*Features adult language and themes.*
She woke up gently. It was a pleasant, unfamiliar feeling so she decided to savour it. Simone was completely aware, no fuzziness or lethargy but she couldn’t remember much about the night before. She kept her eyes closed, the darkness was comforting; light was doing its best to tempt her to open them, but it was a soft light, not like dawn at all. There was a gentle hum coming from somewhere but it was difficult to describe. Not like a noisy fridge or a radiator warming up; a more pervasive sound. Her leg was cold where she had stuck it out of the quilt. Somewhere in her mind she thought she could regulate her body temperature by keeping one part of it chilly. The pillow was soft against her face and the mattress firm beneath her body. Everything she felt was comforting, yet edged with a sense of strangeness.
It was strange. Her own bed was soft, she usually sunk into it. Her usual pillows were lumpy and uneven. The humming noise was definitely different.
I guess I better open my eyes and see where I am.
The hotel room was stylish and immaculate. The only things out of place were the clothes strewn across the floor. A cocktail dress, shoes, bra, bow-tie and knickers.
It was still night, the room was infused with soft light turning everything blue. The window was open slightly, a gentle breeze ruffling the open vertical blinds making them clack together. Through the window she saw the lights of the South Bank and London Eye. The hum came from the streets below with their ceaseless traffic; the noise of a city where things don’t stop just because the sun disappears.
Simone’s memory began to come back. It was early morning on New Year’s Day. The first dawn of the New Year hadn’t arrived yet and she felt a growing dread that she’d done something stupid already. The light snoring behind her confirmed it.
The sheet was draped over his back leaving his perfectly formed arse exposed. Simone always thought men were very ugly sleepers. Most snored with wide open mouths as though they were at the dentist, the noise they made just a lower pitched version of the drill. Just as annoying and to some people terrifying. Because of the open mouth and horrible noise the rest of the face was screwed up as if in pain or extreme constipation. Then there was their limbs, they seemed to lose all control over them. Men became starfish as soon as they lost consciousness.
She had woken up in the middle of the night plenty of times to catch men watching her sleep. It had only been creepy a few times. On the whole it had been long-term boyfriends. The few times it had happened with a one night stand had been unsettling.
I must look pretty good while I sleep, or why would they bother staring? Having said that, I’ve been watching this guy sleep for long enough to feel weird.
Simone grabbed the blanket, pulling it off of the naked man who was laying on his front, gently snoring and dribbling onto the pillow. In that moment she was reminded of an animal during an operation. When they put a breathing tube down a dog’s throat it all tongue and teeth as well.
Once she’d wrapped the blanket around her she leaned over the guy and slapped him hard on the bum.
“Time to get up, you have to go.”
“Fuck off.” The man turned over and put the wet pillow over his head.
Simone padded over to the mini-bar fridge and took out a cold bottle of beer. She made sure to hold it by the neck, returned to the bed and held it against the small of the man’s back.
“Agghhhh. You crazy bitch, what are you doing.”
“I’m serious. Get up. Get out. Go back to your own room. We’re done. I didn’t bring you back here to sleep next to you. I only wanted the good stuff, not the snoring or slobbering. I paid for the whole of that bed, and I intend to use it.”
The bloke rolled over and sat on the edge of the mattress. Simone started walking around the room collecting his clothes. She found his underwear and threw them over to him. He stood up and slipped them on. Without another word she handed him his clothes in a crumpled pile then went over to the door; held it open. He shuffled across to her in a daze and stood in the open doorway. He was just about to say something when she closed it in his face.
Simone stood for a second then opened the door again. The man was still standing in the corridor and looked up at her. She slid the ‘do not disturb’ sign over the handle, smiled at the guy and closed the door again.
Walking back across the room Simone threw the blanket onto the bed. She picked up the bottle of beer, drew a chair over to the open window and sat down looking out over the Thames. She twisted the bottle top and took a swig reaching over to her pack of cigarettes, selected one and lit it while glancing over to the ‘no smoking’ sign on the wall. She tilted the window open a little further and made sure the smoke went out of it, hoping that the alarm wouldn’t go off.
Alone again. At least the scenery is different. How the hell did I get here?
Simone drank the last of the beer from the bottle and knocked the ash from her cigarette into it. She thought back to the day before.
* * *
It should have been a quiet day, being New Year’s Eve. The office should have been working with a skeleton staff in the week after Christmas, but Simone had requested that all of her staff work ‘voluntary’ overtime to finish off a case before January.
Simone’s office door was open, she liked to keep it that way so her staff felt comfortable coming and going, even though they insisted on knocking anyway. Outside her office was a big open-plan space with eight desks where they worked. It was a buzz of activity and noise, ringing phones, and the incomprehensible babble of people being very polite over the phone.
At lunch everyone disappeared while Simone ate at her desk and continued to work. She sometimes liked to schedule lunch meetings with clients to get out of the office, but there had been no need for it yesterday. While the outer office was empty Simone decided to go down to the cafeteria to fill up her travel mug with coffee.
The office hallways were very tidy and regimented, there were a few pictures on the walls but they were hardly noticeable. The sort of pictures that you can easily walk past without registering a flicker of interest.
Simone pushed through the doors into the cafeteria and heard a loud chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ being sung to someone in the middle of a crowd. Simone carried on to the coffee machine and filled her cup. As she left she caught a glimpse of the birthday girl in the middle of the throng. She was wearing a small pointy hat fastened by elastic under her chin. She had a big smile on her face that turned to a cringe when the others started to pull party poppers. The streamers flew up into the air and covered her, she pulled most of them off her head and turned to cut a big cake. Simone recognised the girl as part of her staff.
No cake for the boss I guess.
She made her way back to the office and closed the door, turning the lock.
I won’t be invited to the New Year’s Eve party either I expect.
Closing the blinds and opening her window she picked up an ashtray and some cigarettes out of her draw and lit up. She sat back in her chair and put her feet up on the desk. Something at the bottom of the draw caught her eye.
Then again I do have better offers.
The ticket was given to her a few weeks ago for a job she’d done months past. It was very nice of the agent to think of her, then again she had the impression that he’d thought about her quite a lot since their meeting. He’d been very obviously interested. It’d made it a lot easier to negotiate some very lucrative terms for the company and it hadn’t hurt her commission either.
Simone picked up the ticket. ‘Self Magazine invites you to bring in the New Year in style.’ It was on a boat moored across the river from the London Eye. The ticket promised food, drink and a bit of celebrity.
Definitely better than a watered down drink and a questionable finger buffet at the staff party.
Her employees dripped back into the office after lunch. Nobody mentioned the birthday celebrations, including the birthday girl herself. Simone decided to get her revenge through being nice, she arranged for flowers to be delivered to her in the afternoon with the company details on the card.
Shortly after they were delivered the girl tapped gently on Simone’s door. “Hi Simone, I just wanted to say thank you for the flowers, they’re lovely.”
As lovely as the cake you had earlier?
“No problem at all, Happy Birthday. Are you doing anything special?”
The girl looked a little awkward. “I’m having a small party tonight. Sort of a joint birthday, New Year’s thing… You’re more than welcome to come if you’d like.”
I’m so tempted to say yes, just to spoil everyone’s night.
Simone paused for a few seconds, drawing out the tension, pretending to think it over. “That’s very nice of you Linda, but I already have plans. I’ve got to get down to London for a small do tonight. Which reminds me I haven’t booked my train tickets yet.”
Linda smiled at her, obviously relieved that Simone had better things to do. “Oh, well maybe another time.” She was just about to walk away when she turned back. “Oh, my boyfriend uses an app called ‘Razor’, it’s like Google for other apps. It’s an app that helps you find different apps. Maybe there’s something that can help you book a last minute ticket? Thanks again for the flowers.” She turned and left.
That afternoon Simone used her phone to book train tickets and a hotel while tying up the loose ends of her work. None of her staff disturbed her, and everything was completed ahead of schedule. But she still made them work an hour or so later than promised.
Simone made a quick stop at her flat, packed a few clothes and got on the train to London. She’d booked a first class seat and napped most of the way. Napping was one of Simone’s special skills. She could fall asleep at will, she didn’t have to feel tired and it didn’t matter where she was. She’d fall into a slumber for about five minutes and wake up refreshed as if she’d had a comfortable nights sleep. Power-napping.
Simone refused to use the tube when she got to London, she’d never found the idea of traveling underground in a metal box packed with people all that appealing. She much preferred getting a taxi. You had to pay for the perks in life. You also had to ask for what you wanted, which meant telling the driver firmly, but politely that she had no wish for chit-chat.
Once at the hotel she checked in, had a quick shower, changed into a cocktail dress that she knew showed off all the good parts of her body and climbed into another taxi to take her to the party.
It was liberating. Simone didn’t know many people that could just decide to travel two hours to go to a party on a whim. Most people had commitments or worries that tied them down to one place.
I don’t have anyone or anything to stop me.
The party itself was everything that the invitation had promised. The champagne flowed freely, the food was exquisite, and the company wasn’t bad either. Simone flitted around moving from person to person chatting and flirting in that transient way you do when there’s a gathering of people that only care about their own side of the conversation. She met publishers, editors, writers, a few reality TV stars and of course the agent that had invited her in the first place.
His name was Alan, he cornered her (if that was possible on the deck of a boat) and kept a one sided exchange going for far too long. He was insistent, he didn’t pick up on any of the hints she threw his way. She tried stifling a few fake yawns, she pointed to some strangers implying she had to go and speak with them, she even tried walking away but he just followed her.
When Kurt Sampson came over she thought she was saved. It was obvious that he was roaring drunk. He was, mistakenly, under the impression that he was being funny and charming. Alan had to drag him away in the end.
I guess Kurt saved me from the bore after all.
She stayed until midnight to watch the fireworks, it was an amazing sight, but she began to feel isolated as everyone around her hugged and kissed. She was alone in the crowd. All of a sudden there didn’t seem much to celebrate.
As she left the party Simone hailed a cab. A guy walked up next to her trying to flag down the same car. “Oh, sorry. I thought that one was free.” He was quite handsome. She thought she’d seen him at the party, he was dressed in a tuxedo that did him a lot of favours.
“Where are you going, maybe we can share it?” Said Simone. By luck or excellent judgement on his part he said the name of the hotel she was staying at.
They were all over one another as soon as the meter began to tick over.
They haltingly made their way to Simone’s room. He’d been a wonderful distraction. Just what she wanted at the time. It didn’t really matter how good a lover he was, she never gave him the opportunity to use his initiative. Simone liked making love just like she enjoyed the rest of her life. In control. The man underneath her really didn’t matter. He hadn’t been a lover, he’d been a sex toy.
* * *
And now here I am. Alone. Just the way I like it.
She lit another cigarette. She’d probably have to pay a cleaning charge when they found the ash and butts, but at that second in time the taste of the tobacco was worth every penny.
A tear slid from Simone’s eye, running over her round cheek, leaving a trail of moisture. It ran down into the corner of her mouth. It tasted salty.
My life is precisely what I make it. Why does it feel so empty?
She reached over to her purse and pulled out a crumpled leaflet. It was given to her at the party promoting ‘Self Magazine,’ highlighting the new column by Kurt Sampson.
How could that man possibly have any answers?
She screwed up the leaflet and threw it across the room. Stubbing out her fag she dropped it into the bottle, leaving it on the desk and climbed back into bed. She went straight to sleep.
* * *
Simone was back on the train the next morning, returning to Ipswich. She opened her handbag for some chewing gum but couldn’t find any. Instead she found a crumpled leaflet and a beer bottle with a few dog ends inside it. The bottle went into a bin, saving her an extra charge from the hotel. The leaflet she flattened out on her thigh, paused for a moment, then neatly folded it and put it back into her bag.
Many thanks for reading. If you have any feedback or thoughts, feel free to comment below.