Saturday, November 5


TALL, BLACK and with cheekbones big enough to rest a vase upon, the security guard stared at them from the dim hotel lobby. Late at night they turned the lights down low in there. The clerk on the desk looked up and nodded at the security guard who let them in.
The door clicked open. Marcus led Suzie in by her right hand. Both walked like drunks, though he was slightly more measured. He was used to drinking and she had grown out of it. Wimp music drifted into the lobby. It was a song about love with no love in it. It was lobby music. The clerk behind the desk was playing chess and Marcus guessed from the security’s hurried stride that the game was between them, and he had interrupted. The clerk looked up.
“Can we get some nachos to room 513, please?”
“Kitchen’s closed.”
“No food?”
“Look at the nighttime menu,” which he handed to the couple. Suzie pointed to an item.
“Two tuna mayonnaise sandwiches, please.”
Suzie’s grip was soft and soaked his hand in warmth. His thumb felt the scars that her cat had given her. As they walked to the lift the security-guard asked the clerk if he had moved. “The knight,” responded the clerk, “the knight right there.” “Oh yes.”
The lift was wimp with the same music from the lobby. An entire hotel occupied by the songs of the late night radio show. The D.J. speaking every half-hour between mouthfuls of shortbread. It lurched, their weight sinking then rising, five floors, and he kissed her against the wall. The alarm button glowed yellow. Her lips puckered. They tasted of vodka and of coke and of her. A tag was scrawled in blue ink just above the door. Marcus had not seen any other graffiti in the hotel. Saving for a night out and a hotel when you are unemployed is a difficult business but he had booked early so that had saved him some money. He gave a thought to the wasted money of his empty hotel room, vacant, the sheets undisturbed for the next customer but changed anyway. It did not matter—and it wasn’t the carelessness of liquor that made him feel so.
Two months ago, clearing away after dinner, the phone rang and he picked it up. It was her—
“Michelle gave me your number. She said she wasn’t sure it’d still be the right one.”
Proudly—“I’ve managed to hold on to this number for years.”
She giggled.
He had heard that she was a mother now. No gossip travels faster between old friends than that of one of them entering parenthood. It is as if one part of their life is over and another has begun that no longer involves you.
Corridors forked off from the lift on the fifth floor. Signs denoting room numbers pointed down each. Three of them. They took the second corridor, which ran out in front of them, doorways like railways sleepers. 513. They exchanged a few words with nervous voices. She scraped the key into the lock and beyond it was darkness. She faced the darkness. It lay on her face and on the front of her white dress until she found the switch. They both entered.
Marcus thought, as she spoke to him on the phone, that she had probably just put the baby to sleep—“I didn’t know if you’d be interested but thought I’d ask anyway . . . we’re having a reunion . . . at university.” She paused. He heard her breathing and the sound of—what he thought was—her husband in the background. He moved the phone to his other ear. “Michelle, Adam, Richie and Glynn are all in.”
She had not expected him to say yes, but he did and it was arranged—“Well, book a hotel early, otherwise it’ll be expensive.” Just after she hanged up, he booked the hotel for a reasonable rate but it did not include breakfast.
Both of them anticipated the date.
It was marked in calendar and in mind and it swam forward slowly through the lives they both lived.
At one point their lives had run parallel and then, for the brief month of March six years ago, joined. It had started after their group of friends had all watched a film together during the second year at university. The friends left. The silence between them lifted to talk and laughter. Her student flat that year was filled with mice. They called the exterminator and he left mousetraps everywhere. He was a small man, not unlike a mouse in features, who snuck around the place, sniffing and examining certain areas—“This a common place for mice. This is where they ‘hang out’.” They soon got used to the sight of mice shit in the cupboards and occasionally a dead mouse lay in two bloody segments either side of a shiny metal coil. She was most concerned about the fleas. She imagined the fleas abandoning the dead mouse and leaping across the carpet. Soon every corner in her flat had at one point or another bore grave to a dead mouse.
Their friends had left the university nightclub before them. Either they left or they disappeared into the crowd and the night, but either way, they were gone until it was just Marcus and Suzie.
With the light on, her hotel room was untidy and she had obviously not expected anyone else to see it. Clothes lay in piles. Make-up and lotions scattered on formica. The kettle disturbed. Sachets of coffee and teabags ruffled. Even the bed was untidy; her body once on it, rested, lifted. Had she not been drunk she would usually have scrambled to clear it all away. She kept a tidy home. Instead she turned around, kissed him and took hold of his belt buckle. She did not want to think. It was a series of movements thrown together as one.
When they lived together in the first year she earned a reputation of leaving wherever she had been in a state. When she moved out for the second year it continued. The first time he entered her room, there was no effort to organise her possessions. There was no order. But hovering over everything that belonged to her was the smell of her perfume, as if she sprayed each item individually. One could not imagine a mouse ever stepping a furry toe in that room. It smelled too sweet to house mice. While he went to the toilet, she changed out of her clothes and put on a tight fitting cotton pyjama top; without a bra it clung to her small breasts and she was slightly embarrassed. Two firm circles pressed through the cotton. When he came back, he pulled the cotton away and she did not feel embarrassed any longer. She remembered that his hands were still damp where he had washed but not dried them.
The belt buckle was cold. The belt buckle was cold to her warm hands. She gave up thought and the questions. She arose in the moment as if she had just been born and would die right after. It was, she thought, perhaps not the tact her sober mind would carry on but it was all she was left with. They had never made love. It was six years ago. She felt the spinning of her balance mingling her into a place where she could take his cold belt buckle and undo it.
With each progression she sought to push her life from her mind; the husband, the baby, the home. They existed there like blue in the sky but she sought to remove them. She sought six years ago. She sought to forget the crying, the housework, the cooking, the home she had made. True, she loved them but she wanted to be away from them and so sink back into youth. The youth that weighed on her so heavily at the time now returned like a chorus, like a magnificent lifting of life. The belt thrown two feet away, she fumbled the buttons on his jeans.
Although Marcus had ended it, when he saw her a year later he was stunned by the emotions that rushed into him. He was on a crosstown bus and she got on at the train station. She was with someone else and he was handsome and blonde. They were together. She was happy. The great vacancy in her from before was now filled with a joy that was evidently—even to strangers on a bus—gifted to her by the man at her side. The sunlight touched her perfectly through the bus window. She was always in the habit of wearing white back then. Marcus looked out of the window for the rest of the journey and was not seen. Word reached him a few years later that she was engaged to be married to that young man. Then she was married. Then she was pregnant. Then she was a mother. The time in someone else’s life passes so quickly through one’s own that, to Marcus, this all seemed to happen over a handful of months. Until the phone-call that night two months ago, she may as well have been a million miles away.
The knock at the door signalled the arrival of the tuna mayonnaise sandwiches. They ignored it. Their hunger had vanished. The man knocked again then could be heard walking down the corridor.
The last night, she pulled her knickers on, recoiled into the corner of his bed and wept. He had no words for her. She expressed what he could not. They talked and he put on some soft Dylan and as it played in the background she sobbed out her mistakes and her failings and her hopelessness; yet to Marcus they did not sound like mistakes or failings or hopelessness, but he kept quiet and she sobbed into the night. She walked home alone. There were smudges of her mascara on his pillow. It was three-thirty in the morning and he looked out over the street, past the path where she had walked, and thought that it was over. It was over. They never said another romantic word to each other. A year later she was smiling out of a bus window and no one else besides Marcus knew why she was smiling.
As the footsteps went down the hall and as her hands fumbled his buttons, he pulled her white dress up. She manoeuvred until it was over her head. She was half-naked, dressed only in uncoordinated underwear.
Marcus was now very far away from his own life, so far it felt like he were spectating someone else’s. The boredom of his unemployment fell away.
After university he had landed a job relatively easy, a position he learned about through a friend. He got the job very quickly and settled in just as quickly. But when the recession came he was one of the first to go. He found it very difficult to get a job anywhere else. He searched but slowly he grew weary and started to drink in the evenings. It was something to do and it offered him, though he did not like to admit it, some solace. He wondered if he was becoming an alcoholic. A bottle of wine in a couple of hours at night seemed like nothing to him. When he had told Suzie that he would go to the reunion he had something to look forward to. It was in the distance, two months away, but it was there. Finally it was upon him.
The nightclub pulsed. Pounding music and raised arms like a snakepit. He had had enough to dance and he made many eyes at Suzie who flicked the long black lashes around her blue eyes back at him. The gravity of past romance pulled them together and it was there she whispered so faintly that he thought he had misheard her—“Fuck me.” He knew that she was drunk, that she was married, was a mother. He wanted more than anything to fuck her. When their friends had departed and the nightclub was all but their own, as she made her way to get another vodka and coke, she turned and said—“Let’s go back.” They held hands in the taxi to the hotel. The scenery of so many years ago floated past. Some of it had changed but much of it was exactly the same; the same stagnant houses, the same rundown supermarket, shops, tags scrawled on the underpass. It was a portion of their youth once more draped across the windows like rain in a storm.
Nude on the uncovered bed, she brought her knees up. Marcus had expected to see her cunt distorted somehow by childbirth but it was not. It was still plump and unspoiled. She had gained weight. Her skin was flawless. Not a freckle or mole marked it other than those strewn across the bridge of her nose. The weight cushioned her frame and her wide hips. Her breasts were the same. Stretchmarks lingered in places. He parted her legs and the lips shifted as her thighs stretched so far apart. It was six years ago. When she took him in her mouth she was careful. It was not six years ago but it was right then. Maybe the tuna sandwiches were left outside the door.
At last she clung around him firmly and they moaned in unison.
He thought only once about her husband and child. Then he dismissed them from his mind. She quivered as if she were the thinnest branch of a tree. Beckoned by the shapes her mouth made, he succumbed to his orgasm. Her nipples were the same colour as her freckles.
The chess-playing clerk was no longer there. He must have worked the night-shift. A middle-aged lady with an intimidating butterfly brooch was sat there in his place. She signed them out and thanked them for visiting.
Marcus had awoken in the morning and kissed Suzie. She smiled briefly. He brought the toiletries from his room and used her shower, saying—“Save them cleaning two bathrooms.” Inconspicuously they watched each other get dressed. Their friends were waiting outside the hotel for them and none of them said a word when they walked out together.

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