By Tipp Hex
There’s little traffic and few people as the sunset dies pale and feeble on the horizon. A beachcomber wanders the shoreline while in Victorian seafront buildings, large bay-windows are filled with the elderly, gazing out to sea like the inhabitants of some grotesque Amsterdam whorehouse window.
By the time I park, a mist is rolling over the crumbling seawall. Stepping from the car’s warmth, the winter air chills. I toss the keys at the sea and head towards the esplanade and the hotel where we had shared our first night.
It's1939 again. Then the fog had held no cold, only the warmth of expected delight. This night and this fog, held neither. My mind returned as it always did, back to that first time with Jenny, so long ago, yet an instant of memory away.
‘This can’t be the place,’ I’d said, peering at a low wall and the broken gate leading to a grim looking building hidden in the murk.
‘I hope not my darling, because that looks simply awful.’ She agreed, adding, ‘it could be a just a little further along the road.’
‘Yes. Let's hope so.'
And we'd stumbled along, searching through the murk.
'Oh! That’s it! That must be the place!’ She said, grasping my hand tighter while peering at the glow from a sign above a door which announced the correct hotel.
‘Thank goodness!' I said, being half-convinced the run-down wreck we’d just seen might have been our real hotel.
I took Jenny in my arms and kissed her. She responded with long repressed passion, pulling me so tight to her, I could hardly breathe.
‘Let’s get warm… inside.’ I managed to croak
‘Yes,’ she murmured, ‘I do want you inside …’
More a guest house than a hotel, we dropped our different bags at the reception desk. A prim middle-aged woman behind the desk smiled professionally.
‘Just the one night, is it, then?’ She asked, in a soft Welsh accent.
I glanced at Jenny. ‘Yes, just the one.’
‘If you could both just sign the guest-register, here, then… Mr. & Mrs. Jones, is it?’ Her tone held just the right amount of disbelief with a touch of irritation, perhaps for our lack of originality in our choice of names.
‘Room 23, top of the stairs on your right,’ she said casually, holding out a small key attached to a large wooden key-fob. ‘Many guests lose their keys, you see.’
‘And in war time, we can’t afford that. If you lose it, there’s a fifty shilling replacement fee, you see,’ she said, sternly.
I shrugged. ‘The war will be all over by Christmas, so they say.’
‘Not if you listen to that Mr. Churchill, it won’t.’
‘No, that's true, but let’s hope he’s wrong.’
‘Well, do enjoy your stay; breakfast is at 8am sharp in the dining room, over there,’ she announced, waving her arm towards the dinning room.
Our room was comfortable, but neither of us noticed. We fell upon the bed, together at last. Clothes fell away and we made love, taking each other far too quickly, but knowing we had all night. By midnight, the fog had been blown away, replaced by a storm that had a ferocity to match our passion. Lightening flashed and the wind added its keening wail to our consummation.
The landlady, of course, was right. We didn’t see each other again for five years, not until the war ended in 1945. Then, when we could, we would meet perhaps once a month, at the same hotel. My marriage by this time had ended, yet Jenny would not leave her husband. She felt bound by loyalty to one, while preferring another. I purchased a small house not far from the hotel, and this became our home when she could find herself free.
But the strain eventually told. It became too much, and she finally told me it was over. No argument could dissuade her. That terrible night I held her close to me. Tight, far too tight, tighter than I dreamed possible, unable to let her go. I'd made sure she would never leave me. After that I had to leave that house, our house, the house that should have been our home. I never returned to it or to the area again. Until now.
The house, empty and dilapidated has been compulsory purchased by the Council for a new bypass. The bulldozers are close. Tomorrow they move. Tomorrow it will be gone. Tomorrow they will find her.
I stare out into the fog. It's as cold as on that first night. The memory fresh. The hotel might be newly painted but it's the same. The receptionist has changed of course. An effeminate young man who didn't even bother to smile. I’m an old man like many old men in this place. Not worth the effort. Invisible. No wooden key-fob this time, just a card-swipe. No breakfast either.
In the bedroom that once was ours, I move the chair close to the bay window. My reflection stares balefully back at me from the black, rain-streaked glass. How many dark and dreadful secrets do all the other lonely watchers guard as they too gaze out to sea?
Night’s end, the dawn is building and the growing daylight is overwhelming my reflection. I’m fading away. The bulldozers will find her. They will find her body and then they will find mine. It’s time to go. And at night’s end, be reunited.