God Knows

The door locked behind her. Not noticing or perhaps not caring, she dumped her bag and flopped onto the bed. She could have done without the receptionist being so snooty with her, looking her up and down and saying ‘Mrs Mason?’ Emma herself had been pretty annoyed to find he’d booked her in as his wife when it would have been so much more feasible to say she was his daughter, but now the mistake was made she didn’t need to have it pointed out to her by some stiff-lipped, sour-faced, grey woman who knew nothing about her or Alan.

She exhaled heavily and closed her eyes. Calm down, she told herself, lowering one hand protectively to her belly, getting upset would be no good for the…her eyes flew open and she sprang up as the clock over her head chimed eight o’clock. He’d be leaving Sarah now, kissing her at the door, getting into the company Mondeo, clutching his tan briefcase as a scapegoat. Waving to her as he reversed skillfully off the drive. Work, he’d be mouthing to her with a rueful shake of the head. And she’d be standing in the light of the doorway, smiling and not believing him.

Smoothing imaginary creases in the ivory linen, Emma took a good look at her surroundings. The wallpaper was pale cream, embossed, expensive; the curtains heavy mulberry velvet with matching pelmet. When she pulled them closed they blocked out light and all other signs of life so successfully that they made the windows seem even more impenetrable than the walls. She unlaced her shoes and sank her bare feet into the lush, rose-coloured carpet, feeling a little out of place in the ancient teenage uniform of blue jeans and white teeshirt, a man-size plaid shirt over the top (she never wore a coat), but thinking she might start to enjoy herself all the same. Certainly this was a far cry from her experiences of family holidays with Catholic aunts and leery uncles in huge Butlins hotels with names like ‘The Grand’ and ‘The Metropole’ and rooms like dormitories. Those hotel rooms were asexual places, except on those occasions involving Uncle Bill’s beer-breathed advances dismissed by her stupid mother as ‘harmless’ and even ‘affectionate’.

‘What is it with me and older men?’ Emma said aloud, trying to sound flippant and to pretend that her ‘relationships’ so far had been anything like normal. But there was a crack in her voice.

What could she do for the half-hour it would take him to drive over here? She tried the TV but somehow knew it wouldn’t be working, even before it was proven. This seemed to confirm the sense that here was a place where people came specifically and solely to have sex. It seemed ironic that she and Alan were meeting here only at this late stage, sex the cause but not the purpose of their rendezvous. This was the kind of place – pink-hued, softly lit, plush – Alan could and should have brought her to, long ago, because even a hotel room with all its illicit connotations would surely be less seedy than the car seat after babysitting. She tried to laugh. At least I’ve got experience looking after his baby, she thought, that’s handy.

Convincing herself she was calm, she got up to make coffee with trembling hands. As the water boiled and she toyed with the biscuits, her eye was drawn to the rosewood cabinet resting in the corner of the room. With a little encouragement its door came open like a fairytale drawbridge. After the exotic promise of the delicately carved exterior, Emma was disappointed to find a couple of polished tumblers and only six miniatures. Still, she felt reassuringly adult as she poured herself a Malibu, which she had seen her mother drink with Coke and sometimes pineapple.

The terrible impersonality of hotel rooms hit her as she wandered around, sipping delicately from her glass, and looked for something for read. Accustomed to her own room’s scattered magazines and Sunday newspapers, she was irritated by the accusing presence of the solitary blood-coloured Bible at the bedside, a small but effective and Godly admonishment to the room’s illicit inhabitants. She picked it up and with real force tossed it under the bed.

When 8.30 arrived and Alan didn’t, she decided to risk the wrath of the disapproving receptionist and wait for him in the foyer. The overwhelming pinkness and creaminess of the room was starting to make her feel nauseous. She tried the door and when it refused to yield, realised or remembered that it had clicked snugly into place behind her. She couldn’t recall having been given a key; certainly the door had been open when she’d got up here. She rubbed her eyes. When he arrived, they’d give him a key and he’d let her out, so that would be alright. She waited. But he wouldn’t let her out, of course. What a stupid thing to think! she told herself, don’t be so dim. The point of coming here wasn’t to just go again! They were meeting here to talk, as he’d said gravely on the phone in the adult, businesslike tone that always excited and overwhelmed her.

Emma as fifteen and naïve but by no means stupid. She knew that Alan’s idea of ‘talking’ was telling her what he’d decided, which she knew meant getting rid of it. Her face contorted involuntarily as the words flickered through her mind (he would not use those words, of course: he would probably pat her head and say softly, ‘I’ve arranged for you to see someone tomorrow. He’s very good,’ or something similarly ambiguous. And yet terribly unambiguous). Tomorrow? Yes, it would probably be so soon. Maybe he’d organised it for tonight, even in this very room; had she been brought here under false pretences, to a well-disguised clinic where they authorised the killing of babies by their married fathers?

She felt fuzzy as she drained the Malibu and slammed the glass down, incensed by the thought of Alan planning her and her baby’s future. She leapt up and hurled herself at the door, half trying to escape and half making sure it was locked securely enough. Next she hammered the walls with her small fists, like a surveyor gone frantic, the desperate beginnings of a sob rising and catching in her throat. Her hands grasped the curtains and tugged and tugged until finally, her hands balled into fists, she sank to her knees and began to pummel her own abdomen.

By ten o’clock, still alone and still locked in, she looked like someone about to do a spring clean: sleeves rolled up, hair scraped back, and air of efficiency. Thick curls of steam drifted in from the pearl-coloured bathroom with its gold-plated taps and fluffy towels. She stood at the minibar and picked up the bottles one by one, studying them as someone who’d never had a drink before (certainly her experience was limited), then putting them down again. Eventually she unscrewed the Smirnoff and downed it just for luck, then picked up the two gin bottles and proceeded to the bathroom. Two bottles of gin was good. She remembered the things her mother had said. Considering Catholics were meant to be strictly anti-abortion, her mother and aunts certainly knew all the tricks. She tried to laugh as she started to peel layers from her boyish figure. This way, of course, it wouldn’t be abortion as such, would it? More like a miscarriage. Something she could mourn without shame. Best of all, it would be over by the time Alan arrived, and they wouldn’t have to talk, and he wouldn’t have to decide for her. But it was 10.30 and she knew he wasn’t coming.

Would 10ml be enough, though? Of course not, logically, but by now Emma was starting to embrace wholeheartedly the mythic qualities of the gin, and the hot bath, paying little attention to logic. At any rate, she thought gleefully, pouring, it can’t do me any good! She stopped. But then…if it didn’t work and she was to have the baby anyway, she didn’t want it to come out deformed, like the babies she sometimes saw on TV, the babies her mother turned over. The baby in her mind’s eye was already fully and perfectly formed, even wearing a babygro and bootees that, God knows, her mother won’t have knitted.

But she couldn’t think about that, she had to be organised, be as mature as Alan had told her she was, when he first took her home and spoke in that silky, older voice. She grimaced and unpacked the paltry contents of her bag, arranging them neatly on the bathroom chair. A toothbrush, a clean pair of cotton knickers and a fat, expectant sanitary towel. Perhaps she had known all along.

She sank into the bath, humming to herself, and felt the water turning her body livid pink. She knocked back the gin, feeling the mind and her room, no, her mind and the room, turn furry grey, whose mind? Whose room is this anyway? Whose life?


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