On the second floor there's a bathroom, squeezed in between hallways, left over from the house's tenure as a set of boarding-rooms. Cramped and windowless, it's like every bathroom in every flat Thom lived in through university. Sink, mirror, loo, bath. Problem: the interrogation-lightbulb that swings on a ratty cord, bleaching the room bright and horrific. Solution: a collection of candles, motley and melted around the sink.
This month the ghost has appeared twice in the main bathroom, the one down on the ground floor, so Thom refuses to use it for anything more than a quick piss. This tiny space is now his sanctuary, where he can shut out the world and four. And the fucking poltergeist.
Thom runs the bath as hot as the water will go. He struggles to light matches. They break because they're damp, and that's because he forgets to take the matchbox out of the bathroom. He burns his fingers. The smell of seared fingernails is utterly familiar: everyone's working so hard.
There's a pile of newspapers--notebooks--teacups--wine glasses--etcetera similarly forgotten on the floor. Sometimes the housekeeper rescues the crockery and Thom finds his favourite cup perched reproachfully on the top shelf. Sometimes Thom locks the door with the heavy brass key and wears the key around his neck like a rabbit's foot, and the teacups grow things.
Altogether this setup makes Thom feel quite cheerful. Colin and Phil have papered one of the back rooms with the Ordnance Survey maps that show pillar boxes and individual houses. Jonny is perfecting the formula for tamarind marinade. Thom is convinced these are also individual coping strategies for being haunted, and they're all just being wankers and not admitting it.
Bath. The ritual, of toes then feet then body, sinking into the hot water, takes some time. Thom hums, no melody at first. After a while, when he can feel the sweat trickling off his scalp and the chrome of the cold tap is a shocky thrill on the arch of his foot--then the bathroom hums back a little.
The acoustics aren't supernatural, just excellent plastering. In here, he's not bothered by the prettiness of his voice. Mid-afternoon he'd driven everyone to sullen desertion, spitting fuck in between lines, irritated by the clear tenor that couldn't convey what he wanted. Ooops. In here, the steam blunts the chorus nicely, wilts it into a suitable vehicle for ennui. Sighing, Thom sinks into the water.
It takes three steps for Thom to recognise the footsteps as Ed's. He can do everyone in four or less, if he pays attention. Most of the time he doesn't: headphones. He stares balefully at the doorhandle as it turns, trying to use his mind powers on the lock. This is why the power of positive thinking is bollocks.
"Close the door, if you please." Bad manners will never deter Ed; good ones might.
"You were singing," Ed says. It's a comment, rather than a statement of the obvious. He shuts the door, sending draughts bouncing off the walls to terrorise the candle flames. He closes the toilet lid and sits down on it, peering at Thom in the poor light. Thom can see Ed perfectly well. His eyes adjusted a long time ago.
"Harmonics," Thom grins, knowing full well this will irritate the fuck out of Ed. "The bathroom has a fundamental frequency."
"Mmm-hmm." Ed is wearing striped pyjama bottoms. The stripes get shorter as he rolls each trouser leg up. "It was pretty, but the last time I saw you this evening you had a glass in each hand and both of them were scotch--"
Thom tilts his head onto his shoulder as irritation and affection compete for the top spot. "I'm not out of my depth in here," he says, gesturing broadly at the bathtub but somehow encompassing the house, the band, and himself. He hums, slightly sharp. The bathroom is quiet.
"You're a little bit off," Ed stands. He has good pitch. Thom forgets that.
Ed's bent at the knees, looking in the mirror at his beard scruff. He looks like the eldest son due his primogeniture.
Thoughts of rightful ownership crystallise for Thom. "Can we buy this place?"
Thom watches Ed's brain do sums. Carrying the five. Long division. "Here?" Ed sits on the lip of the tub, cunningly edges his giant feet into the bathwater. "But you think it's haunted."
"Yeah," says Thom. "But could we buy it?" In his mind's eye Thom sees himself with a sledgehammer, hefty momentum, the centre of a pendulum swing. They could gut the house out from the inside, parasitise it like the fig wasps in the gardens, destroying their environment for their own survival.
"Maybe." Ed grins broadly, sliding off the edge of the bath into the water, trousers and all. "But we're barely rock stars. Isn't it a bit soon for the stately home cliches?"
"I want to pull the whole thing apart." Rock stars, the house, and all.