The name is as vague as its interior, save for the only thing that stands about the joint: it is the size of a butter pat. And not the generously portioned kind one would get at a steakhouse in the 1950s, but one that’s the stingy, ultra small square kind you might find as part of the miscellany products in a small dish on the table of a Jewish delicatessen. Still, Irene takes a deep breath and walks into the Hôtel du Centre as though this is the norm for her. And, in many ways, it is. Which is to say, she is not unaccustomed to unpleasant situations. Though she has, in all her thirty years, somehow managed to avoid a hotel of this nature. Something in the “economy” bracket. At the same time, she is in Nice, so there’s that. Of course she was going to have to economize somewhere in a location like this. Yet it briefly made her regret her choice about non-legally separating from Samir so soon after their wedding, a bombastic affair that led them to a honeymoon in Goa, which sounded nice in theory until the barrage of college age children usurped them at every turn with their stereophonic belching (exhaling) and intake of various substances (inhaling).
Yet it didn’t take her but a moment after saying “I do” to realize she had made a terrible mistake. She found Samir repellent, and the only thing that had briefly mitigated that stench was the sweet scent of his wealth. The very wealth that had kept her out of hotels like this for the past four years of their time together. Samir wanted to get married sooner, but Irene was the one who kept putting it off, not entirely knowing why until she finally succumbed and understood the full weight of just how wrong it felt. When she tried to be straightforward with Samir about it, he wouldn’t hear her, instead referring to some sort of menstruation chart he had created himself regarding her cycle and when they should be boning from now on in order to optimize her chance of having a boy. Because, yes, apparently there was a science to fucking that would enable a vagina to spit out a boy instead of a dreaded and useless girl.
She was starting to feel like she was going insane. Isn’t that always what happens when people ignore everything you’re saying? As though you’re screaming at them from behind soundproof glass and they can see every emotion on your face, knowing how much what you’re saying means to you, but still not grasping the full weight–letting it go right over their heads instead. That’s what it was to be with Samir. That’s what it had always been, yet it wasn’t until this so-called honeymoon that it all became crystallized for her. Not to mention the constant involvement of his parents, who felt obliged to video chat every day, making gross allusions to how their progress on a grandchild was going. It was only five days into the vacation when she decided she would have to run for it. She took the opportunity to do so in the afternoon, when Samir had taken to leaving the beach and going back to their resort for a nap. She said she wanted to stay a bit longer, already having made her travel arrangements and packing a small amount of essentials into her beach bag. Everything else would have to be left behind. The lavish silks and scents she had cultivated at the markets in such a short time would be but painful souvenirs to Samir now. But she couldn’t worry about his feelings anymore, knowing full well that he had never really cared about hers. She was an orifice to be used for his own legacy gains. Nothing more. It had taken her too long to come to terms with that. Thinking perhaps somewhere between them lingered something of the initial magic that had attracted her in the first place. Yet now, all she could feel was revulsion toward him. Everything he did bothered her. From the way he spoke to the way he dressed to the way he smelled. She had to get away and not a moment too soon.
So from Goa to Mumbai to London to Paris via plane, she dropped down to the South of France by train to fulfill a lifelong dream and “figure things out” while in hiding. The Hôtel du Centre was just the sort of place to do that. In fact, it seemed that everyone there was hiding from someone as they attempted to put the pieces of their life back together. This was Nice for those who couldn’t actually afford it. Those who couldn’t stay right on the water. Or live in the same sun-soaked neighborhood as Matisse. Or even Chagall. At least she wasn’t staying in the same area as the remote Fernand Léger Museum. Though she did splurge on a cab to get to it. Pretty soon, she would be completely out of her “dowry” money, for yes, she had pocketed one of the giant envelopes filled with cash that had been given to them by various friends and relatives, mainly Samir’s. It was occurring only just now to Irene that she didn’t have any friends. That for so many years, she had devoted her time and energy to Samir, presently with nothing to show for it other than this bare bones room with no more than a twin bed in it that took up the entire space.
So this is what life was now. Destitution and disappointment. Of course, who was she kidding? It had always been the latter. She would have to come to terms with it, and that’s part of what this trip was about, even if set against the ironic backdrop of Nice, the coast of which she walked along daily to gather her thoughts, mounting the summit of Fort du Mont Alban in the Parc Mont Boron and letting the wind whip against her face as though it might actually whisper the secret of life into her ear. Alas, no such luck was had with that. She supposed she hadn’t gone completely crazy yet as a result of her inability to commune with nature.
The sputtering sound of the off-brand Nespresso machine (the only amenity) back in her hotel room shook her out of her daze. She sipped the coffee and moved gingerly toward the window, not wanting to slam her knee against the side of the metal bed frame. She looked out the window at the view of a courtyard where a cluster of Algerian children were kicking a soccer ball back and forth. Something within her clicked, a fire awakened as she closed the curtain and proceeded to lie on her back and start touching herself. Slowly at first, then fiendishly. A fever dream of being gang banged by virile preadolescent Algerians overtaking her mental landscape. And then a flash of Samir’s face popped into her mind right at the threshold of orgasm. All the pleasure was drained from her. She was jolted back to her bleak reality, here at the even bleaker Hôtel du Centre. For even if she was in the most “luxurious” setting, she was still in squalor. The squalor of her existence, and of her decision to abandon the only lifeline to opulence she had ever known. Maybe she ought to call him. Tell him it was all a mistake. He could join her here and put them up in a five-star hotel. That is, if it wasn’t too late for her to repent.