Camellia went to the window and watched grey comuter trains cross in the cutting below. She admired the horse-chestnut trees on the slope opposite and wandered round the room looking at prints of roses and of children peering down wells. She wondered what Robert had done with their other suitcases - and what Rosemary was doing now.
Then she sat in the chair. And on the bed. Then she looked in the speckled glass of the wardrobe mirror and pretended to be Mrs Bendicks for a minute. Then she went back to the bed, swung her legs up onto it, wondered how long Hugh would be - and fell asleep.
When she woke, the light was almost gone and someone was tapping at the door. Not Hugh. He would have marched straight in. She leaned up on an elbow and brushed the back of her hand across her eyes. She'd been crying. Another tap. Definitely a tap - but a gentle one. She could have pretended not to hear.
It was the maid; the one she'd seen with the tea-trolley.
"Hello," said the maid, stepping half into the room. "I'm Maria. May I come in?" Camellia smiled. "I work on the day shift," said Maria, stepping further into the room and closing the door. "May I sit down?"
Camellia wondered how long she had been asleep. Her brain had gone all fuzzy. She nodded.
"I'll bring you some tea in a minute, if you would like?"
Camellia thought that would be very nice. She thought Maria looked nice too; soft round the edges; not like Mrs Bendicks. And her hair was soft, instead of rigid. Black and wavy. Even in the half-light, Camellia could see her un-made-up cheeks were round and cheerful and healthy. Tired though.
"I'm meant to be cleaning saucepans but I wanted to say 'hello' so I came up. I hope that's alright?"
"Thank you," said Camellia, gratefully. A tear ran out of her eye. Where was Hugh? "Mrs Bendicks . . . ."
"Don't be frightened of her," Maria said, kindly. "There's no need."
Camellia pushed herself upright. “But she keeps changing. One minute she's friendly - then she's . . . !” Her eyes were heavy and closed themselves. She couldn't stop them. It had been a long day and a mistake to lie on the bed. But it was quite comforting, being here in the half-light, with Maria.
“Just think of her like the central heating,” said Maria cheerfully. "Then she won't be so frightening." Camellia pulled her eyes open. "She just turns herself on and off so things stay under control. She likes things to be well organised. She likes to be the organiser! Once you know that, and think of her like a sort of thermostat, you'll see she's really quite predictable."
"But it's bewildering," said Camellia, hoping she didn't sound too childish. And it was bewildering. She wished she weren't here. She was very, very tired. That was about all she was properly aware of by now. That, and that she didn't want to be barked at or simpered at. And that she wished she could go home.
"You're not frightened of the central heating, are you?"
Camellia turned on the lamp beside the bed.
"Do you say this to everyone?"
Maria looked down at her hands, which she'd folded neatly in her lap.
"I find it helps."
"I'm sure it does," said Camellia - and she reached out her own hand for Maria to take. Maria did. For a few moments, they sat together quietly, just like that, holding hands in the lamplight. Then Maria offered to light the gas fire and Camellia reminded her that she'd like a cup of tea - milk, no sugar.
to continue - Thirty-Eight
For the Post Before This - Thirty-Six