The Christmas Lights(9)

By: Karen Swan


‘He’s right,’ Lenny said, turning and walking over to the drinks tray set up on a cabinet. He tonged a couple of cubes of ice into a glass and poured her some sparkling water. ‘Drink up. Rehydration will help.’

‘Thanks.’ His role was a fluid one: sometimes photographer, sometimes logistics and tour manager, other times mother. She took it from him and dutifully sipped, just as Zac walked back in, a towel around his hips, his tanned skin damp and warm.

‘Len, how’s your room?’ he asked.

‘Great. View of a tree.’ Len had a deadpan delivery that would have made Eeyore proud.

Zac laughed. ‘Helluva pretty tree, I bet though.’

‘Yeah.’

‘Babe, the water’s hot,’ Zac said to her.

‘Thanks. I’m going to wash my hair,’ she sighed, pulling out her long plait and shaking her hair free. She got up from the bed and walked into the bathroom, her hand trailing lightly over Zac’s bare stomach as she passed. He grabbed her hand and kissed her wrist, before letting her go again with a wink.

‘In which case, we’ll see you in the main house, shall we?’ he called after her. If there was one thing Zac was no good at, it was sitting around waiting. He always had to be doing something.

‘Sure thing,’ she mumbled, disappearing into the plumes of steam already escaping from the bathroom.

It was over an hour later before she was ready. Twenty minutes had been spent just standing under the running water, feeling her tired muscles begin to ease from the stiffness of the long-haul flight. Flatbeds were all very good in theory but she could still never sleep over the sound of the crew slamming doors and clattering about in the galley.

She stared at her reflection in the full-length mirror: long blonde hair half pulled back in a messy topknot, the rest hanging down her back in tousled waves; turquoise beaded hoop earrings from a street market in Bali; black skinny jeans ripped at the knee, old-school Vans and a chunky black cashmere Gucci rollneck she had treated herself to, en route at Doha airport. Her ultra-tanned skin looked incongruous against the all-black outfit, calling her out as an interloper, broadcasting that she was just passing through …

Shrugging on the new yellow jacket, she headed over to the main lodge. The air outside, on the brief walk over, had a purity and emptiness to it that registered like a slap. During their months in the Pacific, she had grown accustomed to the heavy, salty tang of the sea air, the constant hushing of the ocean an ever-present lullaby at her ear. But here, it was the very absence, the vacuum of both sound and smell, that set her senses ringing. She was acutely aware of the crunch of her own footsteps on the snow-dusted paths and she stopped for a moment to absorb the utter silence, twitching her nose like a hare as the cold stung at her cheeks. On the embankments, a heavy hoar frost was already stippling the grass so that tiny crystals glinted like diamonds in the early evening moonlight.

She passed by the windows of the hotel, the scenes held within their frames like little amber-veneered vignettes of lives being well lived as various groups of friends sat in fireside chairs, some playing backgammon, others drinking and reaching for cakes stacked on an ottoman. The buzz of conversation and staccatos of laughter escaped the building like the puffs of smoke from the chimney as doors opened and closed intermittently, couples heading back to their rooms or coming in for dinner. The Christmas season was already underway – white lights traced the roof apexes, candles flickered at every window and red-ribboned eucalyptus wreaths were nailed to the doors.

Bo entered, unable to resist a giant shiver as the warmth and glow of an open fire in the entrance hall enveloped her like a hug. The room smelled of pine and cinnamon cloves; two high-backed tartan chairs were occupied by an older couple reading the newspapers.

She walked through the dining room, where a long table had been set up down the centre of the room, seemingly for a large group, and into the drawing room she had passed outside only a moment before. One wall was flanked by library shelving, an enormous fireplace set opposite it on the other side. A group of slick-looking Oslo-ites was monopolizing the sofas in the centre of the room, laughing uproariously every few minutes. Zac and Lenny were sitting in a couple of club chairs by the far corner, both listening intently to a woman who was perched daintily beside them on a tartan ottoman.