Last Weeks in Brighton - Old Ship Hotel
Meeting P in those last few weeks in Brighton would have been fine had I not fallen in love with him. A lot was going on at the time: work was hectic, I had to move out of the Kemptown house into a hotel, and I had to contend with P’s strange ‘disappearing acts’. There was no time to sit back and reflect on how consumed I was by the intensity of my feelings towards him – I only realised that I’d fallen for him on my return to Cape Town.
Extended stays at hotels have never appealed to me, no matter how comfortable and luxurious they are. The Old Ship Hotel is one of Brighton’s oldest but I was staying on the fourth floor of an extension built in the sixties or seventies. The reception and dining rooms have character but the new bits are as soulless as any one of the hundreds of Travelodges and Ramada Inns that you find up and down England’s motorways. At least I had a room that over-looked the sea and I was only 5 minutes walk from work in one direction and 5 minutes from Dr Brighton’s, my favourite watering hole, in the other.
P helped me move my luggage, bike (I actually used to exercise in those days!) and the books that I’d accumulated over 7 months. We spent my first night there together but I didn’t see him for two days after that. Although he didn’t have a mobile, I knew where he worked, I had his work number and I knew where he lived. I’d expected to see him the second night as he’d said he would be round before work. I was surprised that he didn’t pitch but put it down to something unforeseen and expected to see him afterwards. By the time I knew that he’d not be round, there was only one way of contacting him and that was to go to his place. I decided to ring him at work the next morning and went to bed, puzzled and hurt.
‘What happened last night?’ I asked.
‘Sorry mate, R came round. She had some hassles that I tried to help her with.’
I left it at that, not pressing him on the fact that he could so easily have rung to let me know. ‘Ok, so will I see you tonight?’
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I’ll be there in time for the Weakest Link.’ Ann Robinson had only just started her reign as the BBC’s Bitch Queen and we were hooked.
He didn’t make it. I knew that he had to be at work by 7pm but thought I’d let him ring me or arrive later rather than seem too keen and anxious. I went to bed alone again. This time I didn’t ring him the next day even though I wanted to. I was angry, upset and hurt but decided to wait for him to call me. He called that afternoon.
‘Hey, sorry about last night,’ he said. ‘I had R around again. I’m really sorry, ok?’
I could hear how cold I sounded but I was ecstatic that he’d rung. ‘Sure, ok.’
‘I promise to see you later,’ he said.
He spent the next few nights with me. It seemed just like the previous week when I was still staying in Kemptown. Most nights we’d go to the pub or the club then we’d stagger back to the hotel. On the way, we’d stop at the chippie, buy fish and chips and eat them on the shingles on the dark beach, leaning against each other and looking out to sea. It was on one of those inebriated, drunken nights on the beach that P convinced me that there may be something in his alleged psychic abilities.
‘Look at the light out there on the water,’ he said, pointing at a ship in the distance. ‘It reminds you of swimming towards the town on the other side of the bay where you grew up.’
I was astounded. ‘How did you know that?’
‘I could feel it. It felt like I was seeing it,’ he said.
It could have been a very lucky guess but it was totally unlike the other occasions when he’d deliberately tried his ‘psychic powers’ on me. I’m not entirely sceptical about such things but I’m a total cynic as regards the vast majority of things purporting to be evidence of an alternative reality. Previously, he’d managed to work out things about me that would not have been that apparent from things I’d told him but he’d also said a lot which wasn’t true. I’d put down the ‘psychically inspired’ truths as lucky guesses, or educated guesses arrived at by other things I’d said. This was different, very different.
It was probably a combination of excess alcohol, the night and the gentle lapping of the waves but his ‘psychic connection’ with me made me feel extraordinarily close to him. The anger and upset of a few days earlier were forgotten. I went into work late the next morning, preferring to lie with him as the sun streamed through the window.
That evening, he didn’t come round as he’d said he would at 5.30. I rang him at the pub before closing time. I was annoyed with him and annoyed with myself for ringing him instead of letting him contact me to explain his absence.
‘I’ll try come round later but I may stay at home instead.’ He sounded distant.
I didn’t see him nor hear from him until after work the next night. He rang at midnight and arrived soon afterwards. He reeked of booze and was drunkenly amorous, completely oblivious to how cold I was being towards him. I tried to talk to him about his behaviour but he brushed it off with a comment about ‘needing space’ while he lay heavily on me, making feeble attempts to remove my trousers.
It was just after 3 when I woke up feeling strangely unsettled. I immediately remembered Paul’s drunken arrival a few hours earlier and how cold I’d felt towards him but I knew that something else was unsettling me. I looked towards the open window, noticing the brightness of the sky brought upon by the large moon that I couldn’t see. I also noticed that it was 3.06 am. I turned towards Paul, seeing him stretched out on the bed next to me before I looked towards the small corridor that led past the bathroom to the door. Two people stood there, a man and a woman, both in dark clothes, clothes that I assumed to be evening dress. A shock ran through me and my mind raced into over-drive.
Who were they? Why were they in my room? How had they got into the room? Had they entered it mistaking it for theirs? How was that possible since the rooms operated on computer-controlled cardkeys? Perhaps I hadn’t shut the door?
In the seconds when those thoughts raced through my head there was no movement and no sound from the couple who just stood there looking towards me. My heart was racing and I tried to say something but was unable to - no sound would come from my mouth. I tried to sit up but felt completely paralysed. In what seemed to be an eternity, I struggled with my body, trying to get myself to confront the motionless couple as to the reason for them being in my room. Just as I managed to summons up huge reserves of strength and throw myself up off the bed into a standing position, both of them seemed to crouch down, disappearing from my vision.
With two strides I was standing where they had been but there was no one there. I looked in the bathroom and in the cupboard. No sign of them there either. By then I was wide-awake and my mind raced over the scenario and the questions that had flooded my brain before I’d managed to get off the bed. I was filled with a weird sense of loss that defied explanation.
I returned to bed and lay there thinking about what had happened, mostly staring at the ceiling but occasionally glancing towards the door, checking to see if they had returned. I’d not experienced the feeling of not being able to talk before but the sensation of paralysis wasn't new to me. It sometimes accompanied the sensation of someone sitting on the bed next to me or getting off the bed, similarly strange feelings but feelings that I explained away as a weird form of sleeping wakefulness. I dismissed everything as a particularly vivid dream.
P was lying flat on his back, mouth wide open and snoring when I got up in the morning. I had a shower, made us each a cup of tea then woke him up. My mind was still buzzing with the dream and I could still feel the loss that I’d felt on the abrupt disappearance of the couple.
‘I had the most amazing dream last night,’ I said as I put down P’s tea next to his bed.
‘About those two people who were in the room?’ he said.
I felt as if someone had hit me in the stomach, winding me. I stared at P in amazement. ‘How do you know?’
‘I saw them standing there, a man and a woman. They left when you got up.’
This was eerie, unbelievable. ’Do you know where they came from, how they got in to the room?’ I asked.
‘No, they were just there,’ he replied. ‘I think that they must have stayed here before.’
The sense of loss persisted for the whole day and I couldn’t concentrate on my work. At lunchtime, I would normally have gone back to the hotel as P was there but I felt a strange wariness about being in the room with him again. He wasn’t there when I returned after work and I felt relieved. He didn’t come round that night but he called to say that he would not be round. I didn’t mind and went to bed, eventually falling asleep in the very early hours.
I left the Old Ship and Brighton for South Africa a few days later. There was no repeat episode with the darkly-dressed couple but they weren’t far from my mind during those last few days. When I got back to Cape Town, I emailed the hotel asking them if they knew of any ghosts or unexplained phenomena in the hotel.
They never replied.
(to be continued)