By James Gray – Based on a true story
Timmy’s dream was broken by a hissing noise and he awoke with an urgency, trying to remember if he’d switched off the TV set before coming to bed. His eyes were stinging and yet he suddenly felt wide awake as he stared upward. A full Technicolor image of his father appeared to be projected onto the ceiling, though the silhouettes of the hotel room’s fixtures and fittings still hung in the dark around him.
Timmy, bound by the crisp white sheets as tightly as an asylum patient lined up for electric shock treatment, heard his father’s voice echoing through the room like the Ghost of Christmas Past: “Straight to bed after Jim’ll Fix It!” With his father attending the conference dinner, Timmy had, of course, stayed up for The Two Ronnies as well, perched at the foot of the bed and poised like an Olympic sprinter in the blocks, ready to push the ‘off’ button and slip under the carefully arranged covers the second the door knob turned. There had been one or two false starts and Timmy had been forced to battle the televisual elements several times by fiddling with the TV aerial. Now it seemed the Phantom Raspberry Blower was back to haunt him.
The image of his father faded. Timmy raised his head from the pillow and saw that the telltale red light on the TV was off, causing him to breathe a sigh of relief. He broke a victorious smile, and felt his skin tighten in a way which unsettled him. Alien, and yet somehow familiar, like the sunburn he had got last summer, or the time his form teacher had slapped his face so hard for fighting that he had gone round all afternoon looking like his grandmother that time she had Bell’s palsy. He moved his eyes from left to right as they became accustomed to the dark, before self-consciously opening and closing his mouth like a fish. His face tightened again, as if someone had crept into the room while he slept and covered his face in strips of Sellotape (as he had done to the dog one time; perhaps this was his comeuppance). He ventured a hand towards his face and gave his cheek a quick prod with his index finger. Still none the wiser, he touched his face again, this time with two fingers. Realising this warranted further, more extensive investigation, he entered into a tug-of-war with the bed sheets and tore himself free.
Waddling in the direction of the bathroom door, Timmy felt lightheaded and banged his foot on his father’s old Navy-issue suitcase. There were two large light switches and Timmy slapped the bottom one. The sudden lighting that flooded the room was as blinding as the daylight after an afternoon matinee at the ABC Regal. Timmy squinted, and when his vision returned his eyes fell on the TV aerial lying on the floor like a dead spider. Facing the bathroom door he reached out to hit the top switch, noticing a red streak like Indian war paint on the other one. Timmy scrunched up his face, feeling his skin tighten again, as this time he pushed the bathroom light switch. When he drew his hand away, the switch revealed the giveaway finger print of a criminal, as if the room were gathering evidence against him. Timmy looked at his right hand, turning it palm up, and gasped. He did the same with his left hand, his mind working overtime to explain the sticky Martian canals that sprawled like tentacles across his palms.
Timmy turned towards the bed, palms held aloft. The indentation in his pillow was flanked by dark red stains and looked like the kind of mirror-image painting he had done in primary school; this one a rather impressive Red Admiral. The once white sheets also looked like a three year old’s efforts at handprint painting. Timmy rushed into the bathroom and looked in the mirror, struggling to explain the tomato ketchup smeared across his entire face. His father didn’t even let him eat tomato ketchup. Or burgers. Or chips. Oh, God.
Timmy’s need for an explanation outweighed the fear of inevitable punishment and he rushed for the door of the hotel room, sticky fingers meeting polished brass. He tugged it open and spilled out into the corridor, palms still held heavenward. A few doors down he saw a lady in a long, royal blue gown leaving her room, snapping her evening bag shut and heading towards the stairs.
“Please?,” Timmy squeaked, and the lady turned on her high heels.
“Oh, dear God!” she said, dropping her bag and raising a gloved hand to her mouth.
Timmy stood in the corridor like a boy Jesus offering up his stigmata for the lady to behold. She picked up her evening bag and approached him. “Look at the state of you. Where are your parents? At the dinner?”
“Let’s get you cleaned up and I’ll go and fetch your father. Looks like you’ve had a nasty nose bleed, young man.”
“A bloody nose?” said Timmy. His eyes widened. Images of the great wrestlers he had watched countless times with his grandmother on Saturday afternoon’s World of Sport flashed through his mind – Giant Haystacks, Big Daddy, Kendo Nagasaki, or his personal favourite Mick McManus (a nasty piece of work, according to his grandmother).
The lady in the blue gown cleaned him up and went down to the dining room to find Timmy’s father. As he sat on the edge of the bed and stared with pride at the bloodied sheets, he no longer feared any punishment. He had gone to sleep a boy and woken up a man.