They’re shouting again, isn’t that fun. I’m hiding again. What a surprise. I’ve always loved this room for hiding. Especially when Mother has people over. The attic-turned-studio has always been warm. You’d think it would be cold, but it’s not. Being up here is like being wrapped in a heated quilt: comforting. But not suffocating. Not like a hug. Hugs are horrible, they’re invasive. They make me feel even more claustrophobic than I usually do. Everyone always seems to want to hug me. Everyone except Grandad.
You can hear the shouting through the thin wooden floor. You can’t tell what they’re saying, but you could almost fill in the blanks. If you like. If you want, you can zone out. You can focus on the boiler that should be in the garage, but Dad did it wrong; the water filling the pipes. It gurgles but it’s not scary. Actually, it’s comforting. It’s telling me it’ll all be okay. They won’t fight for long. They stopped having long fights after I started vomiting. Mum gets really annoyed when I vomit in public. She thinks it’s embarrassing.
Then, if you like, you can focus on the creaking. If you move – even lean one way more than another – you creak. You might not want to do that, because then they hear you. Then they stop shouting and it goes quiet. Then I can feel them look up.
I can’t even hear my own thoughts. Not that I want to. Rock music is being blasted through the speakers, vinyl records having been thrown out long ago. Dad says they’re a waste of space, but they calmed me down. So I just sit there, on this uncomfortable, surly rash-inducing chair, picking the copious amounts of paint off the tables and trays. Waiting for them to finish. Mum thought an oil portrait of me would be a ‘nice’ present for Grandad. I’m his favourite grandchild, he likes talking to me best. I’m the smartest. He’s like me: he’s clever, but he doesn’t like people. Grandad doesn’t like change either.
The portrait smells, too. If you go near the dark room, at the back, you can smell it so strongly you think you’ll faint. Or be sick. Mum doesn’t let me go in there anymore; she got fed up with me being sick. The smell is so strong anyway; it just about hides the smell of vomit.
Mum wanted the painter to paint me up in the attic. She knows it’s where I’m most comfortable; she said Grandad would want to see me at my most comfortable. I do like being up here, but now I feel so stupid, so embarrassed, sitting on this horrendous chair. I’ve never posed for a painting before. I take photos, I’m not in them. I don’t like looking at myself. I don’t even know why I’m still sitting here. As Mum says, Grandad is like me, which means I know he won’t want this painting. He’ll give it one look and go ‘ugh’ and carry on with his Sudoku. We do Sudoku together. We like maths.
They’ve put me in these weird fancy clothes and they’ve done my hair too sticky, too; you know, up. I want to wash it out. I can feel myself getting hot; agitated. Like a dog in a hot car in mid-July with no windows down. That’s illegal. This should be illegal.
The painter tells me to stop picking dried paint of the trays he brought and sit still; face him and smile. He spoke so loudly it made me jump and I cut my thumb on the sharp shard of dried paint. I don’t like him, not one bit. He’s going to ruin my favourite place. I want to get out of here. I’ve never wanted to get out of the attic and now I feel like the walls are closing in around me. They’re all looking at me now: Mum, Dad, the painter, just staring. Like there’s something wrong with me. I think they’re getting angry, I can’t always tell, I’m not good at taking hints. I feel a chill run down my back, almost a hot chill. Then the sweat starts: dripping down my neck and rubbing against my collar. It’s choking me anyway. The rash it’s forming causes more sweat to trickle down my back. Subtly, but it’s there. I can feel it. I can smell it. Mum will be mad. ‘You’ll mess up your hair; you’re ruining your nice new clothes!’
Dad doesn’t look up from his phone when Mum starts fussing; he doesn’t care, he’s not a huge fan of Grandad. He always rolls his eyes when Grandad talks. Says he’s ‘too blunt’. I like Grandad because he’s too blunt. He doesn’t speak in weird code like Mum and Dad do. He means what he says.
Like yesterday, after they had been fighting, Mum told me to tell Dad we were having roast for dinner. He said Mum could “Shove it up my arse”. I asked if he was sure and he looked me in the eyes and said, “Oh one hundred percent, I want my dinner up my arse.” That’s why I don’t know why he got so angry when I tried to pull his trousers down an hour later, with the plate in one hand. Gravy went all over the floor. I think a potato rolled under the sofa.
Grandad doesn’t like the painting. He’s making a disgruntled face. I knew he would. I don’t think he dislikes it, but he just doesn’t see the point. “Why do I need a painting of the boy? He’s right here.” He says, nodding in my direction. He shifts in his comfy lounge chair and goes back to the paper, unbothered. Mum looks like she might cry. I don’t know why; no one’s died. Dad finally looks up from his phone and I think he might say something to console Mum. He just rolls his eyes. Mum says Dad’s an asshole, but I think he’s a lot more like me and Grandad than he’d like to admit.