We turned up at Seaford in a storm, and after the man who opened the door sat us down with a leaflet about how to get in and out of the Royal Sussex Bed and Breakfast, his wife, who he introduced as ‘my wife’, came into the room like a shit.
I say she was ‘like a shit’ not to give you the wrong idea, because we were there to collect.
She said her name was Betty and her husband was Nigel, and she stood peeping from the window, as I imagine many had done from similarly appointed surroundings in Berlin or Eltham. She told us how there was going to be a development across the road in front of the golf course.
We looked out and in the fading light saw some green fields through the rain and the mist. It was all lovely for November, the grass taller than maybe it would usually be, people striding through it with their dogs. Behind all that, yes there was a golf course. Men in Gore-Tex jackets pulling trolleys, etcetera.
And then she got onto what was a theme in this house, the theme that had brought us there: the development, she said, was due to strangers. All the foreigners coming over and hiking up the house prices.
‘Really, how does that happen?’ asked George, who, until that moment, had been silent.
Her eyes ran backwards and forwards over my face and she said: ‘Well, they buy up the houses for investments, don’t they, or they fit their relations in one place, cousins, aunts, uncles, all under one roof. It’s unhygienic and, frankly, it’s dangerous.’
‘Ah,’ said George. ‘Tommy,’ he said, ‘as a Polish gentleman do you live with your aunt?’
‘No I don’t,’ I said.
‘It’s just me, and you, isn’t it?’
‘Yes George, only you.’
It’s disconcerting hearing the same mouth say two different kinds of things.
She looked kind of freaked out at that, seeing there was just the one body on a chair in front of her, mine and George’s. It’s disconcerting hearing the same mouth say two different kinds of things.
She went white and disappeared into the kitchen. ‘George,’ I said, ‘Stop it.’
He shrugged: ‘What? Save it for TripAdvisor?’
‘George – ’ I was going to say more but held back. Of the two of us George has the worse job. At night I get to go free while he sleeps with an eye on what’s inside us.
I listened. Betty was whispering to Nigel. Clink, and so on, she was loading up a tray, and there she was: Betty with a tray and a white cup and a saucer, and a teapot and a little jug of milk.
‘Thank you,’ I said.
She put the tray down in front of us more heavily than she’d meant to and some milk splashed out. As she retreated towards the door she stared at it unhappily.
‘Well,’ she said, backing into a three-quarter-size cut-out of a man holding up a tray that stood at the bottom of the stairs. She jerked round as though there was something sharp in her ribs. Then she composed herself.
‘Would you show us to our room?’ asked George.
I picked up the tray and we followed her out of the conservatory to our room at the top of the stairs. It would have been nice and airy if there hadn’t been so much nylon. The view was a higher-up version of the one downstairs, revealing a little more of the golf course through a net curtain.
She showed us the bathroom where there was a card propped on the lavatory cistern:
“This toilet has a ‘polite flush’. You may need to flush more than once.
This does not mean there is a blockage. Only that we discourage loud flushing in the night. We ask that you respect the peace we would like to extend to all of our guests during their stay, particularly when they are sleeping.”
I pulled back the net curtain a fraction and touched the window.
‘Please,’ said Betty, unable to help herself. ‘Don’t finger the glass.’
Betty, if only you knew the power of resentment. ‘Finger it?’ I asked.
‘Yes, it leaves marks.’
‘People tend to,’ I answered.
And she gave us the gust of malice and contempt we needed: ‘Some people,’ she hissed, ‘are animals.’ She made for the door.
George gently took hold of her arm: ‘What have you got against animals?’
It was a moment for her, an opportunity. Scared as she was, all she needed to do was say something on the side of love; and I suppose, when you look at me and George, in spite of my Spock and his Kirk, overall there’s a tendency towards generosity that would have let the dark side of the moon be on the same side as the bright one in that kind of a moment. But she fluffed it.
‘Nasty,’ she said, her chest rising and falling like a sparrow. ‘Nasty.’ She tugged free of George and was gone.
‘Do you think they’ll kick us out?’ asked George.
The door clicked shut. We listened to her footsteps down the stairs and into some back room where Nigel sat waiting to hear about their strange foreign guest.
‘Too late,’ I replied.
We went to bed, turned off the light and waited.
After some hours, while George slept, I made my way quietly out of the room, down the stairs and into Betty and Nigel’s room. The air was still sickly from what they had been saying. I hovered silently at the foot of their bed and longed for them to dream. When they did, I let pour from me all that I’d taken in that evening: the contempt, the hatred like smoke from a chimney, and sure enough their spirits rose. As I let seep from me all that George and I contained, evil, like a perfume, intoxicated them. Our honey trap. They rose up stupefied like wasps in the smoke and I took their hands as they grinned.
They screamed when they found my hands so cold, but wriggle as they did, squirm as they tried to, I took them back up the stairs with me, into our room, and then inside us.
About the author: I am Tom Tomaszewski. I find the convention of writing biographies in the third person dubious, possibly something of an evasion. I am interested in anything to do with desire or lack of it, am appalled by psychology, the reason why the majority of most films, books and television programmes, nearly all those emerging from the USA or the UK, are so extremely bad, and I love France. So why did I set my last novel in Italy? I work as a psychotherapist and run a clinic in central London.