She looks around the room where they will have breakfast the next morning, amazed by the gilt-framed paintings of scarcely clad women on the pinkish-purple walls. In one corner, a statue of the back of a naked woman is wrapped around a tree trunk, in the opposite, a similar plaster figure of a man appears to be in a state of ecstasy. The tables are covered with red plastic-coated cloth punched through with little holes to resemble lace. There are vases filled with plastic roses, and an old piano with copper candleholders attached to either side. Her husband leafs through the dog-eared sheets of music and says they’re mostly waltzes. In the stairwell, they come across a series of small lamps that look like skirts and a clothes hanger with a corset made of thick, black wire. Alongside the landing are six doors with cracks at the bottom, and a seventh that is the toilet beside which is a mannequin in a red strapless dress and a chair covered in brightly coloured feather boas. Smiling, she asks her husband,
‘Where on Earth have we ended up?’
‘It was the only hotel in the centre that still had a room available. And it’s close to a car park,’ he says.
The bed is decorated with satin cushions. It looks smaller than the one they’re used to at home, and it’s shorter, too short for her husband. Above it on the wall is an artwork, a relief of the buttocks and breasts of two women. The
wallpaper, with dark, greasy stains above the pillows, has a lily pattern in pink, red and gold. There’s a small oak table with an old-fashioned jug, but no bowl. The floor-to-ceiling dark red velvet curtains in the matt glass window feel stiff, the triangular shower cubicle beside it has no curtain at all. Light is provided by a small lamp under the artwork and a weak fluorescent tube light above the mirror over the sink. The console under the mirror holds two plastic cups and a piece of hand soap that’s stuck to the shelf. She pulls it off and washes her hands. The pink towels are rigid and thin. Leaving her clothes in her suitcase, she only uses the toothbrush and cleansing milk from her toiletries bag.
‘I’m tired, and not hungry,’ she says.
‘Let’s get something to eat, something simple like some sandwiches or pizza. There are plenty of shops and restaurants still open in the area,’ her husband responds.
She gets into bed in her underwear, suspecting the sheets aren’t clean but she’s too tired to worry about it. A short while later, her husband returns with prepacked sandwiches and a bottle of wine with a screw cap.
‘I’m still not hungry. And I don’t want any wine,’ she says. But he has already opened a plastic box with egg salad sandwiches inside.
‘I spoke to the owner downstairs,’ he says, pouring the wine and presenting her with a cup. ‘She runs the hotel with a friend and said that since the war and until recently, the place was a brothel called Le Jardin des Délices. That’s why it’s called Le Jardin.’ He gestured to the room around them.
They laugh, drinking the sour, lukewarm wine and eating sandwiches. When a drop of mayonnaise is spilled onto the sheet, she wipes it off with the underside of her pillow. Her husband has already finished his wine and checks if she needs a top-up.
‘I want to get up as early as possible,’ she says, covering her cup with her hand, quickly taking a few more sips before putting it on the floor. Lying on her side, she hears her husband pour some more wine and eat another sandwich. Next, he undresses and pees in the sink. The mattress bulges on her side when he slips in beside her and leans on his elbow to switch off the light.
Then suddenly he bends over her, pulling down her underpants with a few sharp tugs. Moving his hands over her body as if he were discovering her for the first time, he positions himself on top of her, pushing her knees aside, clawing through her hair, panting and whispering in her neck, her ear. She’s too surprised to protest. He was never this rough, this excited before. This is not the man she knows, and he’s changing her, too. He doesn’t see her face turning red, taking part in his pleasure, smothering her groans in his armpit and against his shoulder.
She can’t sleep, hears the floor boards in the landing creak, the toilet being flushed. Floating through the crack under the door is the sound of voices, the squeaking of a bed, giggles, a trail connecting her to the other guests in this house of lust and pain. Pain lasts so much longer.
She can’t deal with the man softly snoring beside her anymore. Although she’d like to have more of this pleasure with him, she knows she would bore him, eventually. She wouldn’t be able to ignore his infidelity. He keeps quiet about it, but it would become unbearable now that she knows what he’s like with other women. She imagines getting dressed and driving to an expensive hotel. The Ritz. The George V. Not one, but three or four nights to avoid raising suspicions with staff, who are aware of people booking a single night in order to commit suicide. If she buys Donormyl tablets from different chemists and takes them with her sleeping pills, that should do the trick.
No. They have a daughter.
In the morning, her husband is his old self again. Clean, dressed in a neat suit, his damp hair parted on one side. Using the hand with his wedding ring, he calmly spreads some hard butter from a small plastic tub onto a slice of baguette. There’s nothing about him that suggests he turns into a predator who gets excited by kitsch, a man with a preference for rough sex who whispers obscenities-.
‘Darling,’ she says.
‘Yes, dear?’ he answers opening an aluminium tub with raspberry jam.
She could remark on the toxic colour
of the jam, but instead she says, ‘I want a divorce.’