Simone lay and stared up at the motionless fan on the ceiling of their room in the Pension Dalí. She lay with her right arm hooked under her head and her legs forming a crooked diamond under the sheets. She couldn't feel it but she wondered if she stood up and went to the toilet she could force the condom out.
Conor was sitting on the edge of the bed staring at his limp, unsheathed cock. -I can't believe it, he was saying. -Just my luck. Already though he was feeling a quiet amazement which he knew not to express to Simone: he must have really been going at it for this to happen. He glanced at her over his shoulder: Didn't you feel anything?
She rolled her head slowly back and forth across the pillow. -Nothing unusual, she said after a moment. She had been too busy clutching the sides of the bed and squirming into the mattress at his every thrust in an effort to stop the bed from squeaking too much. The first time they'd made love on that bed, shortly after booking in the night before, Conor had joked: Damn Catholics. They must save this room for unmarried couples.
The shuttered windows were open slightly and Simone lay listening to the sounds drifting in from outside. A clock somewhere in the vicinity had just struck four. They could have been clambering up the Gaudí cathedral this afternoon, but they'd come back to the hotel after lunch. It had seemed naughty and romantic at the time, and she was usually willing to do whatever Conor suggested. It had been his idea to come to Barcelona for the weekend and it had made her feel grown up all of a sudden. She'd been planning to mention it casually to her friends at college on Monday but now she wasn't so sure.
Conor stood up and pushed a hand through his floppy dark hair. -I suppose we should get you sorted out. I don't know about you but I'm going to have a wash.
Simone twirled a strand of her hair round her fingers before chewing on it meditatively. Her hair was just long enough to allow her to do this, a habit her mother deplored but which Simone lapsed into instinctively when she was alone. Outside there was a metallic rattling and rumbling as the shutters rolled up on the shops in the surrounding streets, heralding the end of the siesta. She could hear Conor splashing around in the bathroom. -Leave some hot water for me, she called out.
-It was never hot in the first place, Conor shouted back, and he shivered loudly to prove his point.
So this is what happens in foreign cities, Simone thought. You lie on a creaky bed and before you know it bits of rubber have lodged deep inside you and you have to get sorted out. Why didn't that happen in London where it would be easier to get sorted out? She swivelled round so she was sitting on the edge of the bed, her feet hovering just above the floor. Then, with a quick intake of breath, she planted her feet firmly on the cold tiled floor and pushed herself up off the bed. Upright. And what went up was not coming down. She blocked from her mind the thought of fishing around inside with her fingers; she only ever used applicator tampons. And Conor had made it quite clear he was not going to delve either.
Conor was already out of the shower. The floor was sprayed with water and he stood wrapped inside a thin, sour smelling towel, his whole body shaking and covered with goose pimples. -It's sort of lukewarm for three minutes, if you can bear it, and then it goes stone cold, he informed her.
Simone stepped into the wide shallow shower base and squatted down with her back to Conor. There was no shower curtain. She leant forward and held the showerhead over her and turned the taps on. Water hit the back of her neck and soaked her hair and slowly dribbled over her hunched body. Conor jumped back: Hey watch out! I was nearly dry.
But she continued to lean forward, her stomach now pressed hard against her knees, the tepid water drenching her. She was testing every muscle, pushing, clenching, but she could not eject it, only a little spurt of pee which she hurriedly rinsed down the drain.
* * * *
The following morning, Sunday, they managed to squeeze into the Café de l'Opéra and find a table at the back, in a corner. Neither of them usually said very much in the mornings and they sat with their backs against the wall, Conor gazing blankly out across the café, and Simone hanging her head forward so that her hair shielded her face. Every so often she forced herself to take a sip of the strong black coffee which quivered in its cup in front of her. Conor had ordered her a croissant but she could not eat it.
It had taken until nine o'clock the previous evening to get her sorted out. She had sat dutifully in the hotel lounge while Conor asked the receptionist in his confident, pidgin Spanish for directions to the hospital. Then there were hours waiting, filling in forms, presenting documents, being talked about as Conor explained in a mixture of Spanish, English and gestures what had happened. In a matter of minutes it was over, the condom extracted by skilled rubber clad fingers as she lay staring at the rectangle of ceiling above her, the Spanish banter between the doctor and the nurse flying back and forth across her, and her mind blank, given up, afloat. Afterwards she had been given two pills, one to take that evening and one twelve hours later.
-I've got to take that pill, she reminded Conor. One of the waiters was passing and Conor snapped his fingers and said loudly: Agua, por favor. Simone flinched.
-I'll have that croissant if you're not going to eat it, Conor said, reaching across for it. She shook her head, pushed it towards him. It was too warm in the café, she could feel a rush of nausea overtaking her and brushed her hair back off her face, brought her head up for air. The waiter plonked a glass of water on the table and she sucked in a mouthful, held it there while she searched for the pill in her bag.
Once she had swallowed it down the nausea abated. -Can we go in a minute?, she asked. -I need some fresh air. Conor stretched and yawned. -Okay. Shall we have a ramble down the Ramblas? It was the third time he had made that joke this weekend, but Simone let it pass.
As they left the café people turned to look. They were both tall, and Simone, in her platform boots, towered several inches above Conor. He had scoffed at her for bringing those boots, had said the Spanish would stare, and they did, but for Simone the boots made her feel solid, earthbound. She had a long, swanlike neck on top of which her head hovered, Alice-like, almost too heavy for the stalk of her neck. When she wore her platform boots, her figure further elongated, she could stride, confident that she was weighted to the ground while her head, her mind, floated far above.
* * * *
-You can't not eat all day. Conor gestured angrily with his fork. -Fine weekend this is turning out to be.
The little restaurant by the harbour was dark and oppressive; Simone's feet throbbed from the long sauntering walk which had brought them to this dismal place. A platter of seafood glistened moistly in front of her. The pink and orange shapes began to dissolve into each other until she was staring at a horribly psychedelic paisley pattern, its components shifting in and out of focus.
She watched Conor snap the tail off a prawn and gobble it down. She knew she would not get away with avoiding the meal. Holding her stomach with one hand under the table she began to pick at the food, sliding small pieces of flesh down her throat without chewing and alternating with gulps of water to rinse away the rank saltiness from her mouth. In a few hours' time they would be on their way back to London. She clung to that thought, in the same way that she was grasping her stomach, desperate to contain its contents. If she had had to describe her state, she would have said: I'm all at sea, but the image was too vivid, she visualised herself swirling in an ocean of partially digested seafood.
In London they often spent the weekends together, but this was different. In London they drifted. Most Friday evenings they met Conor's friends in the pub. They were all several years older than Simone and had known Conor since college. In their presence Simone felt like a schoolgirl; she never knew what to say to them. They all had jobs and told in-jokes at Conor's expense. Simone sat on the edge of the group, drank steadily and then rambled drunkenly to Conor as they stumbled back to his place arm in arm, all the gossip and trivial incidents she had been bottling up for hours flowing out of her once they were alone. The rest of the weekend was spent in bed, or watching TV, or eating elaborate meals which Conor cooked. Conor determined the pace and shape of the weekend and it was easy, she didn't need to think.
Now, obediently placing scraps of crab and squid in her mouth, Simone realised that her relationship with Conor would not last much longer once they were back in London. The knowledge sustained her though she did not show it; her face remained blank and she thought: This is how he sees me.
* * * *
It came up easily, after hours of suppressing it. Simone leant over the toilet bowl, kept her eyes shut, held her hair back off her face with one hand, opened her mouth and released the stream of vomit. She sat back for a moment and then gave her body up for the second gush. As she stood up she lowered the lid before flushing the toilet twice, to make sure.
At one of the basins she rinsed her mouth and splashed her face with cold water. Outside, in the crowded departure lounge, Conor was waiting, slouched against the wall, his hands shoved in his trouser pockets. When she came out, her face pale, her body trembling, he put his arms around her and helped her to sit down on the floor.
-You all right now?, he asked.
She nodded. -I threw up.
-I know. I can smell it.
She looked at him. He was waving a hand in front of his face and wrinkling his nose up. She pulled her knees up to her chest and rested her head on her knees.
-Don't worry, Conor said, patting her head. -I'll get you sorted out. He stood up and went wandering through the groups of passengers. It was nearly eleven. Their flight should have left an hour ago but there was still no sign of them boarding. He'd been annoyed to discover all the duty free shops closed when they arrived at the airport. Now there didn't even seem to be a kiosk open where he could buy some chewing gum.
In a corner there was a couple about his age who he decided to try. -Hi, excuse me, Conor said. -You don't have any mints or chewing gum, do you? My girlfriend's just been sick and her breath's a bit off. He paused, then added for effect: She smells like a bag of molluscs, to be honest.
The woman raised her eyebrows. -I've got some toothpaste. She might want to clean her teeth. It might make her feel a bit better.
-Oh yeah, good idea, Conor said.
The woman searched in her overnight bag and handed Conor a small tube. -She can rub it on with her fingers if she hasn't got a brush.
-Gee, thanks. I'll bring it back.
-You can keep it. I hope she feels better, the woman said.
-Yeah, right. Conor set off across the lounge towards Simone. She was still sitting with her head on her knees. Although her body was calmer since being sick, she still felt queasy. She was trying not to think about the flight, about her body being transported through nothingness, swaying miles above the ground, like this afternoon in the cable car which had shuddered across the harbour. It had been all she could do to keep herself from fainting, clutching her belly and staring at the floor of the cable car, while Conor had staggered from side to side, taking photos and urging: Hey Simone, take a look. This is great!
Now he squatted down beside her. -A kind lady's given you some toothpaste. You can rub it on with your fingers. It'll help you feel better. He was speaking to her like a child. She took the paste without a word and went back into the toilets. -Thanks would be nice, Conor muttered.
Simone squeezed toothpaste onto her middle finger and jabbed it around inside her mouth. She was glad now that her mother had insisted she would collect her from Gatwick. Already she was choosing the cool words she would say to Conor, the inconsequential phrase -I'll ring you sometime - which would cut him down. She brought a handful of water to her mouth, churned it around her teeth and then spat it out.
Everyone had crowded up to the boarding gate when she came back out. Conor was standing towards the back, guarding their bags, his hands on his hips. He beckoned to Simone, urged her to hurry up, but she took long, slow, purposeful strides across the departure lounge towards him, balancing steadily on her heavy platform soles.