The room was a wreck. She saw that now, and felt suddenly, overwhelmingly tired.
Leaning against the door, its cool paint a welcome balm against a
pain she felt spreading diagonally across her naked back, she tried to work
out if anything was broken. The room was on her credit card, she
remembered, so she’d be the one charged for breakage. With relief she saw
nothing smashed, just everything out of place. Only her flight bag seemed
to have been untouched still zipped, set square to the wall on a luggage
support, the only straight lines in a room of disturbed curves and folds.
Her clothes were scattered everywhere. The curtains were only
half closed and beyond the small balcony she could see the dawn beginning
to dim the artificial lights of the airport, the first planes taxiing on
the runways, a single jumbo taking off into the familiar early morning mix
of cloud and fog. Looking for the rest of her uniform, she remembered that
her skirt was ripped. Was that her bra behind the TV? She wondered where
she had put her contacts.
Knowing she had to move, she rocked forward, testing the idea of
motion, but instantly her limbs pleaded back: no, not yet. Her every
muscle ached; it was as much as she could manage to keep where she was. It
was as if she had had a month of massages; she felt wrung through. Was
there a part of her, she wondered, that had not been held and kissed,
lifted and bitten, that had not thrust against some part of his?
Besides, she liked the cold of the door on her back and buttocks.
It contrasted with, prolonged for a few precious moments, the warmth she
still felt in the last places he’d touched her, lovingly, his hands cupped,
almost a ritual with them now. If she didn’t move, if she stayed there at
the room’s door where they had last embraced, she could still sense
resonating within her the tremor of his final soft caress.
Across the room the low-set mirror of the dressing table reflected
back to her a pair of legs. She studied them. They were pale, not as thin
as they used to be, but still good enough for her job. The distance
obscured the veins, she knew, the front view better than the back, but
there was something new in the reflection, just below her knees: two
patches of skin rubbed to a raw red. She leaned down and gently examined
one. It was puffed and sore to the touch. Where had they been, she
wondered, looking back up at the room, when she did that? Were her
stockings on at the time? Did she ruin them? She remembered and smiled.
Still not ready to move, she tried to recall if she had a spare
pair in the suitcase. In there, too, was her wash bag. She marveled that
she hadn’t even opened it. To not even think about her face, the creams
she always used at night to make no pretense that she was getting ready
to go to sleep, shutting herself in the bathroom, making him wait. This
time she must have needed him badly. A sudden small wave of the tiny hairs
on her breasts and belly pricked up at the thought. But the rash of goose
pimples that followed, spreading to her arms, persuaded her she was
actually getting cold and that she should move.
Pulling away from the door her back stuck slightly to its surface.
She pulled a little harder and felt a sharp sting as her flesh broke free.
Turning, she saw impressed across the paintwork a faint broken line of
dried blood. A little startled, she reached behind her to find a long weal
running from one shoulder blade down into the small of her back. She
looked at her nails, wondered what she, in turn, had done to him.
Standing free now of the door’s support, her legs felt suddenly
weak, her head slightly dizzy. She registered the digital clock on its
side by the bed, not really absorbing the time but knowing she was late.
She stepped over and unzipped her bag, fished out her bathroom things and
made for the shower, but midway across the room she tripped on something in
her path and collapsed sideways onto the bed. Lying there she realized
just how tired she was, how little sleep she’d had, how much she wanted to
just roll the blankets over herself and shut her eyes against the breaking
The bathroom, too, was a mess. A towel was dumped in a corner, the
soap in the sink had been unwrapped. He’d left the toilet seat up. On the
floor she noticed a few of his graying hairs. Picking one up, she thought
of his body, of its covering so different from hers, of the line of small
tight curls that ran up to his stomach, of how it was always a surprise how
firm he was under his skin, year after year.
She tried to imagine where he was now, if he had washed completely
before he left or if he would try to keep her smell on some part of him.
She asked herself again whether he was truly as faithful as he always
claimed, waiting for her, seeing no one else but his loveless wife.
An itch in her crotch reminded her how much of him she still had
inside. She looked around no bidet. Fine, she thought, I’ll keep him
for a while. Setting down the seat of the toilet she peed, amazed at how
she could forget for hours her usual bodily routines.
As she wiped herself, the nub of her thumb brushed lightly against
her clitoris. It, too, was rubbed sore, but the touch
reminded her of the excitement and anticipation she always felt walking off
the plane in San Francisco, knowing he was in his truck, driving over the
bridge and across the city to meet her. She thought about what they did
for each other, what they had found they could do together, and she
wondered if it really wouldn’t be the same if they had decided to make it
something more permanent, if they had broken off the tangle of their
separate lives and made a go of it somewhere in the world.
She caught herself staring at the opposite wall. Chastising
herself for doing what she had promised herself she would never do, she got
up and stepped into the shower. For a brief moment, as the hot water hit
the wound upon her back, the pain was intense. But it was a welcome shock
and it melted quickly as her stiff muscles surrendered to the battering,
her mind now a little more awake, beginning to take her forward into the
With the heat of the spray her knees had turned a new, more livid
red. Perhaps they’d swell so much she’d be unable to work the returning
flight. There had been close calls before the worst when he actually
broke one of her ribs but she had always made it through. She knew no
one better at disguising pain. Asbestos hands, they called her in the
Bending over to soap her feet, she wondered what her colleagues
would think of her if they knew. Going off with a passenger: at least she
hadn’t done it right after the flight, like some. On that flight, years
ago now, she’d seen him look at her, returned his glance, felt foolish,
told herself off for even thinking of breaking the rules that in those days
the other girls broke nightly.
She thought it would be just that one time as she took him back
that night to the hotel by the airport. But in that room she had found
what she had despaired of ever finding: an education in the possibilities
of pleasure, a trusted body against which to dash her own. Relief. She
had found that despite feeling it had been wrong to do, perhaps even
because she felt that way, she wanted nothing more achingly than to
experience the thrill of it again.
Since then there had been times when they didn’t speak for tens of
months, when she thought she was finally over him. They had set up
separate lives but as she grew older, as she had grown further from the
person she was when she was with him, she had come to need these meetings
more and more. From that first night it was only in this room their
room that she could ever release herself from herself. In some way,
and it shocked her that she didn’t know him well enough to know how, it
was the same for him.
She looked down at her legs to see if they needed shaving, but she’d
done them specially for him and they were fine. And he had noticed, too, he
always did he went over her every pore, kissed each square inch of her
She forced herself to concentrate on leaving. She needed to dress
and tried to empty her head of thoughts as she went around the room
collecting the pieces of her uniform, putting them on in turn, trying at
the same time to straighten what she could. The doors to the balcony,
where they had stood not bothering to hide themselves from the planes that
landed through the night, wouldn’t open now. The room would just have to
Reaching under the bed for her jacket, she felt a sudden stabbing
pain rip down her arm, through her shoulder, spine and hips, into her legs.
It ended with a cramp that clenched her thigh and made her gasp in shock.
She knew that if she tried to back out now she’d only make it worse and
that she was stuck there, until her muscles relaxed and she could ease
herself back out.
Frustrated at herself, at being late, at being stuck alone and too
embarrassed to call for help from under the wreck of a bed that stank of
sex, at the indignity to which her desire had driven her, she felt a wave
of self-disgust. How had she come to crave a relationship that left her
always covering her tracks, alone, in pain? Why couldn’t she be satisfied
with what she had in London? Why, when she got to SFO, did she always make
the call? If it was such a good thing, if it was what she lived for, why
did they meet so rarely and why did they need to keep their meetings
secret? She couldn’t let it end as it always did. Instead of walking out
of the door and onto a plane that would take her half a world away from him
she wanted to stay there, have him return to her, help her up, pull her
onto the bed, hold her, press inside her again and stay there for days, his
moans loud in her ear, his nails dug deep into her flesh, his arms
Utterly exhausted now, she picked herself up, put on her jacket and
bent down to grab her bag. From deep within she felt slip some of what
he’d left inside her. She wondered if she should quickly use the loo.
Then she decided: no, this time she wouldn’t.
Instead she grabbed the bag, unlocked the door and stepped onto
the threshold. She could not, and now she would not, leave alone. As she
walked down the plane’s long aisle, she would feel him with her, dampening
her, perhaps a drop running down the inside of her leg. As people beckoned
to her she would walk toward them, placing one foot in front of the other,
so that her thighs would rub together; and as she walked so each drop
would slip away from its still moist mooring and fall onto the white cotton
of her briefs, drying and fusing with her red-brown hairs, until a bend, a
reach, the fetching of a blanket or the stowing of a coat would tear a
single hair from its swollen follicle, and the sharp pain of each momentary
prick would force her other, proper self to admit that she was intimate
with him, that he could give her pleasure, that they should be allowed at
last to find some other heaven than the awful prison of this airport hotel.