The Braithwaites were on holiday, one has to remember this. This was a holiday for the Braithwaites. 

‘He’s very good at getting deals. He switches companies,’ said Sylvia to Aunt Lydia. 

‘What do you mean?’ said Aunt Lydia. 

‘Yes, I can hold…’ said Jonathon.

‘You know… gas, electricity. For better prices,’ – Sylvia.

‘No, I don’t know,’ – Aunt Lydia. ‘Who is he on the phone to now then?’

‘Well, I think fifteen pounds a month free calls is a step in the right direction…’

‘Virgin media,’ – Sylvia.

‘Yes, we could be, accepting of this. As a good will gesture…’

‘We had a bill of one hundred and twenty three pounds,’ – Sylvia. ‘Because they failed to tell us that the product we’d bought didn’t include free weekend and evening calls.’

‘What are you talking about Sylvia?’ – Aunt Lydia. 

‘Yes, but I think it’s still rather unfair, that we are not reimbursed…’

‘So after one month we get this bill,’ – Sylvia. ‘Out of nowhere.’

‘Sylvester! Sylvester!’ – Aunt Lydia. ‘Do we have a virgin media?’

‘… the full one hundred and twenty three pounds eighty five pence. Considering we weren’t told…’

‘Fine wood, these chairs,’ – Sylvester. ‘Very fine wood indeed.’

‘Well, as we were never told it was not in the package. The product, you know. Yes, I can hold…’



‘Sylvia,’ – Jonathon. ‘They need the account. Can you – take this?’ Jonathon handed Sylvia the mobile.

‘Hello?’ – Sylvia. ‘Hello?’ Sylvia pressed some buttons on the mobile. ‘Hello? Hello?’

‘You’ve just hung up on them, Sylvia!’ 

‘Jonathon!’ – Aunt Lydia.

‘For christ-sake Sylvia. I’ve just spent half an hour…’

‘Jonathon!’ Aunt Lydia piped up. ‘Jonathon, I will have that tea now. Jonathon. How do I order the tea? How do I get, the waiter?’

‘I will just get the waiter’s attention, Aunt Lydia,’ – Jonathon.

‘Please! I am going for a walk,’ said Aunt Lydia. And with that, she elevated herself from the terrace chair, turned on her heels, and was off. 

Aunt Lydia.

In the summer, Aunt Lydia dressed as if she were on safari. White polo-shirt tucked in to high-waist khaki trousers, complete with safari hat. People stopped to look as she walked by. Sunglasses, head flung back. She navigated as if by smelling something on the air. With shoulders back her legs seemed to reach out ahead, pulling her torso along behind, like an ostrich that feels the way in front. 

The hotel was a luxury hotel. A luxury family hotel. They could go to a resort in Spain. Indeed they had been, a number of times. But there was always the hassle of the flights. And nowadays all these ghastly people with tattoos. Nowadays. No, this place was more sophisticated. Traditional. It was an English holiday. Simple pleasures at an exceptional price that kept the riffraff away. And they liked that, the Braithwaites, a traditional English holiday.

This particular hotel really was something. Grass tennis courts, afternoon tea on the terrace, china cups. And the beach – a real English beach. Rock-pooling, buckets and spades, miserable sea. The hotel flaunted a games room, children’s cinema, swimming pool: plenty of entertainment for Alastair. Alastair – the offspring of Sylvia and Jonathon. 

The hotel had set up a little treasure hunt too, for the children. Little fairy doors were hidden all around the hotel, with a little fairy name written above each little door. The children were given a fairy map to tick off each fairy home and to find all the little fairies. All of them. 

‘Look at that,’ exclaimed Aunt Lydia. They were taking an early evening drink in the lounge. ‘It’s a tiny door. A tiny door down there on the skirting board.’

‘Lydia?’ said Sylvester

‘There, just by the sofa. A tiny door!’

‘That’s the fairy hunt,’ said Sylvia. ‘For the children, Aunt Lydia.’

‘The what? It is a tiny door I tell you.’ 

Aunt Lydia got up to take a closer look. She approached. She peered down at the little door, there on the skirting board. ‘Well, I’ll be.’ She got down on her hands and knees to take a closer look still.

‘It’s a tiny wooden door,’ Aunt Lydia proclaimed. ‘Good god. Syl, Syl!’ 


‘There are flowers. Syl! Flowers around it. And wait. Yes, there’s. There’s a name written above the door. Wait. Vic-tor. Victor. Someone called Victor lives here! Sylvia, do you hear? Sylvia? Syl. Jonathon. Jonathon. Syl. Sylvia. Jonathon!’

‘It’s a game for the children, Aunt Lydia,’ said Jonathon. ‘Victor’s a little fairy that lives there.’

‘He’s a fairy? What on earth are you talking about?’ 

Aunt Lydia, determinedly, crawled back to the sofa on all fours.

‘Jonathon, I will have that Gin and Tonic now.’

‘I thought…’

‘How do I get, Jonathan, the waiter. Jonathon. A small one. A smidgen of Gin. Smi-dgen. Lots of ice. Lots, Jonathon.’


It was perfect in many ways. It really was. And they were having a good time. They were. It was only in the bedrooms one could start to see the cracks. On the ceiling, the soft yellow blossom of an old damp-stain. The tired siliconing around the bath. But this gave the place character. Character. Rough around the edges. A little lived in. Like an old Chesterfield, passed down through the generations.

Jonathon lay on the bed looking at this particular damp-stain on the ceiling. He blinked. It felt like he hadn’t blinked in a long time. Too long, perhaps. Sylvia lay next to him, snoring. They were having a lie down. Not a nap. An afternoon lie down. Jonathon decided to take a bath. 

Both Jonathon and Sylvia had become rather large over the years. Alastair was on the chunky side too, for a child. Probably a little over chunky if Jonathon was honest, about his child. Sylvia still had a neck, just about. Jonathon’s own neck, as he looked in the bathroom mirror, had completely vanished it seemed, consumed by his torso. He knew they were seen by other people as a loud, fat family. Loud and fat. They were. They embraced it. Becoming louder, fatter. At dinner they were a spectacle and delighted in it. 

Jonathon came out of the bathroom after his hot, deep bath. He was wrapped in a thick hotel bathrobe. He felt even more enormous. Like the hot bath had expanded him further somehow. He felt like some lumbering polar bear. Sylvia had gone from the bed. Down to the terrace no doubt, for a glass of wine. The carpet beneath Jonathon’s feet was warm, luxurious. But grotty too. All those other people’s lives all over it. All those shoes, feet, spillages – god knows. He got on his hands and knees, leant down. He smelled it. Not unpleasant. A little musty. He ran his hand over it. The pattern – a complex paisley. A paisley so complex it could conceal anything. Any stain. Perhaps, even, a person. He put his face against it then. Some warmth coming from within it somewhere. Like the pelt of a living beast. He raised himself to kneeling, threw open his bathrobe and then descended to lay his entire huge body flat against the complex paisley carpet. He pushed his face into it. 

Sylvia found him like this. Thinking for a moment – with a thrill – that he was dead. 

‘Jonathon! Jonathon what on earth.’

He didn’t answer. She knelt down to check on him. This was exciting. His cheek and ear were against the carpet. His eyes wide. Transfixed. But alive. 

‘Shh,’ he mouthed. And blinked. He mouthed: ‘There’s. Something. Down. There.’ 

Sylvia lay down next to him. She put her ear to the ground too. She lay her head on one side, facing Jonathon’s. And they lay like that together, there, looking into each other’s wide eyes. Listening now, intently.

They were to the sides of their lives. They were on a break. They could all use this, undoubtedly. A breather. Oh, they thought of things too, of course, things they hadn’t thought of for years. Sylvia. Sylvia, seeing herself as she used to be way back, an intern starting out. When she would oversleep and have to throw on her work clothes and rush out the door, a piece of toast between her teeth. And Sylvia now, Sylvia as she lay here on the floor with Jonathon, for the moment felt unable to move at all. Felt she may never move like that young intern she was again. Her arms, her legs, sunk like steel pistons into this vastly comfortable complex paisley carpet. 

Here, in this hotel, they were at a remove from themselves. Out of it. And yet they all were, at last, somehow approaching themselves. After all this time. And each crisp new morning they awoke even more blank and exhausted, their bodies spent, completely wrung out, so they moved through each day stunned, as though through a waking dream.


Sylvester wandered around the hotel. He hit any wood he found. Like his wife Lydia, he wore a safari hat. Dark green his. Ambling explorer, he. He, Sylvester, strolled, he meandered, he roamed, knocking on any wood he came across with a confident rap of his knuckles. Tables, sideboards, dressers in corridors, banisters, the reception desk. He would slap it, knock on it, tap it with his finger, run his hand over the grain of it. A connoisseur of wood. Testing the quality. As if testing the quality. For really he had not a clue what true quality wood might look or feel or sound like. But he knocked it and slapped it and stroked it regardless. Most often he would give it a good pat at the end, like an old dog, and say aloud to no one in particular: ‘Good solid wood there, my friend.’

In one way or another, what was to come to them all came to Sylvester first. In the far reaches of the hotel, somewhere in a corner of the lower levels, Sylvester, in his wanderings, came upon a long corridor. Made entirely of wood. Wooden floorboards, wood-panelled walls, ceiling. Astonishing. A veritable tunnel of wood. ‘My, my,’ Sylvester said, taking in the splendour of this place.

At the end of the corridor, through a door, Sylvester emerged into a games room. A skittles alley games room. It was a long room, whose centre was two brightly polished skittles alleys, and the boy. For there was a boy. There was. He was perched on a bench at the end of the alley. He sat straight-backed with his hands resting evenly on his knees. He was wearing a white flannel shirt and dark dungaree shorts. He had on a flat-cap and about his neck was tied a striking red neckerchief. His bare legs were pale as milk. Even Sylvester knew – here was a curious looking boy.

Sylvester gave a slight cough to signal his presence. The boy turned, recognised Sylvester, and immediately hopped off the bench and scuttled quickly up the alley towards Sylvester, his clogs (clogs? thought Sylvester) clacking rapidly on the floor. The boy arrived at Sylvester’s feet and peered up at him.

‘At last,’ said the boy. ‘Your turn.’

‘Hello’, said Sylvester. ‘My turn?’

‘We can pick up, my man. Forthwith,’ said the boy. And he held out a small hand for Sylvester to take it. ‘It is your turn, please,’ he said and turned and bowed slightly towards the skittles alley. 

And so they played. Wooden balls rolling down a varnished alley to collide with weighty wooden skittles; needless to say, Sylvester enjoyed himself immensely. Now here was a game. And the boy was having a rollicking time of it too. His favourite part was collecting the balls from the gully after each game and placing them in a mechanism like a slide that rolled the balls at pace back to the head of the alley. He clapped his hands each time at the novelty of this before scuttling back up the alley to begin the game again. 

After a time, their revelry slowed. Sylvester went to sit for a moment on one of the benches. The boy came and perched next to him, swinging his legs. They were quiet for a while and then the boy spoke.  

‘Would you,’ he said, ‘were I to ask you, be able to do something with this for me?’ And from somewhere about his person the boy then revealed to Sylvester a small wooden ball. 

‘Look,’ he said, holding it out to Sylvester with both hands. ‘Take this. Feel how heavy it is.’

He handed the ball to Sylvester. Sure enough it sat heavy in Sylvester’s hands with a weight curiously heavier than he would have thought possible for a ball of such size. The wood, for it was certainly wood, was a dark mahogany. Or teak? He had no idea. But the weight, the weight was quite extraordinary and it spoke to Sylvester of intent, of something unmistakably valuable. 

‘Is it not,’ said the boy, ‘so heavy as to be… incontrovertible?’

Sylvester cradled the ball in his palms. It was perhaps the size of an apple. 

‘Well,’ asked the boy, but softer now. ‘What would you do, old man? What would you do?’ 

Outside the day was bright, sharp. Light everywhere. Detail of the landscape to the horizon was astounding. Sylvester was not sure, could not remember, was it morning or evening? The feel – was the brink of something. Ah, the boy! He was off again now. There he goes. Off with a bouncing jaunt, descending the hill. Sylvester started to walk, following behind the boy, cupping the ball in his outstretched hands like a little heart.

Are there really days like these? Days that are dreamed or half lived somewhere. You see, in 1967 something had happened to Sylvester that had hurt him so much it nearly broke his heart in two. And although he did not know now where they were to go, this boy and he, nor care, he felt something like his heart sighing once again, some forgotten beat rising in him. Returned. As they all were, in their way. Given back to themselves. For they had all lost parts of themselves through the long years. All been petty, mean, fallen short of themselves in different ways and places. Yet now, here, for the time, they were forgiven. 

Sylvester came down onto a shingle beach. There were a handful of wooden boats around. Some upturned, hulls to the sky. The boy was moving about a small sailing boat that had been prepared. White sails strung like bedsheets. Sylvester climbed aboard after the boy and sat on the bench in the stern, the ball cradled in his lap. The boy moved deftly around the small boat. Pulling ropes, winches. In an instant they were moving, out to sea, slicing the furrowed waves. Breeze, yes. Sylvester felt the breeze, felt it buffeting through his open shirt. Breathed. Chest full. By god man, the sea, the sea! The boy at the helm there, marvellous boy. He had climbed up, one arm wrapped around the mast, he had removed his red neckerchief and was waving it steadily above his head. His eyes fixed on the horizon. Something Sylvester could not see there. Was not concerned to see. Instead Sylvester looked down, at the ball in his lap. 

Yes, he’d told him, told him there would be ice on the roads. All those years ago. That poor, poor boy. Poor chap. Then years for Sylvester of searching his own heart for feeling. So many occasions – of births, loves, deaths – that passed right through him leaving him entirely unscathed, like sand through his fingers. And now the tremendous relief of this wooden ball in his lap, it’s extraordinary, blissful weight was pulling his own heart right out from under him, his own heart – that desperate, gaping chamber – now feeling everything, as he sails a stretch of sea, Sylvester, this evening in August.

Jacob Parker

Jacob Parker ’s short fiction has appeared in The London Magazine, Open Pen, Hobart, Structo, MIR Online, and others.

About Hotel: The origin of this story started from a writers’ group prompt which was just the word ‘hotel’. The opening was very loosely based on a conversation I’d overheard once in a hotel. After that, I didn’t have a plan for the story or know what was going to happen or how it was going to end. There’s something in there about the kind of state of mind a holiday or break can put you in. A certain tone emerged to the story and I tried to just follow that and let the story go where it wanted to.