"Don't scratch it!"
Joe looked down at his right leg. White lines ran through the purple patches where his nails had left a sluggish trail. His mother looked down at him from two feet higher.
"It itches, Mum," Joe said in a whiny, half irritating voice. Joe thought he was pretty good with his voice. Sometimes he could make his Mum do things that she didn't really have the time for, or the inclination.
"I'll get some cream. Don't scratch it while I'm gone."
Joe watched his mother leaving the room, the soft carpet sponging into the arches of her feet. Her dress was a dark blood red, patterned with black and green flowers. It clashed with the swirling reds, pinks and purples of the carpet. A small trickle of blood ran down Joe's leg.
"Look, you've made it bleed. I told you not to scratch it!" said Joe's mum as she dabbed at the scratch with a tissue she had wetted with her tongue. Joe wondered why she did that. He didn't want his mum's spit on him. He watched as she pulled the backing from a plaster and pressed it firmly onto the scratch, as though she was sticking a stamp onto an important letter.
"There." Joe's mum always said "there" after she'd completed a minor task. It was her catchphrase. Sometimes she followed it with "that's better" but this time she stayed silent. She ruffled his hair as she stood up. Joe pressed his hair down with the palms of his hands.
"What time is Dad home?" Joe asked. He already knew the answer to this. Joe had asked his Dad what time he would be coming home before he had left and he had written it down on a pice of paper and hidden it under a loose floorboard in his room. It had the date, the time and the number of the flight which his Dad would be returning on.
Joe's mum turned round in the doorway and leaned sideways on to Joe against the doorframe. She ran her finger along the top of the door frame as she spoke, looking for dust.
"Well I'm expecting him about six o'clock, but you know what your Dad's like, it might be a little later. I promise you can stay up to see him if it's later."
Joe looked up at the clock. It was only seven thirty in the morning and it was Joe's birthday.
Frank the cat walked into the room, looked at Joe, stretched and arched his back and pushed himself through the cat flap into the outside world.
Joe's alarm clock slowly increased it's volume as he woke, the early morning sun streaming onto his eyes and making him screw up his face as he reached out to turn it off. Joe always slept with the curtains open when he was away. Sometimes he argued about it with Judy. He woke up in the dark when he was at home.
Going home today.
Joe lay on his back and stared at the high ceiling. He looked at the gently rocking cobwebs in the corner of the room and wondered if the maids had seen them. Maybe they couldn't reach that far. Maybe they couldn't be bothered. Maybe they thought that no one else would see them; after all, most of the guests in this hotel were too busy to spend time on their back looking for cobwebs. Anyway, the view from the hotel window was far too seductive to allow for ceiling gazes.
Startled into life, Joe shouted "Just a minute" and stumbled into the bathroom, pulling a towel around his waist. He glanced in the mirror. An old man looked back at him, as if someone had crept into the room during the night and painted deep crescents of purple under his eye sockets. He pulled back the sagging skin from his face behind his ears and let it slip, hoping for an effect. In his mind he looked like Jim Morrison in his prime, in the mirror he looked like Jim Morrison in his grave.