AN INTRODUCTION BY DANIELLE DUTTON
Last year Music & Literature ran an issue partly devoted to Ann Quin, with work both by and about her. My favorite bit is a line from an interview in which Quin is asked about a vision she’s had. How did she know it was god she had seen? “It’s very difficult to talk about,” she explains, “but I just know it couldn’t be anything else. There was every possible landscape in the face: valleys, trees, mountains, hills.” She goes on: “I have found it difficult to believe in writing since. I only carry on because I’m no good at anything else.”
I’m not sure it’s true that she wasn’t good at anything else (she could apparently read minds), but it is true that she was very good at writing. She was born in Brighton in 1936 and died thirty seven years later having published four brilliant, dark, haunting, and often strangely comic novels: Berg(1964), Three (1966), Passages(1969), and Tripticks (1972). I’ve seen her compared to Woolf and Sarraute and Acker. Quin herself claimed to have been influenced by Dostoevsky and Beckett and Gide. But I hesitate to make any of these comparisons (having conveniently already made them), because by now I think we should really be in the habit of comparing other people to her. In a short essay in that same issue of Music & Literature, Deborah Levy writes that “It would be progress if we could stop the rhapsodizing of Ann Quin and just read her books without having to defend them.” Indeed it does get exhausting having to defend your heroes. Still, Ann Quin’s work is so criminally (and inexplicably) under-read that it’s hard not to want to stand up for her again and again.
I always suggest starting with Berg, only because it’s my favorite. In fact, I’ve said “you’ve got to read Berg” so many times that despite its excellence (you’ve got to read Berg) I’ve grown a little sick of hearing myself say it. Here’s the good news: now we can all start together with something else. The Unmapped Country, a collection of Quin’s “lost” stories along with an unfinished novel, is being released this month by UK publisher And Other Stories. These lost-and-found stories showcase Quin’s huge stylistic range and have titles like “Never Trust a Man Who Bathes with His Fingernails” and “Every Cripple Has His Own Way of Walking.” The story you’re about to read, “A Double Room,” chronicles the horrible suffocation of a bad affair, told in the staccato prose of the narrator’s unfiltered, inescapable perception.
I’m inclined to call it a small box story, one into which only a few sights and sounds have been allowed.
In her introduction to The Unmapped Country, Jennifer Hodgson tells us that Quin thought of the short story as a “space for readers to explore.” Having explored “A Double Room” I’m inclined to call it a small box story, one into which only a few sights and sounds have been allowed. Like much of Quin’s writing it is aesthetically and psychologically claustrophobic, but there’s a music to that claustrophobia — sad and somehow wretchedly funny too.
Author of Margaret the First
Editor of Dorothy, a publishing project
The Suffocation of a Bad Affair
“A Double Room”
by Ann Quin
They had arranged to meet at 11 a.m. She arrived at 10:30. I know I must be there early or I won’t go at all. Why am I going. Am I in love. No. One doesn’t question. In love with the situation. Hope of love. Out of boredom. A few days by the sea. A hotel. Room overlooking sand. Gulls. Beach. Breakfast in bed. Meals served by gracious smiling waiters. But the land there is flat. Dreary. Endless. Though the sea. The sea. The whole Front to myself. But what if it rains all the time. It drizzled now as she looked out of the station. Cabs swished by. People rushed through barriers. Escape. Escape with my lover. But he isn’t even that. In her small room. On her single bed they had gone so far. Fully clothed. No we’ll wait it wouldn’t be fair I have to leave you soon. Now the weekend he would prove to be
She clutched her bag. Glanced at the clock. And there he was. His hat cuckoo-perched on an unfinished nest. Dressed in a new suit. Mac just cleaned over his arm. Hullo love. If people stopped to look they would think we were father and daughter on our way to an aunt’s funeral. They don’t look. But think dirty old man. As he takes my arm. My bag.
The train. Carriages with long seats. Without divisions. Seats that make one aware of sagging shoulders. She straightened up. Straightened her skirt. Haven’t seen that dress before love — new? He removed his hat. It nestled beside him. He had washed his hair. Had a bad shave. Without adding the bits of cotton wool. The train shuttled forward. Stopped. Now I could say I’ve changed my mind I can’t go on with it I feel ill. Well how are things sweet? OK had a row with the wife oh some trivial domestic thing anyway makes it easier. Looks as if it might clear up. Brighter in the west — forecast said it would. How long does it take? About two hours love should be there in time for a beer and brunch in a nice pub somewhere. The rest of the carriage empty. Maybe someone will get in at the next stop. Pray that someone gets in. Ininininininin the train chugged on over the bridge. Children threw stones into the river. He had on the green shirt. She remarked once how nice he looked in green. Matches your eyes. Eyes now stared directly at her. Was he thinking of the night. Nights ahead. Nights he had saved up for. Relishing in cosy domestic mornings. Reading the papers together. Quietly sipping tea. Quietly satisfied. Three. Four mornings ahead of them. Already I’m thinking in the third person. Seeing us as another passenger might. But no one got in at the next station. He leaned over and took her hand. She looked out of the window. Looked back at him. Cigarette? Her hand released. She dived into her bag. They lit up. He sank back. She took out a paperback. Looked at the words lumped together. Spaces between paragraphs.
The train stopped. A woman with a child got in. The child held a blue teddy bear nearly bigger than herself. They sat opposite. The woman looked across once. The child more than once. Giggling she approached. Adjusted the bear’s arms. What’s his name then? Tethy. He’s nice isn’t he? She passed the bear over. He took it and balanced it on his knees. The child started crying gimmee back gimmee gimmee Tethy gimmee. Judy come here don’t disturb the gentleman there’s a good girl. He smiled and handed the bear over. It growled. The child giggled and passed it over to me. Do you want to hold Tethy it’s his burfday. She sucked her thumb and watched. Watching. He watched.
The houses crammed together. Back yards where men leaned on spades. Women in doorways dried their hands on aprons. Fields where boys played football. In small parks girls paused over prams. The sky strips of blue. Houses spread out. Fields. Cows. Sheep. Away from civilisation. Away from the little rituals they had been going through. Manipulated. Meetings in pubs. Fish and chips afterwards. Parties where she danced. Flirted. While he looked on. Hurried fumblings. Kisses. In a cab. Long talks by the gas fire. Holding hands in the cinema. Being shown off to his friends at dinner parties. I’m so glad he’s found you he does need someone bless him and you seem so suited his wife as you probably know is
The child bounced the bear on the seat. I looked at the paperback. This autobiographical novel is a brazen confession of rebellion, trespass and blatant sexual exploitation in a world of intellectual despair and moral chaos. She closed the book. He looked up from the newspaper. His shoes highly polished. Crease in trousers nicely creased. Oh so nicely creased. Creases under his eyes. Around his mouth. Anticipation anticipation anti anti antiantiantiantiantianti. The train rattled on. The child talked to the bear. Tethy Tethy my Tethy is a naughty Tethy. The woman put away her knitting. They got out. He leaned over. It’s going to be great just great love I know it will. Pressure on my knee. Only another half hour to go love. A dozen hours to come. No. Perhaps he will want to in the afternoon. An after lunch doze. I closed my eyes. Opened. More fields. More boys kicking in an orgy of mud. Men tinkered with cars. Station after station. Signals. Tunnels. Hedges. Then the sea. Flat grey. Flat washed green land on the left. Well this is it love — here I’ll take your case. The hat flew on.
The wind waited round every corner. Narrow streets. Pinched faces already with the Sunday roast and glazed T.V. look. Girls. Hair in rollers. Queued in the butchers. Wondering if Jim. Fred. Or Harry will be at the dance tonight. Which pub love — what about this one looks OK doesn’t it? Thin widow polished the glasses. Glass topped tables. Round. Dartboard pockmarked. Old men leaned on the bar. Looked up. Dismissed. Side-long glances. Two whiskies please. Thank you. Hungry? Mmmmmm. We’ll have lunch at the hotel. Which hotel? Oh I don’t know we’ll find one — look around take our time I know there are at least three good ones on the Front. Looks like it’s going to clear up Sir. Yes forecast said it would. Thank you Sir good day Miss.
Sky darker grey. Smell of sea. Fish. Tar. Well which hotel love — what about this one it’s a three star one should be OK hope the food’s good. Woman behind the register looked up. Yes we would like a double room preferably facing the sea. How long will you be staying Sir? Oh couple of days. Twin beds or double? Double please. He leaned over. Signed the book. Will you be taking lunch Sir? Yes. Lunch is served from one to two thank you Sir. Small man picked up the luggage. Struggled up three. Four flights of stairs. Doors pale yellow. Dark yellow carpet with pink flowered pattern. A door opened. His hand jingled money in his pocket. Thrust out at the appropriate time. Thank you Sir. Thank you. Door closed. Yellow wallpaper. Yellow bedspread. Pink carpet. Shiny insect-yellow dressing table. Chintz curtains. But it doesn’t even overlook the sea. Ah well love it doesn’t matter does it I mean
Wardrobe door creaked. Hangers. Thin wire hangers clanged. Covered by my two dresses. He’s lying on the bed. Already already. I’m terribly hungry. Sighing he lurched off. Patted the eiderdown into place. My hair into place. Makeup renewed. Eyes averted. His. In the corridor past numerous yellow doors. One opened. An old man lay on the single bed. Looked up at the lamp shade. Sorry I thought it was the bathroom. Deaf. Must be deaf. Or maybe dead. A narrow bathroom. Huge Victorian bath. Pipes gurgled. The sea. A narrow dimension of winter sea from the window if pushed wide enough. Some men dragged in nets. Silently. Children screamed around them. Plug pulled. And it all came tumbling down. Down down down
Into the restaurant. Empty tables. He had chosen one near the window. Terrace. Limp bunting the wind ignored. He passed over the menu. Thin-lipped waitress stood by. Five minutes to two. Dying for her cup of tea. Feet up. Snooze. Is the dover sole nice? Yes Sir. Well we’ll have that I think — sounds good doesn’t it love? The waitress jabbed her notepad. Suppressed a yawn. The sea yawned out. In. Enclosed by glass. A bowl of artificial flowers. His hands spread out on his knees. What names did you sign? Mine of course love for both of us they never ask anyway. Other hotels. Other girls. Other weekends. The waitress tighter-lipped. The fish flat. Dry yellow. Little dishes with lumps of potatoes like ice cream dropped on a pavement. Vegetables as though chewed already. Looks good love doesn’t it? And it is good. It will be good. I can’t survive it all unless it’s going to be good. It’s up to me the whole thing. The next four days. Nights. I can love him. It will be all right once we’ve made it. Everything will be all right then. It’s just this interminable waiting. Gosh you were hungry what about afters love — peach melba? No just coffee. At the corner of his mouth a piece of dover sole. I want to giggle. He folds his napkin. Well what about a little nap? I think I’ll have another coffee you go on up I’ll join you in a minute. The waitress peered round the door again. And again. He yawned. Smiled. Walked across and out.
Will that be all Madam? Yes thank you. Perhaps Madam wouldn’t mind having her coffee in the lounge? And Madam went into the empty lounge. Heavy chintz chairs politely arranged. Politely waited. God why am I here. Well make the best of it. On the stairs the elderly bellboy stood back. Did he wink. Perhaps just a nervous tic. Which door. What number. Oh God. Smile arranged. Held. Hullo love. He pushed the newspaper aside. Red silk dressing gown. Hair on chest. She slid out of her dress. Hung it up. He had already drawn the curtains. Yellow light seeped through, She climbed over him. I love you. Her feet cold she put them between his legs. Adjusted her head. His mouth in her hair. His lips nuzzled. Came further down. She closed her eyes. Turned towards him. Take this off — here. No I’ll do it. She unsnapped her brassiere. Lovely breasts you know that lovely. He held them. Held on to them. Her hand wandered over him. Clutched his hair. Legs. A little lump. Perhaps his finger. No can’t be. His hands. One hand pressed her breasts. The other on her belly. Moved down. His weight moved over her. I feel the weight of my own body. Not like this oh not now not now not like this. She felt for him. How small. He slid down. Adjusted his body’s length to hers. Measuring. A game of poker. Pause. Grunt. Intake of breath. Wait a minute love. Here. She took hold of him. Started rubbing. The lump became a knot. Sorry love. What is it? I don’t know maybe it’s because I love you so much you know frightened I won’t satisfy you enough oh I don’t know. Cigarette? They lay stiff. Side by side. Stared at the smoke. Ceiling. Cracked yellow. Someone padded along the corridor. Sound of rain. We need time plenty of time and we have plenty of time love — sleepy? Yes. Try and get some sleep then. She curled up under the sheet. He got up. Think I’ll do a little exploring of the town get a bottle of whisky or something.
She sat up. Stared at the lamp shade. Sank down. Pulled the sheet over her head. Pushed it away. Got up. Sat in front of the mirror. Opened the drawers. Hotel headed notepaper. A few hairpins. She went out into the bathroom. Spray spattered on to the empty Front. Over the blue railings freshly painted. Half of them yet to be painted. In three months all would be a nice bright blue. The bandstand full of dapper little uniformed men who would pluck. Bang away with their brass instruments. Whether it was raining or not. Holidaymakers in paper hats. Plastic macs. Would eat ice cream. Their faces attempting to expand in a fortnight’s ‘away from it all’. She went back into their room. Their room that had been hundreds of other couples’ scene of illicit love. After all married couples have twin beds. Well usually. At least the chambermaid wouldn’t giggle with the others when changing the sheets this time. Or maybe she will. After all
After all. She took a dress down. No best to put the same one on. They’ll know. They. The staff had nothing better to do than conclude. Make insinuations. As if they cared. Really. She put on the other dress and went down into the lounge. Was the rest of the hotel empty then. But no. Two women she hadn’t noticed resumed talking. Huddled amongst the flowered covered chairs. A fire had been lit. She drew up a chair. Picked at a magazine. The erotic facts recorded. The most intimate characteristics of woman’s sexuality. PARTIAL CONTENTS. Legend of the female organs, of the vulva, the clitoris, destruction of the hymen, circumcision of girls, the female breast, breast of Europeans, African, Asiatic women etc. Fingers dug into her bag. A young man stood in the doorway. Have you a light please? Thank you thank you very much. He took a chair. Sat behind her. He has a nice mouth. Thick hair. Rather nice smiling eyes. Is he alone. Hullo love what a lovely fire — found a good pub — well interesting — full of fishermen they’ve had a good day apparently good catch. Did you get the whisky? Yes it’s up in our room. The young man rose. A girl in the doorway. Smiled up. He smiled down. Gosh it’s damned cold out though got quite wet walking the streets — it’s a nice town hasn’t changed much since I came here last — like some tea love?
She poured the tea. He spread out his hands towards the fire. Shall we have it in our room we can put a little whisky in it then? He balanced the tray. It rattled as he climbed the stairs. Behind her. The elderly bellboy stood aside. Obviously hasn’t a nervous tick. Wish we had a nice room facing the sea — still at least one can see it from the bathroom window. I can ask to change love. Oh no don’t bother it doesn’t matter really — what time’s dinner? Hungry already? No just wondered. Seven I think. What shall we do? Could go to the films though I don’t think there’s much on. Could go to that fishermen’s pub perhaps. Of course you haven’t really seen the town yet — and there’s a ruin too — tenth century castle I believe — it’s worth seeing has dungeons and things. Is it free? No you have to pay.
They sipped tea laced with whisky. He lay on the bed. She sat on the edge. He edged her down. They kissed. A long kiss. A searching of tongues. God you do excite me love. Maybe we ought to try it with clothes on it seems that
A knock on the door. Yes? Sorry Sir just wanted to turn down the bed. Oh don’t bother thank you. Just as you wish Sir — Madam. Damn maybe we should have rented a cottage after all. Stop worrying. I’m not worrying — well not really. He lit two cigarettes and handed her one. No thanks. Let him see. See see seeeeeeeeeee-see. The sea whooshed down. Below. Far away. Away from the walls closing in. His face close. Closer. What’s the matter love? Nothing — nothing’s the matter — what time is it? She reached for his wrist. Hair crawled down and then stopped as if surprised by the sudden lumps. She leaned over. Away. Back again. And undid his shirt. She licked him. His face came up from the pillow. Oh love love love let’s wait until tonight shall we — be better that way be all right then we’ll have plenty of time.
They sat at the same table overlooking the terrace. Waves of whiteness curled. Uncurled. Lights along the Front hovered over circles of wetness. The middle table surrounded by young men. Laughing. Joking rugger type youths talking about rugger. The tight-lipped waitress tightly smiled. What about trying the steak this time love? Overdone medium or rare Sir? Medium I think with peas and roast. Thank you Sir. Two of the youths glanced across. Father and daughter act. But he caught hold of her hand as she helped him to some gravy. The youths glanced away. Loud laughter. I think it’s stopped raining perhaps we can take a breath of fresh air afterwards love would you like that?
Along the Front. Deserted. Long sloping pavements. Carefully avoiding the puddles. She took her shoes off and ran. Laughing. On to the beach. Down to the water’s edge. She heard him panting. Crunching over the pebbles. Her hair over her eyes. She did not sweep away. Lights of the town distant. The sky uplifted from the heaving mass of darkness. That was the sea. Sound of sea. Sounds of other seas. Other days. Spent in other places. Under foreign skies. But I can’t afford to indulge. It’s not fair fair fair fairee fairee fairee. Gulls swooped out of the folds of darkness. Tips of white unfolded into expanse of whiteness. Above her. She laughed into the wind. With the wind. Her face tilted towards his. Make love to me make love make love to meeeeee. Ah love what here it’s so damned cold. He embraced her. She shook against him. Shook with uncontrollable laughter. He gently lifted her face up. We will tonight love or if not then tomorrow eh we have a few days yet. I’m cold let’s go back — or go and have a drink.
They went into the public bar. Men looked up. Paused in laughter. Shall we try the saloon love? No let’s go back to the hotel. They passed a large hotel that looked closed. But waiters gazed out of long windows. Maybe we should have gone there better food perhaps. Oh I don’t know looks pretty grim to me. But at least the rooms all face the sea love.
They went into the hotel bar. The youths roared. Raring to get high. Or already high. Slapped each other on the back. We have got that whisky in our room shall we go up love? They sat on the edge of the bed. Drank from the tooth glasses. Until the bottle was nearly empty. Well I’m turning in love. But it’s only nine o’ clock. Oh well we can get up early — might be a nice day.
She shook out her nightdress. Went into the bathroom. Sat on the toilet and waited for the bath to fill. Water lukewarm. Someone rattled the handle. She stopped singing. Love can I come in? Shivering she reached for the latch. Thought you might like your back scratched. Mmmmmmmm. He pulled his shirt sleeves up and knelt. Applied soap over his hands. Wrists. Have you locked the door? Yes love. He applied his hands over her. Breasts. Belly. What about my back? Just a sec. Oh it’s cold. Here. He held the towel out. Giggling she wrapped it round herself. Here I’ll dry you. He rubbed her body. Knelt and kissed her toes. She wriggled. Love love love oh dear love. You better go first or else someone will see us. Oh what the hell. Well you better. She locked the door. Sat on the toilet. Opened the towel and looked at herself. I’m not in love and that’s all there is to it. She pulled the plug. Notinlovenotinlovenotin. The pipes. Behind walls. Water rushed out. Into the sea.
He lay on the bed. Smoking. Green striped pyjamas. Still smelling of detergent. His wife had ironed. She slid down beside him. He switched the light off. I’d rather have it on sweet. He switched the light on. His hand. Hands. She flung off her nightdress. Bent over him. His breathing quickened. She caught her breath and took him in her mouth. Like a little boy’s. But gradually
She spread her legs out and felt for him again with her hands. Kiss me kiss me there. He obeyed. She held his head. Held on to his head. Hair. Closed her eyes. Held her breath. And froze. She watched herself. Her body. Her lumps of flesh solidified. Love love what is it — what’s happened are you all right? She opened her mouth. The scream couldn’t. Wouldn’t. Be forced out. It lay. Struggled. Thumped within the blood cells. Ribs. That closed in on the scream. That became separated. Someone else’s scream. The child. The girl. The virgin. The woman. Until they joined forces. Screamed at the person outside who refused to collaborate. She felt him lift her from him. Gently put the sheet. Blankets over her shoulders. Let’s try and sleep shall we — we’re both tired and had too much to drink and in the morning it’ll be all right. She felt his back against her back. She waited. Stared into the dark. Was he staring into that too? But no. He was already asleep. Snoring. Little grunts at first. God I hope he’s not the whistling kind. The snores grew louder. She sat up. Reached for a cigarette. What is it love — can’t you sleep? No. Maybe if you… I can’t sleep if you snore can I. Was I — sorry you should give me a nudge. She jabbed out the cigarette. Turned over. And waited. The snores came as before. Yet not as before had been. Heavier. Insistent. Demanding. She nudged him. He grunted and rolled over on to his back. She closed her eyes. Put the pillow half over her head. The snoring continued. Grew louder. The whole room vibrated. She hurled herself up. Was I snoring again? Yes. Oh God — look I’ll sleep over there in the chair. He took the eiderdown off. The pillow. And huddled into the chair. You can’t sleep there can you sweet? Well what else can we do? I don’t know — wish you’d brought your ear plugs — wish I even had some sleeping pills. She watched the dot of his cigarette move upwards. Down. It’s really quite comfortable love it’s better this way. She moved over to the warmth where his body had been. And waited. The snores came. Every minute. I could time them like a woman in labour. Less than a minute. She got up and went out.
She leaned her head out of the bathroom window. The rain made her face wetter. The scream moved up into the lump. A fist thrust in her throat. Spread out. The scream emerged in a coughing bout. I’ll leave tomorrow. Catch the first train back. Go and pack now. Wait at the station. Maybe there’s a late train. She sat on the toilet. Shivered. What a situation to find myself in. No one to blame except myself. The handle rattled. Are you all right love? Yes yes. I could try and sleep in here but then someone will want to use the damned place. She opened the window wider. Lines of white broke up the shore. Waves of blackness swallowed up the houses. I’m so cold so cold. She opened the door but closed it as someone came along the corridor. She waited for silence. She tried again and ran into the room. He smoked. Hunched in the chair. We should have got separate rooms. Perhaps tomorrow we can go to another hotel. No I’m going back. Oh my dear…
She buried herself in the bed. Against the wall. I’ll wait until you’re asleep first love. She heard the lighter click. Shut. Pause. Sound of doors. Opened. Closed. The lighter clicked. She waited. Waited for the next click. And the first faint light to edge in through the curtains. Soon the light came. A thin light that brought the relief of shadows. She could see him. Heard him turn. Confined to eiderdown. Chair. She closed her eyes. When she opened them the room was speckled with light. He was shaving. Did you get any sleep love? A bit what about you? Not really. His face paper yellow. Pink eyes. He grinned. At least it’s not raining — in fact it’s a gorgeous day and we’ll go and have a look at that castle unless of course you are going back? I don’t know just don’t know we can’t obviously go on like this can we? Oh my dear love love love — come on let’s have a good breakfast and then go out shall we?
She decided she really didn’t want any breakfast. Just a cup of tea. So he went down alone. She dressed slowly. Glanced in the mirror. What a sight. But what did it matter. She had decided. The scene had already been set long before they ever came here.
They met in the foyer and walked out along the Front. On to the pier. In silence. Watched the men fling their fishing lines in. A few fish struggled. Thumped around on the iron grilles. Gave a final twitch then slid down with the others in the basket.
The castle surrounded by a moat of dryness. The guide asked if they wanted to be shown around. They walked round together. The guide went back to sleep. Round walls with scaffolding. Crumbling walls. Walls that were no longer walls. Large rooms with wooden floors. Jewellery and fossils under glass. Please Do Not Touch notices everywhere. Smell of must. Please Do Not Smoke round every corner. Endless passage that was not so endless. The castle was round. A dungeon she quietly went into while he looked up at a sword. She heard him go past. She shrank into the darker corner of the cell. His footsteps grew fainter. Above her. She looked through the narrow bars. At the triangle patch of grass. Please Do Not Throw Litter Here. Please Keep Off The Grass. She saw him standing on the fortress. He leaned against a cannon. His hand thrust upwards. Shielded his eyes. He must be looking out to sea. She heard his footsteps approach. She stifled a giggle. And walked out. Oh there you are were you hiding? No I wondered where you were. Well we’ve seen just about everything I think. What about the other dungeons? OK. They walked again the narrow passage. Where no sun had entered. God what a place I could imagine a murder here — in fact you could well… She sprang back. Her mouth open. Closed into a closed smile as his hands came out. Oh don’t frighten me like that. Stupid — God your imagination love. All the same it is frightening. And she sprang from the wall. Ran past him. Laughing. Screaming out. You won’t catch me never ever never. She heard her voice bounce back. And his laughter. His gasps. Until he had caught her up. They held hands. Crossed the drawbridge. Thanked the guide who gave them a pamphlet history of the castle. Who went back to sleep behind his desk.
They went into a seafront cafe and ordered coffee. Lovely day Sir — Miss. A group of girls entered and went over to the juke box. Hypnotised by the choice. Oh there’s nothing here not even the Rolling Stones. They sat down. Nudged each other. Giggled. I have to go back. Oh love. Well. They stared into their cups. He looked up. Across. She looked down. His shoes were covered in seaweed. Sand. She nodded. Give it a day just another day love I mean we’ve hardly been here and
They walked through streets. Past houses that never varied with their lace curtains. Back gardens. Shrubberies. Back yards with washing. Parts of bicycles. Spare parts of cars. Boys in fields played football. Curtained windows. People still in bed. Or yawned over newspapers. Or watched the television.
In the restaurant their table was occupied by the young couple. The middle table surrounded by women. Middle aged with hats. Hats with feathers. Without feathers. Bits of veil. One woman stood up to give a speech, They all clapped. The young couple leaned towards each other. Their plates full of unfinished food.
The afternoon came. Went. And the night. Repetitive of the night before. Yet not quite. They got drunk. But didn’t attempt to make love. Attempted to sleep. And the morning faced their faces now white. They walked by the sea. She finally said they would go could go back together. They went for a final drink in the large hotel. Sat encased by glass and aspidistras. Without talking. If accidentally they touched they apologised. Looked at each other when the other wasn’t looking. The sky expanded in blueness. Their mouths sucked in as the plants sucked in the water the waiter sprayed from a plastic watering can.
They packed their things. She waited outside. Watched him pay the bill. Smile at the woman behind the desk. The elderly bellboy brought out the luggage. Winked with both eyes. Had a good time Miss — glad the weather cleared up for you — come back again won’t you — taxi Sir? No thanks we’ll walk. They walked up the street. Away from the sea. Past the pub with the glass topped tables. Shall we have a drink? Have one at the station I think love if there’s time. The bar closed. They sat in the buffet and had a cup of tea. Lukewarm. The train roared in. The carriages separated by glass doors. A corridor. They went into an empty carriage. Hope no one gets in. So do I. He brought out half a bottle of whisky and opened it. Passed over. She took a tiny sip then a longer one and handed it back. The train moved out. Wheels clanked along. Past the sun-splashed sea. Pale green slice of land that spread out into deeper green. The deeper blue. I’m sorry love really I am. So am I. But I can see you — I mean we will still see each other after we get back? I think not I mean it is impossible isn’t it you can see that. At each station they looked out. No one got in. Or if they did they looked once into the carriage then passed on along the corridor. She leaned over. Held his hand. Pressed. He sighed. I hate it to end like this but
The fields. Hedges vanished. Suburbs crawled in and out. The football fields now dry. Now empty. The river red flecked with white. The power station powered out its smoke. They walked through the barrier. Paused in the half empty station. Well. Well? Well I’ll ’phone you. No it won’t be any use will it? Well then it’s goodbye — goodbye love. And he rushed into the underground. She caught a bus back. Asked the conductor for change. Climbed the stairs to her room. And lay on the bed. The telephone rang. She opened the door quietly. Heard someone talk.
She took out a cigarette. Put it back. And collapsed on the bed. Got up and searched for the change. Went down on to the second floor and put the money in the box. His voice. As though he had a cold. She heard her own. That was not her own. Voice. Look let’s meet up some time this week and talk about it. When? Thursday? What about tomorrow? Tonight? OK I’ll come round? Yes — see you later then. She put the receiver carefully down. Went up to her room and unpacked. Washed her face and applied makeup. The face she saw was smiling little smiles that broke into a wide grin.