Vincent was a war correspondent. Sporting greasy black hair, a dimple in the three-day stubble on his chin, a closed-up hole in his ear lobe where he once wore an ear stud, he was hardly ever in the country. The first time they kissed, at the editorial board party ten years ago, it was spring. When branches along the streets and canals, in the park, were budding, they ended up in a hotel room, forever their final stop. When it ended, the trees had lost their leaves. Such a cliché.
Vincent would ask questions, lots of questions, via the app. But when they met in person, it was difficult for her to get a word in edgewise, and in the hotel room, it was different again. The word that came to mind was ‘animal’, not a beast, but a silent pony, eyes filled with tenderness and kindness. There, he hardly spoke at all. It was odd but strangely interesting, these various personas of Vincent’s, as if he needed to be tougher in the ‘outside’ world.
As she felt most remorseful about their messages, they stopped sending them. But their weekends in rented rooms, she felt were acceptable. It was easy for her to lie about them, simple enough to say that she was off for the weekend for work or with friends. They had found a solution. Or rather, she had come up with the idea and suggested it. ‘We’re like geese flying north,’ she had said. He had laughed about it. ‘Geese, huh?’ he responded. One weekend every six months.
It wasn’t quite the right image, perhaps. She wanted to step out of her role that weekend, to stop being a goose, a mother goose. Such a dumb image, birdbrain! But then what, what would be better? She wanted to fly, that’s for sure. To Finland and back. Back home, her place on this earth.
They meet just once a year these days. The first few dates had been at the same hotel, the one where they spent their first night together, a designer place on an Amsterdam canal with an enormous, golden bed. Small plaster mice holding the bed lamps, the bathroom tiles Delft blue with modern Dutch images. After five years – the children were older – they decided to opt for hotels in different places. Talinn, Stockholm, Hamburg. He liked Northern Europe, probably because of the contrast with the places where he was stationed, the calm or simply the cold.
They would send each other text and email messages during the weeks leading up to ‘their’ weekend. During the rest of the year, they were not in touch. This was their foreplay, loving, exciting, confirmation that she was still attractive. Sometimes, she would stand in front of the mirror and send him a selfie, looking at herself with his eyes. She was a good-looking woman, even now.
Once, Dennis had intercepted such a message – the babysitter was late, her number was on her phone, he knew the code, of course, one and a half times the bank card – resulting in a lot of misery. She had decided to stop seeing him, hadn’t she? She had chosen to be with him, hadn’t she? Could he trust her, really?
She still feels bad when she thinks back to it. Yes, of course he could trust her. She was loyal. She didn’t lie about that. What she did lie about was that she would never see Vincent again. Because she did.
Could she tell Dennis that her hotel weekends with Vincent were beneficial to the bigger picture, to their lives? Could she tell him they provided her with fresh air to enable her to carry on? Perhaps. The thought of telling him alone made her weary. Besides, it wasn’t all that special, what she did.
It always started in the same way: after dinner, after five hours of talking about their work, family and finally, their island (which is what they called their hotel room) he would close the hotel room door. She would sit down on the edge of the bed, and he would undress her. Her shoes, her socks. On his knees. Pressing his lips to her feet, kissing her skin.
The excitement, giving themselves completely, was special, but also a necessity. Every time she tried to find an image to describe it, she got stuck. What was both special and necessary? Well, this, the top of the pyramid of needs, this adventure. For forty-eight hours a year she was free to step out of her body, or rather, to step into it, like a horse, or a lioness. Not the body wearing a dressing gown preparing lunches every morning, the one scanning lists, the one hauling shopping bags and thinking about vaccinations. No, a desirable body, a body that was allowed to breathe heavily, that didn’t need to think for a while and could let go of everything, that took possession of another or was taken possession of. Vincent chose to come to her, to kneel down and take off her trousers, to kiss the skin of her shins, the inside of her thighs, her abdomen.
To reach the hotel, they had walked across the cold cobble stones of the old harbour in Copenhagen. Wearing heels, she’d needed to watch her step. He’d taken her hand and smiled at her, squeezing it.
The same hand was now pulling down her trousers, pushing her underwear to one side while she was lying on her back, her head sunken into the downy duvet cover. Above her, a smoke alarm on the ceiling.
Something in her opened up, like a floodgate a spring or flower unfolding its petals. He licked her as if she were made of honey. The world outside the room was far away, the noise, the bustle, even the bright smell of a winter’s night on the waterfront. She only felt Vincent’s head against the inside of her thigh, his tongue on her honeypot, where her heart was beating.
Vincent licked her eagerly, passionately, while she ran her fingers through his hair, her other hand working its way up to her mouth. Two stretched-out fingers touched her lips, moved down across her chin, falling into the ravine of her throat, landing on her larynx. Feeling her skin tremble, she uttered a deep sound like someone falling. Tomorrow morning, she would climb back up from this depth and find her way home, like so many other animals did.