On the floor of the hotel corridor they sit, either side of a bottle of wine, the world dark beyond a huge sloped window, their bodies reflected, slumped against an inner wall. In easy silence, they sip from their glasses, knowing that in a few short hours they will both fly home. She slides off her shoes, stretches her legs, smooths her new skirt over her thighs. His left foot tips against her right. She holds her breath against this pleasure; a flash of lightning brings her round.
‘Wow, that’s some storm,’ she says.
‘Well, I guess that’s the end of that,’ he says, a sudden energy in his voice. ‘We won’t see anything tonight.’
They have stayed up late to watch the space station, another spacecraft moving in to dock. She heard some of the delegates mention it at breakfast, later searched for details online. A crack of thunder vibrates beneath them, rain slashing the floor-to-ceiling glass wall. In the dim night-time lighting of the corridor, he makes a move to go.
‘I enjoyed your talk this morning,’ she says, a little louder now.
‘Did you really?’ he says, relaxing back down. ‘Which part?’
‘Well . . .’ All she had really noticed were his hands moving, how he held himself at the podium. He brings his knees to his chest. She takes another mouthful of wine. Her weekend has been spent watching all of them, barely registering their words, concentrating on time passing, one half-hour at a time. When his turn came, she could picture him in his studio, throwing colours at a wall.
‘I enjoyed yours too,’ he says, rescuing her. ‘Especially that last piece you read, about your husband.’
She hands him back the bottle, observes the thrashing of the world outside. Her hotel room waits twelve floors away, graced with its mountain view. Three days she has dressed and undressed there, curtains open, vast sky bearing down; the invitation to come here the first she has accepted in almost a year. On this, the ground floor, she senses the depth of the valley, the town that pulls away from this enormous building on a mountainside.
A cleaner approaches, moving quickly, pushing her cart straight ahead. They make their bodies small. The girl gives no reaction, her soft shoes squeaking over the hard floor. This gathering has brought dozens of them: artists, composers, writers from around the globe. They are the last two, long since kicked out of the function room, all the others gone to bed.
‘You remind me of someone,’ he says, close to her ear. She notices the threads of darker linen running down the front of his shirt, the slow movement of his chest as he breathes. ‘Are you drunk?’ he asks.
‘Of course not. No, no, no.’
She has put the emphasis on all the right syllables, made comedy out of nothing at all. And it comes, the laughter that obliterates the need to make any more talk for a while. They sit, the moment expanding, united by the storm.
‘Tell me about your marriage,’ he says, after a while.
‘What’s to tell? He died. I got old.’
When she hears it, she feels the truth of it. When she closes her eyes, he squeezes her hand. She welcomes the momentary pressure from his fingers, soft and unexpectedly warm.
‘Do you like living in the city?’ he asks. ‘Do you usually work from home?’
They ask questions of each other; new pieces of information standing in for all the years until now. He smells of soap and alcohol. At registration she saw him see her, knew he would make her acquaintance, seek her out from then on.
‘What’s the most beautiful thing you own?’
She considers this, and smiles. ‘Nothing I could show you,’ she replies. ‘How did your last day go?’
‘Good,’ he says, finishing his wine.
Strange that it’s the same day, she thinks, lived inside different lives. The storm has eased off, quietened down, the wind driving raindrops across the window. She puts both hands to the floor, which has started to tip underneath her.