I’ve been having thoughts about moving out, lately. It usually happens in the morning, after I’ve showered, when I am alert enough to reflect on the brief interaction I’ve had with my mother before she leaves for work at 6am. ‘Let the sun shine in!’ she sings, throwing open my bedroom door, my curtains. ‘Meet it with a grin!’
I burrow into my covers to escape the sudden light and noise. The elasticity of my pyjama pants is shot, and part of my burrowing is to make sure my genitals aren’t hanging out on display as she potters around the room, telling me that my room hurts her eyes and that today will be a high of 19 degrees so I should wear a jumper to work. I then have about ten minutes to myself to try and die quietly in my bed before she starts yelling at me to get up and give her a hug before she goes to work.
‘Tim! I’m walking out the door, you better come give me a hug! Quick! Come on Tim, get out of bed and give me a hug! Do you want a hug or not? I’m in the garage!’
I have lived with my mother my whole life, but the dynamics of this arrangement changed in recent years. Both my older siblings have moved out now, and because my parents are divorced, there is nobody else in the house but Mum and I. It is strange, to wake up and realise you are in your twenties and that your housemate is your mother. It is an odd match. We are both single, her a divorcee and me a homosexual, me post-pubescent and her pre-menopausal, both of us prone to dermatitis, which we complain about to each other sometimes during the commercial breaks of Master Chef.
The other thing that changed recently is that I started paying rent. I pay less living at home than I would if I moved out, which is why I stay living there for now. I’m saving for overseas, I tell myself. It’s okay to live at home when you’re saving to go overseas. I’m planning to go abroad for two years, and I often wonder how Mum will go when she finally has the house to herself. She reacts to my absences in strange ways.
When I got back from my first holiday overseas, she had started watching television in the mornings. “It’s just to break up the quiet,” she told me. When I got back from my second trip overseas, she had started to park her car on an angle in the garage, instead of straight like she always used to. “I’ve always parked like this, don’t be silly,” she told me. Last month, when I got back from a weekend away, she swore nothing had changed, but what she meant was that she’d mounted a ceramic fish to the wall in the toilet, that now eyes me off when I urinate.
We’ve definitely both become more paranoid since we started living together, just the two of us. Somebody has been moving the fake flowers from the pot outside our front door. Mum keeps finding them planted in different parts of the garden, or hanging from the windows. Mum thinks it’s me, and is angry. I think it is a serial killer, and am afraid. I could pretend that Mum is moving them herself, and then forgetting that she did so, but there is no rule more sacred in our household than keeping every item in its designated place.
I had a first date not so long ago. Mum was out of town for the weekend. I was getting ready in the bathroom, worrying about how all my features are enormous, and looking for the concealer to cover up an old pimple. The one advantage of Mum insisting that everything has its place is that when something’s missing, you notice immediately. I pulled open the cosmetics drawer where the concealer was supposed to be and found it gone; she’d taken it with her to the coast. I screamed, whether because she’d taken the concealer or because I had become dependent on my mother’s make up supply, I’m not sure, but it took me a long time to calm down.
Mum and I started watching Master Chef this year. Mum mutes the television during the commercials, even when we aren’t talking, so often we sit side by side on the couch in silence. During one of these times, I got to thinking about how comfortable the silence was. Despite all the weirdness, I love living with my mother and I know that I will miss her utterly when I move out. Still facing the television, still sitting in silence, I put my hand out and squeezed her shoulder. I actually squeezed her breast, though. Shock kept her quiet, and because I am unfamiliar with breasts, I didn’t realise at first what it was that I was kneading between my fingers. When I did realise, I took my hand away and put it in my lap. I wished that the television wasn’t muted.
Mum still thinks that I’m the one moving the flowers. The other day, I found a long sewing pin resting on top of the microwave. “Where did this pin come from?” I called out to her. “It came with something that I’m going to use later,” she called back. I eyed the pin warily. When I accused her of witchcraft, she told me that the pin had actually come from a flower she’d been given at a funeral on the weekend, and she was going to use the pin for sewing. To lighten the mood, I started calling her Goody Proctor. I don’t think Goody Proctor’s tit ever got grabbed, though.
Tim McGuire is a Brisbane writer of features, essays, reviews, and fiction. His writing has been published in The Big Issue and The Lifted Brow, and performed at Men of Letters.