Ethel sat bolt upright in the hotel bed. It was not that it was an uncomfortable bed; far from it. Something had woken her. As her eyes became used to the darkness she realized that she could see an old lady sitting at the end of her bed. Light was seeping in from the corridor, under the door and reflecting on a little woman in a pale nightgown.
“Oh you gave me such a fright,” said Ethel. “What are you doing in my room and how did you get in? I locked the door.”
“I don’t remember how I came to be here, but I’m sure this is my room, although if I’m honest my mind has been a bit fuzzy lately.”
“Well now, my mind isn’t fuzzy and I booked into the hotel today and was given this room. What number were you given?”
“It was 221.”
“Now that is strange because this is 221,” Ethel said leaning over to switch on the bedside lamp.
The old lady’s complexion was very sallow and she didn’t look too well. Her pale green eyes were rather watery and her wispy hair uncombed. Ethel decided to take charge of the situation. She couldn’t go and wake the whole hotel up in the middle of the night, so she eased her legs out of bed and tucked her feet into velvet slippers. Then she pulled her bed jacket round her shoulders and went over to the wardrobe.
“Let’s see if we can make you comfortable and we’ll sort your room out in the morning. I’m sure I saw spare blankets and pillows in the wardrobe.”
Ethel pulled out the comfy chair and put the dressing table stool next to it, to make a bed. Then she propped up the pillow and lifted the lady into the chair. She was as light as a feather. Tucked up in the woollen blanket the old lady looked even smaller.
“Is that a little warmer? Now what’s your name?” asked Ethel.
“You’re being so kind. Thank you. My name is Mavis.”
“Why don’t you tell me what you can remember?”
“Well I booked in today, Friday and I remember having dinner in the dining room. The waiter was rather dishy and he smiled at me. Then I came up here and watched some television and went to bed. The next thing I know I’m sitting at the end of your bed, but I don’t remember getting out.”
“Hmmm,” said Ethel, “there’s no clue there then, except you seem to have lost Saturday. I booked in on Saturday. I don’t suppose you left on Saturday and went somewhere and have forgotten. Perhaps a relative? ”
“No,” said Mavis. “I came down to see my daughter. I went round to her flat just before I came to the hotel, but she wouldn’t see me. We had a row, must be ten years ago now, and she’s never forgiven me.”
“Perhaps we should go there tomorrow, just to check. Maybe she changed her mind.”
“No she won’t have. I wanted to make it up with her before it’s too late, but she didn’t want to know.”
“Goodness me, what was the row about?”
“Oh I really don’t remember; something and nothing.”
Although Ethel was tired she could never resist a bit of gossip and this did sound interesting.
“You can tell me. You’ll never see me again after tomorrow and I’m the last person in the world to judge anyone.”
“It all started when she was living with that husband of hers in one of those big houses on Thornton Parade. I was getting tired and I couldn’t be bothered doing all the cooking and cleaning in my little place and they had so many spare rooms, so I went round to stay and moved in.”
“Oh I don’t think my daughter would like it if I did that,” said Ethel. “She’d have me to live with her but she’d want to prepare and get things organized first.”
“I didn’t give her that chance. She’d have said no if I had and she wasn’t pleased. He didn’t like it either. He was furious. Anyway I’m ashamed to say I got a bit jealous; I mean I’d never lived anywhere so lovely and the two of them were so in love. It wasn’t fair.”
“So what happened?”
“I just pointed out his faults and then I started to help to create them.”
“What d you mean?”
“I kept putting his coat on the floor and moving his shoes to the middle of the room; dirtying their bath. You know, that sort of thing. I know I shouldn’t have tried to stir trouble between the two of them but I was very lonely.”
Ethel looked at the tiny woman sitting nested in the blanket. She could only feel pity, although she couldn’t imagine anyone being jealous of their daughter. You’d just be pleased they were happy.
“Anyway,” continued Mavis, “she caught me squeezing his toothpaste out over their sink and realized what I’d been up to. She made me go back to my rented rooms, but they split up very soon after that. Now she lives on her own in those flats in Weybourne Street.”
“Well that’s an odd thing. My sister lives there. I’m visiting her tomorrow. How sad your daughter and her husband split up. Did she blame you?”
“Yes, never forgave me, but I couldn’t have split them up unless they’d had problems, could I?”
“Oh don’t ask me. Now are you comfortable? D’you think we should get some sleep?” said Ethel.
“I suppose so. It must be very late,” said Mavis.
The rest of the night passed quietly. Ethel woke up with the sound of her alarm and went across to where Mavis was sleeping. Mavis wasn’t there. The blanket was still arranged in a little nest. She went to look in the bathroom but it was empty so she thought she’d check the corridor but found that the door was locked. Ethel packed away the spare blanket and pillow, dressed herself and went down to reception. The lady behind the counter looked at her strangely and said that no lady called Mavis had come to talk to her. It was a mystery thought Ethel, but there was nothing more she could do.
At breakfast she sat looking out of the window and thought about her own problems. Since Ken had died, she’d been lonely. Her daughter had invited her to live with them and she loved them all so much, but perhaps she would get jealous like Mavis had. ‘How ridiculous,’ she thought. She would only ever wish her daughter to be happy, but still did she want to go and live there? The waiter came and gave her a broad smile and asked if she’d like more tea. He was very good looking.
After breakfast she made her way over to her sister Gwen’s flat in Weybourne Street and was greeted warmly.
“You’ll never guess,” said Gwen, “you know the lady that died at the hotel you’re staying at, well she’s the daughter of my neighbour. Nasty piece of work, according to her,” Gwen said nodding towards her neighbour’s flat. “Still there’s always two sides to every story. Oh I hope you weren’t given her room.”
“Actually I think I was,” said Ethel, “although I didn’t know someone had died until you mentioned it.”