Tuesday, 24 June 2008

The Fault Line

Today's prompt is 'The Fault Line'. How I arrived at the following then is anybody's guess although I think I was thinking along the lines of a division of the selves. Who knows?

As Susan put on her tracksuit jacket and stepped out onto the balcony, her lungs took in the first drenching of humid air. Overnight, she’d forgotten the leaden humidity that had flowed like molten lava into her lungs when the aircraft door had opened; the chill in her room was more reminiscent of home in late October.

There were no bathers, just a pool man and a waiter pushing a big trolley covered with a white cloth. The clinking of plates and the thud of cutlery against wood came bouncing through the air telling her where she would find breakfast although she guessed that it wasn’t time yet.

Susan wasn’t alone that morning. As she looked over the edge of the balcony and past the bougainvillea a blonde head moved out from the main building towards the pool. She looked at the parting in the hair. The tapping of heels on the paving slabs had caused the invisible sparrows waiting for breakfast crumbs to take flight. This was someone who was used to making an entrance. The source of the tapping was soon revealed to be a pair of white stilettos. Each tap came hot on the heels of the previous one, marching to the tune of a vibrant pink pencil skirt.

Fearful that she would be spotted spying, Susan retreated to her room and brushed her hair, hoping that her highlights wouldn’t look too brassy in the sun. Even with the doors shut now, she could hear raised voices coming from the pool or the restaurant outside. She was hungry, her stomach confused by the time difference and she needed to settle the turbulence within by eating breakfast.

The lift arrived swiftly. Its interior was mirrored and smelled of a vaguely familiar perfume. As the doors reopened to reveal a cleaner mopping the marbled floor, Susan recognised that feeling of disorientation. Here she was again. Alone in a foreign hotel, not knowing where she was. Or who she was.

The cleaner looked up and smiled deferentially and Susan smiled back. She would not initiate conversation with the woman in case she couldn’t speak English. Instead, she strode up to the reception desk.

‘Excuse me, what time does breakfast start?’

‘Breakfast is at seven Ma’am.’

‘Thank you.’

On the wall behind the desk was a row of clocks, each one set to the times of different cities. The central one was the largest and told her that it was seven o’clock. She was relieved. The receptionist had gone back to her paperwork as if Susan had already left. She turned towards the automatic doors leading out onto the terrace. As the doors parted, a commotion danced and spiralled through the blast of warm air and she hesitated for a moment. There was laughter and shrieking coming from a huddle of white coats in the corner of the poolside restaurant. Should she go? Of course, she was hungry and happy noise posed no threat. Or did it?

The gurgling from her innards and the waft of coffee on the warm breeze pulled her towards the restaurant like gravity itself. It was always a challenge working out the etiquette for each hotel. She wasn’t sure whether just to sit at a table or wait to be seated. The white-coated waiters were still gathered around one table and failed to notice her entrance above the din they were making.

Susan unfolded the napkin and spread it out on her lap. She put her elbows on the table and rested her chin on the backs of her hands. She didn’t want to look desperate so she avoided looking over at the crowd. She gazed sideways at the buffet display of melons, pineapples and mangoes. She wasn’t sure if she should just go over and help herself or wait to be offered coffee. There didn’t seem much chance of anyone coming over so Susan quietly rose and made her way over to the fruit. On her way, she noticed some chrome jugs on a side table. She decided to take a detour and poured herself a cup of black coffee. Even the cup hitting the saucer didn’t attract anyone’s attention. She resumed her journey over to the fruit. The stunning display of oranges, reds and pinks were redolent of something else but she put this out of her mind whilst she piled up a plate. There were cooked items in stainless steel dishes; scrambled eggs with what looked like onions and peppers, diced fried potatoes and bacon so crispy it was almost black. She would be back for her second course.

Having arrived fairly late the previous evening, Susan hadn’t really had a chance to size up many of the other guests except for a drunken couple dressed in sequins and swaying about in reception trying to ask for their room key. So as the melon dissolved in her mouth, she drifted back to thinking about the gathering in the corner and the woman who sat at its centre. The waiters were being very familiar with her. A celebrity perhaps? Surely a celebrity would have an entourage or at least some dress sense. They definitely knew her.

As Susan neared the end of eating her fruit, she stood up to make her second visit. Still no register of her existence. At the same time, a group of people arrived at the restaurant. Their exuberant manor immediately drew the attention of the waiters. It seemed as though Susan was going to eat the cooked food unnoticed too. With the edge taken off her hunger, she noticed that the food was arranged between the most exquisite displays of exotic flowers, that the tables were draped in the highest quality of cotton cloth.

Some more waiters emerged from the kitchen and were ushering the new arrivals in the restaurant to tables adjacent to the woman. So, they knew her too. They were together. In an instant, veil of waiters in front of the woman was drawn back and Susan could see her face clearly.

Two years ago, Susan had been to Barbados, two years before that it had been St Lucia. She enjoyed the variety of cultures and the climate of the Caribbean; the relative safety of being confined within a hotel complex was as appealing to a woman holidaying on her own as to couples. Susan liked to watch the weddings in the hotels, wishing that she could be involved in some way. She kept a private score: best wedding music, prettiest dress, presentation of the groom, choice of flowers. She considered herself an impartial judge with the inconspicuousness of a chameleon.
Susan put her head down. She thought about slipping under the table but remembered that the debris of her half-eaten breakfast would give her away. She’d got it so wrong.

This woman was no over-dressed drag queen with an entourage. She was a bride. Just as Susan could blend into the background and avoid people’s gazes, this woman sought them. She’d been there in Barbados. And St Lucia. But this was the first time that Susan had recognised her.

Susan would spend the years between holidays saving and planning for her next trip. This other woman had done the same.

Susan had blown it this time. Something had gone wrong with her judgement and she was willing herself to dissolve into the pool of melon juice on her plate. But all that was just wishful thinking and her old self had already evaporated in the heat.
The reality was that she could no longer go unnoticed. This was it. Nothing would be black and white anymore; a whole palate of colour was about to be splattered all over the blank canvas that had been her life.

Of course the planning of it had gone like clockwork. Ever since Barbados, she and Ben had been comparing scores on wedding music, pretty dresses and flowers; no detail had been left to chance. But this woman in the corner with the pink skirt and white stilettos wasn’t comfortable.

It was only when Ben arrived after his morning run, slowing down as he passed the coffee machine, the fruit and admiring glances of both families that Susan remembered where she was. This was the first morning of what would be a fortnight of celebrations. No more pre-wedding nerves.

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