Image by Christine Renney
The room was dirty. It hadn’t been cleaned, at least not properly. She wanted to complain but Pete was so exhausted he pleaded with her, tried to talk her down, convince her to let it slide.
He sat on the end of the bed. She hadn’t noticed the empty beer cans stowed beneath it and he realised of course that, if she did, they wouldn’t be sleeping in the room; probably wouldn’t be staying in this particular motel.
She slumped down beside him and, laying back, he heaved a very audible sigh.
‘Okay,’ she said, ‘but I’m not getting inside the covers and I’m not taking off my clothes.’
Turning onto her side she groaned and Pete could tell she was just as tired as he and could no longer fight it. Reaching out he fumbled for the light switch and closed his eyes.
Pete awoke with a start. His arm was hanging over the edge of the bed and his hand brushed against something or something had brushed against it. Rolling over he peered down. Some of the cans had rolled from beneath the bed and Pete could see there was other trash scattered across the room. Fast food and sweet wrappers and empty crisp packets. Squinting in the half light he could see an old apple core and a mouldy banana skin.
Pete climbed quietly from the bed and crossed to the window. He was thankful that he hadn’t taken his shoes off. He parted the curtains a little, letting in the light from the street lamps. The rubbish was everywhere, the room was almost entirely covered.
Pete crouched down and closer to this carpet of mess, of leftovers, he felt nauseous. Looking away he swept his hands through it. The rubbish was sticky and old, the food stuff mixed amongst the paper and card was rotting. It seemed impossible to him that somebody had managed to cram so much underneath the bed. And unbelievable that neither she nor Pete had noticed. Standing, Pete gazed across at her. He realised that it was now time to complain. But she was sleeping so soundly and after the day they had had, after the night they had had, he didn’t want to disturb her. Pete wanted to leave her be, to let her rest.
He decided that he would clean up the mess himself. He had gloves in the car and some old carrier bags. Using these he could carry the rubbish across to the wheelie bins he had spotted at the far end of the car park. Working as quietly as he could Pete would make as many trips as were necessary and in the morning she would be none the wiser.
Pete stepped closer and he studied her for a few moments. Crouching again he lifted the faded eiderdown and peered. There was still a lot of rubbish beneath the bed. In fact it had been forced and crammed so tightly that the trash formed a solid block and it was pushing against the underside of the mattress.
But how could that be when so much had already spilled out into the room? Pete’s bewilderment suddenly turned to anger and in his rage he thrust his hands in, frantically clawing at it. He realised that she was standing beside him but she didn’t speak and kneeling she began to help.
Image by Christine Renney
He is, she concedes, a singular child. When his father decided it was time to take away the stuffed animals and the cuddly toys he didn’t protest or hold out for a particular teddy bear. Instead, he was happily steered toward the building blocks and the giant jigsaws. He didn’t try to force these toys into his mouth or push them into a corner or against a wall. By working out what they could do he played constructively and contentedly. He didn’t crave for encouragement or interaction of any kind.
Watching him closely she is more than a little unnerved at his rapid progress. And the clumsy blocks and colourful shapes are soon replaced with far more intricate building materials. Lego and Meccano enable the boy to express himself and, as his models become increasingly more elaborate, she is impressed from afar. A medieval fortress and an oil rig and a space station like something from a science fiction film. Although he can only have seen these things on the television here they are, albeit briefly, for no sooner has he completed a piece he begins to dismantle it, eager to start on the next.
He breaks from play for the nursery rhymes. As she slips the record from its sleeve, she watches the hairs rise on his neck and his back arch in anticipation. He stands beside her as she places the record on the turntable and sets it going. It is old and scratchy and somehow has survived from her own childhood. When she first played it for him he had been just a baby and she had bounced him on her knee. She wonders if he remembers but doesn’t ask, doesn’t want to confuse what she hopes will be his earliest memory. They neither of them as much as shuffle in their seats but sit stock still and listen to the simple rhymes.
She moves around him and feels heavy, like a lead weight, like part of the furniture. She sits on the sofa to watch him at work and is astounded by the speed at which he transforms the pile of interconnecting pieces again and again.
Is that the supermarket at the end of the street? Yes, and that derelict factory and the unusual looking office block that they pass on the bus. Is that a power station or an old gas works with its chimney stacks? She kneels down beside him and is tempted to reach out and knock it over. And why not? Why shouldn’t they enjoy it crashing? But already he is taking it apart, breaking it down and beginning afresh. He concentrates now on constructing smaller buildings in order to create something altogether grander – a cityscape. She stands and, looking down, sees that it resembles one of those developer’s models of the proposed plans for a new town centre. Shiny and unreachable in its glass case. She steps away, attempting to take it in. But it is all too much and is changing far too quickly. She feels giddy and, nursing her head, she turns around. They are back to back now and she tries to picture them like this, but has to work at getting it right.
There isn’t a wild flurry in the corner, no turmoil, nothing to contain. Just a boy playing quietly with his Lego.