Still Me

Page 22


Sam’s body came to before he did. His arm pulled me in, his big hand sliding the length of my body, and he kissed me back, slow, sleep-filled kisses that were tender and soft and made my body arch against his. I shifted so that his weight was on me, my hand seeking his, my fingers linking with his, a sigh of pleasure escaping me. He wanted me. He opened his eyes in the dim light and I looked into them, heavy with longing, noting with surprise that he had already broken into a sweat.
He gazed at me for a moment.
‘Hello, handsome,’ I whispered.
He made as if to speak but nothing came out.
He looked off to the side. And then suddenly he clambered off me.
‘What?’ I said. ‘What did I say?’
‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘Hold on.’
He bolted for the bathroom, hurling the door shut behind him. I heard an ‘Oh, God,’ and then sounds that, for once, I was grateful that the screeching extractor fan largely obscured.
I sat there, frozen, then climbed out of bed, pulling on a T-shirt. ‘Sam?’
I leant into the door, pressing my ear against it, then backed away. Intimacy, I observed, could only survive so much in the way of sound effects.
‘Sam? Are you okay?’
‘Fine,’ came his muffled voice.
He was not fine.
‘What’s going on?’
A long gap. The sound of flushing.
‘I – uh – I think I may have food poisoning.’
‘Seriously? Can I do anything?’
‘No. Just – just don’t come in. Okay?’ This was followed by more retching and soft cursing. ‘Don’t come in.’
We spent almost two hours like that: him locked in some awful battle with his internal organs on one side of the door, me sitting anxiously in my T-shirt on the other. He refused to let me check on him – his pride, I think, forbade it.
The man who finally came out shortly before one o’clock was the colour of putty, with a Vaseline glaze. I scrambled to my feet as the door opened and he staggered slightly, as if surprised to see me still there. I reached out a hand, as if I had any hope of stopping someone his size falling. ‘What shall I do? Do you need a doctor?’
‘No. Just … just got to sit this one out.’ He flopped onto the bed, panting and clutching his stomach. His eyes were ringed with black shadows, and he stared straight ahead. ‘Literally.’
‘I’ll get you some water.’ I stared at him. ‘Actually, I’m going to run to a pharmacy and get you some Dioralyte or whatever they have here.’ He didn’t even speak, just toppled onto his side, staring straight ahead, his body still damp with sweat.
I got the required medication, offering up silent thanks to the City That Didn’t Just Not Sleep But Offered Rehydration Powders Too. Sam chugged one down, and then, with an apology, retreated to the bathroom again. Occasionally I would pass a bottle of water through a gap in the door, and in the end I turned on the television.
‘Sorry,’ he muttered, when he stumbled out again, shortly before four. And then he collapsed onto the Bedspread of Doom and fell into a brief, disjointed sleep.
I slept for a couple of hours, covered with the hotel robe, and woke to find him still asleep. I showered and got dressed, letting myself out silently so that I could grab a coffee from the machine in the lobby. I felt bleary. At least, I told myself, we still had two days to go.
But when I walked back into the room Sam was in the bathroom again.
‘Really sorry,’ he said, when he emerged. I had pulled the curtains and in daylight he looked, if anything, greyer against the hotel sheets. ‘I’m not sure I’m up to much today.’
‘That’s fine!’ I said.
‘I might be okay by this afternoon,’ he said.
‘Maybe not the ferry trip, though. Think I don’t want to be anywhere where …’
‘… there are communal loos. I get it.’
He sighed. ‘This is not quite the day I had in mind.’
‘It’s fine,’ I said, climbing onto the bed beside him.
‘Will you stop saying it’s fine,’ he said irritably.
I hesitated a moment, stung, then said icily, ‘Fine.’
He looked at me from the corner of his eye. ‘Sorry.’
‘Stop apologizing.’
We sat on the bedspread, both looking straight ahead. And then his hand reached across for mine. ‘Listen,’ he said eventually. ‘I’m probably just going to hang here for a couple of hours. Try and get my strength back. Don’t feel you have to sit with me. Go shopping or something.’
‘But you’re only here till Monday. I don’t want to do anything without you.’
‘I’m good for nothing, Lou.’
He looked like he could have punched a wall, if he’d only had the strength to raise his fist.
I walked two blocks to a newsstand and bought an armful of newspapers and magazines. I then bought myself a decent coffee and a bran muffin, and a plain white bagel for when he might want to eat something.
‘Supplies,’ I said, dropping them on my side of the bed. ‘Might as well just burrow in.’ And that was how we spent the day. I read every single section of the New York Times, including the baseball reports. I put the Do Not Disturb sign on the door, watched him dozing and waited for colour to return to his face.
Maybe he’ll feel better in time for us to have a walk in daylight.
Maybe we could grab a drink in the hotel bar.
Sitting up would be good.
Okay, so maybe he’ll be better tomorrow.
At nine forty-five when I turned off the television chat show, pushed all the newspapers off the bed and burrowed down under the duvet, the only part of my body still touching his was my fingers, entwined with his at the tips.
He woke feeling a little brighter on Sunday. I think by then there was so little in his system that there was nothing left to come out. I bought him some clear soup and he ate it tentatively and pronounced himself well enough to go for a walk. Twenty minutes later we jogged back and he locked himself into the bathroom. He was really angry then. I tried to tell him it was okay but that just seemed to make him angrier. There’s not much that’s more pathetic than a six-foot-four man-mountain trying to be furious while he can barely lift a glass of water.
I did leave him for a bit then because my disappointment was starting to show. I needed to walk the streets and remind myself that this wasn’t a sign, it didn’t mean anything, and that it was easy to lose perspective when you’d had no sleep and had been stuck for forty-eight hours with a gastro-intestinally challenged man and a bathroom with deeply inadequate soundproofing.
But the fact that it was now Sunday left me heartbroken. I was back at work tomorrow. And we had done none of the things I’d planned. We hadn’t gone to a ball game or on the Staten Island ferry. We hadn’t climbed to the top of the Empire State or walked the High Line arm in arm. That night we sat in bed and he ate some boiled rice I had picked up from a sushi restaurant and I ate a grilled chicken sandwich that tasted of nothing.
‘On the right track now,’ he murmured, as I pulled the cover over him.
‘Great,’ I said. And then he was asleep.
I couldn’t face another evening of scrolling through my phone so I got up quietly, left him a note and headed out. I felt miserable and oddly angry. Why had he eaten something that had given him food poisoning? Why couldn’t he make himself better quicker? He was a paramedic after all. Why couldn’t he have picked a nicer hotel? I walked down Sixth Avenue, my hands thrust deep into my pockets, the traffic blaring around me, and before long I found myself headed towards home.
With a start, I realized that was how I now thought of it.
Ashok was under the awning, chatting to another doorman, who moved away as soon as I approached.
‘Hey, Miss Louisa. Aren’t you meant to be with that boyfriend of yours?’
‘He’s sick,’ I said. ‘Food poisoning.’
‘You’re kidding me. Where is he now?’
‘Sleeping. I just … couldn’t face sitting in that room for another twelve hours.’ I felt suddenly, oddly, close to tears. I think Ashok could see it because he motioned me to come in. In his little porter’s room he boiled a kettle and made me a mint tea. I sat at his desk and sipped it, while he peered out now and then to make sure Mrs De Witt wasn’t around to accuse him of slacking. ‘Anyway,’ I said, ‘why are you on duty? I thought it was the night guy.’