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by Dawn Andrews
The hotel is large, quite elegant, but uncared for, becoming seedy due to lack of attention. Its new owners spend all their time fighting and carrying on. So the hotel and its guests feel neglected, the guests like intruders in the emotional lives of their hosts. like guilty lovers, returning from infidelities. That is the reason for their fights, in fact, they are both outrageously promiscuous, but although both are guilty, they can neither of them forgo the pleasure of upbraiding the other with a whole list (similar to the one attributed to Don Giovanni) of betrayals and petty victories.
This is the story of one such betrayal, Marie and her young lover, it is a hot August afternoon (the time usually set a side for these occasions) and they are holed up in one of the linen closets, which is rather roomy, and has a scent of lavender. Marie, pressed against a shelf, the slats cutting into her, her sky-blue dress around her waist, is telling her lover, breathlessly, how the scent reminds her of her grandmother, therefore adding extra spice to the event, screwing in grannys storeroom, as a young girl, while grandma called and called for her to help with the baking or the laundry, the scent awakening so many bright feelings, young feelings, so unlike the tedious dull urge she feels at present (although she of course does not impart this information) the tedium of the old grind! Then they hear her husbands voice, calling her loudly, angrily, and she is amazed at this overlap in time, this soft fold that thrills her so much, and at once the excitement and fear reach a climax that overwhelms her with joy and regret - and she bites hard into the neck of her youth, drawing blood, causing him to yell with shock and pain. Her husband is just outside the door, he must hear this scream, but he passes on, quietly, not wishing to disturb. Marie and her young man laugh for a long time, unbutton her dress revealing her small breasts, fuck again without restraint. The very best time for years....... this event enters her dreams, and causes a mixture of pleasure and regret, sometimes she will wake, tearful and depressed, and wonder why it should have such power over her, but she doesnt really want to know.....
So neither of them care if their once grand and respectable hotel becomes a knocking shop, and a place where dirty deals are hatched by gangsters and their molls. The new gangsters, that is, of high finance. Of the stock exchange, with their loud voices and flashy cars. There are also people involved in the film industry, directors, producers and their sidekicks. One of these is a youngish American who always wears a shabby lamb-skin lined flying jacket, reputedly worn by his father in some war or other. He gets on well with Marie, in more ways than one. The place is still opulent enough for their tastes, and there is an excellent chef, who, due to his love of emotional discord, flying crockery and scenes, adores the place, feels right at home. Perhaps this is why the young men like it, too. They are amused by the flare-ups, the hostile glances and silences, tokens of fresh outrages.
he notices the woman in the low-cut red dress keeps giving him the eye, boldly. He, daydreaming with his eyes half-closed, leaning against the desk, savours the moment, the quickening of blood, his erection, but feels too indolent to do anything about it. It is often this way, he feels himself changing inside, as if his body is spreading itself, viscous as honey or molasses, the molecules wider apart, as if the material that holds him together is losing its grip. He read somewhere that matter is decaying.... or is this a line from a film? His head suddenly jerks forward and he upsets the cup of coffee at his elbow, curses.
And then, the atmosphere, with its electrical charge of overheated passion, is quite soothing. High-speed affairs can be conducted here, with little or no embarrassment, between the soup and the main course - the outcome is certain! And sleep usually comes swiftly here, even to those who suffer from insomnia and nervous exhaustion. It gains a reputation for being a comfortable retreat. Before it was always seen as a virtuous place, starched and prim. But now it has become languid, it no longer cares.
The staff, once chosen carefully for their honesty and discretion, vetted with an infinite patience, are now picked up anywhere, practically off the streets,
anyone who applies is given a job, as there are constant problems and complaints, the owners cannot give the time to studying references. As a result items of jewelry and money begin to go missing, notes are written, hinting at the dire consequences of certain disclosures to the press or loved ones. The note paper is still good, violet-tinted and slightly scented, the essence of musk rose will delicately perfume the fingers for some time. Certain pretty, sleek-eyed maids slide through the gloomy interiors of bedrooms, their smiles reflected in shadowy mirrors, their gloved fingers searching drawers and cases with the silent rapt and knowing caresses of conscientious thieves.
One such maid, fingering a dark purple scarf, remembers a dream she had last night, about being strangled with a scarf, and how, in the dream, purple was the colour of death. she feels cold, the images in the dream were so real, the man had come out of an alleyway, she was walking through the dark city, it was raining, she could feel the rain on her face, and he had appeared suddenly, making her jump, making her heart race with terror. Because she knew, in the dream, that he was going to murder her. She tried to look into his face, but there is only shadow, she cannot see him. In the dream she begins to run up a very steep street with houses on both sides, she wants to cry out for help, bang on a door, but cannot stop for if she does, he will kill her. Panic and loathing make breathing difficult. She must escape, she cannot die. She wonders who her persecutor is, wonders if she can reason with him. Then she sees an open cafe, and feels such relief, runs toward it. But then all the lights go out. She beats on the door, but can see that the cafe is empty, the staff have gone. Her hands rest on the glass of the door as the man wraps the scarf about her throat. Her hands feel icy cold, the glass is black. She wakes, and screams, waking her husband, who is annoyed, as he has an early start in the morning. He tells her to go to sleep, but she has to get up, make herself a cup of tea. She can still feel the scarf around her neck, as she sits in the small kitchen. It is four in the morning, and she longs to see light.
The guests are also a mixed lot, some still come, from the old days of stodgy respectability, but these get less, fading out like orchids exposed to icy draughts, chilled by vulgarity. The new clientele are too flashy, overdressed and contemptuous of everyone. They drink fine wines, they eat good food, but it is all ashes. All they care about are deals and intrigue.
The hotel, like all hotels, is bland and indecisive, not sure of itself, lacking confidence in its colours and fittings to the extent of shame, of not existing. Lacking intimacy, its comfort lies in the uniformity and regularity of its features, like the expensive prostitutes who do good business here. As soon as dinner is over, their work begins.
Laura is waiting, her gaze takes in the spacious lobby, chandeliers gleaming above, the carpet, a pleasing blue, like walking on water. Then she thinks - is this real? she is confused, she cannot understand why the lift is taking so long, she watches the red glow of different floors light up, but the lift never arrives in the lobby. She is alone, there are no other guests waiting for the lift. She looks around, puzzled, realising that she in completely alone. Yet a moment ago she was dining with a man, in the restaurant. She can still taste the lemon sorbet, light and tingling, at the back of her mouth, she loves lemon sorbet, it reminds her of her childhood, in the country, an aunt who made it especially for her, every Summer. She begins to grow impatient, and a little frightened. After all, her john should not have just abandoned her like this! Then she realises that she is barefoot. The high-heeled black shoes are no longer pinching her feet. The carpet feels nice, warm and soothing, then she finds herself sinking into water, slowly, and the warmth laps all around her. It is not unpleasant, but she finds it hard to understand why this is happening in a hotel lobby. She wonders if the fountain has overflowed, because she can see small fish swimming around her, and now she is swimming, easily, her formal evening clothes transformed into a sleek black swimsuit, like the one she had, as a child, for holidays by the seaside, with her uncle and aunt, whom she loved. She has always been a wonderful swimmer, graceful, she loves to dive, to feel the sleekness of the water cover her. Then she is rising, rising, and above her there is only a dim light, coming into focus. Her arm aches from the injection, and consciousness empties her, aches in her head and her veins. Burns. She longs for the water.
There are twelve suites, a sitting room and bathroom come as standard. The towels are white with a pallid green border, very large and soft. There are matching robes that are often so stained by wine, cigarette ash and burns, semen and blood, that cleaning is impossible. They are incinerated, the old man who acts as handyman watches the conflagration that consumes the evidence of sinful pleasure with intense satisfaction. Along with other items that outrage him, tarnished silver paper, condoms and syringes. His religious beliefs often give him this delight in destruction, and this he brings to fruition at home, every evening getting drunk and beating his wife. Since the children left home, as soon as they could, his wife has taken their beatings, also. She seems to derive a perverted sense of superiority from this, which angers him still further. She also works in the hotel, as a laundress, a small dark-skinned woman with eyes that are bruised inside, their once vivid blueness stained indigo and mauve. This makes her gaze very hard to meet. The other female staff pity her, but also feel contemptuous, thinking themselves above such masochism, even as they are submitting to it in their own lives. Yet in smaller doses, not so visible. To visibly suffer is to be despised.
She watches, frozen, eyes wide, as he approaches, transforming from a man into a devil, every night she is horrified as the tail extends from his backside, and horns sprout through bloody lacerations, but in the dream she can fly, she can get away, and this gives her such pleasure that she will not let go of the exhilaration she experiences, fuels it with waking nightmares of abuse and disgust. The bruises and cuts induce a state of delirium, she dare not tell anyone, not even the priest, sometimes in the dream the priest will appear and admonish her to give up her flying, as it is sinful. But in the dream she can laugh at him. Even when he threatens to burn her as a witch. The physical excitement is so great, how can she stop, otherwise the pain swells and expands to fill her life, like a strange organism that is waiting to flourish inside her. Suffocating her, softly crushing all the air from her body. As his fists crush her, only then can she take flight. She is glad that the children are no longer at home, although she did nothing to protect them, in fact took refuge behind the beatings they received, as respite.
He doesnt know it, but this night one of his daughters is upstairs, trying to sleep. The one who ran away, aged fourteen. She has done well for herself, educating herself with the money she earned through prostitution. Now she is a secretary, and her rich employers mistress. Tonight she is enduring the despair of childhood all over again. Here in this luxurious room, next to the sleeping body of a stranger, a complete stranger, although she has known him for years. She loathes this inert form so much, this mound of flesh that sweats and moans, she tries not to touch it, as if it were a diseased thing.
The pile of scenarios, paper spilling out all over the floor, he tries to gather them, but they crumble to ash in his hands. Has there been a fire? A woman dressed in black enters the room, and he sees that it is his wife. She places a handbag on a small table, takes off her gloves. She is beautiful and smiling, grief overcomes him. And shame, as the other woman comes out of the bathroom, but he also feels like laughing. His wife takes no notice, sits and begins reading a book. She is unaware of them both, he realises, perhaps we are ghosts. Are we supposed to be in this scene? A maid enters with a tray, piled up with his favorite cakes, chocolate oozing onto the maids hands, she laughs as he licks her fingers. He notices that the scene he is holding in his hand is an execution, a man is going to be hung for murdering his wife. He is afraid, and wants to explain that he doesnt appear in this scene. But a rope is dangling from his neck, and the maid chases him, trying to hold onto it, pull it tight. He tries to climb out of the window, but it is not real, a painted board. There is no outside.
She examines the room, she always has a night light at her bedside, as she is afraid of the dark. She admires the light reflecting off porcelain vases, out of the mirrors, gleaming on the gilded and ornate bed. And she remembers her room, as a child, the shared bed, her sister crying herself to sleep. But now there are no tears left, at some point in her life she stopped weeping - when was that? She touches her cool dry cheek, comforted by her elegant nails, polished a delicate oyster grey, and she marvels at her incredible luck. To be alive, and rich, in this fairy tale room with its four-poster bed and its refined desolation.
The glass roof beneath her feels so cold, her hands white against the illuminated glare, she can see the veins, the coral radiance of blood. She is on her hands and knees, crawling across this bright expanse of glass, trying to escape. She is wearing a plain white nightdress. The dark window behind her is a hole she has escaped from, and something is climbing out, a shadowy thing that terrifies her, makes her cry out. There are people beneath her, dancing, but they do not hear her as the band is very loud. It is horrible to see people having fun, laughing, while she is in such danger, just above their heads. Then she feels the glass begin to give way, it splinters around her like thin ice, and she falls through.
The crystals of the chandelier seem tarnished, as if by smoke. Sitting up, she lights a cigarette, notices signs of neglect, cobwebs laced through the folds of curtains, dust gathering in soft bundles, mingled with hair. It reminds her of one of the film sets she often visits with her lover, through which they storm at high-speed, inducing anxiety attacks in directors. How perfect it is in its lack of reality, she loves this room, as she knows for a fact that she doesnt exist, either. She knows that if she pushes gently on the wall, it will quiver like a membrane, it has no substance. She knows that the furniture is fake, that outside the blackened hole of the window there is scaffolding, men with hammers and saws, building a new world, as flimsy and without meaning as this one. She knows that tomorrow she will be given another script, told how to act and what to feel.
There is kinship. She can stand a life like this, transitory and based on illusions. The shame she feels for pretending is less here, as it is among actors, their comforting vacuous smiles and comments. Yet in the middle of the night the green walls in the bathroom remind her of that other place, and she is very afraid. She sits on the floor for a long time, hugging her knees, face devoid of expression. Smooth as glass. He lovers razor, very expensive and old-fashioned, shines against the dazzling white tiles of the washstand. She goes back to bed. She must go to sleep, takes a couple of the pills she always keeps at her bedside. Swallows them with a mouthful of flat champagne.
Nine years old, and she feels that she is bleeding to death, there, in the bathroom with vile green walls, the blood against the green tiles of the floor makes her vomit, or perhaps it is the shock, her hand bleeds because she has just smashed it into the mirror, to hide her reflection. Or rather to hide the fact that she has no reflection. This is the beginning of deceit, of a life of lies. Everything is in slow motion, like in a film, unreal, as he washes her hand so gently, bandages it with a look of intense concern. Nothing makes sense. It is like being introduced to a new element, being forced to breath underwater. And the water is
She wakes him, when she rises to go to the bathroom. He suffers the pain of the moment, he would do anything to make it stop. This dreadful silence that hurts, the hurt expanding within him, as if something has exploded there, a bloody flowering. If only he could cry! Call out and weep in the arms of the woman. But that is not a part of the contract. Those wide calculating eyes would coldly observe his grief, why should she enter it? It has nothing to do with her! He feels her slide back into bed, and lie motionless. There is nothing to say, or do. Just endure. Until sleep comes.
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