I found the loft pole behind the door in the back bedroom where Dad had always kept it. The back room had been mine, but it looked very different then. I had posters of Action Force and Cobra tacked to the walls, an old sea-chest bursting with toys and dog-eared Victor and Whizzer and Chips annuals and a 14” black-and-white TV plastered with Panini football stickers. I had a lava lamp rescued from a neighbour’s skip and a thick rug depicting a Russian hunting scene. Of course, Mum couldn’t wait to get stuck in.
There are stories about mothers who’ve made shrines of their kids’ rooms; the kids who just grew up and went away to university or started jobs, as well as the tragic ones. Their mothers couldn’t move on. They wouldn’t close a book or change the bedspread. Garfield mugs sat where a child had last sipped from them. Pyjamas were folded under Snoopy duvets.
My Mum wasn’t like that. She had an obsession with space and ‘getting it done.’ She did miss me when I went to university, but in that English way of squeezing my hand a fraction too long or fussing unnecessarily. She forced a week’s cakes on me at the train station, wrapped in foil and cased in Tupperware. Two weeks into term I came home to fetch some books and saw things would never be the same.
Mum wasn’t in and my key was buried deep in the dirty washing in my rucksack. Six out of the eight washers in the hall were bust, so the queues stretched round the block. The local launderette had racked up prices, so what choice did I have? I peered through the brass letterbox. White gloss made my eyes sting. The washer whirred away in the kitchen. I went round the side. Steam belched from the tumbler dryer pipe.
Mum had wasted no time in giving my room a good ‘bottoming.’ It was a curious expression of hers that meant a thorough tidy and a deep clean; hands and knees job with a bucket sloshing with soap suds and steaming water. My rug had gone. ‘You didn’t want it, anyway,’ Mum said. ‘British Heart was glad of it.’
My books had been boxed up and replaced with Reader’s Digest volumes and leather bound Complete Works of Shakespeare. The ceiling and walls had been painted with apple-white emulsion and the skirting boards and window sill were tacky with white gloss. The carpet was springy, with tufts sitting proud where Mum had worked in shampoo. Some mothers create shrines. OK, I know that’s not healthy, but there was no trace I’d ever existed. Gangsters could employ my mother to sterilise crime scenes. I thought of Mum squeezing my hand as the train was announced. I bet she was cracking the lid on the first tin of gloss before it had left the platform.