Weekend Break by Mary-Jane Holmes
Naked and bolstered by high thread count linen, he listens to the throb of jetting water and the slip of his wife’s body against the tub from behind the wall that divides them. They’d checked in late, underestimating the journey from her new apartment and the sun is striping the bedspread through the mesh of scaffold that skins the window. He suspects it’s the reason they were upgraded to the bridal, that and the distant wolf-whistle of a chop saw but like the peacock that fanned their welcome on the hotel’s gravelled approach, he takes it as a sign.
‘Slow down’ she said, her palm braking against his forearm as the bird shimmered a precarious samba round a muster of peahens picking over stones along the verge. It turned to face them, shaking its train of a hundred iridescent eyes.
‘How wonderful’ she said and he nodded feeling the sheen of her wedding ring press warm into his skin.
The Jacuzzi spasms quiet and he hears the wake of water lift as she exits the bath, her footfall splashing light on the tiles, the spring clasp of her vanity case. He splays the unruffled top sheet on the unoccupied side of the bed, exposing a triangle of crisp white cotton and pours two flutes of the champagne chilling on the nightstand. The room dusks. He sips, studying the abstracts hanging beneath the wall’s frieze: Rorschachs of love– a rose, a conch, a branch of something or perhaps an arrow, he can’t be sure. A hair dryer buzzes behind the headboard.
Outside, men pale with gypsum or paint load whisks and buckets into pickups. The lake that glosses the hotel brochure frisks with mayflies and a few guests drift to terrace tables, watching the peacocks, their tail feathers trailing along the water’s edge. Beyond them lies wilderness, heather-stitched and pinned with sheep. He watches them migrate across the fell, their heads black dots bobbing. They’d reared the same type on the family farm, broad backed with booted hocks though the pedigree escapes him. When spring blizzards bent the rowan back on itself, he abandoned square roots and equations to pull the flock from drifts with his father, who, even when blindfolded by the crackle of ice always found them, always knew just by pressing his hands to their poll and muzzle, if they were hogget or ewe, his own or the property of another.
The flock skelters towards the plain, spooked perhaps by the moon rising flat on its back. The bathroom door unlatches and his wife appears, hair quilled, outfit rustling as she walks across the room.
He drains his glass and bunches the sheets to stand. His skin pewters in the light.
‘You haven’t changed’ she says, watching from the window waiters hold matches to tea lights.
‘I will’ he says stepping round to her, leaning in to take her head in his hands. And when he opens his eyes he remembers, he remembers the breed of those sheep.