No will, no way
NO WILL, NO WAY
The funeral was done.
And there was no will to be read.
So, things were over, as far as Taylor was concerned.
She returned to her history degree, a grief zombie, driving herself to lectures and back. Climbing the stairs of her shared house, and trying to sleep while her housemates hooted over the noise of the TV.
She knew that eventually her housemates would likely intervene. Come check on her. Try to feed her. Make her shower and come out with them to the student’s union bar, on a Monday night, when the drinks were at their cheapest. The thought turned her dry stomach. For now, at least, she could just wriggle down to the bottom of her bed, and lie there in the dark, curled up, like a lost sock.
Creak. Thump. Thump.
Thump, thump, thump.
Thump. Thump. Click.
Taylor froze, in her tight little ball. Even with a layer of duvet muffling the world, those sounds were unmistakeably… sounds. Her wardrobe door opening? Something on carpet? Something…? The sounds were so close.
She folded back a tiny corner of the duvet, just as a light flared on and lit up her little room. There, right in her sightline, on her bedside table, on top of a pile of unread books, was a lamp. She didn’t own a lamp.
The lamp was sliding back and forth up there, shoving the books off, like it was pushing them overboard.
‘Parliaments of Elizabethan England.’
‘The Virgin Queen.’
That was the last of the books. The lamp had the bedside table to itself now. It stood there, silently, on full show.
Taylor opened her mouth, but no sound came out.
The lamp clicked off….
Taylor held her breath. Should she creep out in the dark, onto the landing, and call down to her housemates? They’d think she’d lost it. Had she lost it? She slid herself off the end of the bed, grabbing the duvet with her.
The lamp clicked back on, and Taylor found herself crouched at the end of the bed, clutching her duvet under her chin, staring right at the lamp.
She stood up sharply. Her throat contracted. And as she tried to step back, she caught her heel in the tangle of duvet and landed on her butt.
The lamp clicked off and on, off and on again, in quick succession. It seemed panicked, and its panic made Taylor’s own panic subside enough to get one word out of her throat.
The light clicked off. Then on.
Taylor stared at it. At the lampshade. Pale skin stretched over a frame. Tattooed skin. And not just any tattoos. A blue anchor. The tail of a green dragon. The black Celtic knot, that her Dad had paid a tattooist to ink over the top of an old name.
Taylor felt the click of her jaw drop, and the cool air stirring over her tongue. But she still had no words.
This was a thousand times worse than their awkward car rides, while he was still alive. At least they could both lean on the noise of whatever the radio was throwing out.
This was worse than the gap in the funeral where she was invited to come up and speak, but shook her head, and looked down at her knees, trussed up in their black tights. This was…worse…Way worse.
“I’ll be back,” she said huskily, then side stepped towards her door, slow as if the floor was planted with landmines.
Once she’d made it as far as the landing, and closed the door quietly, she let out her breath. And then put her ear to the thin wood of the door. Silence.
“Taylor? You up there?” Rachel called from downstairs.
Taylor jumped in a way that shook her own bones and made her eyes roll. “Uh-huh,” she squeaked out.
Rachel appeared at the bottom of the stairs, neck craned up. “We need you down here. The girls’ team is losing.”
“Uh-huh.” Time to shout some answers at some stupid quiz on the TV, and pretend that there was no Dad-as-a-lamp situation? Sure. She could throw herself into that.
And she managed it, for nearly half an hour, squeezed between Rachel and Shonda, down one end of the ratty, brown sofa.
“Animal Farm….Schindler’s List…”
But everything connected back to the skin lamp, in a way that made her brain want to vomit
She cheered weakly when the girls’ team finally won, and extracted herself from the sofa.
“Gotta go read,” she said.
By the light of a skin-lamp, her brain added in.
Shonda gave her a thumbs up. Rach waved back, and held out her hand for a high-five.
“Night Daniel. Night Lucas.” Taylor said, with tiny nods.
“Niiiiiight,” everybody chorused.
And with that cheery note ringing in her ears, Taylor shuffled away – out of the lounge, and up the stairs. There was a slice of light coming out from under the bottom of her door. She sucked in a breath and opened the door so slowly that she heard every fibre flex in the cheap, green carpet, as the door brushed over them.
The lamp turned off and then on again.
Taylor closed the door behind her.
“So is that your hello?” she said.
The light turned off and then on.
“Is that your morse code?”
It flickered, like it was a prop in a horror film, but so much worse. It was made from HER DAD’S SKIN.
“This is so inappropriate!” she hissed, cheeks blazing now.
The lamp vibrated, rattling on the wooden top of the bedside table.
“You can’t be here. In my room. Not like this.”
The lamp flopped over dramatically and rolled in place, like it was having some kind of cardiac arrest.
“I can’t deal with you tonight. You’re going to need to go back where you came from.”
The lamp clicked off, and Taylor put the main room light on, with a huff. The lamp jiggled up to standing, and rotated in place until a different tattoo was facing her. Her name. TAYLOR. Inked in black, across a red, barbed wire heart.
Her own heart, in her own chest, clenched like it had been dunked in an ice bucket. A tear leaked down her cheek.
“It’s late,” she said. “How about I cover you over, just for tonight.”
The light clicked on again.
“Can I trust you?” she said.
The light stayed still. And quiet. And lit. It had the weirdest pale pink glow. It might have been pretty if it hadn’t been A SKIN LAMP.
Taylor turned off the main light, and found her clean gym towel (unused, she hadn’t been in months). Then she draped it carefully over the lamp, like she was covering a birdcage, for their own good, so everybody could sleep.
And that was the start of it. Their new relationship. A relationship filled with questions that she’d never thought she would ask. Not in her lifetime. Not in all the Universe. So, there was that…
How do you care for human skin? Once it’s off a body? Do you oil it? Do you wipe it with a wet cloth? Or do you just let it get dusty and flaky? Or threaten to send it off to a museum, where the visitors will for sure point, remark, and piss said skin-lamp off.
What do you do when you finally get a good code going between you, and then you realise that the lamp is trying to get you to go out and buy cigarettes, and blow the smoke in its direction.
“DON’T YOU CARE ABOUT MY LUNGS!”
Oh, and the questions you realise you’ve been stupidly googling, even believing. What if it’s a genie and not your Dad? What if it’s in the lamp to give you three wishes. Would you use one of them to bring your Dad back? Is that even allowed? And would you do it?
And are you going to care for this lamp for the rest of your life? (It is not a genie. It is your chain-smoking Dad.) You try to bore him by reading endless chapters about Elizabethan Parliaments. And he gets into it. That was not the plan. What is the plan now?
Before you know it, you’re taking him downstairs, and plugging him in (just to make him look a little less weird). You both join in with quiz nights. And yes, your housemates sometimes look at you like you’ve lost it. But then the lamp correctly guesses a bunch of answers – things from before your time. Films. Sports matches.
He’s playing for the girl’s team and you win, time after time, with the help of his flashing light code.
Maybe you’re all winning at a new kind of reality?
Well apparently this is what happens when you sit down to write a story late on a Friday night…. Your brain reminds you of the time when your Dad said that he wanted ‘to be made into a lampshade’ after his death. That it ‘would be a shame to waste the tattoos’. Most of the rest is fiction, but the skin-lampshade detail was an odd but true seed of truth!