck in a position where nothing feels right nothing feels good nothing is-
And there’s silence. Complete silence.
And I’m shaking.
But somehow it all seems clearer now.
It’s almost like I left my body with the shout, and now I’m looking down on me. Silly little me, half dressed and wet. Unmoving and tense, like a cat ready to pounce, but with no hope of ever actually catching its prey. And though it’s nicer up here, out of my own way for a second, I know I must return. I pour like a wave back into myself.
I can move my hand.
I can turn the tap off.
I can pull my trousers up.
Finding the deep breaths again, the room seems to cool down.
I lean forward and turn the tap back on, getting a pool of water in cupped hands and bringing it to my face. I repeat until I feel the cold seeping into my head.
“But Mum…” Charlie says from somewhere downstairs.
“Just go in the garden.” She snaps back at him, before the slam of the front door.
She wouldn’t drive off, would she?
I towel my soaking face.
My hands are still shaking a little, but it’s not so bad that I can’t do my tie up. Though it’s damp with sweat, like everything else.
While figuring out which end goes where, I properly see myself in the mirror. And it’s like it’s the first time in years that I’ve actually looked. It’s awful. Somewhere beneath the lines and stubble I recognise myself, but it’s not right.
The whole thing suddenly feels familiar, like I’ve done this before. Like I’ve locked myself in here, got stuck, got sweaty, neglected Charlie, shouted at Maisy.
Do I try to explain it this time?
Pulling my eyes away from the grotesque mirror me, I look at the clock and feel another rush of panic. We’re all going to be late. Me, work, Charlie, school, Maisy, her mum; images appear one after the other in my head like an awful slideshow.
I haven’t heard the car so they must still be waiting for me.
At last I swing the bathroom door open and get the day started, annoyed that I’ve wasted so much time.
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