A short story by Elizabeth Taylor

A short story by Elizabeth Taylor

The hallway, with its reception desk and hat-stand, was gloomy.

Madame Bertail reached up to the board where the keys hung, took the one for room eight, and led the way upstairs. Her daughter picked up the heavier suitcase, and began to lurch lopsidedly across the hall with it until Leonard, blushing as he always (and understandably) did when he was obliged to speak French, insisted on taking it from her.

Looking offended, she grabbed instead Melanie’s spanking-new wedding present suitcase, and followed them grimly, as they followed Madame Bertail’s stiffly corseted back. Level with her shoulder-blades, the corsets stopped and the massive flesh moved gently with each step she took, as if it had a life of its own.

In Room Eight was a small double bed and wallpaper with a paisley pattern, on which what looked like curled-up blood-red embryos were
repeated every two inches upon a sage-green background. There were other patterns for curtains and chair covers and the thin eiderdown. It was a depressing room, and a smell of some previous occupier’s Ambre Solaire still hung about it.

"I’m so sorry, darling," Leonard apologised, as soon as they were alone.

Melanie smiled. For a time, they managed to keep up their spirits.

"I’m so tired, I’ll sleep anywhere," she said, not knowing about the mosquito hidden in the curtains, or the lumpiness of the bed, and other horrors to follow...

'Hôtel du Commerce' is included in Elizabeth Taylor: Complete Short Stories, published by Virago Modern Classics.