I can move around the room if I want to, but I choose to spend most of my time propped against the enormous white pillows of the king size bed, looking at the last thing I saw – a terracotta pot artistically fixed in the centre of the plain white wall opposite, as if floating.
There are always flowers in the pot – gerberas, geraniums, African violets. Some of the chambermaids remember to water them. Ubah never forgets, however busy she is. Maureen on the other hand has never watered them. She flaps her duster across the top as if they were plastic then moves on, never even stopping to check the dryness of the soil with her finger. Consequently the flowers don’t last long. It’s not an ideal environment for a plant. The windows don’t open (which completely ruined Plan A) and the climate control ensures that room 401 is either roasting hot or freezing cold, according to the particular tastes of the current occupant.
Guest, I should say. I’m the only real occupant.
* * * * *
When I wake up a man with sweat patches on his light blue shirt is wheeling his suitcase towards the bed. He’s holding a mobile phone to his ear, and a suit jacket over the arm pulling the case, so he leaves the door to slam itself heavily shut behind him.
‘Just do what you’ve gotta do. Show that twat we’re not gonna play ball! Gotta go,’ he says, in the type of blokey mid-atlantic business accent that always reminds me of how Will spoke to his colleagues.
He clicks his phone off and throws it onto the bed. Then he’s looking around and heading straight over to the minibar, kicking his brogues off and loosening his tie as he goes.
Guests like him are the ones I see most often in room 401. They are at home in a hotel. They have a routine – phone the family before the kids go to bed, plug their laptops in, knock out a few emails, make a few calls. After dinner they come back to the room and take their pick from the minibar and the pay-per-view movie selection. In the morning they shower and go, leaving crumpled sheets, soggy towels, empty bottles, discarded newspapers. I never see them again. Sometimes I catch their name – Rob, Ed, Alex, Tom – but not always.
His phone rings. ‘Hello? Yep, this is Alex’. Another Alex, I think.
* * * * *
When I had to scrap Plan A I panicked slightly. I knew it was now or never if I was going to have the courage to do it. I had a Plan B, but when I thought it through there was too much scope for error. In the end I used Plan B combined with a new Plan C, which involved ordering a rare steak from Room Service. There was a moment’s confusion as I had earlier told them I was vegetarian, but as the customer is always right there was no comment once I had confirmed that was indeed what I was asking for.
* * * * *
It’s always rather tense for a moment when a couple arrives. Just until I can get it straight in my head what their relationship is. These two are definitely having an affair. They were kissing before they were even properly in the room, and he’s wearing a wedding ring, but she isn’t. That’s often a giveaway. They are asleep now. Whilst they were stripping each other’s clothes off, I took a couple of spikes off the cactus in the bathroom and dropped them on the bed. He sat straight down on them, and there was a hell of a fuss. She had to pull them out using the tweezers from the Complimentary Pamper Pack (I thought about hiding them, but decided I’d probably done enough already). The concierge sent up an apologetic bottle of champagne on the house, which lightened the mood again slightly, but the momentum had clearly gone for them both.
They’ve left the half drunk bottle on the Philippe Starck desk. I add a little water, just enough to have flattened it by the time they wake up. She is sleeping on her back, one arm across the pillow above her glossy head. Her hair reminds me of shampoo adverts, but when I lean in very close I can see a few flakes of dandruff around her hairline. Her face is perfect, I can see why he’s attracted to her, but I know the truth. The eyebrows have been shaped, the lips plumped, and the forehead botoxed. Her make up has been expertly layered for maximum effect. He’d know this if he lived with her. But he’s only seen her like this, never at her worst – red-nosed and pasty with the flu for example, face swollen with grief for a dead pet, or dishevelled and grey-skinned with a vodka-induced hangover.
I tried to keep the act going as long as I could with Will. It really hurt when he complained about the state of my hair when I’d just got up, when he criticised me for opening the door to the postman without my make up on, or every time he thought my thighs were a couple of pounds heavier, or I was slouching too much. But it hurt even more when he stopped complaining. Because I knew that meant he had someone else.
This one reminds me a bit of Will. Slightly thinning hair, ridiculously large designer watch, sleeping sprawled diagonally on his front as if the bed was his alone. However, his right hand is resting on her thigh and Will would never have sought that closeness to me in his sleep. I wonder if he did with Emma?
I want them to go. Now. It’s time for them to wake up. I bang the wardrobe door hard.
* * * * *
I like the homely couples, the ones that remind me of my parents. The married ones who are still in love, who are spending the night in this boutique hotel as a birthday treat, or on a special offer with a show or dinner thrown in. They treat room 401 with respect, tiptoe around in their socks, hang the towels up when they’ve used them. They daren’t touch the minibar for fear of incurring extra charges. One lady accidently broke a glass on the edge of the sink, and was in torment until she called reception to confess. When they told her it didn’t matter, and sent someone up to clean it up and replace it, you could’ve been excused for thinking she had won the lottery. I took the biggest sharpest piece, and hid it just inside the wardrobe where it couldn’t be seen.
I enjoy the surprised looks on these dear couples’ faces when they return from dinner to find Ubah has been in and closed the curtains, turned down the bed and left chocolates on their pillows. They don’t put the television on too loudly. They bring their pyjamas. They even have a little tidy around before they go.
I was tidy too. I hung the ‘Do Not Disturb’ notice on the door, packed all my things into my overnight bag, straightened the towels, and turned off the television. I sat on the middle of the bed with a glass of water, my sleeping pills (Plan B) and the steak knife from the Room Service tray (Plan C). The blood ruined the bedding, but they managed to get away with not recarpeting.
* * * * *
I never thought this would happen, although now that it has I realise it is what I’ve been waiting for. Why I hung around. Will is here! I don’t know how long it has been since I’ve seen him, but I presume he is here for some kind of anniversary of my death. One year? Five? Possibly even ten. I really don’t know. Time has no meaning for me any more.
I wake up when the hotel manager shows him in, making appropriate noises of sympathy, and saying he will leave him alone for a few moments. The manager hasn’t been in the room since the morning Maureen found me, and he had to deal with the paramedics, police and so on.
Will looks awful. Gaunt and weary. I guess he was more affected by my death than I thought he would be. He looks around, tugging at the point of his shirt collar, the way he always does when he’s thinking. I suddenly remember all the reasons why I love him. He sits heavily on the bed and puts his face in his hands. I reach for my shard of glass. I kneel behind him on the bed and wrap my arms around him. He tenses very slightly and starts to cry. I don’t have long before the manager comes back for him. I kiss the thin patch of hair on the back of his head, and draw my glass blade quickly and deeply across his throat.