Friday, September 12, 2008


The whole thing about these rooms is that they're so dark. A hotel designed in a time when people lit rooms like they lit themselves—shadowy, concealing, giving nothing away. This was my parents’ generation: that quarter-century of outward propriety and inner anguish. The Quiet Times, my wife calls them. We used to laugh, back in our prescribed rebellious years, at the ignorance of the older world. When we came back from the Hinterland in a borrowed sedan and screamed to the world that we had married.

I remember my mother’s face. Her and my father, twin oval shapes in their own dark palace. Shaking their heads, smoothing down the fabric on the arms of their couches, as if all I had done was tell an unsavoury joke, something that could be willed away. We spun on our heels, my new wife and I. We sailed out the door like the rest of our life was waiting, patiently, just around the next corner. But we knew nothing, we were scared, and we were all but alone.

When we get in the lift, we realise we’ve been placed on the very top floor. Jenny takes off her shoes and holds them over her shoulder.

“Maybe it’s the Penthouse,” she says.


We stalk down the hallway with our matching trundle cases until we reach our room. There’s no key—when has there ever been a key?—and it takes me five swipes with the hotel credit card before a tiny green light lets us in. And yes, the room is dark, even with the windows wide open, and this dampens down what little hope I had brought with me.

My wife parks her suitcase neatly at the foot of the bed nearest the door. She’s already unpacking, disappearing into the bathroom with armfuls of toiletries, and I’m still standing in the middle of the room.

“How very Zen,” my wife observes as she rushes past with an armful of extra bath towels.

Jenny, who still moves with her lovely long torso bent at an angle as though resisting a strong wind. I used to watch walk past my window. Every Sunday, dressed in her bakehouse apron. She held her arms crossed everywhere she went, strong legs churning angrily beneath her, powering forward. Even as I talked to her for the first time—with courage plucked somehow from the mania of my love-struck chest—she walked quickly, as if I was just another sound. I feel now, I suppose, that I’ve always been chasing her.

The curtains are thick and nearly paisley. I flip through a small pamphlet explaining telephone codes, and start to wonder, in that middle-aged way, about fire escapes. I catch my own hand tracing the white glass of the table and I notice my skin, as if for the first time. All those bumps, all those creases, like an old memory, awoken.

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