New 44 Scotland Street Chapter 24: Kamikaze mosquitoes

Their first night in the hotel was far from comfortable. Their sleeplessness might have been put down to the effects of time differences on their circadian rhythms, but a more immediate cause suggested itself in the presence in the room of flights of mosquitoes.

Thursday, 10th September 2020, 7:30 am

Wave after wave of these tiny warplanes launched themselves against the target of presented by the recumbent forms of Matthew and Elspeth, diving in to attack, kamikaze-fashion, ignoring the desperate swats of their victims. There was a mosquito net, but this provided inadequate protection as it was too small for the double bed.

“Those women have given us a single-size net,” muttered Matthew, as he tried in vain to tuck the edge of the net under the mattress. “This is just too small. It won’t stay where it should.”

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“What about repellent?” asked Elspeth. “Is there any in the bathroom?”

Matthew went to check, but there was none. On the way back, he donned trousers and socks in order to minimise the area of exposed skin that would be susceptible to mosquito bites.

The next morning, after the mosquitoes, sensing the onset of dawn, had retreated to base, Matthew made his way to the reception desk to raise the issue of a larger mosquito net. Clottie answered the bell when he pressed it.

“Breakfast is not until eight,” she snapped.

Matthew struggled to be civil. “This is not about breakfast,” he said. ‘I’ve come to talk to you about mosquito nets.”

“You’ve got one,” said Clottie. “I put it up myself. You shouldn’t have any trouble from mosquitoes.”

“Well, we did,” said Matthew.

Clottie pursed her lips. “You shouldn’t mistake the sound of mosquitoes for actual bites,” she said. “Mosquitoes are always buzzing about. But if you have a net, you’re safe.”

Matthew showed her his bare forearm. There were several angry red spots discernible on it. “What are these?” he challenged.

Clottie glanced at his arm with distaste. “You seem to have some sort of skin condition,” she said. “There’s a pharmacy in town. You could pick up something there. Some sort of lotion.”

Matthew gasped. “I do not have a skin condition,” he exclaimed. “Those are mosquito bites. And there are more. I could show you plenty more.”

Clottie shuddered involuntarily. “But you have a net,” she said. ‘You should have used your net.” She paused before fixing Matthew with a disapproving stare. “It’s not our fault if guests fail to use the things we try to provide for them.”

Matthew took a deep breath. He was naturally mild in his manner, and he generally avoided confrontation. But this was pressing him to his limits. It was not unreasonable, surely, to raise – as politely as he had done – an issue of this nature. He was not blaming the management for the presence of mosquitoes – that was a matter of geography and, he imagined elevation, and nobody, not even these sour and unwelcoming women, could be reproached for their height above sea level, or their altitude. But they could be held responsible, he thought, for providing a single-bed-sized mosquito note for a room that clearly had a double bed.

“We used the net,” Matthew said. “But there’s a problem with it, I’m afraid. That net is for a single bed, you see, and as a result it doesn’t tuck in properly. It comes untucked if there’s any movement in the bed, and then the mosquitoes get in.” He paused for dramatic effect, the staccato phrases each an item in a solemn indictment. “And then they bite you. Badly. On the arm. And elsewhere.”

He would leave that to her imagination. She had seen his arm; she could only speculate.

Clottie’s eyes widened. “Movement in the bed, you say? What exactly are you doing in that bed?”

Matthew gasped. Then, through clenched teeth, he answered, “Trying to sleep.”

“Hah!” said Clottie. “So you say. The point is, you have a net and you haven’t used it properly. We can’t go round changing our net arrangements if one set of guests fails to use them properly, can we? There are other guests in this hotel, you know.”

“I’m surprised,” said Matthew quickly. “I’m surprised you have any guests at all.”

Stalemate had been reached, and they disengaged. Matthew returned to the room to tell Elspeth of his failed attempt to deal with the mosquito net issue. She sighed. “We’ll have to get some repellent in the village,” she said. “I saw a pharmacy down there. We can try them.”

“Or one of those coil thingies you light,” suggested Matthew. “They smoke the mosquitoes out.”

“Yes.” She looked at Matthew. “Dear Matthew,” she said. “You look as if you have skin disease on your arm. Poor you.”

And then later that day, to pile Pelion upon Ossa, there had been the incident of the snake in the swimming pool. That had occurred when the two of them had gone down to the hotel’s pool, which was deserted at the time; in fact, they had not seen anybody else swimming in it, even if there were towels laid out on loungers at the poolside. Elspeth had been about to dive in when she stopped herself and pointed to a long, thin object in the water below her.

“Is that a snake, Matthew?”

Matthew looked. “Yes, it’s a snake all right. I’d better go and get somebody.”

The snake was swimming along the rim of the pool, moving through the water in elegant, untroubled serpentine sashays. Matthew took another quick look at it, and then he and Elspeth made their way up to reception. There they found Tippy.

“Ja?” asked Tippy, and then added, “Und so?”

“So you claim there’s a snake in the pool,” said Tippy after Matthew had explained the situation.

“I’m not claiming there’s a snake,” he retorted. “There is a snake. A big one.”

“I doubt it,” said Tippy. “You’re from Scotland, aren’t you? You don’t see snakes there.”

“Excuse me,” protested Matthew. “There are plenty of snakes in Scotland.” Well, not plenty perhaps, he thought, but at least there were adders on some of the hills, not that he had seen them.

“Wait here,” said Tippy, and disappeared.

Ten minutes later she returned. “There was no snake,” she said.

Matthew and Elspeth did not argue, but made their way back to the pool. There was no snake, but there were large puddles of water around the edge of the pool, and a long-handed net had been left dripping on the pool surrounds.

Matthew sighed. “I’m so sorry, my darling,” he said. “This might not have been the wisest choice.”

“But you are,” said Elspeth, kissing him. “You’re the wisest choice I ever made.”

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