In time, I felt
exhausted, satisfied but depleted, emptied. I confessed
I needed to get to bed; she remained bright-eyed and
"You lack stamina, dear," she told
me. "Very well, there is a nice room at the front on the
second floor. Bathroom suite opposite on the landing.
Fresh soap and towels, everything you need. That'll be
thirteen shillings and sixpence, dear."
I paid her the right
"There'll be a receipt in the
letter rack. A little kiss good-night?"
I intended to do no more than brush
her forehead lightly with my chin, but as I leaned
forward, holding my breathe so as not to inhale the
stench, she lifted her head and kissed me, wet, full on
the lips. I shuddered ambivalently, for I found I had
closed my eyes and lingered, even though her lips were
cold, cold as the hard winter earth outside.
She whispered, "'Night,
Embarrassed out of my drowsiness, I
fled into the hall.
I felt my way up the unlit stairs. The walls
were worn, shiny smooth the touch. Beyond the ground
floor, I was walking on bare floorboards. By dim street
light cast through a grimy window, I could make out that
my room was bare, except for a narrow bed, a dining-room
chair, a cast iron washstand and a chipped enamel bowl.
I groped my way to the bathroom. As far as I
could tell, it was a communal wash place, with a row of
basins and the jagged glass of broken black mirrors. A WC
cubicle gave off the indelible smell of stale urine. I
had no hot water, no soap and no towel on which to dry
my cold wet hands. I was saddened and disappointed but
too tired to be angry.
I would make a point of seeing her
in the morning and telling her what a state things are
in up here, I decided. She must be under the illusion
that all is as it should be and, from her tone,
sumptuous. She needed to be told. The poor thing
wouldn't be able to get up here to see for herself.
Someone had taken advantage of her
I flopped onto the bed, noted
mentally the lack of a pillowcase on the striped ticking
and fell into a deep sleep. The sleep of the