(cont’d from ‘Song of the Best Western (I of III)’)
“Done. He’s off.” She held up the match-head. “Want to see him?”
He peered along his chest at the tiny blackened raisin, his face still slung in a protracted grimace.
“Did you get the head out?”
“Probably. You’ll be fine anyway.”
She eased herself to her feet, officially bringing all ministrations to a close, leaving him supine and glum on the bed.
“They carry Lyme disease,” he said through a double chin.
“Which means some do.”
“Not the big ones.” She arched her back in a stretch. “Think I’m ready for bed.”
“We haven’t had dinner”
“I had some trail-mix stuff at the bar. I’m fine. Tired”
She yawned and leaned over him, pulling her suitcase to the floor. It was as casually familiar as she had been, the front of her dress relaxing imperceptibly towards his face, perhaps a foot away. The lingering atmosphere of ersatz family clinic and his guttered status as hurt child neutralized the proximity, rendering it harmless.
“Off,” she said, continuing her sisterly cheerfulness.
“Off. I want to go to bed.”
She pulled back the bedspread and tossed a pillow onto the floor.
“What am I supposed to do?”
“I dunno. Go down to the bar, get something to eat.”
He was silent. She looked at him evenly.
“Sit in a chair, read a book. You can keep a lamp on. C’mon, Mart, get up.”
She moved away towards the bathroom, kicking off her sandals. He sat up slowly, pausing to survey his whereabouts before rising to his feet. He was right, there was nowhere to go. The room smelled of sulphur and burnt hair. He could hear her brushing her teeth.
“Guess I’ll go to bed too,” he said to nobody in particular.
She emerged from the bathroom and knelt for a moment by her suitcase, pulling out a cotton nightgown.
“Think I’m going to turn in too. Long day,” he said.
“Suit yourself. You might want to put it over there.”
“Your sleeping bag. There’s more room in front of the closet.”
His eyes followed the trajectory of her pointed finger, alighting on a blank patch of carpet by the door. He snorted and looked at his feet.
“What?’ she said.
He was quiet.
“No, what, Martin? Huh? You’re suggesting you sleep in my bed?”
He felt a tug in his groin. Odd that she chose to put it that way.
“Not your bed. The bed. The one king-size bed in the room. We’re both grown-ups.”
“No, Martin. You sleep in your sleeping bag. That’s why you brought it. For situations like this.”
“Okay listen, Abi. We both need to sleep or we’ll be useless. That’s a bloody big bed. You’d barely know …”
“No. No, Martin. Really.”
“Abi, if Mum and Dad had …”
“Martin, it’s the floor or nothing. Stop, okay?”
She gathered up her nightgown and went into the bathroom. He looked at the space where she’d stood. There was a picture above the bed. The Lady of Chaillot in the bow of a rowing boat looking deranged. He loitered towards the bathroom, squatted beside the half-open door and unclipped the straps of his backpack. He heard a rustle of clothing and a cough from inside, close by. After a moment he felt her immediate presence in the doorway and he half stood, anticipating her being there. But she wasn’t. From where he was crouched he could see a corner of the bath and, a few feet distant, the bulge of the toilet bowl, her underwear discarded on the floor in front. He caught his breath as her feet, ankles and the long hem of her nightgown moved into his frame of vision, turned and paused by the bowl. He saw the hem rise, the lengthening blur of a leg as she sat down, her upper body obscured by the shower stall. He listened to the clear, bright tinkle of her urine chiming through the silence; saw the profile of a calf, a thigh and hands knotted lightly in her lap. The sound abated, gently. He heard the shuffle of the toilet roll, saw her edge forward and upward on the seat. He felt the seeds of panic burst as, in a single, extrapolated motion the dislocated legs straightened at the knee, shifting out of profile, easing out from behind the barrier of the shower stall and turning toward him, the hem of the gown drawn up unnaturally high, clear, far above the thin skein of fur, utterly still. Nothing moved. His pulse thumped hard in his ears. Time and fear and distant comprehension collided, fragmented, and he broke away clumsily toward the desk, the folders and brochures, tripping heavily on his backpack and causing it to slump forward with a thud. She emerged, smoothing the long cotton nightgown at her hips.
“So?” she said.
“What?” He looked up from the folders with the smile of the Madwoman.
“What are you going to do?”
“Oh. Go to bed. On the floor over there.”
She looked at the backpack marooned on its belly, its guts visible.
“Okay. You can have a couple of pillows off the bed.”
“Thanks, that’d be great.”
She took two pillows, fluffing them unconsciously, and put them on the floor before slipping under the covers and clicking off the light, leaving him pooled at the desk.
“Night,” she said, muffled.
A febrile silence hung across the room.
“Can I turn the AC down?”
She lifted her head a fraction. “What?”
“I think I forgot my bag. But I can sleep under a coat. It’s just with the AC it’d be a bit cold.
“You don’t have a coat.”
“Well, some shirts and stuff.”
“Sure, turn it down. Turn it off if you like.”
(cont’d – ‘Song of the Best Western (III of III)’)