Abigail Stillwell | Naomi McLeod
There was no clock on the nightstand between the two beds. Just an analogue phone and a brochure I’d taken from the front desk that advertised two free steak dinners down at the lounge.
It was cooler outside on the balcony despite the direct glare of the sun. Steam still rolled out of the bathroom; even the glass panel within the door was translucent with moisture. I wasn’t sure if I was sweating or I wasn’t completely dried off from the shower.
“Cigarette?” she asked. A package of Virginia Slims hovered in the air between us. Hell, why not, I thought to myself and plucked the one that stuck out the most. A lighter was produced from some satin-lined pocket. I could taste the menthol on my own tongue, far stronger than anything I tasted when I kissed her.
“Did you even like it?”
“Yeah, of course,” I said. I made a show of taking a long, languid drag from the thin cylinder. I even knew how to hold it just right…. Like Cagney or Astaire might have in one of their pictures. She wasn’t talking about the smokes.
“It was fine,” I said. At least when the cigarette was between my lips, I had an excuse to keep my mouth shut.
She stood and gathered the scattered contents of her clutch- a tube of lipstick, a folded pack of matches from the casino we’d met in, and what looked like a crumpled paper napkin a cocktail might be served on. The writing on it had begun to bleed through it, a phone number. Menthol and lilies floated in her wake, as she returned to the hotel room- no longer our hotel room.
The complimentary satin robe slid from her body and as I sat there choking down that cigarette, all I could do was stare at her. She was gorgeous. I knew all over again why I’d invited her up to 113 on the fourth floor of the old Calypso.
She was everything my wife wasn’t.
“You mind if I use the shower?” she asked, not waiting for my answer. She hadn’t been asking permission, she was going through the motions. I’d paid for the room, for dinner, and for all the drinks it had taken to muster my courage- the least she could do was ask to use my shower. It wasn’t our room anymore.
I was left alone on the balcony with just the stink of menthol. I snuffed it out into the crystal ashtray and tossed the remains over the ledge. I didn’t want her to think I hadn’t finished it. I don’t even know why it mattered so much to me. I found myself back inside and standing between the two queen beds. Only the right side had been slept in, the left contained my freshly pressed suit laid out and waiting to be worn.
I was like that. Controlled, punctual, and predictable. I worked overtime. I made the ‘employee of the month’ plaque regularly. I always attended the company barbeque; right beside me, ever faithful, my wife. I don’t know when but her picture had made it into my hand.
She smiled at the photographer, her head turned to the right, even if her eyes were on me. One of those straw beach hats was on her head, beneath it a pale blue scarf that just happened to be caught in a gust of wind. Reverently, I tucked the photo back within my suitcase.
She was singing in the shower. Her voice ate at me from within. It fractured the perfection of my memory. She didn’t sing in the shower. The silk of the tie felt good in my hand. It was expensive, the kind of tie a man got after he was promoted. I’d gotten it from my Valentine last year. February fourteenth was right around the corner, wasn’t it? I’d be home just in time.
Pulled tight it didn’t seem so long, twice around my hand, the slack hanging loose at my side. I knew exactly how much strength it took. I wanted to see her smile one more time.
Then, I would go home.