An hour later, Jake showers. “Babe, get ready. We’re leaving soon.”
Liz stops brushing her teeth. “I can’t be arsed to go shopping. Can we stay in tonight, get fish and chips or something?”
“But we don’t even have milk,” he says.
Half-way through lathering his hair with shampoo, the pipes groan and the hot water disappears. He yelps at the cold slap on his back and leaps from under the spray. Luckily, they’ve got a wet room. A tiled square box with a big drain in the middle. It never gets old.
Liz spits into the sink. “Gas,” is all she says.
“I’m done anyway.”
After towelling off, he plans.
“Have you seen my sunglasses?”
“Why you asking me?” she replies, in between the roar of the hairdryer.
“I probably left them in the car.”
With Liz still in the bathroom, he swings the packed suitcases hidden under the bed into the hallway—out of sight. With the hairdryer whirring, he leaves the front door on the latch and heaps the cases into the boot of their car. He then slides the sunglasses onto his nose.
“They were in the glove compartment,” he says, shutting the front door. Liz doesn’t answer. The television is going and she’s folding gum into ripped magazine.
“Are you going to top-up the gas or what?”
“We can do it on the way back,” he says.
“It’s not even that sunny.”
“You want help getting in the car?”
“I got it,” she says.
A406 eastbound changes into the M11. It doesn’t take long—Liz can never be too far from her mum since the pneumonia and the dog dying and the boiler breaking. As they approach the exit off the A road, the exit they take every time they go to Lidl, he changes lanes as if about to turn. Liz watches the big yellow and blue sign zoom past overhead.
“Well done,” she says. “You missed it completely.”
“Did I?” He smiles.
“Where are we going?”
“Jake,” she says.
“Wait and see.”
The hotel’s website was colourful, and the pool looked big and it even said there was a hot tub open till midnight. Liz likes a hot tub. She always stretches her arms out, head tilted back, as he watches across the foaming water. You wouldn’t know if you saw her like that, about her legs.
The green he saw on the website and in the magazine he can see now. A grassy lot perfectly square against the backdrop of those small mysterious companies with seventies-built offices and signs you think you’ve seen a thousand times before. It’s lined with palm trees on the boundaries of the lots either side, like a giant weed pushing through concrete. It’s three floors. No balconies. He drives past the entrance. ‘Hotel Continental’ written in neon lights above the electric doors. The palm tree light winks on and off above two glowing stars.
He parks the car at the back where you can see the swimming pool through a chain link fence. Brown leaves float on the surface. No one’s in the hot tub, if that’s what he’s looking at – a chained ladder leading to still water.
Liz laughs. “What is this place?”
“It’s a hotel,” he says. He unfolds her wheelchair, helps Liz in then lugs the suitcases out the boot.
“When did you pack?”
He knowingly taps his nose. “Not just a pretty face after all, ay?”
She presses her chin to her neck and mimics: “Have you seen my sunglasses?”
This is what he was waiting for. What makes everything else worth it.
Liz is pushing her case like it’s a hoover. He drags the other behind while driving Liz up the carpeted curb and under the entrance awning.
“We got three days to ourselves,” he says. “Three days to enjoy the summer.”
She kisses his hand as the automatic doors squeal open. Warm light covers his face as he’s transported to a white beach on some exotic island.
“Good evening, sir.” The man behind the desk folds down his book that’s in another language.
“You alright mate, I’ve got a room booked for three nights? Upton.”
His name is Kevin, label-makered onto a pin. “Is that Mr Jake Upton?”
“I have these vouchers as well, for ten percent off.” He flattens it out and presents it like a fifty-pound note, like trust me it’s real.
After clacking at his keyboard for a minute, Kevin says, “You’ve already used our bank holiday discount vouchers, sir, I’m afraid we can’t give two discounts.”
“It doesn’t say that,” he says, checking the back of the voucher. He should have brought the whole magazine.
“Yes, but I’m saying it, sir.”
“You can keep that voucher then, I guess.” He gives him three ten-pound notes and the ten pounds change he got in tips that afternoon.
Liz catches him flustering and says, “Do you have a hot tub here?”
“I’m sorry, madam, it’s out of service.”
“You don’t have to call me madam.”
“I’m sorry,” he says. “Here is your room key. Your room is 3045, if you just take the stairs up to the third floor and then turn left your room is just on the right.”
“You don’t have a lift?”
“I’m sorry, sir, it’s out of service. But the stairs—”
“Sorry mate, are you blind? We need a room on the ground floor if you don’t have a lift.”
His eyes keep going to Liz and he sweats. “I’m afraid we can’t.”
“Why are you afraid?” She always says the best thing.
“Leave it, Liz.” He considers his voice, as he wishes so many of the customers at his work did. “On your website it says you have a lift. That’s why I booked this place. Now you’re telling me we have to take the stairs?”
“I’m sorry, sir, it’s just there is only one room on the ground floor and it’s our premium room.”
“Is it booked?”
“So what if it’s premium? Are we not premium?”
Liz folds her arms as she speaks up to him, over the brow of the desk. “Well?”
Kevin smacks his lips. “Ok.” He hesitates, eyes darting between the Liz and the card. “Here’s your key.”
“Thank you,” he says. Kevin’s about to say something but swallows it.
As they roll through the hallway, Liz says, “Check you out, giving him the mind tricks.”
“As if I’m lugging you up and down those stairs,” he says.
They enter the room tentatively, half expecting premium to mean a fish tank in the wall and a bear skin carpet at the foot of an open fire. The suitcases go on the bed. It’s big, at least. But a smell puffs from the duvet. He sniffs, sniffs, whacks the bed again.
“Is this a smoking room?”
“We’re not in France, you idiot. You can’t smoke in the rooms.”
“It stinks in here.”
“Does it?” Liz says. “I can’t tell.”
He’s breathing in the room when Liz says, “What’s this?” into the bathroom.
A blue beach towel on the radiator. It’s fresh. Not hotel-made, that’s for sure. FCP written in white above a dragon. He opens the cupboard, half-thinking they’ve entered the wrong room. The cupboard is empty but hidden on the shelf beneath the safe and the UHT milk, a pair of Nike sliders. Tucked between the foot-holders, a twenty deck of B&H Silver.
“Premium room my arse,” he says.
“Flip flops and fags.”
“Wait,” Liz says, the towel in her hand—she works it between finger and thumb like it’s telling her the mysteries of the universe. “You don’t think—”
“What, it hasn’t been cleaned?”
“Not that!” Liz grits her teeth and flicks her eyes back. “K-E-V—”
“The look on his face when he handed you the key!”
“He’s just perched up in here, chilling.”
He finally has time to appreciate the room and the panoramic French doors that walk out to the pool. The loungers are all free—they’ve got the pick of the bunch.
“Not a bad gig, ay?” Liz says.
“Bold move, living in the premium room.”
“Chuffing on fags in the king size bed.” Saying that, Liz digs into her purse. She lights up with glee.
“You can’t smoke!”
“What’s he going to do? Grass on us?”
“He’ll kick us out.”
“He’s been caught with his pants down. He won’t.”
He thinks, what would I do if I lived in this room? He opens the mini-fridge, like, imagine if it’s full of beer—as if there’re two shelves full of beading bottles of Stella. Ice to the touch. They clink together, kissing, as the door hands open. It’s real.
“Kevin knows how to live his life, doesn’t he?” Liz says, taking a beer by the neck like a farmer grabbing his goose. She pops the cap with the arm of her chair.
“Yes, madam, he does.”
“You’re so full of sass.”
Liz pushes herself up against the bed. She unbuttons her navy-blue shirt and drops it by her side. When she unclips the bra, her breasts do not fall. Their firmness always surprised him, who saw the two of them as middle-aged, though in fact they weren’t even thirty.
Liz beckons him closer. He feels like ripping off his shirt and baring his chest. They giggle as he picks her up and throws her onto the mess of duvet. The bed springs cheer. He unrolls her tights. Her legs are thin and crooked and perfect. He buries his face in her belly, kissing a line up her body.
“Pull the duvet,” she says.
Afterwards, lying on the broken sheets, she says, “Do you think Kevin bangs in this bed, too?”
“Bangs? What’s wrong with you?”
“Okay, makes love then, grandad.”
“He definitely jerks it.”
“It’s true, look at the size of that TV. If you weren’t here, I’d—”
“If these legs worked, I’d run.”
He turns onto his side. Behind the line and curve of her body, the peach-sky sun drops below the dual carriageway.
“You don’t mind all this, do you?”
“What? Free beer? It’s better than I could have imagined.”
“We’ve got three days. Just to relax, you know?”
“I should call Mum.”
“No, let’s go in the pool. Pass my bikini.”
Outside, in the flowerbeds, dark green withered things stand side by side, drooping like pensioners waiting for the bus home. In the dark, the rush of the A road could be the tide lapping against sandy shores. The pool lights illuminate everything from below, throwing up patterns of light and movement. Sitting on one of the plastic chairs on the patio, an old lady with skin wrinkled like used tinfoil tips ash into a coke can. The butts balancing in a mound tell she’s been there for a while. He nods at the lady and she waves back.
“It’s heated,” Liz says, slicing a finger through the surface.
“It’s full of shit.”
“You need to scrape it off with one of those net things.”
“Let me sort it.”
He enters the concrete structure at the far end of the pool, poorly camouflaged by more squat palm trees. He finds the net with a long metal handle, rusty at the seams. It’s hot and steamy and noisy. He tracks the twisting maze of pipes and colours to a red switch. He twists before pushing because it has a diagram etched into the plastic on what to do.
Outside, Liz claps awkwardly, a tall glass of something with gin and ice in one hand. “Hurry up!”
He can see the hot tub’s not working. It’s got power though, the start button a red circle.
He skims the leaves off the pool, pops the mesh cover off the filter, and scoops the gunk. He dumps it all behind the concrete structure.
“I swear my life is just doing things.”
“Throw me in then!”
He cradles her by the edge of the pool.
“Close your eyes,” he says. She shuts them tight and gulps a big breath. With his toes wrapped over the lip of the pool, he bombs.
The sun’s almost set now; the night is blessed with summer’s warm breath. They sit in the shallow end with the water slapping at their chins. The old lady has gone inside. It’s just the two of them.
“Wait here,” he says, paddles to the hot tub. He presses the red button and the water wakes up. The hot tub churns, folding white water over and over. A chain hangs across the entrance of the tub with a dangling sign saying OUT OF SERVICE.
“I turned it on,” he says. “Only had to flick a switch.”
“Oh, that Kevin. He’s got all the tricks.”
He hoists Liz up the ladder and into the hot tub. They duck under the sign. She scootches up to him and rests her head on his shoulder.
“I wonder if he’s the manager.”
“Who, Kevin?” he says. “He sounds like he is.”
“There’s barely anyone here now so when there’s no one it must be like, his own mansion. All to himself.”
“Can’t blame him.”
“Imagine this,” she says. “All for us.”
“I wish I could take you somewhere better,” he says.
“Don’t be daft,” she says. “It’s just like being in Majorca.”
He laughs. “Oh yeah, exactly the same.”
“Look.” Liz presents her puckered hands. “Look at my fingers. All wrinkly.”
“Like that old lady.”
“I’m ooold,” she says in a scratchy voice. “Ooold.”
They aren’t that old, though. Not really. It’s summer and they’re having a laugh. They still have plenty of time to do things properly, to get things done.
© 2020 J. D. Halcro
J. D. Halcro completed an MA in novel writing at City, University of London and writes short stories as well as novels.