It’s my stop on the blog tour for The Man on the Middle Floor today, and I have an extract to share with you. But first, here’s what it’s all about:
Despite living in the same three-flat house in the suburbs of London, the residents are strangers to one another. The bottom floor is home to Tam, a recent ex-cop who spends his days drowning his sorrows in whisky. On the middle floor is Nick, a young man with Asperger’s who likes to stick to his schedules and routines. The top floor belongs to Karen, a doctor and researcher who has spent her life trying to understand the rising rates of autism. They have lived their lives separately, until now, when an unsolved murder and the man on the middle floor connect them all together. Told from three points of view, The Man on the Middle Floor is about disconnection in all its forms; sexual, physical, parental and emotional. It questions whether society is meeting the needs of the fast growing autistic section of society, or exacerbating it.
Tomorrow, my laundry will come. I know that because it always comes, every week, on a Tuesday. Hanging on the door, no creases. No metal hangers, only wooden. In my cupboard I have seven pairs of beige trousers and I have seven white T-shirts, four white buttoned shirts, ten pairs of socks and ten pairs of underpants. Every week I wear them and then they are all put in the laundry basket and I leave it outside my door to be taken away when the clean ones come back, but my jacket and my coat stay here because they are dark and only go over clean clothes so they only get washed every two weeks, but I have a spare for each of those too. My shoes are in the cupboard. My mother told me you should never wash shoes. I keep them here safe. I once heard some people on a bus laughing because one of them had a husband who got drunk and urinated into her shoes. In a cupboard. People are disgusting. I get new ones if mine get smelly. I don’t want smelly shoes and even if you have three showers your feet have to be on the ground for you to go anywhere and there is nothing you can do about it. The ground is covered with dirt and germs and spit. I shiver right up my back when I think about the stuff on the pavement.
On the back of my door, stuck with Blu Tack right in the middle facing me, I have a list. It’s a list of all the things people do if they are functioning normally. I have made it myself by watching other people and by getting advice from my mother and some instructions from my grandpa. I read it before I go out and try to stick to it and if it goes wrong I just get into bed and wait for the next day to come and I make a new start. I used a new pad and very neat writing, all capitals. From the top it says:
WHEN SOMEONE GIVES ME SOMETHING, SAY THANK YOU AND SMILE.
WHEN SOMEONE SAYS HELLO TO ME OR ASKS ME A QUESTION, REPLY POLITELY AND TRY TO MAKE EYE CONTACT OR JUST LOOK NEAR TO WHERE THEY ARE.
WASH OFTEN. BE CLEAN, SMELL NICE. WASH MY HANDS AND FEET AND PRIVATE PARTS MOST.
MAKE MY BED NEATLY AFTER BREAKFAST.
TAKE SHOES OFF OUTSIDE FLAT AND CARRY THEM INSIDE.
SPEND NO LONGER THAN TWO HOURS ON THE COMPUTER IN ONE SESSION (OR NO MORE THAN FOUR HOURS IN ONE DAY).
EXERCISE WITH MY DUMBBELLS. A HEALTHY BODY MAKES A HEALTHY MIND.
LAY THE TABLE BEFORE I EAT, TO PRACTISE MY TABLE MANNERS.
There are a lot of rules if you want to look like a functioning adult and I need to concentrate on that all the time. It’s a BIG responsibility living by yourself and if I want to be independent this is the way I can do that. I hate living in shared accommodation and I can’t live with my mother any more, with her watching me, looking worried, and everything dirty and untidy. I like to be alone, and I like to decide what I should do with my days. I will follow all the rules if it makes sure I can live here.
I can communicate on my computer without actually having to meet anyone. I hate meetings, people looking at me, staring at me. It makes me uncomfortable and I feel their eyes turn towards me, and my body reacting in all kinds of ways, sweating or getting excited. I know how I look to other people, and I don’t like it one bit. I am white. Pasty, my mother calls it, but she likes to be outside. Pasty means you don’t go in the sun enough. I should put that on my list: GO OUTSIDE. I sit down too much and my grandpa says I am three-quarters legs: from my head to my hips I am a dwarf and once he made me stand still and he measured that with his hands, putting germs all over me. When he remembers that day it always makes him laugh. At least I’m not fat. I watched a programme about the fattest man in the world, and I couldn’t eat my dinner. Watch your weight. Keep yourself to yourself. Those are some of my grandpa’s wise words.
Breakfast time, I hate crumbs and crunchy food that can scratch your mouth, so I have the toaster on thirty-five and that is out of a hundred which must make completely black toast which can also give you cancer which I don’t want to get. My toast has to be soft and just a little bit pale brown – don’t give me hard burnt toast. When I was at home I had hard butter and hard toast and I got thinner and thinner from not putting it in my mouth. I don’t have enough spit to make it soft quick enough. Tidy up the crumbs, wipe the side, don’t make the toaster crooked and put the plate on the mat. All done. I sit with my soft butter in front of me, and my glass of water for hydration, eight glasses a day, no drips. Breakfast.
Today is Monday, so tomorrow is Tuesday and the day after that is Wednesday. Wednesday is visit day and my grandpa is coming. He always comes on Wednesdays even when I ask my mother to tell him not to. At least my clothes will be clean and my flat will be tidy so he shouldn’t be cross, and I might not have to be corrected. I hate being corrected and even though Grandpa said I should be used to it by now, I’m not, and that is why we have to have it as a secret or I will have to go back and live with my mother for my own good, and Grandpa is trying to help me stay independent. Now that I have my lists and put out my rubbish and have a routine I must nearly not need correcting, but there is always something I need to add, because life is very complicated. If you don’t want to be corrected, then plan ahead, he says to me, so I always make a plan and today I will go for a long walk, which might make him think I have learned everything now. I think again about adding GO OUTSIDE to the list, but it isn’t a list thing. I might just go out and never come in again, or forget how often, or where to go. I like definite things on that list. It could go on my other list, which is stuck with Blu Tack by my bed, but I already have a walk in for today. I am going to the bank.
I look at it to check.
MONDAY: GO TO GET FRESH MILK AND SHOPPING AND THROW AWAY ALL FOOD OVER ITS SELL-BY DATE. GO TO BANK IN TOTTENHAM COURT ROAD AND COLLECT ALLOWANCE FOR THE WEEK.
TUESDAY MORNING: PUT OUT DIRTY CLOTHES AND TAKE IN CLEAN CLOTHES.
TUESDAY AFTERNOON: GO FOR A WALK IN THE PARK.
WEDNESDAY MORNING: SEE GRANDPA AND MAKE PLANS.
WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON: DE-STRESS AND DO EXERCISES AND HAVE AN EARLY NIGHT.
THURSDAY: CLEAN THE FLAT, PHONE MY MOTHER BEFORE SIX PM.
FRIDAY BUT NOT EVERY FRIDAY: SEE MOTHER.
I start to feel panicky going through my whole week. I like to do my week a day at a time. Today I am going to the bank, because it is Monday. I will make a new plan, but not now.
Making conversation is also very important; Grandpa says that you never know when you will need to be ready to answer things, or when things are spiralling out of control. Grandpa says they are spiralling more and more in the modern world, which is worrying for him, so that is another reason that he has to correct me, for my own good. What Grandpa does to teach me how to be tough and strong hurts quite a lot, and the things he is trying to prepare me for might never happen so I would rather he just waited and I could just learn the lessons if I ever need to, not every single visit day on Wednesday just in case, but I can’t seem to make him understand and I don’t want to be in trouble.
I itch. I rub my arms with each other, as I hate the idea of skin under my nails and I hate the feel of clothes on my skin. It isn’t just pasty, it’s covered in little red bumps and they make me feel a bit sick; they catch on material and the more I try and rub them off in the shower the more bumpy they get. I should go outside. The fresh air will help … my mother says it will help and it will stop me thinking about Grandpa’s visit; I will just go now. City air is not very clean, it has pollution, and the tube is dirty, but I am going to the park tomorrow which will clean my lungs with fresh air.
Grandpa says that a cat would help too, not with the bumpy skin, but I would look responsible, and have company, and all the things that my family talk to me about. Even when I am happy they see a problem to be fixed. I want to be by myself and I can’t really see what a cat is going to do to help anything, but Grandpa says you have to try these things to look more in control and I think that if I agree then he might not have to visit any more, I’m not sure but it must be worth getting one just for that. I don’t know why people worry but if you want to be independent you have to take everyone’s feelings into consideration. That’s what my grandpa says.
The Man on the Middle Floor was published on 12 April by Red Door Publishing. Make sure you check out the other stops on the blog tour!