"Only Just the Two of Us" First Runner-Up, London Fringe Short Fiction Award 2010
“No one knows we're here,” he said. He closed the blinds, leaving stripes of sunset across the floor. “No one at all!”
He began to pace. “I've got you here – right here – and no one knows it!” He kissed me. “It's amazing, isn't it!” He laughed. “You'd think somebody would have suspected. You know what gossips they all are. But nobody's guessed!”
I wore the dress he'd given me; he trailed his lips at the zipper.
“We should go – the Gardens close at nine!” I'd dreamed for years of coming to Copenhagen. I'd always wanted to see the Tivoli Gardens.
“No – no, let's stay.”
“Inside! I want you all to myself.” He pawed at my dress. “We'll go tomorrow.” He laughed. “No – not tomorrow – never! We'll stay here, hidden – and nobody can find us!”
We had known each other long enough, and the others in our circle had known us long enough, that it seemed prudent at first to keep the thing a secret. He'd kiss me behind the door at parties and leave surreptitious flowers in my mailbox and we would exchange coded glances over dinner. It seemed romantic, thrilling: infidelity to imaginary spouses. We crafted unnecessary excuses to slip out to the garden, to miss the weekly brunches, to explain tears in blouses. He convinced me to book the hotel under an alias. I laughed and allowed him to pick one out.
I told them I was visiting my mother; he said he was holed up with work. We sat separately on the plane. We checked separately into the hotel. I had waited thirty predetermined minutes in an adjacent room before knocking on his door.
“I want to see the Marble Church. And the canals!” I looked out the window.
He buried his fingers in my hair. “We have to stay! Or the secret's up!”
“Who cares? The bell-boy? The concierge?”
“I care!” He pulled me down upon the bed. “They'll know.”
“What does it matter if they know?” I couldn't help laughing. “You silly man!”
He kissed me again.
When we had finished making love, I asked him again to go into the city. “I've been going through our guidebooks – there's so much to do!” I wanted to go to the Tivoli Gardens, the Marble Church, the canals.
He did not look at me. “Tomorrow,” he said.
“I don't want to wait until tomorrow!” I rolled over.
“I don't want to go out!” His voice ricocheted off the walls. “I want to stay here – all weekend.” He pressed my palm against his lips. “I don't want anyone else to see you – to see us. Just...stay. Stay, all right?”
It had been romantic – when we'd spent weekends holed up in my apartment, with the doors locked and the shades drawn and the bed sticky with my perfume – to imagine that we would keep the secret forever, that nobody would know ourselves but us.
“Or – look, if you want, you go out the front door, and I'll go out the side, and I'll meet you at the Marble Church.” He wasn't smiling. “Wear your sunglasses.”
I laughed, because I could do nothing else. “It'll be dark soon; I'm not wearing any bloody sunglasses.”
“Nine thirty – in front of the Marble Church!”
“That's ridiculous. Why can't we go together?”
“Because they'll know,” he said. “They'll see us – and they'll know us. It's...ugly!”
“Ugly?” I should have been offended; I didn't know what to feel.
He sprang up. His paces cast frenzied shadows over the floor. “It won't just be us, anymore. It'll be the concierge – and the bellboy – and they'll look at us, and they'll judge us, and they'll be part of it – and I'll start seeing them...I don't want to be with them.”
“You're serious?” I sat down again, slowly. The bed shuddered under me.
“A whole bloody orgy of them!”
I'd wanted to see the city. I'd wanted to walk hand in hand with him by the canals, and take photographs by the Tivoli Gardens, the Marble Church. It had seemed so romantic – to be in a strange city, building up a storehouse of kisses, where we would know nobody, and nobody would know us. I had wanted this.
I tore myself from the idea. “Fine, then. Stay inside – as you like. I'm going to the Gardens.”
He sprang up. “Don't!” And then he was between me and the door, and he was murmuring entreaties into my neck. “Please don't – no – stay here. It's better here; I want you here, all of you – and nothing else...don't let them spoil it – don't let them see...” His fingers closed around my wrists; he whispered words of love in the palm of my hand.
It had seemed so romantic, when he had proposed the idea, hidden the letter in a book on my bedside table. It would be just the two of us – in a city of strangers – and it had been beautiful when it was a letter. It would be just the two of us – an assignation, a hotel room – and I had agreed to go, and let him give me a name.
“It'll be different,” he was saying, and against myself I wondered if there would be something predatory in the bellboy's eyes when we went down to the lobby, or if the concierge would look us over and decide which of us was more attractive, whether we were suited, to each other. I imagined us, pinned like dead butterflies to the centre of the tourist map – to-be-gawked-at alongside the Tivoli Gardens, the Marble Church, the Canals, and remembered how in the first days of our secret we had exchanged significant stares across the room at cocktail parties, and delighted in our deception, in the blithe oblivion of those who did not matter.
It had seemed romantic, then.
“It's all right,” I said. “We'll go out tomorrow.”
His relief consumed me.
Through the window, I could see snippets of the city, struck through by the blinds, like incorrect answers. I could see narrow stripes of the gardens, the church, the canals. He whispered his love into the small of my back