7 miles from home
A sign in reception reads – smile, you are on at least 2 CCTV cameras.
We check in with a fake address, using the surname of a teacher we both hated at college. The receptionist believes our every word, pushing a key card across the desk, smearing our secrets into the wood.
Our room is on the third floor and lacking in furniture. Minimal, but not modern. Our sex is immediate and functional, as in keeping with the room.
Twenty minutes later we do it again, getting it out of our system.
16 miles from home
A new hotel, further north on the southbound carriageway.
Blossom and litter swirl in the car park. People stand outside smoking. A familiar greeting comes from the receptionist, typing as he speaks.
In our room a bed takes up at least eighty percent of the floor space, our clothes taking up the rest. Television plays in the room next door, canned laughter and applause at all the wrong moments.
25 miles from home
We continue north with a clear agenda. Our agreement is to keep moving, to use a different hotel every weekend, obvious and convenient to follow the motorway.
With this clarity our sex improves. We still fit together well, our protrusions interlocking, a perfect fault line down our centres.
37 miles from home
We park in the shadow of an exhibition centre. Delegates hustle in the reception area, dressed business casual, their real names on badges.
When the receptionist offers us a loyalty card, the idea is both practical and impossible.
48 miles from home
A three-week gap. A deliberate attempt to disrupt our pattern, to become strangers once more and return to the random.
It is the first time we stay together for breakfast. A wedding party takes up most of the restaurant, the couple centre stage looking pale and tired. Over pastries and fish we rehearse our story, a tale so convincing we almost wish someone would ask.
63 miles from home
A long journey, marred by traffic disruption. A serious incident somewhere ahead of us.
In the room we make hot drinks. Discomfort and fatigue slows our progress, our foreplay unfocused. Corporate branding on the bed linen reminds us of our pattern, our blueprint somewhere on a data warehouse, itching to be discovered.
91 miles from home
Four hotels remain. The end is now tangible, an achievement parallel to our intention.
The imbalance sits on our shoulders, a need to complete our pattern, to stabilise our universe. Our anticipation is now the physical, the progress, and the simple pleasure of being a guest in a hotel.
Comparisons and reviews, posted online by our anonymous selves.
91 miles from home
A hotel opposite on the southbound carriageway.
Our previous room is visible across the motorway. We imagine another couple in our wake, finding the things that we leave behind us.
Sex is our last thing before sleep, our stomachs full after dinner, our bodies ill-fitting and stubborn.
In the morning we skip breakfast, to remind ourselves how careless we have become.
132 miles from home
The journey is two hours long, and against our initial agreement, we try a conversation.
I still miss my Dad, you say.
For the rest of the journey we listen to the radio, songs from our youth, filling the space and finding our corners.
160 miles from home
The penultimate stop. Soon we have no future, a conclusion made for us by the infrastructure of the roads. Only now do we go through the pretence of formality – bringing a suitable change of clothes, dressing for dinner, taking leaflets of the local area.
197 miles from home
The end of the motorway, splitting into threads that weave through the hills.
Our hotel is an oversized log cabin, peeling and windswept. The reception area is dimly lit. Keys hang on a board behind the desk, with rooms named after local areas of interest.
A receptionist confirms we are the only guests, and declines an offer to join us.
As we unpack, we agree to drink the contents of the mini bar, and leave without paying in the morning.
132 miles from home
A midweek business trip brings me back.
The receptionist is unfamiliar, the hotel one of many. All these rooms compete for space in my mind, a four-dimensional image that shivers whenever examined.
The room is functional for an overnight stay. Everything lacks attention. A cobweb hangs over the window, in it a chrysalis waiting to die. Instead of unpacking I check out of the hotel. The receptionist completes the transaction without a single word. Using some complimentary mints, I clean my teeth, and spend the rest of the night awake in my car.
Paul Thompson lives and works in Sheffield. His stories have appeared in Ellipsis Zine, The Cabinet of Heed, and recently featured in The Drabble’s ‘Best of 2017’ list.