It was 6.30pm. The sky was still bright blue and the terrace of the Queens Hotel still bathed in neon sunshine. With chairs curving together and chunky calves brushing, Martyn and Diane gazed across the hotel skyscrapers towards the dazzlingly clear Mediterranean Sea. “Once more with feeling…” said Diane lifting her cocktail, putting the straw to her lips and taking a lovely long slurp.
Martyn raised his pint glass, “Take it from the top, my love!” Three weeks in the sun had scorched them both Dubble Bubble pink. This suited his thickset, grey bearded, faintly thuggish look, but clashed with her bottle-red hairdo and the scarlet rolls of her short, skintight polyester dress. Now, with the jewels of Benidorm spewed up below them, they resembled a picture postcard from fifties Margate.
Clinking glasses, their eyes met. Diane giggled like a teenager, “Best one yet. Honeymoon good. Better…” she said, dipping her mascara heavy lashes to reveal sparkly turquoise lids. “This is all that I care about, right now.” His giant bear paw reached out and took her plump hand. “Whatever’s next doesn’t matter… as long as there’s this,” he said. She grinned broadly.
Since plucking him out of the Ipswich phone book to fix her lights ten years ago, Diane had scarcely been apart from Martyn. She’d accompany him on his sporadic sparky work. He’d go along on the increasingly infrequent trips to see her grown-up daughter – who neither of them liked very much. And every Sunday until recently, they’d both take his autistic son Edward for tea at his mother’s house in Felixstowe.
Without warning the orange sun began to sink behind the Poniente beach. Shifting their chairs right, they watched the thick rivulets of burnt colour flood over the calm surface of the ocean. As darkness advanced, Diane heaved herself up and out of her chair, hauling Martyn in tandem. “Come on – sunsets make me hungry.” He smiled. Along with the cabaret and adjoining English pub, the À la carte menu was a good reason why they had chosen to return to the Queens every year since their wedding.
There was only a smattering of diners inside the restaurant. “Champagne!” cried Martyn, once seated at their usual table. This was a festive occasion. A last splurge. Their final fling. A parting night of freedom before the loose knitting of their world unravelled. The pretty Spanish waiter splashed bubbly into both glasses. Martyn and Diane locked eyes and fingers. Nothing needed to be said.
Then the starters arrived. His black pudding and apple ring floated atop a gleaming mustard cream sauce. Her prawn cocktail stood majestically in its long stemmed glass. They both ate and drank with gusto. The mains were enormous. Diane had lobster filled with shrimps, topped with Champagne sauce and finished with cheese. Martyn had fillet of lamb rolled in a mix of garden herbs, served with orange mint gravy. “Camel Aero,” he called, holding aloft the empty bottle with a grin and ordering their usual chocolate gateau to go along with it.
They were stuffed. Clutching hands they swayed slowly out of the restaurant and into the Beer Barrel next door. Tonight was karaoke night. “Stella, vodka, lime and lemonade,” he yelled over the din. It was hot inside. By now the drinks had made them just the right level of garrulous for a karaoke evening. Shouting over the steady stream of bad singing, voices entwined, they recalled the details of their holiday: the food, the drink, the shopping, the sunbathing, until Diane remembered, “We must call your mum.”
In her Felixstowe living room Martyn’s mother was alerted to the telephone by the barking dog. She turned down the television and lifted the receiver. “Hi mum – it’s Martyn,” his voice boomed from far away. “And Diane,” she screamed next to him. “We’re in Benidorm.” “Oh,” said Martyn’s mother unsure what to say. She hadn’t seen a lot of them since Edward went to college, but she didn’t mind – she couldn’t stand Diane.
“Thing is,” yelled Martyn “our house is being repossessed.” “Oh…” began Martyn’s mother, but Diane had snatched the handset: “We might need your spare room…” “You’re being repossessed?” repeated Martyn’s octogenarian mother. “That’s only the half of it!” giggled Diane, passing the phone back to Martyn. “We have to go,” he said, “we’re on the mobile. But you’re all right?” “Yes. Fine…” “Look mum, we’ll give you a ring from Stanstead tomorrow.”
The Karaoke was getting louder, the thumping wall of sound bouncing off the thickly papered walls. “Shall we?” Diane gasped. Staggering to their feet, they snatched a pair of microphones and stood facing each other. The intro started. She began in her high thin voice: “I would take the stars out of the sky for you. Stop the rain from falling if you asked me to. I’d do anything for you.” Martyn finally joined her; his voice deep, husky and slightly off key: “Your wish is my command.”
The music continued for a beat. Her face was growing flushed. Alcohol ran through his veins. A wave of love surged into them. They laced their sweaty fingers: “I could move a mountain when your hand is in my hand. Words cannot express how much you mean to me. There must be some other way to make you see. If it takes my heart and soul you know I’d pay the price.” And with a heartfelt burst of emotion they bellowed: “Everything that I possess I’d gladly sacrifice!”
Now they were together. Singing in time; singing in tune, the sweet Spanish air flooding through their blood, the well of emotion bubbling over their souls: “Oh you to me are everything. The sweetest song that I could sing. Oh baby.”
The lights of the room receded. They were together. Their heat and their breath was one. It was their last night in Benidorm.