By Robert Gould
Claire never thought she would long to be jolted awake. That instantaneous shift from the soft uncertainty of sleep to barbed panic now eluded her. There was no scramble to check her phone for hysterical messages from concerned friends, no rabid recollection of events to thwart her morning. Claire knew exactly where she was, and what she had done. She glanced up and around the hotel room for the seventh time, once again looking for a distraction; once again, the room’s heavy curtains left only shapes to be deciphered.
Dying. How she pined for a way to use this word flippantly, to see the man that lay beside her wake up, look at her, and, mirroring her glazed eyes, her dulled skin, speak of dying in the way she did on a weekly basis. To joke of the lethal concoction that were their combined hangovers, his a little more potent than hers. Now dying seemed a viable option, and would surely be more bearable than what was to come. For Claire wasn’t incapacitated last night. She wished she had been, of course. It would’ve made her behavior a little more excusable, and a lot less cruel. She knew the man she was with to be married and she knew, from the moment they locked eyes in that awful bar, that he had certain intentions. But for whatever reason, she didn’t rise above it.
She propped her pillow up against the headboard and sat straight, glancing down, surveying her man. It eased her guilt to know it took a man like this to dissolve her morals; he was exceptional. For the first time since she woke two hours ago, she was thankful that this whole mess didn’t have a cinematic sheen, for he was naked, and these weren’t L-shaped sheets. He lay on his stomach, and she carefully admired his back. Such an odd thing to revere, she thought. Almost perverted. She was quick to remind herself that admiring a man’s back was hardly the most perverted thing she’s done in the last twelve hours. Wincing, she turned away and, in an effort to stay busy, grabbed the leather-bound portfolio that sat on her bedside table, opening it at random page.
Breakfast! Had they paid for breakfast? Surely receptionists throw in every charge they can when a man and his whore stumble in at two in the morning? She would have footed the bill for the penthouse suite if it meant taking this guy to bed.
Claire couldn’t handle such an awkward conversation, so she plumped for room service. Boldly, she prodded the man awake, and saw the jolt of awakening she inexplicably missed. His head shot up with a sharp inhalation. He looked at Claire, then around the room. With a slight groan, he buried his head in his pillow.
“Good morning.” She volunteered.
To her surprise, the man’s head shot up once again, wearing a slight smile.
They pored over the menu, each deciding on the Full Irish. The man hopped out of bed and tore open the curtains, recoiling as the light burst through. He laughed, and swore with colour. He rooted two dressing gowns from the closet, tossing one Claire’s way. The room looked much better in the light, and the bare window now yielded a pleasant winter morning.
They enjoyed their early breakfast at a small table overlooking the city. Claire chewed rabidly on her bacon, and watched as the man brushed his toast with a segment of tomato, a Spanish custom. When quizzed about it, he explained his wife was from Cataluña, and had imparted some culinary wisdom. Her throat brushed with a sudden dryness, Claire chalked down a piece of bacon fat as she processed his words.
“Spanish girls are pretty.”
“They are”, he nodded. “She is.”
As they mopped up their plates with leftover crust, the man asked her how her head was.
“It’s okay. I’m glad I ate something.”
He laughed, warmly, with a hint admiration.
“Irish girls, man. You’re built for it.”
“For what?” Claire asked, unmasked concern in her voice.
“Drinking, the whole culture of it. You drank me under the table.”
Claire laughed, relieved. But the man’s face grew dark, and his voice grave.
“I’m sorry about last night. You were so drunk, like properly hammered.”
“So were you.”
“Yeah, but Claire…” he struggled. “I knew what I was doing. And I’m older, I should have known better.”
He rubbed at his beard, almost unconsciously. His mouth stretched into shapes devoid of vanity. His eyes shone wet. Absolved of responsibility, Claire felt naked. He was older than her, substantially so, but she never saw this as a way out. Part of her longed to correct his thoughts on her drunkenness, but even this quick taste of absolution had opened up so much to her. Five minutes ago she was a whore, a worthless cliché of a woman. Absolved, she was a student of literature, a daughter, and a sister to two beautiful siblings. More tempting than anything else was her potential.
She left him soon enough, in a mild flood of apologies.