Thursday 6th June
She was lost. Again. ‘Typical Annie, always getting lost’, that’s what they would say if they could see her now, she thought.
The sat-nav on the car she had hired at Dublin Airport was less than user friendly and, not only was there no phone signal, her phone had died trying to find any. Not that it mattered. The SIM card she had was from England and it only worked periodically as she made her way westward across Ireland.
Why hadn’t she listened to the salesman when he was explaining the different types of sat-nav they had available? She had known the cheapest one wasn’t going to be the best option. She had known, too, that her phone wasn’t going work properly.
Still, she had persisted, not ready to give up on what she had chosen to do, even though it was causing her so many problems. Stubbornness had always been a key part of her personality and now that she had set out with a dodgy sat-nav and a dodgy phone she was going to see the whole experience through.
That said, she was getting a little bit worried. It was getting late, close to 10pm, and the light was dying in the night sky.
‘I must be close,’ Annie thought anxiously to herself.
In Cliffony, the last village she had went through about an hour before, she had seen a B&B on the main street. She still had time to turn back and go there but she wasn’t sure she would be able to find the way, especially now the sky had darkened. Better to keep moving forward, she thought.
Until about half an hour ago she had been able to the mountain that rose out of the valley. The old man she had asked for directions had told her to keep the mountain on her left hand side but now it had dissolved into the evening darkness. It was raining now too.
‘Why am I so stupid?’, she thought.
What was she even doing here? Why had she went on this silly road trip?
Then she saw the sign: Sligeach (Sligo) - 1 kilometre.
Her heart skipped a beat as she felt the relief wash over her, rinsing the anxiety away. She wasn't lost, she was almost there.
The road signs were one of her favourite parts of the trip so far. There was something about the challenge of trying to figure out how to pronounce the Irish names. She’d come across quite a few, now that she had been here for over two weeks; Baile átha Cliath, Muileann gCearr, Cora Droma Rúisc, Bun Dobhráin, and now Sligeach.
She had done it. Screw the doubters, she beamed, Annie can do what she wants whenever she wants.
She was coming into the town now, just as the storm clouds that had been threatening all evening finally decided to let loose with torrents of rain. But that didn’t matter, as soon as she could find a B&B with a room to spare she would tuck herself up in bed and listen to the rain batter the windows of her room.
There was a large body of water that ran along the roadside now, the road tracking its edge. In the darkness it could practically have been anything; a river, a lake, the ocean.
The rain was coming down heavier now, bouncing off the water and rising a few centimeters into the air before settling on the surface, throwing large rings out across the body of water. That must be the Atlantic Ocean, she guessed.
The old man had mentioned that Sligo was on the edge of the ocean. It wasn’t as nice as he had described but maybe tomorrow in the fresh light of day it would look better.
As she made her way through the city, looping around the centre a few times to try and orientate herself, she picked out the sights she would explore the following day. Sligo Abbey and Sligo Gaol seemed like the most obvious tourist attractions to her.
Trying to refocus herself on finding somewhere to stay instead of soaking up the view, she drove past the Clarence Hotel. A little fancier that she would normally go for, but, then again, it had been a long day and she could use a little VIP treatment.
Maybe it would have a spa, or even a pool and sauna. Without a second thought, sold on the idea that it might just have some luxury in her life, Annie pulled her car into the carpark, just as the low petrol light beeped and shone into life.
It was a sign, she thought, as she parked in the first empty space she found and tried to ignore the thoughts of her quickly diminishing bank balance. Anyway, one night won’t hurt.
The rain was getting heavier, so she grabbed her hat, flung her door open and sprinted like a greyhound to the hotel entrance.
The interior was dazzling as she exited the revolving doors. Everything had a sheen; the marble floors, the chandeliers, even the little bell on the reception desk glistened at her as she tapped it.
The ringing of the bell echoed around the cavernous foyer.
It was amazing how wet she had gotten in the thirty seconds it had taken her to make the dash from her car to the hotel. She took off her hat and it dripped loudly on the floor.
Looking around she could practically feel the squeeze on her bank balance already. Behind the desk she could see a price list for the spa. There were a lot of zeros. Annie was beginning to have doubts about whether this was a sensible idea.
A young man appeared from a back room.
‘Hello Miss, how can I help?’
‘I was wondering if you had any availability for tonight?’ she replied, trying to imbue a sense that she belonged in this fancy hotel, ‘I know I’m a little late.’
‘I think you may be in luck’ he answered, tapping at the keyboard of his computer, ‘is it just for one night or a longer stay?’
She nodded, “Just the one night, I think.”
‘Ok, tonight we have a junior suite available or the premium suite,’ he read from the screen.
Annie could feel the worry rising in her. Nothing with the word ‘suite’ attached could be any way cheap.
‘Ah... how much is the junior suite?’ she stuttered.
‘“The junior suite is one hundred and fifty Euro for tonight,” the young man replied.
‘Oh…’ she trailed off, unsure what to do
150 Euros was almost four times as much as she had paid for any other hotel or B&B so far on her trip. She knew it was too much but she could hear the rain battering the skylight directly above her and the clock behind the receptionist read 10:30pm. She was tired, exhausted really, wet and in need of a lie down.
‘Does that include any spa packages?’ she asked, hopefully.
‘I’m afraid not, but it does include breakfast,’ was the short response.
This was her last chance, she thought. She fluttered her eyelids and tilted her head like she had done years before when trying to get a man to buy her a drink in a dingy bar.
‘Could it include a spa package?’ she muttered suggestively, squeezing her breasts together slightly to enhance where her wet sweater clung to them.
It was the young man’s turn to stutter - ‘Well, it...ah…’
Annie knew the old magic was working. Not that it was ‘old’ magic, as such. She was only 38 years old, which wasn’t old anymore.
She leaned her elbow on the desk and looked up at him.
‘It would be sooo nice if you could add something,’ she said demurely.
‘Ah, well..’ he stumbled, ‘maybe I could add a mini-package. If that’s OK? It’s two treatments and a glass of champagne.’
‘You’re so kind!’ she beamed, producing her purse, ‘here’s my card!’