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Black swans glide along the surface of the lake that surrounds the Hotel Pavane. In the evening, the sinking sun paints the sky and the water red, and the swans become black images casting long shadows among the shadows of the trees that line the shore: shadows with shadows amidst shadows upon the red rippled lake.
The Hotel itself was once a ducal palace, and sits atop a spacious island planted with formal gardens and hedgerow mazes, tall poplars and tangled stands of ancient oak, all arranged just so, so that one view is more beautiful than the next, and the whole is a symphony of light and form and shadow. The island is connected to the shore of the lake by a macadam drive, and when the sun slants low like this and the water burns red, the hotel and the island appear to be consumed by a lake of fire, attached to the mainland by a road of smoke. It is all like a dream within a dream.
Where the drive connects with the island is a long causeway, and at the end of this causeway are the statues of two angels, one on each side of the road, one looking towards the Hotel, the other looking away, so that one faces the traveler as he enters, and the other faces the guest as he leaves. Each angel holds a bronze sword, and in the light of the setting sun these swords appear to be aflame, just like the sword wielded by the angel who guarded the entrance to Eden. Thus, when entering the grounds, the one angel keeps the outside world at bay, and on leaving the hotel, the other angel keeps back all that has happened there. The staff refers to the Angels as Alphonse and Gaston.
Within the hotel are hallways set with infinities of doors, marble stairs leading to hidden verandas, and dimly lit corridors set with lush carpets and hung with faded and obscure paintings. There are ballrooms and dining halls, a spa and pools for taking the waters (in ancient times there were Roman baths here), and although the grounds and hotel are impeccably kept, there is a feeling that time has passed this place by; or rather that time has a different meaning here, measured not by the passage of the seasons, but by the continuity of human habitation. The hotel has assumed a kind of seamless grandeur with the landscape in which it sits, rather like a queen sitting in state over an empty kingdom.
This is the sight that Marija Dumanoir sees as she alights in front of the hotel from the limousine that has brought her from the station: the marble steps that sweep up to the portico, the parade of Palladian windows gleaming in the dull light, punctuating the ancient façade of the building with a calm and stately rhythm, the ornamental statuary overgrown with spots of ancient moss.
She puts one beige Italian heel down on the gravel, and then the other. She is slim, with large brown eyes and blonde hair, impeccably dressed in a simple beige suit, and from her placid appearance there is nothing to suggest that she’s a fragile shell, that inside she’s still tender and bruised, wounded by the bitter finish of a relationship of eight months. She’s brought herself to Hotel Pavane to try and recover the person she used to be; to try and break through the icy scar that has grown around her heart.
The doorman has seen this all before, and takes her bags without a word. She’s brought quite a bit of luggage; most guests do. They arrive with the shards of their lives in tow; uncertain as to what to leave behind and what to take with, and so they all bring too much. He leads the way, and Marija walks to the desk where her key is waiting.
There’s an elaborate fountain in the lobby, the waters spilling softly into the pool below with a soothing sound, establishing a kind of tranquility, and Marija stops to peer into the water. There are flowers within, and fish hang in the stillness. She can see her reflection, and thinks of Andre being there with her, and what he would say. She hates the way she automatically invokes his presence whenever she sees or feels something remarkable, but she can’t stop it. His absence is like a sore tooth her tongue won’t leave alone but has to press at and worry until it hurts again, and then she’s satisfied.
“So pleased to have you with us, Ms. Dumanoir. I hope you find your room satisfactory,” the clerk says as she signs the register. “Dinner is at seven. If there’s anything you need, please don’t hesitate to call.”
Marija takes her key and follows the handsome young bellman up to the second floor. She stands behind him in the elevator, so she can look at his behind in his tight trousers. It brings a rueful smile: what she’s heard is apparently true. Then down the long, quiet hall, the wheels of the luggage cart squeaking softly as he turns this way and that through the bewildering maze of corridors.
He stops outside Room 243 and opens the door, and she walks into a large and spacious room, restored to all its rococo glory, dominated by an antique table and matching canopy bed. On the table, an elaborate display of fresh-cut flowers perfumes the air, pendik escort and as she crosses over to the French doors that overlook the lake and the formal gardens, she stops to run her hand over the ancient wood of the bed, trying to imagine things that have happened there.
“That bed belonged to the sister-in-law of Maximillian the First,” the bellman tells her proudly.
Marija looks at him. He is absurdly handsome in his tight burgundy uniform with yellow piping. His cheeks are pink, his eyes bright with youth and health, but he’s no more than a boy, and she hasn’t any interest in boys. She imagines that he’s quite experienced, working at the Hotel Pavane. Everyone is here, and everyone’s for hire, or so she’s heard.
The bellman stands awkwardly for a moment, then opens the French doors for her, and Marija walks over and steps out onto the small terrace. She hears the call of a peacock, and looking down, sees the group on the shadowy lawn: a cock with three hens. A flight of little birds bursts from the ivy below her window and scatters into the gloom like an omen. She stands with her hands on the doors, inhaling the scent of the roses in the garden. Down and to the left, the light in a room is on. The shades are drawn but the drapes are open, and Marija sees shadows passing by the window in the yellowish light.
She tips the bellman and locks the door behind him. She takes off her jacket and shoes and walks into the bathroom. It’s absurdly sybaritic, the floor and walls of Italian marble, the fixture harmonious with the eighteenth century décor but all apparently new. An enormous shower, a toilet, a sink and a bidet. She runs water into the enormous claw-foot tub, pouring in some lilac salts from the collection on the tub’s edge. While the bath fills, she unpacks some things, then undresses, carefully hanging up her clothes as if she’s aware of the symbolism of the act. She wants to remember this moment of arrival. She wants to remember what she feels like right now, before anything has happened.
She wraps a robe around her and goes back into the bathroom, sits on the edge of the tub and watches the suds accumulate in the steaming water.
She’d tried so hard to make it work. She had assumed from the start that Andre was the one, and even after he’d disappointed her time and again she’d refused to give up hope. In the end it had turned ugly and even degrading, and Marija had clung to him, terrified of being alone after having given so much of herself. But her clinging had gained her nothing, and the more she gave, the less she had left of herself. Finally she lost Andre, all she had given, and a great deal more as well. She’d lost parts of herself she didn’t think he’d even had access to, parts she had thought were safe.
She takes off her robe and hangs it behind the door, then eases herself into the tub, enjoying the sting of the hot water against her skin. She scrubs the grime of travel from her body and then soaks in the fragrant warmth, trying to think of nothing. She’s lost so much that sometimes the integrity of her body surprises her. It’s as if she expects to see a missing limb or vast scar running between her breasts, but no: her body remains surprisingly healthy in spite of all she’s been through.
She emerges from the tub and takes a warm towel from the heater and dries herself, then wraps her robe around her body and walks into her sitting room, drying her hair.
From her make-up case she takes three bottles of sleeping pills and puts them on the bedside table, next to the phone, lining them up like soldiers. Three prescriptions from three different doctors. No matter how bad things get or what happens to her, she always has these three, more than enough. As long as she has them, every day—every minute—is the result of her decision, and she likes knowing that. She no longer pours them into her hand and fondles them as she once did, toying with the feeling of her own mortality, but still, she thinks of them as her freedom.
She walks over to the flower arrangement on the table and takes a tiger lily blossom in her hands, inhaling the fragrance. She looks at the blossom, so beautiful and yet so blatantly, almost comically sexual, the open and welcoming calyx of the petals, the quivering male anthers dotted with pollen.
She smiles briefly and is aware of it, of how unfamiliar it feels, and she feels encouraged. Maybe this place will work for her. She replaces the flower, then walks out onto the terrace again, into the warm summer night where her eyes are caught by that same lighted window, open now, with a figure in it, sharply silhouetted against the shade. A man, apparently shirtless, his arms held above his head. He’s turned in three-quarters profile, and Marija can see the dim shadow of another figure behind the shade as well.
Marija stops toweling her hair and stands transfixed as a woman enters the picture. The woman is wearing a corset; it’s obvious from her silhouette, and she’s holding a doubled-over escort pendik cord or strap in her hands, bringing her hands together and then pulling them apart with enough force that Marija can hear the snap from across the way.
She sees the woman bring her arm back, the strap dangling, then bring it down on the man’s behind. She hears the slap and sees his body jerk in whatever it is that holds him. Marija stands still as a statue as the woman hits him again, and again, and then she slowly backs up into her room and sits down on the bed.
She knows what kind of place this is, of course, and why people come here. The reputation of sex and sexuality hangs heavily over the entire hotel, and the reputation is the reason she came. But the Pavane is also known for its exclusivity and sense of discretion. She hadn’t expected to be confronted with such a flagrant and lurid display.
She plugs in her drier and finishes her hair, standing inside her room where she’s safe. The clock says seven ten, and she’s hungry, but she takes a moment to inspect her room. There’s an antique French armoire that holds a courtesy bar and a large television set. The television seems jarringly out of place in this eighteenth century setting, and she’s offended at first, but then she takes the remote control and turns it on. There is a channel guide atop the set, and she picks it up and looks at it.
Everything is apparently closed circuit. Channels are grouped together and marked “Male Escorts”, “Female Escorts”, “Dungeon”, “Exhibitionist”, “Exhibitionist/Voyeur”, “Commercial Entertainment”.
Her eyebrows lift in surprise. She selects the Male Escort channel and finds herself watching videos featuring virile young men, all apparently hotel employees—little snatches of them riding horses, or emerging dripping from the lake, strolling through the gardens and smiling for the camera.
She smiles. She wonders if her bellman is in there. Probably, but she’s not interested in finding out.
She selects the Exhibitionist channel and find herself staring into a room much like her own, apparently empty, though she can see towels still lying over the back of a chair. She chooses another Exhibitionist channel and is shocked to see a young man sitting on the side of his bed masturbating. He looks up at the camera with a lascivious leer, his face distorted by his proximity to the wide-angle lens. She quickly changes the channel.
Marija clicks rapidly through the Exhibitionist channels, and suddenly finds herself looking down at herself in her own room. Her blood runs cold.
“This is room 243,” she snaps into the phone, her hand shaking with rage. “Why is there a camera in my room? What’s the meaning of this?”
The desk clerk is terribly apologetic. Wasn’t Madame aware that she’d requested an Exhibitionist room? There it was on her reservation; she’s even been charged extra for it. He was looking at her reservation now. The request box had been checked.
“No,” she said trying to keep her voice steady. “I’m sorry, but no. There’s been some mistake. I want this camera turned off immediately. No. I want it removed. I want it removed or I want a new room.”
“At once, Madame. I’ll have a man sent up immediately. I do so regret the error. Of course you won’t be billed for the camera. I’m so terribly sorry. I can’t imagine how this happened…”
His tone is so contrite and profusely apologetic that Marija finds herself consoling him. Possibly she had checked that box when she’d filled out her reservation. She’d been quite intoxicated that night.
“That’s quite all right. Just see that it’s turned off. No, there’s nothing else. Thank you, that’s very considerate. Yes, everything else is quite satisfactory.”
She hangs up the phone and as she does so, she sees the TV screen go blank as her camera is turned off, but now she can’t help but wonder. She aims the remote control at the TV and selects another channel in the Exhibitionist group and finds herself looking down into another empty room. She clicks again and gets yet another empty room, though she can hear voices. On the third try she finds what she is looking for: a man and a woman making love.
Now that her suspicions are confirmed, her reflex is to turn away and switch it off, but she forces herself to watch. The camera is above and to the right of the foot of the bed, as is the camera in Marija’s room. She can’t see their faces. The man is between the woman’s thighs, his pale ass rising and falling with thrusts so powerful that the woman’s legs shake. He’s panting, while she gives a little yelp or grunt whenever he thrusts into her.
The camera stares blandly down on them, and though Marija knows that both of them are aware they’re being watched and must even enjoy it, she feels contaminated, as if she’s been drawn into their perversion. But no, it’s not the voyeuristic aspects or even the act itself that strikes her as obscene. It’s the couple’s awful need, a need that makes them sacrifice pendik escort bayan even their dignity and privacy in exchange for some brief satisfaction. What keeps her watching is her recognition that she shares the same need. It’s as if she’s watching people suffering from the same disease she knows she has.
It’s the woman’s hands that seem to hold her attention. With their faces invisible, it’s the woman’s fingers that seem to be the most human. They spread out and press down urgently on the man’s back, or curl into claws to rake his skin. They leave his body and grab at the sheet, as if she’s afraid she’ll be swept away, then, in moments of extremity, they reach down as she digs her nails into his buttocks, her knees spreading wide, pulling him into her, beside herself with lust. Pleasure, pain, love, hatred: Marija sees them all in the woman’s hands.
The hands come up and grab the man’s hair, and now Marija can see the woman’s face for an instant: a flash of eyes tightly closed and open, hungry mouth, nothing more. Both voices rise, his to a low, threatening growl, hers to a shrill and gasping wail that peaks as the woman throws her head back in a sudden choked silence, a scream locked in her throat. Marija realizes with a weird thrill that they’re both climaxing. Even as she watches, the man’s cock must be already jumping inside the woman and spitting out his lust. The woman’s hands ball into fists, then fall back on the bed in helpless surrender as the man’s hips lunge at her in angry insistence. It’s too much. Marija can’t watch anymore.
She switches off the TV and puts down the remote. She’s breathing deep, her face is flushed.
It’s so remarkable what sex does to people: how they need it so much, that terrible intimacy of release in another’s arms. With her own ardor quenched and battered by the pain of her break-up, she’s been able to look at it more objectively, as an outsider, and it seems so strange. In the past months she’s come to realize how hard it is to maintain one’s existence in the world, to keep one’s ego intact in the face of all that tears at it and attempts to grind it down, and now it seems so strange to see how people fight and contend to give themselves away, to throw themselves at one another and lose themselves in their lover’s embrace.
She feels a sudden urge to masturbate that takes her quite by surprise. Since she broke up with Andre she has had no sex, and absolutely no desire for sex. That’s why she’s come to this place, to try and rekindle that spark, and yet she lives in fear that she might be permanently damaged, that she may have lost the capacity to respond to that kind of intimacy. She worries that she might be the victim of some form of hysterical frigidity brought about by the trauma of her separation, and that it might be permanent. She’s afraid to push herself beyond the level of mild interest she feels now, afraid that she won’t respond. And then what would she do?
She makes herself behave, letting herself feel the subtle tension in her body that she recognizes with welcome relief as the beginnings of sexual arousal. She feels as though some energy within in her is being renewed, as if the mainspring of a watch is being wound and tightened. It’s a good sign, but it makes her nervous.
She sits down at her dressing table and does her face: nothing too elaborate, some eyeliner and shadow, some blush, her lipstick. She brushes her hair and studies herself in the mirror: the large, expressive brown eyes, the fine features. She’s lost her girlish sparkle, but perhaps she’s gained a degree of depth and maturity. Andre used to call her his princess for the fineness of her features and the regal way she carried herself, and she wonders now whether her carriage has changed: whether she still walks with her back straight and her head erect. It’s something she hasn’t even thought to notice before.
It would be easier to stay in tonight, she thinks. She could order in from room service and go to bed early. She wouldn’t have to dress, she wouldn’t have to see anyone. But she’s made a promise to herself and she intends to keep it. She doesn’t have long in the hotel.
She goes to her bag and finds a new package of nylons, opens it, and takes out one of the gauzy stockings. She rolls it up, then inserts her foot and extends her leg, unrolling it as she goes, then running her hands up its length, over her calf, her knee, her thigh, smoothing out the thin fabric. The way it embraces her leg feels good, and the band of material around the top of her thigh feels very erotic. It’s good to feel this way again.
She puts on the other stocking, looks through the underthings she’s packed away but doesn’t find anything she likes. Impulsively, she pushes them aside and takes out a suspender belt which she fastens around her waist and tugs into place around her hips. She purposely ignores her panties and clips the garters to her stockings, then goes to her closet and selects her black dress; black crepe, with tiny thin straps that go over her flawless shoulders. It’s unlined, but Marija doesn’t hesitate. She leaves her bras in the drawer and slips the dress on over her head, naked beneath it, and looks at herself in the mirror.
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