afterwards

By Chris Weinholtz

Afterwards, lying in the hotel bed, Nora Preston suddenly wanted a cigarette.  It had been more than fifteen years, and she’d hardly thought about it since. But now, lying there in the middle of the afternoon, it came back to her.  She went to the bathroom to splash some water on her face.

The water was cold against her face and the tile was cold against her bare feet, and she began to feel more like herself again.  She filled one of the paper cups next to the sink with water and took it down, all in one motion.

When she returned, Jim was still lying there with his eyes closed, though she knew he wasn’t sleeping.  She began pulling her clothes back on.

“Getting dressed already?” he asked without opening his eyes.

“I have to get home,” she said.  She finished buttoning her blouse, hung her blazer over the leather chair and sat down in front of the mirror.  The sun glowed around the edges of the blinds pulled closed over the window.

Jim sat up and watched her reapplying her makeup.  They caught eyes in the mirror and she quickly looked away.

“Why don’t we order something up before you have to go?” he said, turning to look for the room service menu.  “Don’t leave here on an empty stomach.”

“I can’t.  It’s getting late.  I’m not that hungry anyway,” she added.  She ran her hands through her hair and checked it in the mirror.

Jim closed his eyes and leaned back against the headboard.  Nora continued putting on her makeup but sounded to be running out of steam.  She stopped and exhaled.

“Everything alright?” he asked.

“I don’t feel well all of a sudden.”

“Can I get you something?”

“No.  I’m just a little shaky.  I’ll be alright in a minute.”

“You sure?  How ‘bout some water?”

“I just had some in there.”

“Stay for dinner then.”

“I told you.  I can’t.” She had fixed her attention on the floor moulding behind the dresser.  The dresser was an inch or so out from the wall and she could see the dust and dirt accumulated on the moulding’s small ledge behind it.  “You know, I haven’t smoked in fifteen years,” she said. “Just a minute ago, lying there, it all came back to me.”

He didn’t say anything, just waited for her to continue.

“I haven’t even thought about it since.  Seems like another life. It wasn’t hard – quitting, I mean – not like some of the stories you hear.  Hell, Mary Williams still sneaks out at lunch most days, covers herself in perfume before she leaves so…” she trailed off.

“You’re lucky.  It’s a hard thing to quit.”

“Yeah…”

They sat in silence a long moment, her thoughts far away from him.

“I’ve got to go,” she said, standing up.

“Will I see you next week?”

“I don’t know.  I’ve got a lot of work.  And the kids have a lot going on, I don’t think I’ll be able to get away.”

“Alright.  After that,” he said almost to himself.

#

She crossed the lobby with purpose if not confidence, not turning her head to look at the three or four people at the desk waiting to check in.  She considered the bar before leaving but there was only a couple there, talking with their heads close together, and she decided to keep moving.  

Outside, two men in a lift were washing the windows of the building across the street.  There were dark clouds moving in from the west.

It looked like rain.

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