32. The Thirty-Third Floor

WHEN I MET JENNY, she was exactly how Roger had described her. We were on the 33rd floor, there was a bar with a piano, and a piano player who played endless easy listening classics. After lunch, Jenny and I went into the bar and ordered mojitos. We sat at the window and looked down on the city below through a haze of smog and hummed along to the piano music and talked about our lives. Although honestly Jenny did most of the talking. We met in this way every day while our husbands attended a conference. She told me a lot of stuff. Frankly some of the stuff she told me I wished I didn't know. She was a ‘nice person’ – nice was her favourite adjective. Her husband was my husband’s boss, and she told me some really intimate stuff about their marriage – about the sex they had (oral, no anal), about the arguments they had (Christian could be violent), the marriage counsellor they were seeing, how they’d been trying to have a baby but she feared it might be too late. She was happiest when she spoke about a house by the sea they'd recently bought. She spoke effusively of the sea, of its beauty and its restorative qualities. The men were at the conference all day. By the time Roger and Christian returned from the office we’d be well and truly drunk. Jenny was a messy drunk, and usually had to lean on Christian to stay upright as they returned to their room to freshen up for dinner. We didn’t leave the hotel if we could help it – the heat was too exhausting, and frankly this city had been a huge disappointment. The day after we arrived I joined a tour group organised by the hotel and I swore it would be the last time – the canals, in my opinion,were frankly to be avoided at all costs, and other than the canals there was practically nothing worth seeing. The waiter’s name was Vishnu and after three days he knew us by name – he called us Miss Jenny and Miss Sophie. The barman’s name was Aziz. The piano player was called Chelsea. She told us she chose it herself – she also had a Chinese name, which she mentioned and I immediately forgot. We’d order mojitos, Jenny and I, and always sit at the same table. If someone else was sitting at the table, I’d slip Vishnu a handsome tip and he’d ask them to move table. Everything Jenny told me about her marriage I passed on to Roger that night. I tried to give away as little as possible about us, but every now and then I felt, for the sake of maintaining a sense of trust, that I ought to reveal something about our marriage. I tried to find innocuous revelations and shroud them in a cloud of secrecy. It did the trick - Jenny’s revelations became steadily more revealing, while I managed to give away almost nothing. One afternoon Jenny was on her favourite subject, the house by the sea, when she suddenly blurted out that it had been bought with money Christian had been receiving in the form of kickbacks from contractors. She was very drunk when she told me but not so drunk she didn’t immediately realise she’d told me something she shouldn’t have. She tried to cover her tracks, but her attempts to backtrack only drew attention to what she’d just told me. At any rate, she made me promise not to tell Roger. I promised and immediately ordered two more mojitos. Of course I told Roger that same night. The following day, Jenny didn’t come to lunch. I waited half an hour before I took the elevator up to her room. I had to knock for a couple of minutes before she answered the door. She was still in her bathrobe. She opened the door only a few inches and kept her eyes pointed to the ground. There was something ground down and defeated about her that I’d never seen before, although I could see no sign of violence – no bruises or cuts on her, all the furniture in place. I heard a bath running, and clouds of steam billowed out the bathroom door. She said she was sorry but she had a migraine, and couldn’t join me for lunch. She’d left a message with reception and couldn’t understand why it hadn’t been passed on. I didn’t see her again for the remainder of our stay – the next day we travelled to a beach resort, where Roger told me Christian had resigned in disgrace and Roger had been promoted. On our way home, we spent one last night at the hotel. After dinner, we moved into the bar for a drink. Vishnu seemed distracted, and when she saw us Chelsea suddenly stopped playing the piano and dashed off. I asked Aziz what the matter was. Had we not heard, he replied, days earlier Miss Jenny had been discovered by a cleaning lady, drowned in the bath of her hotel room.