I was in my late teens
and desperately, lustily, in love. Months after my lover had
first moved many miles away to study, I was still hitch-hiking
from work at weekends to see her.
decided to surprise her on the eve of her December birthday by
arriving unannounced and taking her out for a meal.
I did not have my usual luck
hitching lifts. It was foggy and late as I reached the
college. Her roommate told me, with some relish, that my lover
and another student, some boy, had cut afternoon lectures and
motored in his car in the opposite direction from which I had
travelled, home, to stay with her family.
jealousy was bittersweet. I
pictured the pair of them, snug in a flashy two-seater,
fumbling, his leather driving gloves on her bare thigh.
As for my
predicament, I knew from hard-earned
experience that the chances of a lone male hitch-hiker getting
a lift close to midnight were remote. The damp was permeating
my bones, the cold made my fingers and ears brittle, and my
spirits were sagging. I still had the cash put by for the
meal, so I went in search of a cheap room for the night, on
the seedy side of town, where I had seen 'guesthouse' and 'B
& B' signs.
I found a likely turning of
tall, narrow terraced Edwardian villas. A clock struck twelve
as I sighted, between two unlit lampposts, a splash of yellow
light from a bay window.
I climbed the steps to the
porch. The door was ajar. There was no knocker, the bell
silent. I peered into the dark and called, "Hello?" The place
smelt musty and sweet. I stepped in. Carpet stuck to the soles
of my shoes. I felt unclean, but I was out of the sharp night
"Come in, dear." I heard a
croaky voice, as if the person were breathing in as they
spoke, the sound coming from the back of the throat, wheezing
like the bellows of a tired organ in a neglected country
church. "First door on your left."
I could see light under a
door. I felt for the hall light switch. The wall was greasy.
The switch failed. I wiped my feet on the sticky carpet and
felt my way to the inner door. I knocked.
"Come in." That croaky voice