Young Tom is playing in the attic again. You call him Young Tom, of course, to distinguish him from the other Toms, though you doubt it’s his real name. Young Tom hasn’t appeared for a while, and you had wondered whether you’d scared him off. But, no, there he is, if you stand at the bottom of the staircase, right at the very point where it begins to bend around into a spiral, and you listen closely, you can hear all the sound from above funnel down – and you do that now, and there he is, it’s Young Tom, it’s unmistakeable.
And you go up to see him. You take the flashlight, and turn it on full beam. He’s silent suddenly, but that’s because you’re there – you can never be sure whether the reason he hides in the shadows is because he’s frightened or whether it’s just another one of his games. But if you’re patient, and you can be patient, he’ll come out of hiding soon enough, he’ll play in front of you quite amiably. The games he knows! Sometimes it’s hopscotch. Sometimes he’ll spin around in a circle, laughing, until he falls down. Sometimes he plays musical chairs, even though there’s no music, and there’s no chairs – and yet you know that’s what he’s playing, you just know.
You can watch Young Tom play for hours. It’s more fun than television. In the summer, when the attic was baking in the heat, you would sometimes watch him stripped down to your undies, and take up an ice cream.
Today it takes him a while to come out of hiding. “Come on, I can see you,” you say, although you clearly can’t, and although Young Tom has never acknowledged you in any way, he never talks to you or looks at you, you’re sometimes not really sure he even knows you’re there. You train the flashlight on all the usual cubby holes, the little gaps between the cardboard boxes and the water tank, and at last he emerges. He’s got a new game today. “Varoom,” he says. “Varoom!” He’s on his hands and knees, and he’s playing with a toy car, he’s pushing it along the ground, he’s making it speed through imaginary traffic lights and jump off imaginary cliffs.
You’ve never seen him play with a real object before, he’ll just make do with his pretending. And you flash your light on it, and you see it isn’t a toy car at all. It’s a hairbrush. He’s running the hairbrush along the floor, and making out the bristles are wheels.
It’s your hairbrush, the one from your bedroom. You don’t know whether to be angry or amused. “Hey, hey!” you say. “Did you steal that?” Because the bedroom is out of bounds, Tom has never been in the bedroom before, not Young Tom. He’s crossed a boundary. It’s not really out of bounds, though, because you’ve never needed to set up boundaries before, you’ve never seen Young Tom outside the attic. “Hey,” you say again, though there’s really no point, it’s not as if he’s listening; “Varoom!” he says, and crashes your hairbrush into the side of a cardboard box. You consider taking the hairbrush from him, but think that would be a little mean. He’s enjoying himself, and it’s not as if you’re going to want to use the hairbrush again, not now it’s been scraped along the attic floor with all the dust and dirt and cobwebs.
You have an idea, and having an idea is exciting in itself. “Stay here,” you say to Young Tom, and the child will stay there or he won’t, but the chances are he’ll still be around when you get back, once he starts playing he’s usually at it for hours. You get dressed. You put on your hat and your coat. You haven’t been outside for a while, the people come and deliver all of the shopping you need, but this requires the personal touch, a little expedition all of your own. You catch the bus into town. You look for a toy shop. They’re rather hard to find, don’t they make toy shops any more, not for all the children in the world, and at last you settle for a children’s department within a big supermarket. The sales assistant listens politely to you, and she’s little more than a child herself, you tell her you’re wanting a gift for a young boy. “How old is he?” you’re asked, and you don’t know, it’s hard to tell, sometimes he seems about two, other times he’s as old as nine or ten. The assistant shows you lots of toys, but all of them require batteries or computer cables or digital media players – “Don’t you have anything more old-fashioned?” you ask. At last you come up trumps in a charity shop off the high street. You find a toy car, a Rolls Royce no less, not quite as big as your hand, and there’s a little smiling man sitting in the driving seat, and the paintwork on the chassis is a bit chipped. “Genuine antique, that,” you’re told, and they charge you a tenner, and a tenner’s outrageous, but you don’t care, you pay the tenner anyway, the toy is perfect.
You’re so thrilled as you climb the stairs, as you take the flashlight and wave it about. “I’m home!” you say. Young Tom hasn’t gone into hiding. But he’s standing on his feet now, stock still, and the hairbrush has gone. “I have a present for you,” you say, and this is new, you’ve never bought him a present before, you’ve named him and you’ve spent time with him and watched him play in your knickers, but it’s not as if he’s your responsibility, he’s not your child. “Here,” and you hold the toy out to him, and he looks at you, he actually looks at you, and he smiles, and your heart starts racing, maybe now you can be friends! He holds out his hand, and you think he’s reaching for the toy, but he isn’t.
You turn the flashlight on to his hand. You see he’s got a little tooth there, small and white and perfect. And you turn the light up to Young Tom’s face, and he’s smiling, and he seems proud, and the smile is with the mouth open, and you can see, yes, the little gap in the front where the tooth comes from.
You think he’s just showing it to you. But now he picks the tooth up between finger and thumb, gingerly, as if it’s some sort of specimen, as if it’s really nothing to do with him any more, and he offers it. Before you can think, instinctively, you open your hand out to receive it. You don’t want it, why do you want some kid’s tooth – and he drops it on to your palm – drops it carefully, so his fingers do not touch yours, you’re welcome to the tooth but that’s all he’ll give you, thank you very much – and you clench your fist around the tooth, you don’t know why, you ball up your fist to keep the tooth safe. And he turns away. Goes back on to his hands and knees. Begins playing once more in the dust and the dark, this time cupping a pretend car in his hand, no hairbrush there now.
You put the Rolls Royce down beside him. He doesn’t look up. “Varoom,” he says, he’s happy with the toy he can create out of thin air. And you feel as if you’ve been dismissed, and you leave him to it.
You go back to the attic that afternoon. And it’s not to see Young Tom, because you stand at the bottom of the staircase and listen hard and there’s not a trace of him. You go back because you want to see whether he took the present with him. And you know what to expect, but as the light makes out the Rolls Royce, standing there on the floor, neat, precise, untouched, there’s still a pang of disappointment. You wonder whether to leave it there, or to take it down with you, try to offer it to the boy again later. And then you hear a cough in the shadows, just a little cough, well-mannered, quite polite, really – and you know you’re not alone.
Old Tom is the only one who speaks to you. He seems to enjoy your company. Young Tom’s age seems to fluctuate, sometimes even as you’re looking at him, but Old Tom stays the same. He’s a hundred years old if he’s a day. He’s thin and white and the skin around his face is pulled in tight so you can see the skull beneath poking through. But he’s not unkind, you think, and there can be a twinkle to his eyes, though you suspect that may be a reflect of the flashlight reflecting off them.
“Hello, Rachel Taylor,” he says. Because he asked for your name when you first met, and you didn’t see any reason not to tell him, not then. And he remembers it, he remembers it every time.
“Hello, Old Tom,” you reply, and he never attempts to correct you, even though it’s a name you invented. Sometimes you think Old Tom is Young Tom, but a century later. Sometimes you think they’re two separate people altogether, and indeed Old Tom seems to know little of Young Tom and whenever you ask about his infant namesake the old man looks confused.
Old Tom is in reminiscent mood again. “Come here, Rachel Taylor,” he says. Oh, how he likes to use your name. “Come and look out of the window with me.” There is no window. But you do your best to look where he is looking anyway. “When I was young, this was all fields. Fields as far as the eye could see. And that’s where I worked, tilling the fields, from dawn to dusk, me and my Pappy.” He starts to tell you the story of his life, and smokes a pipe as he does so – you don’t like it when people smoke, but it doesn’t matter, the pipe doesn’t make a smell, it doesn’t make any smoke either, and sometimes as he puffs away on it you see there isn’t even a pipe at all, he’s sucking on his thumb, it’s all just pretend. Old Tom often tells you the story of his life. Sometimes it’s this one, when he worked hard in the fields, in the sun and the rain and the snow, all to build a better life for his family. Sometimes he’s a mariner on the high seas, fighting naval battles against the French, or discovering new lands in the Indies. Sometimes he is a priest, sometimes a pirate. Sometimes he owns a shop.
You haven’t got time for this today. “Did you see the little boy?” you ask. “He left behind his toy car, look.”
But you know it’s pointless because he never answers your questions. You answer his. He’s polite, and sometimes seems genuinely interested, and over the months he’d learned everything about you – your name, your childhood, your past loves and near-loves and never-really-loves, why you’re living in a house like this. He tells you things too, but never anything you want to know. What’s your name, where do you come from, why are you here. Are you dead.
You asked that only once, “Are you dead?” you said. And at that he looked almost offended, and he gripped you by the hand, and he said, “Do I feel like a dead man?” And you said he didn’t, but the truth was he might have done, a bit; there was something cold and unnerving about that grip, but only if you thought hard, only if you really concentrated on it – it was almost as if the sensation was trying to slip away from you, as if the sensation wanted nothing to do with you, as if you took your attention off it it’d seize the chance to escape you altogether and slip from your grasp like mist. So you didn’t ask him again.
“When I was young, all this was fields,” says Old Tom.
“I know that,” you say. “But the toy.”
“This was all fields. As far as the eye could see.”
“Yes, yes,” you say. “If you can pass the toy on, though, that’d be great.”
And he looks at you, and there’s a twinkle to his eye – and it is a twinkle, isn’t it! And he looks so kind. And you know that if he sees the kid, of course he’ll give him the toy, like a regular Santa Claus. He opens his mouth to speak. “All this was fields,” he starts. And then he coughs. A good spluttering cough too, and you’re not alarmed, you’ve heard it often before, it’s all that pipe smoking he may or may not really be doing.
But the spluttering goes on, he puts his hand over his mouth, he doubles over. And this is something new. “Are you all right?” you say. And you’re going to clap him on the back, but resist the urge to touch him in time.
And he straightens up now, and he smiles. He opens his hand out, the hand he coughed into. He invites you to look. You recoil at that.
Sitting there on his gnarled palm are two teeth. Yellow with tar and brown with decay.
“For the tooth fairy,” he says, and smiles wider, and you can see his gums, and where he’s coughed those teeth right out of his mouth.
You don’t want to take the teeth, but there’s no choice – he’s taken your hand now, tightly. And once again it feels cold and insubstantial, and, yes, unearthly, and there’s something suddenly nauseous and too too sweet in your mouth.
The teeth feel real enough, mind. They weigh heavy.
“For the tooth fairy, Rachel Taylor.” Oh, how he loves your name. Because you don’t know his name, like this is some little power he has over you. Old Tom puts his pipe in his mouth, and it is a pipe this time, you’d swear it is. He turns back to his fields, looks out on them with a pride that is almost territorial.
Old Tom is the only one who speaks to you, but that doesn’t mean you like him very much.
You suppose the other Tom should be called Middle-Aged Tom, or Inbetween Tom, but you just think of him as Tom. No, in truth, you don’t think of him by name at all. You just wait for him there in the dark, hoping he’ll come. And often he doesn’t, and sometimes he does. The lights have to be off, he won’t come if there’s even a chink of light, not light from the room next door, nor light from behind the curtains. And so you don’t entirely know what Tom looks like. But you can always hear him coming. Because this Tom won’t talk to you either, he’s more like the little boy in that respect, but still he talks, how he talks, he never pauses for breath, it all comes out in one long mutter. You lie there in the bed, hoping he’ll be with you soon, and telling yourself not to be disappointed if he won’t be – though, of course, you can’t stop the disappointment, no matter how hard you try. And then, if you’re lucky, you’ll hear it, there’ll be the muttering – getting louder as he approaches, but never so loud you can make out what it is he’s saying really, it’s like a background rumble, it’s rather soothing. And you shift over to the edge of the bed to make room, but there’s really no need; he’s not going to worry about the space you’re taking up, you can’t even be sure he knows you’re there.
Though you think he knows. Surely he knows. Sometimes, when you’re especially sweet to him.
There’s something nice about another body being next to yours again. And it’s better than before, because this time it’ll just lie there, like a dead weight; each night he stays he sleeps on his back, and he never moves, he never complicates things, he never tries to accommodate you. That was always what put you off in the past, all that accommodation, the way the men would respond to you, it made bedtime feel like such a responsibility. Not for Tom – he’ll mutter on and on regardless of you, he’ll sleep when he’s ready, he’ll snore, he’ll cough, fart. There’s something nice about another body. Something reassuring. “Good night,” you’ll say, and sometimes, “Good night, my love,” and he’ll just keep on chatting away to himself, oh the restful rhythm to it, it makes your head light and drowsy.
And you touch him. You touch him if you can. You touch the right part. He’s like the old man, the body feels insubstantial and cold, you feel that if you pressed hard enough you’d put your hand right through him, and you wouldn’t want that! But there’s always a piece of him that’s firm and warm. And human. And manly. It’s not hard to find that warm bit, in a cold bed it radiates heat like a beacon. A little lighthouse in the cold flat ocean of his body, and sometimes it’s his chest, and you cuddle up to it, and wonder whether what’s tickling you are chest hairs, does he have hair on his chest? – you put your head down upon that chest and that maybe-hair which might really be your hair, how can you tell, and you fancy you can hear his heart beat. Which might really be your heart beat, how can you tell. – And sometimes it’s the neck. Sometimes it’s the forehead. One time it was the lips. Most often, it’s just the elbow.
Tonight it’s just the elbow again, but there’s nothing just about the elbow, it’s not one of your favourite parts of his anatomy, but it’s still him, it’s still warm. Nice. A bit hard and bony, there’s not much give to an elbow, but you lean into it anyway, and you feel it’s as if he’s holding you to him, holding you close, keeping you safe from the ghosts of the night.
But that time with the lips! – and you cradled on top of him, on top of his face, you pressed your lips against his own. And the funny thing was, as you kissed him, he never stopped his muttering. You were up so close that you could even hear it, or most of it. It didn’t make much sense. Good morning. Good morning. Good morning. Toast, please. And did you. Did you. Oh. Good morning. And more like that. Good morning. Yes. Yes. Thank you. Good morning. A single to Piccadilly Circus, please. Thank you. Good morning. Excuse me. Running on, no matter how much you tried to smother it with your kisses, he wasn’t having it, the words had to come out, he was forcing them past your mouth, each little syllable squeezed out through the tiniest gaps between lip and lip and out into the world, Good morning. Hello? Yes, could you just. Yes. Good morning, thank you. Good morning. Good morning. It seemed to you that it was every conversation he had ever had, all run together without the pauses, no room left for another person’s response. Half-phrased questions, greetings, apologies, thank yous, occasional requests for cups of tea. Once in a while you heard an I love you. There it was, Good morning. Good. Thank you. I love you. Excuse me. I love, yes. Good morning. “I love you too,” you said, and kissed him again, long and hard, and his mouth squirmed with further conversation underneath your lips and teeth and tongue, although you knew the I love you wasn’t for you.
Some nights the warm part of his body is below the waistline. But you never go there. You’ve never liked to go there, not with any man, not even with the living ones. No good ever came of it. Yours is a very platonic love. As you nuzzle at his elbow. As you kiss and suck every bit of the body heat you can get from it.
Tonight feels wrong, and different, and it did from the moment he first arrived; the muttering was no louder, but there was more edge to it, does that make sense? Good morning, he says, but now it feels more deliberate, even sarcastic, as he pronounces the words so clearly. He won’t settle, you can’t calm him, no matter what attentions you pay his elbow – is he asleep anyway, is he having a nightmare? For that dead weight body is beginning to thrash, he’s really not supposed to do that – and as he thrashes he’s getting warmer, not just the elbow now, but the whole body, it’s like being in bed with a real man. You don’t want that, that’s not the game, that’s out of bounds. And suddenly you can see that he’s reaching out to you, as dark as it is you can make out his hands coming towards your neck, and you cry out, though he’d never hurt you, surely, not Tom, not your very own Inbetween Man? But he’s not reaching for your neck. He’s not reaching for you at all. It’s the pillow, your pillow, his hands are underneath it now, bulging it right behind your head so you have to sit up – he’s searching for something, and it’s desperate, the muttering begins to turn into a whisper, so scared – and really, this is more the sort of behaviour you’d expect from Young Tom, a baby, not a grown man, what can he be after?
What could be under a pillow? You remember Old Tom, giving you his teeth for the Tooth Fairy.
So – “Is it these? Do you need these?” And you’ve taken them off the dressing table. You can’t see them, but can feel which one is young and healthy, the two that are soft and diseased.
He snatches them from you then. His hand so warm it’s burning. His whole body burning hot.
And he thrusts the teeth under the pillow. And he holds down the pillow over them tight. And he wraps his arms around the pillow, so nothing can get in or out.
He’s quiet at last. The muttering gentle.
There’s no room in the bed for you now. You sit upright in the armchair, watching the contours of your lover rise and fall as he sleeps.
At some point you doze off. Because by the morning you have a crick in your neck, and the bed is empty.
You think to check under the pillow. The teeth have gone. Instead, there is a large silver coin. You pick up the coin. There are no markings on it, not on either side, it can’t be a real coin. But it feels flat and heavy and rich.
You go for breakfast, and at the bottom of the stairs you hear Young Tom is playing in the attic. And you never go to him before breakfast, you want your breakfast first, there’s a right time for fun and games. But he’s not playing quietly. There’s stomping and shouting and goodness knows what. And you rush right up there.
You turn the flashlight on. “Come out!” you call. But Young Tom is already out, he isn’t hiding this time. He’s playing with the little Rolls Royce. He’s dropping it upon the floor, he’s kicking it. He’s smashing it hard against the walls.
“Stop that!” you say.
And there’s a look in his face that isn’t angry or spiteful. It’s utterly intent. And it isn’t childish either, that’s what makes you shiver suddenly. It’s adult intent.
He drops to his hands and knees, starts beating the ground hard with the car.
“I said stop!”
He looks up at you. In bewildered surprise, as if he’s only just seen you. Maybe he has. And all that intent is gone, and his face falls into that of an embarrassed child.
“If you don’t play with your toy nicely,” you say, “I’ll take it back.” But you won’t take it back, look at his sweet little face, he’s sorry now.
He sets the car upon the floor, dented as it now is, with great care and utter precision.
“I have something for you,” you think to say. And you open up your hand, and show him the coin. You weren’t even aware you were still holding it. You turn the flashlight upon it, and it seems to burn in the glare.
Young Tom looks interested, but cautious.
“It’s yours,” you say. “From the Tooth Fairy.”
And Young Tom takes it. He looks at it quizzically. Sets it upon the floor next to the car. He turns the coin on to its side, starts rolling it around in the grime. “Varoom,” he says, quietly. He looks up at you. He likes this game. He smiles.
No, he beams. He beams the broadest grin, his mouth open in childish happiness. And you realise there isn’t a tooth in his head. It’s all gum. And his face can’t take it, there’s nothing to support its shape properly now, it’s collapsing in on itself.
And he holds out little fists, and he’s raising them towards you. And you don’t want to take what he’s got in there, but your hands are opening in response, your palms are stretched out wide.
You take his teeth. Every last tooth he has.
“For the Tooth Fairy?” you ask, and it isn’t really a question. And because it isn’t really a question, Young Tom doesn’t really answer it. He’s playing with his coin now. With his big shiny coin, shiny even though the flashlight isn’t on it.
You put the little boy’s teeth under the pillow, every single one of them. The pillow topples awkwardly on the mound. You press it down firmly.
You lie in bed that night, and wait for Tom. But he doesn’t join you. Perhaps he’s busy.
In the morning you wake up and check under the pillow. Sure enough, the teeth have gone. You’d have thought for all the teeth you gave her the Tooth Fairy would have left you a treasure trove. But there’s just one coin, silver, no bigger than the last.
You hear Young Tom playing in the attic, and he hasn’t done so for a while. You race up there as fast as you can. But it’s not Young Tom at all. Old Tom is playing hopscotch. He bounces up and down on one foot, laughing, and wheezing through the laughter.
“Greetings to ‘ee, Rachel Taylor,” he says. He’s in pirate mode today. He speaks in an accent of richest Mummerset, he squints his eye a lot. He talks about pieces of eight and treasure chests, and pretends he has a parrot on his shoulder. The first time you saw him play the pirate you thought it was quite funny. But it really, really isn’t. He says to you, “When I was young, this was all oceans, as far as the eye can see.”
“Where’s the little boy?” you ask, and he ignores that. “Where’s the other man?” you ask. “Why won’t he sleep with me any more?” And at that he actually laughs. He lights his pipe, and puffs out smoke. No, he lights his thumb. And puffs out smoke.
“Where be my treasure?” he says.
“I don’t know of any treasure,” you say.
“I’ve scoured the oceans for treasure,” he says. “You dog. You landlubber. You scurvy knave.”
“You’re not getting a thing,” you insist, “until I get Tom back. My Tom.”
He chuckles at that, but not unkindly. He reaches out, and strokes your chin. You flinch at that, but his fingers now are warm. It’s not like before, his fingers are warm and his touch is tender.
He strokes away at your chin, and his eyes twinkle, and you know it’s true, it isn’t because of the flashlight. His second hand joins the first, they’re both at your chin now, they’re not stroking, they’re rubbing, hard – and you try to pull away, but why would you want to, it’s hard, yes, but it’s nice, isn’t it? It feels nice, and you’ve so missed being touched. And Tom, he never touched you, not really, he never even knew you were there, admit it now, he’s never cared whether you live or die. Old Tom puffs on his pipe, and he has to use a pipe because his thumbs are busy, his thumbs are pushing deeper into your skin, into your jaw, and his eyes twinkle all the more, they sparkle now, and the eyes then are lost behind the clouds of tobacco smoke, and then his entire face is lost.
He takes his hands away. He holds out a tooth to you.
You hadn’t even felt it pop out of place. You touch your face, you’re shocked to find the gap. It’s not one of the front teeth, it won’t be that visible, but even so – how rude. Your tongue can’t but help explore the missing space in your mouth.
“I’ll be wanting me treasure,” says Old Tom softly. And then, of course, in your hand, you’re holding the silver coin. He takes it, pockets it, doesn’t even look at it.
He gives you back your tooth. “Shall I give it to the Tooth Fairy?” you hear yourself ask.
“Oh, Rachel,” he says, and smiles – and you see there’s nothing in that mouth now, no teeth, but not just no teeth, there’s no gums, there’s no tongue, there’s blackness, that’s all there is, void. “Oh, you’re our Tooth Fairy now.”
And he pops his pipe back into the blackness; the void bites down the stem and sucks hard.
You look down at your tooth. It’s yellowing by the second.
“Everything I touch turns to shit,” says the old pirate, and then he’s in the shadows, and then he’s gone.
The tooth is dust now. You wipe it from your hand.
As you walk, your foot kicks at a discarded toy. You bend down to the Rolls Royce, start to play with it.
Your tongue has settled down in the exciting new gap your missing tooth has created, it loves to loll about in there. It goes to sleep.
He comes for you that night, and you were sure he would. In preparation you had a bath and washed your hair. You put on that perfume you never wear. You make your skin smooth and soft, just for him, and lie there, spread out like a banquet, and wait.
He comes, and you were sure he would, but you still feel so relieved when you hear his muttering in the dark. You haven’t heard it for so long now. You hadn’t slept well for the loss of it.
A body gets in at the right side of the bed. A body gets in at the left side. The muttering stays apart, it feels a long way away.
To your left the body feels very small. To the right, you can smell the faint whiff of pipe smoke.
And you think, no. No, this really has crossed a boundary now.
The light comes on, and you don’t know how, because Young Tom is to one side and Old Tom is to the other, and besides, they’re so busy, they’ve both taken one of your arms and they’re holding on to you tight. And you don’t want the lights on because it’ll scare your Tom away, you couldn’t bear that.
You don’t want to see him. Just in case he’s not beautiful.
Oh, but he is. And he does have chest hair, you thought he must. And his eyes are dark and strong, and it doesn’t matter that they keep rolling in his head, darting this way and that, like he’s asleep with his eyes open, like this is all some dream for him. And he has teeth, such white teeth. He has all the teeth in the world.
You hope you smell nice for him. You know you do.
And he’s over you now. Straddling your body with his, as the other Toms hold you down. And you can hear his muttering.
Good night, good night, good night, sleep well, love you, good night, sleep well, have a good sleep, night night, night, good night, g’night, love you, love you. And it’s every bit of his pillow talk, every single word he’s ever said as he’s settled down to sleep, all in order, and they’re for you, he’s giving them to you.
He takes the pillow, and he presses it on to your face. And for a moment you think he’s going to suffocate you, but he wouldn’t hurt you, you love him and he loves you, didn’t he just say? And the little boy and the old man keep you from struggling, but you aren’t going to struggle, don’t be silly.
You can feel the teeth melt away. There’s no pain. You spit some out. Others just slide down your throat, already liquid, or near liquid, and the taste of spearmint, it’s all so fresh.
Your tongue loves it, it’s like a child on Christmas morning, such excitement, so many new crevices to explore – and then, no crevices to explore, the crevices are gone now, there’s just a wide open field in which he can play! When you were young, this was all fields, as far as the eye could see, as far as the tongue could roll.
It’s over now. The pillow just slides off your face. No one’s holding it down any more.
They all have their silver coins now. Each of the Toms are holding them out, offering them – but to whom? Because you can’t see anyone. But they can see something, and they can’t see you, or can’t be bothered to see you, there’s no interest in you any more, that’s what hurts.
They don’t even vanish. They were never there.
They were never there, and you’re all alone.
You go to the bathroom mirror, and open your mouth, and you think your red gums look so clean and pretty now the teeth don’t get in the way.
You don’t leave the house again. You’re not sure whether you even can. But it doesn’t matter. You simply don’t feel the urge.
The people keep bringing you food. It’s hard to eat with no teeth, but that’s okay. It’s not as if you’re especially hungry. You haven’t eaten in days. Months? Ever? No, you must have eaten once upon a time, that’s just crazy talk. Anyway, one day they stop leaving you food.
Your gums fall out, and you don’t mind, you were getting bored of them anyway.
Sometimes you hear a little child playing in the attic. You like to go up there and watch. It’s not Young Tom. Tom has gone. It’s you. It’s you. It’s you. Look at that face, don’t you know that face, it’s you! Oh, the games she plays. She plays hopscotch. She spins herself around until she falls over. She plays musical chairs, and you know it’s musical chairs, because you hear the music in your head, andyou can turn it off the moment you feel like it.
She doesn’t talk to you, you’re not sure she knows you’re there. Maybe it’s easier that way. And in the summer months, when the attic just bakes, you go up and watch her in your undies.
You can make her scratch her head if you want. You scratch yours, she scratches hers. Usually.
It doesn’t always work, but still. She’s playing, and you’re playing with her.
She is so pretty. You were so pretty.
She is so pretty, she has such bright white sparkling teeth. How you’d love to have those teeth. How you’d love to knock them out of her head, with a hammer maybe, ever so gently, one by one, one little tap, and out they’d pop! How you’d love to liquefy them, and drink them down, and taste that rush of spearmint fresh.
Just to taste it again. Just once more. Once more in your life, and you wouldn’t ask for anything else.
Sometimes there’s an old woman in the attic, and she looks a bit like your mother, but she’s kinder than your mother, and she didn’t give you away. This old woman is the only one who speaks to you. “Hello, Rachel Taylor,” she says, and she loves to use your name, like it’s a matter of personal pride. She looks about a hundred, and she smokes a pipe, and that’s ridiculous, because you’ve never smoked a pipe, and you’re pretty sure your mother never smoked a pipe either.
She tells you stories of her childhood, and they should be your childhood too, but she gets them all wrong. She tells of when she was a farmer, or a priest, or a pirate. You don’t recognise any of it. Frankly, the daft old crone is talking bollocks. She puffs at her pipe, and sometimes she touches your hand, and she feels so warm and alive, and you don’t like that very much. You don’t see why she should be so warm when you feel chilled to the core. And she talks to you her bollocks, and you don’t talk back.
You can’t talk back, not since your tongue went the way of your gums. But she talks enough for both of you. You prefer it when it’s the little girl who’s in the attic.
And when neither the little girl nor the old crone are in the attic, you go up there to play by yourself. You play with a little Rolls Royce car. Varoom. But it’s not an out loud varoom. It’s the sort of varoom you make silently in your head.
And at night. Most nights.But not every night. The good nights, she’ll come to you.
She comes in muttering, and she says such rubbish, and her concerns are all so very trivial, and her problems really so small. And you want to say ssh, you want to tell her it’ll be all right, relax now, easy, easy. You love her.
She doesn’t even know you’re there, there’s nothing you can do.
And she only comes in the dark, but you can feel how beautiful she is. The very shape of her is perfect, the imprint she leaves upon the bed after she’s left in the morning is as correctly proportioned as an imprint can be. You wish she knew she was beautiful. And if no one has ever wanted her beauty, well, that was their loss – and if no one has ever made her feel beautiful, their shame.
Nothing you can do, but you nuzzle into the elbow. It’s bony and hard and there’s such little feeling to an elbow, she won’t know that you’re kissing it. But you do your best.
And she should get out of this house. Whilst she has the chance. Because this can’t be all there is. There’s a better life waiting for her, she should just reach out and take it, what’s stopping her? You’re stopping her. You couldn’t bear it if she were to go.
You love her so much.
You want to see her, but she only comes in the dark.
You want to see her, but you daren’t turn the light on, you might alarm her. And you mustn’t do that. Not with all her teeth, all the teeth in the world. If she’s scared, she’ll bite.