“I can’t sleep.”
“Well, at least try!” Maureen harrumphed, grabbed a fist full of duvet and span over taking more of the bed clothes than was fair. This was her protest. On the face of it, her protest was about George encroaching upon her precious sleep, but as with many arguments there was more to it than that. This argument had history.
George was aware of some of the history. He wasn’t a dolt. He also knew that there would be elements of Maureen’s chagrin that he was oblivious to. Things that had had their day and he’d let go of, but that she had not.
He once dated a woman who talked about her ex quite a bit. Betty hadn’t gotten over her ex and she made this obvious whilst denying this very fact in a way that meant George thought it unwise to broach the subject with her. One of the stories she told was about the end of her relationship and how she’d sat at the kitchen table for several days and talked it out with her Matty. Three days she’d tried to talk it out so they wouldn’t casually watch the last decade walk away without so much as a backward glance.
When the inevitable occurred, and George’s time with Betty came to an end, he’d sat in awe as Betty listed every single thing he’d ever got wrong in the year they’d been together. Sitting and attempting to look like he was still listening had been like being on parade on the hottest day in history. He’d swooned several times and his eyes were so heavy he just couldn’t keep them open. At one point he risked looking at his watch to see how long Betty had been going. Then he did some mental mathematics, it did not help that it seemed he had done better than Matty on the Betty Failure Scale.
In the end, he wanted to find Matty and shakes his hand. He knew that as he held that hand he’d pull the poor sod in for a bear hug and he’d whisper, “I know, mate. She did it to me. How the hell did you survive?!”
What really got George was the misuse of memory. Betty’s feat of recall was both impressive and depressing. How did a person store all the petty slights and grievances and why did they not let any of them go? If they had been at all important, why not deal with them there and then? There was a latent anger at play there. An ever present rage that built in pressure until out it all came. That wasn’t right. It really wasn’t.
Holding grudges was insane as far as George was concerned and whenever Maureen had the hump like this, he remembered Betty. On every other previous occasion, he’d remembered Betty to mitigate his current plight. Maureen wasn’t a bottler like Betty, at least not to the extent that Betty was. The manner of the ending of his relationship with Betty was not usual and it became clear that Betty really wasn’t in a good place The several hours of recall with barely a breath drawn was merely a symptom of something bigger. George had paid enough attention to sift through everything said in order to note anything significant that he might have done. He wanted there to be a deal breaker on the list because then he could take his medicine, hold his hands up to failing and do his best to learn from it. But there was nothing to grab a hold of. Not one thing. The highlights for him were not buying Betty a cake when he’d been delayed for five hours on a half hour train journey that saw him come home knackered and dishevelled at gone midnight with the delightful prospect of heading back to the client at 6.30am the next day, and the other one was not buying her an impromptu present even though she’d dropped hints. He didn’t buy her the bracelet because it was cheap and tacky and he hadn’t realised she’d been serious. Besides, she could have bought it for herself.
George lay there staring at the ceiling and thinking about that past life. There was a poignancy in his ruminations and he should have felt something approaching sadness, but he did not. This lack barely disturbed him. That in itself should have rendered him uncomfortable. But it did not. Instead he was rather pleased at his recollections and he was also aggrieved at Maureen behaving like this. There was something of Betty in her behaviour and George didn’t think that fair.
It wasn’t George’s fault that he’d been away for the last three weeks. Work was work and Maureen knew the score. She’d always known the score. Work pre-existed her and their relationship and it was a fact of life. Kicking against the facts of life was another waste of time and George just didn’t get it. Maureen was miffed at him for doing his job. That was the main thrust of her silent and simmering argument. She didn’t like the life they had and the worst of it was George’s job. Well, George was not sorry for that. He’d worked hard to get where he was and his job did more than pay the bills. His job took them into bonus territory and that was even before he got his bonus. So Maureen could put that in her pipe and she could smoke it. Not that she smoked. Or drank for that matter. Maureen didn’t do much of anything these days and that was possibly the problem. She needed to occupy herself with worthwhile pursuits and maybe a few pursuits that weren’t worthwhile. That would make a difference and that difference was something that they could share.
“Are you going to turn the light off!?”
George looked at Maureen’s tense back and shelved a verbal response. Anything he said was sure to wind her up even further. He leaned over and turned his bedside lamp off. Not that it was going to make a hill of beans difference to her sleep.
He lay there in the darker room and found that the absence of the lamp’s light was not making all that much of a difference to what he could see. His night vision was pretty good. His eye sight was pretty good. In fact, all his senses were mighty fine right now, and he was feeling good.
Good, not happy. Those two things were not the same. He could get up, go downstairs and read for a while. He knew he wasn’t going to get to sleep anytime soon. There was one thing that was keeping him from leaving the bed though and that was Maureen. More specifically, it was the heat of Maureen’s anger. He could feel it coming in waves and once he attended to it he could hear her ragged breath and hear the beat of her heart.
He lay there, his thoughts accompanied by that soundtrack. Now he was thinking about this last work trip. It had been a run of the mill work trip. The same old, same old. He booked a bog standard hotel because anything more was a waste. All he wanted was a bed to sleep in. If he was on the ball, he’d buy himself a two litre bottle of water and park it on the bedside table. He would also turn the heating down, if possible, then he’d check the window out. There were two aspects to the window examination – could he open it and when it was open did it let in undue noise? Belt and braces was in order when it came to temperature control in a hotel. Hotel bedrooms tended to be too hot and George could not sleep when he was too hot.
The room had turned out to be OK and after the obligatory three day acclimatisation to a new sleeping environment, George was getting his eight hours of sleep and sometimes a little more. He worked through the weekends as this was a new client and he’d landed the work late in the day. That sometimes happened. Clients left it until the eleventh hour before looking for his services, and they expected him to swan in, learn the ropes and get everything ship shape in short order, and to do it on a shoe string. The first year was an investment as far as George was concerned. Once he had clients on his books, they seldom went elsewhere, his charges were beyond reasonable and he always did a thorough job.
The hotel was an entirely different place at the weekend. George wasn’t sure whether he liked the transformation, but he didn’t dislike it either. It just was, and comparing the weekdays with the weekends was like comparing his two favourite dishes. Fish, chips and mushy peas were what Friday evenings were about and chicken tikka masala was what he ate on a Saturday night.
There was the noise that accompanied the excited weekend trippers, and some of that noise was fuelled by booze. George didn’t mind the noise, he could tune out of it. If anything, it was the occasional boorish businessman in the week who got under his skin and annoyed him. That kind of guy was full of his own self-importance and he’d deliberately increased his volume in order to inflict himself on all and sundry. It wasn’t only the volume though. There was something jagged and jarring about the delivery. People like that weaponised their intonation and George hoped there was a special place in hell for those people. Ideally, it would be soundproofed so his stay in the adjacent room wasn’t too unpleasant. He was already quite used to the far too hot hotel rooms he frequented, so he thought he could adapt quite well to life after death.
On the first Sunday night, he was sitting at the hotel bar nursing a double whisky. He’d been out for food that afternoon and overeaten at a Sunday buffet, taking all three meats so that he didn’t have to choose between the chicken, beef and pork. He’d promised himself a ham sandwich from the petrol station across the road should he be hungry, but that eventuality never transpired, so he ordered a packet of salt and vinegar crisps as a concession to eating an evening meal. The packet was now empty and his glass was going that way. He hadn’t noticed the state of his glass, zoning out and staring in the general direction of all the bottles of spirits, not exactly seeing them, but enjoying the lights playing across their glass surfaces.
“Mind if I sit here?”
The words broke his reverie in a soft, gentle and pleasant way. They were like a reassuring touch, or a breath of cool air on a balmy Summer’s night.
The presence of the newcomer was, George found, welcome. Too welcome, if he was honest with himself. He took his time responding, he did not want to break the spell of the moment. When he did respond, he turned to look towards the woman standing next to him and couldn’t help smiling, “not at all,” he said, relieved that manners came to him naturally and prevented him from becoming tongue-tied.
George was all too aware that he was a cliché right now. That he might even be a bargain bundle of cliches. Nothing like this ever happened to George and now he was panicking that he was going to ruin it. It wasn’t that he wanted anything to happen, but then again, he didn’t want to come over all awkward or even weird such that he repelled the newcomer and deprived himself of her company. Time in her company was going to stroke his ego and remind him that he was a red-blooded male worthy of an attractive lady’s company. He knew other men thought like this. He also knew that women didn’t like to think that men were like this at all. Men, once they were married, were supposed to be sanitised products that had been purchased and were never going to be resold. A married man’s ego was a bottle of detergent that was placed out of sight under the sink. No one ever resold those bottles, and some of them never got used.
Now George was out in the wild and he was experiencing a rare moment of freedom. He was dizzied by it all and doing his best not to grin like an idiot.
“Do you want a drink?” he asked the lady as she took a seat on the stool beside him.
“I didn’t…” she began to explain that she wasn’t expecting a drink. George liked her for that.
“I was going to get another anyway,” he told her. That wasn’t strictly speaking the truth, but it was a minor tweak. The past tense was incorrect, but now he was certainly going to get himself another whisky and it would be a Dutch-courage double.
“Sure,” she smiled, “I’ll have a house red.”
They didn’t talk until the drinks were placed in front of them. That was their cue and it avoided any interruptions at the outset. Once they started talking, they did not stop until the barman asked if they wanted any more drinks as he was going off shift.
The initial elation George had experienced from the very start had not subsided. He felt young again and that feeling of freedom remained. He’d missed this. Wasn’t sure whether he’d ever had it before.
“I’ve really enjoyed this,” he said to her, “thank you.”
She smiled coyly, “you’re talking like we’re finished.”
“I…” his voice croaked. A drowning man clumsily reaching out with flailing hands.
She laughed, and the sound of it warmed him. She was laughing for him, not at him. He’d never been given something like that. Slipping off her stool, she took his hand, “c’mon.”
He followed her all the way to his room. Now they were almost silent, George’s adrenaline fuelled breathing sounding loud to his ears.
He fumbled with his key card, willing it to behave and open the door. A failing key card could make a world of crushing difference. It worked on the second attempt and he went in through the door. Turning he saw her framed in the doorway, a vision of a certain kind of beauty. Attractive was what she was. Long dark hair, pale skin and painted red lips. Her eyes were dark and alluring. He was captivated by her.
“You going to invite me in?” she asked coquettishly.
“Yes!” he gasped, “come in!”
He didn’t have the time or inclination to turn the lights on or draw the curtains. They fell onto the bed and pulled at each other’s clothes while they kissed each other hungrily. George had never experienced anything like it.
In the morning, George slept through his alarm. Another first. When the sun’s rays finally roused him, he awoke to a mess of bedsheets, but no Carmen. She’d whispered her name in his ear during their frantic activity. He couldn’t remember whether he’d told her his name.
All that day he was edgy and bereft. One night was not enough. And it was too much. He’d tasted forbidden fruit and he was no longer the same person.
He bowled into his room in a state of confusion that was washed away in the instant he saw Carmen laying expectantly on his bed. He was too distracted to question how she’d gained access to his room.
After their initial, strenuous greeting, they lay in each other’s arms.
“You’ve cut yourself,” she whispered.
“I think we broke your wine glass,” he replied.
Her mouth found the wound on the crook of his arm, as it would every night for the rest of his stay, the nights blurring into each other, his addiction to her sated from the moment he entered the room, hers sated later as he lay there and she fed from him.
He knew without asking that the last night of his stay would be the final night they spent together. He had not expected the question she’d asked of him. The choice that he was given. There was merit in both outcomes. He did not weigh them in his usual, thorough manner. He knew which option was right for him.
George now turned to the alarm clock, already knowing what time it was.
The witching hour.
“Go to sleep!” barked Maureen. As if her anger was conducive to sleep for either of them.
George rolled towards her. She’d caught his attention with both her sharp words and the heat of her anger. He sensed that heat. Felt it. Now he understood. Carmen had preferred her meals hot. That was why she had seduced him first. He’d been a willing participant in their unusual interaction.
When it came down to it, this was the same. Maureen with her anger, and George’s silent acceptance of it, night after night.
He drew closer.
“Oh no you don’t, buster!” Maureen growled.
George wrapped his arms around her all the same. A strong big spoon curling around the smaller, angry and rigid Maureen.
“No!” she cried as his mouth found her neck.
He hesitated. Prolonging the moment. Finding enjoyment in waiting.
“George?” Maureen’s voice was uncertain now and she wasn’t quite so tense.
He felt his teeth respond and the hunger rose up from deep within him. There was no turning back now. He pulled her even closer and his fangs entered her and he tasted her for the very first time. Maureen was his first.
“Oh George!” she sighed as he began to suck against the wound.
As the blood pulsed out of her, so did her anger.
Afterwards, they both fell asleep in each other’s arms.
George slept like the dead.