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CHAPTER 6: LOVERS
Cassette 3 cont'd: 5 th January, Hotel Kyla, Middle of Nowhere, Finland
Oh dear Nigel, I can never allow you to hear this cassette. I shall have to hide it well. So who will listen to yesterday's adventures? Perhaps no – [ microphone clicks off, then clicks on again ].
We have been trapped by snowdrifts in this hotel for six days. That helicopter never returned after our weekend break. Who knows what will happen. I must record what I know. It's like writing a message in a bottle. [ Microphone clicks twice again ].
Yesterday at breakfast – it seems so long ago and so much happened. There was that beautiful little box in the middle of the table, for example. Well this is a secret tape. I can speak my mind now. As Stuart reached in front of me to lift the lid, he smelt of man and I wanted to touch his arm. There, I've said it. I did touch his arm, as if by accident. We looked at each other. It was nothing. Nobody noticed.
He has blue eyes that shine. It was too much and I looked away at the box. It was still opening. I don't know why it seemed to take so long. Everyone stopped eating and watched. Stuart laid the lid upside down on the table, and it sat there, rocking. We waited.
Why did we all eat those little sweets? Two people have died here, and they were the only ones who ate those luxury foods, the ones which suddenly appeared in the kitchen. Here was another delicious surprise and nobody cared. It's because the atmosphere has changed. Nobody seems to care any more. We sat silently, staring around the table and sucking on those tiny, sugary things that made rainbows of sweet, fruity flavour across the palate and through the brain.
How strange – I hadn't noticed it before, but the Duke of Edenfield's hair was not so grey as I had thought it was, and there was considerably more of it. Perhaps it was because he was sober, and at breakfast for a change. His gaze was locked with Mandy's. So she had not told the truth. They were lovers after all. I was fascinated, but –
The next thing I knew, I was halfway up the stairs. Stuart and I were running. Sometimes I would pull back.
“I haven't finished my breakfast.”
“Yes you have. Anyway I have more breakfast in my room.”
“What will people think?”
But I was laughing. And I didn't care about breakfast. Sometimes I was pulling Stuart along the corridor. He stumbled, and I dragged him with both hands. He was falling over oranges. They were rolling all over the floor. His room was covered in fruit. We lifted the bedcover, tipped the pineapples and bananas off and there we were, rolling about and laughing. What next? Well it must have involved a lot of fruit. We threw all the apple cores and banana skins into the corridor, because the snow blocks the windows. Did Stuart notice my body? Of course he did. But yesterday morning nothing seemed to matter.
At least, nothing mattered until I went back to my room to change. Whatever was that in the corridor? I was looking down. There were squashed and half-eaten fruits all along the carpet. Were other people throwing it out of their rooms too? Where on earth was it all coming from? One door was half-open. It was dark inside: the lights were off, with the snowdrifts blocking out all the light. I don't know whose room it was, and I can't even remember now which room it was. There was no fruit outside that door. Perhaps it was unoccupied.
I was exhausted and happy with love. A deep and sweet voice within that room was calling me. It was not Stuart. I went in and shut the door.
I was drunk with love. Nothing could hurt me. It was pitch black in there. Whoever hugged me, oh so gently, had very hairy arms. I touched a hand. What? And claws too? The arms turned me round – and – what a kiss. A hot kiss: brief like a stabbing. Suddenly there came a growl of hostility and passion. I was let go and pushed away, then clutched close and breathed-on, hotly. My head spun. I spun. Which way was the door?
And then there came the deep, throbbing sound that continued on and on: a kind of purring. Oh dear. I remembered the falling iron in Tracy's cupboard and her half-cat baby. I was in a clinch with Tracy's ginormous secret half-cat lover, and Tracy was going to kill me. I started squealing with laughter, hysterically. I cried. It made no difference.
By the time I finally reached my room, my clothes were torn and my skin scratched. My battle-scars are now plastered with makeup. There were many red faces at breakfast this morning. Louise Moss, our shifty courier, looked hopefully into the sweetie-box, but it was empty. She looked disappointed. Elizabeth blushed. Elizabeth, the new widow? No, I must have imagined it. Elizabeth smiled politely at Louise and asked her to pass the cereal-box. Louise, smiling graciously back and for once looking someone in the eye, gave her the cereal. It was just politeness. Surely I was mistaken.
But I was disappointed with the empty box. Another little sweet each day would make the wait for the helicopter just about bearable - very bearable indeed. I glanced shyly at Stuart. He avoided my glance. Oh dear.
In the upstairs corridor after breakfast today, everyone was wandering up and down, looking for that extra door which they said they'd “seen open yesterday.” Nobody explained why. Nobody found the door. We tidied the broken fruit away. No one said anything.
In the bar yesterday evening, Edenfield looked old again, but he was not drinking. He was cuddling Mandy in a corner seat. She looked down, modestly. He talked to her all the time. True lovers: how lucky they are. My Nigel and I were lovers, and now I have broken the bond. I have lost the engagement ring that I hid with these cassettes that keep disappearing. What on earth is going on in this place?
Stuart came in. He poured himself a drink and made to leave. I caught his arm.
“Talk to me.”
He walked out. I followed.
“It was the sweets. Forget it. Talk to me, Stuart.”
He was pale and grim.
“You are not what you seem.”
“But you already knew. Mandy told everyone.”
“Yes she told me. I didn't face it. Now I must face myself.”
So I told him about the open door. He had been in there too, and had come out with torn clothes in the early afternoon. He agreed to talk to me. We were in that bar for quite a while. He has quite a story.
I asked him why he had come so far from England for a weekend break. As with Maury, it was a corporate perk: a gift from his boss.
“My team worked many extra hours in the special ward. Discretion was required. We had to sign a gagging contract. We were each promised this holiday at the end of our stint, and a large bonus on our return. I am expecting two thousand. Quite a lot for a nurse.”
“So where are the others? This is a big hotel – all those empty rooms.”
“As the patients died off they laid off staff. The staff took their rewards, I suppose, and left. I haven't seen them since. I was the last to leave. They are going to close the ward, now.”
“So what were the patients being treated for? Why the gagging contract?”
Stuart looked down. Now listener, he has a very open character. He obviously doesn't like keeping secrets.
“I don't want to lose my bonus. I am behind with my rent.”
So, dear listener (but who . . .) there are two guests here – Stuart and Maury - who received this holiday as a gift. And they have not seen their colleagues who holidayed earlier. Could there be a pattern here? Surely not. Two out of ten do not make a pattern. Yes, this holiday was a gift for me too, but from a lover. That is different, surely.
So, goodbye and thank you for listening, whoever you are. Now I must hide this cassette, and make a sweet and loving recording tomorrow for my dear Nigel.Thomasina Birch.
Copyright © 2003 LS
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