Tommy’s room brims over with activity and attention stealing devices. Little homemade, brightly coloured roller coasters clatter around on their rails. A PC is perpetually on, the screen saver displaying Spiderman swinging across the monitor and once towards the viewer. Every so often a voice could be heard to say, “My spider sense is tingling” or “Hold on, M.J!” Flashing lights are perched across the room, some stuck to walls, repeating signals over and over. They look like the type a cyclist would use for visibility. Model cars are placed with care on a shelf in the opposite corner of the little room. They each have one door open; their engines are exposed, and are placed with precision as if in a real car showroom. Sprinkled around the untidy room are other trinkets of childhood. Stuffed toys on top of plastic water pistols surrounded by comic books and half finished drawings.
But besides these things, the first thing Shelly noticed in the room was a second bed that nobody slept in. It didn’t take her long to guess who slept in it and her suspicions were unfortunately confirmed when she heard Tommy’s mother comforting him. It seemed, just some months ago, Tommy’s little sister and him were playing with their dog, an Alsatian. He was always friendly to the children before but something drove him wild that day and he attacked Tommy’s sister, grabbing her around her little throat, suffocating her. The dog was put down immediately and some of her possessions, little necklaces, her favourite teddy, her picture and this poster were left as a shrine of sorts in the room.
In fact, Shelly would learn pretty soon that Tommy wasn’t talking to her when she first saw him but to his dead sister. In one of her life’s greatest ironies, Shelly was drawn to the boy because of a misunderstanding but she stayed with him because she found him appealing. When she began to focus her energies on controlling how to choose where she would view, this boy was a natural target for her as he was the first to address her even if this proved ultimately incorrect. Soon, she came to long for those hours spent watching him.
At first she was mesmerised at his room, the details. All of what the boy loved materialised and put onto shelves for everyone to see and touch. Lights flashed around the room like ideas through his young, active imagination, posters of his favourite movie stars on the walls, modern day idols for Tommy to emulate and admire. But soon, the room faded away from her attention and the boy slowly began to transfix her, like a hypnotists watch swung before her eyes. She noted how his young blonde hair moved and swayed as he jumped around the room pretending to be Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. Or just how he would stare at his sister’s bed before he went to sleep for the night. His big blue eyes swelling with tears but never breaking over into full crying. Shelly came to love this distant boy, feeling the need to hold him when he was sad or play with him when he jumped about the room. She secretly wanted to be able to scramble from the poster and cuddle his delicate body in her arms and comfort him as if he just had a bad dream and he wanted to share her bed like she was his mother. Tommy became her life, the one up in many downs, a life she could never have because of her fame and so was undeniable attracted to. And over the months, her own reality became more and more unreal and she became numb to every emotion unless she experienced it through the kids smile or frown. She was content to live the rest of her days growing old with him.
The sensation of Shelly’s cold body weakened and floated away as the Tommy's image appeared before her. She immediately noticed the change in atmosphere of the room, which normally is bustling with activity; tonight is dark with the beam from the PC casting Tommy's shadow across the room. The angular shapes of his playthings and dumped clothes blur together in the dark to created ominous shapes that someone’s imagination might misinterpret as jagged rocks or claws. What is a laughing face hidden behind Tommy, could possibly be a trick of light making odd shapes from a crumpled sweater.
Tommy is shooting nervous glances towards to door; his body is slumped over the keyboard greedily like it is precious gold. Over his shoulder, Shelly can see what he is viewing. It seemed innocent enough, a website about movies. He is flicking through different pages rapidly with intent, searching for some illusive piece of information. Suddenly he stops and breathes a sigh, finally locating what he’s searching for but he does not do anything with it, but clicks off the page and brings up a new window, a video.
For what seems like an age, Tommy sits in front of the video, not watching it, but waiting for something. His leg jerks with nervous energy beneath the desk making a knocking sound and gently vibrating a pencil, which rolls down the desk. He would catch it and replace it in its original position, making a little game. The video appears to be a cartoon, an Asian manga. Shelly recognises the style because, for a short while, there were discussions to created a manga styled series around her. Her agent told her how hot Japan was and how she would make 'tons of green' but, like many other projects her name was attached to, it never materialised.
The bedroom door creaks open and Tommy's mother peaks her head through.
"Hey, don't stare at that too long, you'll go blind."
"Alright, mom", replied Tommy meekly, "I was just about to turn it off anyway."
His mother gazes at her son for a moment; perhaps still happy the dog didn't attack him as well as her sister and softly says, "I love you, Tom. Good night."
Shelly feels a burning sensation rise up within her as Tommy's mother says this and she knows instantly it is because she wanted to say it herself.
"Good night mom." Replies Tommy as she shuts the door behind her. He pauses the video and becomes still, listening for noises beyond the door. When he is sure his parents have gone to bed, he creeps to the door and locks it. Shelly has never seen him do this before, be so secretive and almost deceptive, and is afraid to observe anymore, afraid of what she might discover, but she can’t tear herself away, not now.
He rests back down in front of the computer and brings back up the window, the Internet page. He glimpses back at the door for a split-second to reassure himself, and then clicks on a link. Another window springs up and Shelly could make out most of the name. "Top Babes Reve…” A few more windows pop up but he clicks them away quickly.
And for the first time since Shelly began viewing this boy in his own room, observing him as if he were an animal in a zoo, she feels like she is encroaching in his personal space, as if she is doing something she isn’t supposed to. Tommy is looking at porn and Shelly feels reprehensible for watching but she can’t bring herself to look away, to change to another poster in another child's room. She feels attached to Tommy, to his fate somehow and if she breaks away from him, he won’t reach his full potential as a person, even if this means staying here tonight.
But, unbeknownst to Shelly, events are going to take a sudden turn that will cause her to re-evaluate entirely what she assumes is happening every night. As he clicks his way through a series of links, Shelly’s nervous anticipation elevates. She watches, over his shoulder, a secret observer unknown to him awaiting a certain string of actions with excitement rather than fear. But a familiar face appears on Tommy’s monitor, a face Shelly sees every morning when she gets up to look in the mirror. Tommy has stopped on her image and is rolling the page down to view it in its entirety, a picture of her getting out of a car, her underwear fully visible, taken by paparazzi. She remembers the night the picture was taken, the opening of the new club ‘Last Ditch’. It feels like it was taken in another lifetime, although it couldn’t have been more than half a year ago.
And almost a quickly as these memories flood back into Shelly’s mind, Tommy begins to unbutton his pants. Panic overcomes Shelly when she realises she is going to watch this kid masturbate over an image of her and an unprecedented feeling floats her spiritual body and swells it with a fuzzy energy. Her view of the room becomes unhinged as if it were a movie reel coming loose in front of a projector and appearing to burn at the edges.
Besieged by this influx of fresh sensation she is aware of a yelp emanating from her throat and the feeling dissipated, her vision returning to normal only to see Tommy looking directly at the poster. Beads of sweat covering his forehead, his eyes wide open like a frightened doe and mouth agape, he scrambles to turn the monitor off.
Without thought Shelly murmurs:
He halts for a second and then spins around on his seat.
“Tommy. You can hear me?” she asks, aware that she really wants to hear him say yes. But instead, he lets loose the force of his lungs in a scream.
And back in her bedroom, Shelly wakes, her body freezing from the open balcony doors, developing cramps from shaking all night.