The Hotel by the Lake
My wife is drunk. Contented, soft-drunk. Gently spoken, calm and optimistic, there is something young about her in this mood, as if the wine has dissolved away the years.
We sit, watching the mountains darken and the last smudge of carmine fading from the sky. The lights along the bay opposite are coming on as hotels, restaurants and shops prepare for the evening trade. Strung along the few roads winding up the lower slopes above the town, streetlights shine like necklaces round the blackening mountain. Beyond it, similar lights jewel the throats of other mountains massing in the dark, like giants gathering at a summer ball. The lake, too, is dressed, its spilled obsidian glittering with late ferries, twinkling and slow, their pearled wakes barely visible in the night.
Spread on the table in front of us are a dish of carpaccio, a platter of local cheeses and two napkin-wrapped plastic cups bristling with grissini. The wine cooler holds a bottle of the local white that we tried and liked on our first day. Next to it is a red, opened and with a glass poured to let it breathe. A bowl of black grapes glow in the candlelight that glints also on the foil wrapping of a chocolate bar. In the room behind us, humming in the gloom, the fridge holds two more bottles of white. On the work surface stand half a bottle of gin and an unopened bottle of tonic which my wife brought with her. We forgot to buy lemons at the small market shop in the town, though if it comes to the gin tonight, this lack of lemons would not be what our friend Geoff calls ‘a deal-breaker’. I don’t know yet if it will come to that.
Geoff and my wife have been lovers for a year now. At least, I have only known about it for a year. Geoff runs a company specialising in real-time advertising. He once explained it to me. It wasn’t long after I’d found out about them. He gave the example of a football game in which, at half-time, the adverts displayed on the electronic billboards round the stadium would incorporate relevant facts from the first half of the match, as would any online adverts people might access on their phones. It is very contemporary, Geoff told me, and fits well with the current desire for speed in everything. ‘The world…’ as he often says ‘…won’t wait.’
What surprised me, when I first discovered their affair, was that Geoff would find my wife ‘fast’ enough for him. He is a ‘fast’ man, the real-time of his days speeding by in vital business meetings and trips abroad. Or so he says. I want to ask my wife, sometimes, whether this is so, or something he has made up, an advert of his own. Perhaps she doesn’t know. I’m not sure she knows that Geoff is also sleeping with her friend Samantha. This was vouchsafed to me, at my work’s Christmas party, by a colleague of mine who knows Samantha’s brother, though I don’t know how this colleague knew that Samantha knew my wife. Gossip appears less reliably real-time than advertising. I’m not surprised that Geoff would find Samantha attractive. I can visualise her – though not my wife – in his sports car. I am aware how much of a delusion this might be on my part.
I look across at my wife. The shadows have hidden the far side of her face, while candlelight warms the nearer side, softening her expression almost to melancholy. At times like these we seem two studies in withdrawal, variants on the state of reserve. I have no idea what she is thinking as she stares across the lake. Is that what attracts Geoff to her perhaps? In his world of bared intentions and blared opinion, is her reticence a rarity, valuable and intoxicating?
She pours us each another glass of wine, sips hers quickly then tops it up. I take a slice of carpaccio. The first stars have appeared, struggling to match the brightness below where the shimmering names of shops and bars leak across the slick black surface of the bay towards us.