The Human Touch: Chapter Eleven
She was at the sink using the crash-dishes-together-angrily, method of washing up. She was drunk, but not falling over. He’d had more than her. Since getting home he’d swerved the food and had gone straight for the whiskey. He wasn’t a big drinker, neither of them were. Coping with Sammy was hard, coping with Sammy with a hangover would be impossible. They’d learned this early on in their parenthood and, since, rarely drank alcohol. They rarely had the opportunity. Shelly swayed, John should have been on his back, but he was upright. His words, when he’d bothered to use any, were only slightly slurred. He seemed unaffected by the drink. The tension that John brought in with him, behaved like a yobbish uninvited gatecrasher. The icing on the how-to-throw-a-shitty-party, cake was when Shelly was called upstairs because Sammy was having a seizure.
John kicked the bathroom door in to get to him. Her lovely party was unravelled and had gone tits up; she knew it was going to from the moment she’d plonked her two trees in the corner of the patio. It was the herald of disaster. To carry off the act of being the perfect party host, the perfect wife, best mother, devil in the bedroom—angel in the kitchen façade, you had to pay attention to detail. Shelly had let the details get away from her. The party had soon disbanded, and the guests left amid awkward, double cheek kisses and random platitudes.
Sammy had tried very hard to maintain his evening routine. He’d gone upstairs at nine, as he always did. But he’d had to wait for the bathroom—as he usually didn’t. People were using the upstairs and the downstairs bathrooms. This upset him. The downstairs bathroom was for guests and the upstairs bathroom was just for Samuel May, John May, and Shelly May. As Dave, John’s colleague, came out and left the door open behind him, it was one indignity too much for Sammy.
And he hadn’t heard water running. David Moss hadn’t washed his hands. Sammy didn’t like open doors, they were untidy, ugly. Doors should be kept closed apart from when you walked through them, which was the way that it should be. Dave passed him on the landing while Sammy chanted a list of germs and bacteria and plaited his fingers together in perpetual motion.
‘Hey Sammy, great party, eh, bud?’
Sammy didn’t answer as Dave went by. He didn’t even lift his head, but as the man spoke to him, Sammy’s hand came up all by itself and hit Dave hard on the top of his arm. Sammy went into the bathroom without touching any handles and locked the door behind him by pulling his sleeve over his hand. He left Dave with his mouth open in shock as he rubbed his shoulder. Sammy took his shirt off, being careful not to let the contaminated sleeve come into contact with his body and he threw it on the floor. He filled the sink to have a wash. He felt uncomfortable and vulnerable. He didn’t like being half naked when there were so many people in the house. He’d put soap on his sponge and was rubbing his left armpit when he heard footsteps pounding up the stairs. He panicked. Somebody tried the bathroom door and found it locked, they continued to rattle it and a woman’s voice shouted out and it was very loud.
‘Come on, dude, piss or get off the pot, there’s a damn about to burst out here.’
It was Marlene Taylor, Robert Taylor’s mother. Robert Taylor went to Sammy May’s school. She’d left Robert Taylor at home. Sammy wished that she’d stayed at home with Robert Taylor and wasn’t rattling his bathroom door and shouting bad words while Sammy had his shirt off and frothy soap all over his body.
He tried to wash the soap off quickly, but quickly wasn’t Sammy’s way. He had to do it thoroughly. He had to rinse himself and wash his flannel off, three times, and then he had to wash his sponge that he’d used to put the soap on with.
‘Sponge on, flannel off,’ he chanted it to himself like a mantra. He had to be careful that his things were clean otherwise bits of soap got stuck in the middle of the sponge and made a horrible slimy blob. He still had to brush his teeth yet. The door rattled again.
‘Come on man, what you doing in there, playing with yourself? Is that you, Dave?’
Sammy had stopped moving. He stood with the flannel in his hands. His eyes were erratic, his knees buckled, and the world fell away from him.
He’d hit his head on the edge of the sink and had the makings of a black eye. It was touch and go whether to take him to hospital. However, Pauline was a nurse until she’d retired. She’d checked him for concussion before letting him go to bed. Sammy was fine, but the mood of the party wasn’t.
John came into the kitchen and had his back against the counters at the other side of the room; he watched Shelly crash and bang. The silence drew out between them, both were too stubborn to be the first to speak, John, didn’t know how he would begin if he did speak. She could see him reflected in the darkness outside the window. He raised his hand and ran it through his hair. He needed a haircut. She made a mental note to book him an appointment the next day. He dropped his arm to clutch behind him at the unit, as though it was holding him up and supporting him.
‘Shelly, I’m leaving you. I’m sorry.’