I wake up in a strange room.
‘We didn’t use a condom last night,’ Deirdre says. She’s lying next to me in the bed. ‘Are you worried?’
‘I was just wondering.’
My head is throbbing from last night’s drinking and it’s only just dawned on me that we’re in New York, not Cork, and that I’m in a hotel bedroom. I can hardly bear to open my eyes. I turn my head towards Deirdre and I can smell that expensive body lotion she uses. She’s on her back, looking up at the ceiling. Everything’s too bright. I close my eyes again.
‘Oh God,’ I groan. ‘I’m in agony. Did you bring any paracetamol with you?’
‘Yeah,’ she says. ‘I’ll get you some, birthday boy.’ She leans over to kiss me.
‘I wouldn’t come too close if I were you,’ I say. ‘I bet my breath smells foul.’
‘Well,’ she says. ‘You’re probably right. You drank a fair bit last night. You had two pints at Shannon Airport and two double gins on the plane before it was even officially your birthday.’
‘It was the beginning of my special birthday outing though,’ I say, defensively. I wish I’d remembered to close the curtains.
‘Yes, you explained that to everyone on the plane. You told the flight attendant she was gorgeous. You said she was your favourite air hostess ever, several times. I tried to stop you but you kept on saying it. Air hostess. I’d say they haven’t been called that since the 1950s.’
‘Ah, I was only joking.’ I try to laugh it off. I’m a lot older than Deirdre. She’s twenty-nine. I’m forty-six. No wonder she thinks I’m a dinosaur sometimes.
‘Do you remember anything else?’ she asks.
‘Well, we checked into the hotel, didn’t we? Then we had a bite to eat somewhere. I think we had a few drinks in the hotel bar after that.’
‘You told everyone there it was your birthday too.’
‘Then I suppose… em…’
‘We came up here,’ she says. ‘Then you started the naked dancing. You wanted me to admire you in your birthday suit. That’s when you made a lunge at me.’
‘Oh Jesus, I remember now.’ I feel the bedspread. ‘God, the cover on this bed is so slippery. I’d have been alright only for that.’
Deirdre is laughing now. ‘You were way off-course.’
‘Jesus, it’s all coming back to me. I slid straight across the bed and ended up on the floor—hit my head an awful whack against the skirting board.’
‘I thought you’d knocked yourself out.’
‘Oh God, I threw up, didn’t I?’ I shift sideways to the edge of the bed and look down, hoping there’s no evidence on the carpet.
‘Only in the bathroom,’ Deirdre says.
‘Thank fuck for that. Will you get me some painkillers?’
‘Yeah.’ She gets out of bed and puts on a silky floral dressing gown I don’t remember seeing before. ‘Anyway, you were fine a few hours later. You got very lively then. That’s when we didn’t use a condom, and you said… you don’t remember what you said, do you?’
Deirdre orders breakfast from room service but all I can manage is coffee and a slice of toast and even that makes me feel queasy. I go back to bed and bunch the slippery quilt around me. The television’s on low volume and the CNN weather girl says it might snow.
‘We’re in New York, for God’s sake,’ says Deirdre. ‘Let’s do something.’
‘Sight-seeing isn’t really my thing.’
‘Let’s go and see the Brooklyn Bridge,’ she insists.
I don’t tell her I’ve already been there, years ago, when I was promoting my first novel. I’m in no condition to argue.
‘So long as we get taxis,’ I tell her. ‘I’m too weak to deal with the subway.’