Mormon Girl Glow
Walter’s seat jerked forward as the airplane clawed the Heathrow tarmac. He grabbed at the empty air in panic as his mind was still unsheathing itself from sleep. He looked out his window torpidly and it dawned on him he had made it; he had landed in London. So far it looked just as he imagined—cloudy and dreary, so dreary in fact he fell back asleep.
“Sir . . . Sir,” his British flight attendant nudged him awake again later.
“Yeah-yeah, what?” Walter said, arising to a now empty plane.
“As much as I’ve enjoyed having you here, I’m sure you have other places you need to be.”
“Not right away. This plane’s kind of nice now that it’s quiet and empty . . . But I can’t stay on, can I?”
The flight attendant shook his head amused. “No, unfortunately not. Did you need help with anything?”
“No, I think I’ll be okay,” Walter said standing woozily. He’d overdone the wine trying to make himself fall asleep during the flight. It worked, just not until an hour and a half before the flight landed. “Just a little tired, kind of hungover—just a little of everything right now, that’s all.”
“It was a stressful flight for everyone,” the flight attendant said, “but you especially. That’s why I let you sleep as long as I could.”
In an ominous beginning to Walter’s trip, the elderly British lady in the aisle seat of his row had a heart attack an hour into the flight, forcing an emergency landing in Las Vegas for two hours where paramedics boarded the plane and unloaded her, leaving Walter alone the rest of the flight with Amber’s memory still occupying the middle seat which mysteriously went unfilled by standby.
“I saved you some fruit and muffins since you slept through breakfast,” the flight attendant said handing him a paper bag. “Also a coffee. Figured since you’re American you’d prefer it over tea. Would you like any cream or sugar?”
“No, black’s just fine,” Walter said eagerly taking the to-go cup. “Woo, still hot. You must’ve just made this.”
“I did, just for you.”
“Thank you. Thank you so much. Really, you didn’t have to.”
“Just doing my job sir. On a flight like this, we’ve got to go above and beyond so you Americans don’t sue us.”
Walter chuckled. “Very true. You’re funny... what was your name again? Sorry, it always takes me two or three times to remember and my brain is at its worst in the morning.”
“That’s right. Like Saint Ambrose. How’d I forget? Anyway, thank you for everything. You’ve been very kind.”
“Again, just so you don’t sue us sir.” The flight attendant smiled.
Walter picked up his backpack and began moving up the aisle. “Oh,” he said turning back. “Do you know what happened to...”
“Abigail? The hospital said she’s still recovering, but doing fine. The heart attack was just a small one.”
“Oh thank God. You don’t know how happy I am to hear that . . . Well, take care Ambrose.”
“You too Mister Huxley. Also, welcome to London.”
After going through customs and getting another coffee, Walter sat on a bench in baggage reclaim to sip it while waiting for his checked suitcase. As he did so, people passed him as if he wasn’t even there. As a test, he took off his hat, leaving his freshly-shaven face unobscured, but still, not even a stare. He was no one again. The bells of his bellbottoms began swinging excitedly beneath the bench.
Once with his suitcase, he walked slowly through the airport, taking in his surroundings without interruption from fan, paparazzo, gawker, or heckler until reaching the London Underground—aka “the Tube”. As he boarded the train, funny English accents chattered like companies of parrots; the trashcans read “rubbish”; someone said his phone battery was “flat”. The most minor of quirks were the first to catch his attention, but were the most affirming of his new existence: he was alone, five and a half thousand miles away from home; a foreigner in a foreign place; an American with an accent. It wasn’t a third world country—the natives even spoke English, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t allowed to be a little culture shocked. He’d also been so caught up in the trip being Amber’s gift that he’d forgotten indeed it was a trip, a trip to a place he’d never been in a world he thought he knew so well.
As the train accelerated, the gray and sooted outer west reaches of the city jetted over the windows, many of the cracked and cobbled buildings looking as old or older than his native country. So used to the full color of the California sun, the muteness made him feel off kilter, as if he were inside a black and white television set.
Nearing the city’s center, the train dug underground and began stopping more frequently, billowing with occupants—drunk occupants, so much so there was a miasma of stale beer in the car. A group of men then boarded with paper masks on of the most well-known members of the monarchy and squeezed in next to Walter. He asked the paper-faced Duchess Catherine the cause.
“Whaaaat?!” the man behind the mask cried.
“What’s going on?”
“What do ya mean what’s going on? The fuckin’ queen mate! The fuckin’ queen.”
That’s right, Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee. Before her heart attack, the elderly lady on his flight had made mention of it. The Queen was going to be carted down the River Thames today for all of London to see in celebration of her being queen for sixty years. But also it was an ornate excuse to be drunk in public.
At the stops nearest Buckingham Palace, the miasma dissipated, and by Walter’s stop, Russell Square, the car was almost empty. A wide elevator—or “lift”—then carried him and his luggage up from the deeply buried station and spit him onto the sidewalk. There, he drew in his first breath of moist, outside London air. The roads around him were narrower than the ones back home, and all the buildings looked to be laid in brick or carved out of stone, earthly shades of red, brown and tan, stained with rain and glossed with moss. Bright green treetops lined the street perpendicular to him, and red and blue Union Jacks hung over the sidewalk in front of him and everywhere he looked.
He continued following the directions provided in his Contiki travel wallet—almost getting run over because he forgot the new orientation of car traffic—until he arrived at the Royal National Hotel. The instructions guided him to an underground side entrance of the hotel labeled “Contiki Basement”. Inside he was welcomed by a cutely chubby Aussie girl behind a stainless steel counter. The place looked like an empty underground club, layered with color like a cake from the bottom up: blue, yellow, and red. In comparison to the loud streets above, it was a deadened silence.
“Ello,” she said cheerfully. “Checking in?”
“I guess so.”
“Your last name?”
“Huxley, Walter Huxley.” Her eyebrows furrowed as her search came up empty.
“Could it be under a different name?” she asked.
“Yeah, my hitchhiking ghost, Amber Evans.”
“I mean my girlfriend—ex girlfriend. Uh, forget about it. Sorry, I sometimes make these inside jokes with myself and forget there’s other people around.” She looked at him puzzled, but politely humored him.
“Long trip?” she said.
“Where you coming from?”
“Oh, lucky you. I’ve always wanted to go there . . . Ah, found it. Sorry about that. Amber Evans and Walter Huxley. I’ve got a single room with a double bed for two nights. Is she arriving later?”
“Um, no. She won’t be arriving at all.”
“Ah, you booked the trip before the breakup. We see that a lot.”
“Actually there was just this kind of thing, this uh… event. Truthfully, she kinda... she kinda died.”
“She kinda died?”
Walter cursed himself for not leaving it at breakup. “Not kinda,” he said, “she just died.”
“Oh my goodness. Like on the way here?”
“Oh, no-no. It was over a year ago.”
“I’m so sorry. You poor thing. And now you’re going on the trip in her memory? That’s so sweet. You must’ve loved her a lot.”
“Yeah…” he laughed uncomfortably. “Actually, she became my ex-girlfriend before she died—I mean like, right before she died. She’s not my ex because she died. So she’s kind of like my ex-ex-girlfriend . . . Maybe I should call her Dos Equis.”
The counter girl shook her head slowly and was bug-eyed as if he were holding up the place. He couldn’t tell if she was just extremely confused or thought her life was in danger because the only reason he had an ex-ex-girlfriend was he had killed an ex-girlfriend—which he kinda had.
“You know Dos Equis,” Walter said, “like the beer—Spanish for two X’s? That’s right, maybe you don’t have Dos Equis over here. But yeah, you’re kind of right. We—I mean she—booked this trip before we broke up, then we broke up, then she died, and then I still came, alone and single . . . I’m sorry, can you just ignore me right now? I’ve gotten maybe an hour or so of sleep in the last twenty-four hours and I’m starting to go a little haywire.”
The girl looked afraid to speak. “Um… yeah,” she said. “So here’s everything you need for the room. Lemme go get your sleeping bags—I mean sleeping bag, just one sleeping bag.”
“Yeah. You won’t need it here, but for some of the hostels you’re staying at during your trip. I’ll be right back,” she said leaving then returning with the sleeping bag. “So that’s everything. If you have any questions, or need some suggestions of what to do here in London just lemme know—I mean let us know, as in the Contiki staff. I obviously won’t be here all the time, but somebody will be . . . Oh, I almost forgot, take this paper to the hotel front desk to get your keycards—I mean keycard because it’s just you now, but you can still get more than one if you’d like . . . I’m sorry, I’m still new here and honestly the whole dead girlfriend—or dead ex-ex-girlfriend thing is throwing me off.”
“Hey, it’s okay. I’m new here too, Billie,” Walter said reading her nametag. “You’ve been very helpful . . . Well, if I’ve got everything I need, I guess I’ll go now.”
“Yes, you’re all set . . . Hey, I get it now.”
“You get what?”
“Your inside joke with yourself. It’s because your ex-girlfriend—I mean, your ex-ex-girlfriend is d…” She stopped. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t find that kind of thing funny.”
Walter smiled. “I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t think it was funny myself.”
At his room door, Walter struggled to open it with the keycard he’d been given. Two jockish males dressed like they’d just come from a pool party approached the door to his right.
“Contiki?” one of them asked in an Australian accent.
“Yep, Contiki,” Walter replied.
“CONTIKI!” they both yelled.
Down the hallway, two more jocks appeared, looking almost identical to the first two. “Contiki?” one of them asked, also in an Aussie accent.
“CONTIKI!” the original two yelled again.
“Contiki,” Walter said after and apathetically.
“CONTIKI!” the other two yelled back.
“CONTIKI! CONTIKI! CONTIKI!” all the Aussie jocks began to chant.
Just what I expected, Walter thought, frat boys. Except, why is everyone an Aussie? I thought this was London. Is Contiki some weird Aussie frat?
His door finally opened after jamming his keycard into the receptacle innumerable times and ways.
“Where ya going mate?” the original Aussie asked.
“My room…” Walter said in a bothered tone.
“Put your stuff away and let’s go drink at the pub downstairs.”
“It’s still a little early for me to start drinking. I’m honestly pretty tired guys and just want to relax for a bit.”
“Ah, don’t be a puss bloke. C’mon, let’s go drink.”
“How about I join you down there later?”
“All right, but you better come. You heading out on Escapade tomorrow?”
“No, I think my trip is called European Horizon. It heads out in two days.”
“Ah, that’s a bummer; you won’t be with us.”
Thank God, Walter thought. “See you later guys,” he said, and closed his door. CONTIKI, CONTIKI, CONTIKI... they began chanting from the other side as they marched down the hallway.
He set his bags down and stood by the window staring blankly at his partial view of the London skyline. Below him, bubble-shaped taxis went down the wrong side of the road and London’s iconic red telephone booths littered the streets. He felt like he was dreaming and the abatement of sleep only heightened it, like the glass in front of him was not a window, but a television screen. Everything on the other side looked like a movie set.
Fatigue came on again and the bed was tempting him in. Must not sleep. Must not sleep. I came too far and have too little time to sleep, he thought but still sat on the bed. Two minutes later the bed had him knocked out in its arms.
Four hours later he awoke at twilight. By the time he slothfully showered, brushed his teeth, and got dressed it was dark. Starving, he opted for the pub downstairs for some fish and chips and figured he could make good on his promise to join his frat boy neighbors for a drink if they were still there, which, they were, along with many brethren. Even though they had forgotten inviting him, they still poured him a pint from one of their pitchers, but Walter quickly grew tired of trying to decipher their drunk and high Aussie dialects through a melee of “cunts”, so he slyly slipped away after the beer.
Mingling about the pub, he found most people were leaving on a month-long tour the following day or had just returned from one. On a daily basis Contiki sent out waves of young people from all over the world on rotating European tours of various lengths from their London hub. Amongst him were South Africans, English, Irish, Canadians, Mexicans, Germans, East Indians, Kiwis, and of course Aussies, but not a single American because to most Americans a month-long vacation was unimaginable.
From a side entrance, Walter noticed the Contiki counter girl enter the pub. She also spotted him from his bright orange fedora and approached. “Ello,” she said. “It was Walter, right?”
“Yeah, and you’re… I’m sorry I just had your name on the tip of my tongue and lost it. I’ve been drinking a little.”
“Billie. No name tag since I’m off work now,” she said pointing at her ample left breast.
“Right,” Walter said, completely forgetting her name again and only remembering the breast. But it wasn’t the only thing he took notice of. She also had the most charming face, like a cherub with crystal blue eyes, and pale, rolling blond hair. “I’m surprised you’re talking to me. I thought I freaked you out earlier.”
“A little. But then I wondered how I’d act in the same situation. I found you interesting more than anything, especially the way you dress. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but now I think it’s kind of cool, like you went running randomly through some op shop and threw on whatever you found kind of cool.”
“And I was trying so hard to avoid cool . . . So I’m guessing from your accent you’re Australian?”
“Ouch,” she scowled. “I’ll let that pass since you just got here, but I’m from New Zealand.”
“What, Kiwis and Aussies don’t get along?”
“Yes, but as you can see...” she said eyeing the frat boys, “…us Kiwis are a little more refined.”
“Are you trying to say all Aussies are like those guys over there?”
She laughed. “No. Truthfully, it’s just a neighborly rivalry. Those blokes over there are what you call bogans. They love Contiki tours. And even though Contiki is a Kiwi company, bogans are very Australian.”
“I didn’t know Contiki was a Kiwi company. That must be why there’s so many of you from down under here. I didn’t do much research about Contiki before I left. I only found out about this trip two weeks ago.”
“Why is that?” she asked then realized she had stumbled into sensitive territory. “Never mind. It’s not important.”
“Thanks,” Walter said. “Despite my joke earlier, it still isn’t easy to talk about. Perhaps that was just my way of masking it.”
“Say no more. While not quite for the same reason, I have my own ex back home I’m trying to forget about. How about I get a round of shots to help us forget them?”
“Let me get it.”
“You get the next round. Then I’ll get the one after that, and by the end of the night we’ll both have spent the same but never looked impolite. I’m still kind of new to this, but that’s how it works, right?” Her demeanor was much more driving than the bumbling girl from earlier. “C’mon! Don’t be a tosser. It’s the 21st century. Let a Sheila buy you a drink.”
As they continued conversing over drinks, conduct became increasingly flirtatious, especially after they hid themselves away in a booth in a dark corner of the pub.
“So Contiki’s okay with you fraternizing with the travelers?” Walter asked as their fingers danced together under the table.
“Very much so,” she said. “Just so long as certain body parts don’t come in contact.”
“And which parts would those be?”
“Maybe you’ll just have to find that out yourself,” she said raising her eyebrow and placing his hand on her thigh. The additional drinks had continued to peel away her shy shell, exposing a rather vampy core.
His hand began sneaking up. “Keep going...” she said. It continued to walk, then paused on the crest of her hipbone. She gave an agreeing smile. A finger then dipped beneath her waistline. “Stop,” she said, “but stay right there.” She bit her lip and shook her head at him. “I had you pegged as a complete dag earlier.”
“Not sure what a dag is, but I think I can say the same of you.” Her lips neared his, wanting to be kissed, so Walter did.
“Oops,” she said after. “I was supposed to stop you. Lips are on that list of body parts. Oh well, no going back now.” Her lips went back to his and her hands began crawling up his legs, but then stopped. “Not here though,” she said, “too many people from work around.”
“My hotel room?” Walter suggested.
Billie looked at him apprehensively. “I shouldn’t,” she said. “I’ve got to get up early tomorrow.”
“Okay. Maybe some food then? I think it’s my turn to pay.”
She smiled. “You’re so sweet,” she said. “And very cute. These dimples...” she grabbed his cheeks. “How about I take you to your door and say goodbye to you there?”
They managed to make it to the hotel lobby elevator before resuming their groping and making out. Walter pressed the button for his floor, but when the doors opened on the third floor, neither of them proceeded forward. The doors shut and the elevator lowered back to the lobby floor then opened again. Walter hit his floor button again, and the doors closed again, and the elevator rose again. This repeated two more times undisturbed, the groping, making out, and unzipping of clothes intensifying with each pass. There didn’t seem to be a soul awake in the hotel, or perhaps they were all still at the pub.
On the fifth pass they managed to finally leave the elevator, but not make it quite to his room, but instead a nearby stairwell. “Fuck it,” she said with his hard penis in her hand. “Just fuck me here. I can’t take it anymore.”
“Yes mam,” he said, and they dropped trou. After putting his condom on, Walter then lined up. “Wow...” he said as he entered, “...that’s really tight. I’m in the right hole, right?”
“Um, yes,” she said, “but I should probably tell you I’m a virgin—or was a virgin.” His penis came running out, causing him to fall over backwards.
“What?” he cried from the floor. “Why didn’t you tell me? I can’t do this. You don’t want to do this, not this way, not with me, not in some filthy hotel stairwell.”
“But I kind of already did…”
“No, I only pumped once. I think it doesn’t constitute as sex until three or so, right?”
“How would I know?” She laughed, seeming far less concerned about her virginity than him. “Would you prefer to take my virginity in your room?” she asked.
“I’d prefer not to take it at all,” he said. “Plus, you don’t want to lose your virginity to me. I’m still having trouble remembering your name. You deserve someone more special than me.”
“I’ve gotten over the whole ‘special’ thing. I’m twenty-two years old now. If anything, my virginity is just annoying to me. And it’s Billie again by the way.”
“Okay Billie, can you at least tell me why you waited so long just to lose it like this then?”
“Really? Long story short, I was Mormon and engaged to someone, then realized my life was complete bullshit, so I broke off the engagement and moved halfway across the world to figure things out. Then I met this guy who dresses a little daggy but is irresistibly cute and sweet and funny and very smart, and I said to myself about half way through our third or fourth elevator ride, ‘Hm… I really like this guy. It’s about time I got laid, but there only seems to be a bunch of bogans around me and I sure don’t want my first time to be with one of them. Maybe I better take advantage of him while he’s still here because he may be the most decent thing I’ll get for a while.’” She held out her hand and helped him up from the floor. “So it’s okay. You’re all the special I need.”
“You were Mormon?” Walter said. “So was I at one time. I knew there was something familiar about you. Must be the Mormon girl glow.”
“Oh good. You understand then . . . Please fuck that Mormon girl glow out of me. I don’t want to be that girl anymore.”
“You know, I’ve never taken somebody’s virginity.”
“Good, I guess it will be special after all then.”