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  • Published: 4 June 2024
  • ISBN: 9781776950638
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 288
  • RRP: $37.00

At The Grand Glacier Hotel



I understood that furtive expression. After twenty-five years of marriage I could tell when Curtis had misplaced something, and from the way he kept feeling his pockets and glancing around, I knew that whatever was lost was important. I also knew to keep quiet and say nothing.

It was Curtis’s idea to take us away for a short break and for that I was very grateful. I doubt I would have had the energy to make the arrangements or bookings for even a short trip. I question whether I would have been able to decide upon a destination; there were too many choices. Luckily, it was decided for me. Covid border closures had made the country off limits to foreign visitors and so we could go somewhere we would normally avoid: the West Coast glacier region. While it was quiet.

My life was already muted and had been for the past year, due to a cancer diagnosis and treatment for a sarcoma in my leg. Just how much quieter could the Coast be? Wasn’t our living room already hushed enough? But I knew what Curtis meant. It would be like the good old days. Or, rather, the healthy good old days. The last time we travelled to the Coast, our daughter Hannah was a toddler. She’s in her twenties now. We had rented a campervan, and on the second night of our road trip Hannah had come down with a bug. Vomit erupted from her gulping mouth with a force I’d never witnessed before, in anyone, adult or child. The first time she threw up we were lucky. She happened to be seated at the small fold-away dining table and that caught the worst of it. The next time we weren’t so fortunate. She was stretched out on the double bed, cocooned in a nest of pillows and sleeping bags, when, without warning, she vomited. For a moment we sat in silent horror, unable to think clearly but then, as the poor kid took a breath and opened her mouth again, I leapt up from my seat, reached for what turned out to be my clean towel and threw it towards the bed. It was a pointless exercise. There was the sound of retching and then vomit once more spilled from Hannah’s gasping mouth, drenching not only the sleeping bags and pillows but also my towel. Despite feeling sorry for my daughter — truly sorry — I was also privately irritated.

Outside it was dark, the kind of pitch black only experienced on winter nights, in the middle of nowhere. It was also raining, heavily. Our cramped quarters, combined with the lack of a decent-sized sink, a free-flowing water supply, buckets and cloths, added to our misery.

The van was perched on a narrow strip of grass above a creek, which we could not see, but only hear. In the dimly lit interior, I wiped and mopped the vomit from the sleeping bags as best I could, then passed the sodden towel to Curtis, who took it down to the creek to rinse. He remained outside, huddled inside his parka, waiting silently while I renewed my efforts to clean up before scrambling down the bank once more to wash the towel out. We did this several times and during the fourth trip, just as the situation was on the verge of being resolved, Hannah threw up again. I’d handed her a saucepan — just in case — but she was too shy to use it and so had spewed into her cupped hands, which were now covered in regurgitated food, yellowish liquid seeping out between her fingers.

It was all too much for her. She began to cry and, in her distress, opened her hands and wiped her sticky fingers over her top and through her long hair. Which of us felt more hopeless in that moment I don’t know, but we must have made a sorry sight, because a moment later Curtis opened the van door, uttered a soft ‘Oh’ and closed it again.

After a restless night, we packed up and drove on. Hannah was asleep, oblivious to the pile of wet and soiled laundry heaped on the floor by the bed. She had stopped vomiting and the paracetamol had brought down her temperature, but she looked pale and drawn, smaller than the day before — as if the sickness had reduced her.

As we drove north along the coast road, Curtis and I began to relax. We’d decided to cut our losses and find a motel, and the thought of space, furniture, running hot water and a kitchen was enough to ease our nerves. We began to reminisce about previous disastrous holidays we had endured. In the five years we’d been married we seemed to have had more than our fair share: cancelled flights, double bookings, break-ins and breakdowns, lost keys, broken bones . . . Funny that we should be laughing about them now.

Though it was early, the manager of the motel took pity on us and checked us into a tidy unit. Ten minutes later he returned with freshly baked muffins. Five minutes after that he was back with a large bucket and cleaning products for the van. We thanked him profusely and felt grateful for his kindness. He said it was no problem and went on his way. Two minutes later he was back to check that everything was okay. We thanked him again, assured him that everything was fine and once more he wandered off, only to return minutes later. And so it was; we couldn’t get rid of him. He showed us how to operate the washing machine in the laundry room, gave us a rundown on where to go for supplies and meals, drew our attention to locations of interest, warned us of the lack of medical facilities — should we need them. All useful information, but there was too much of it, and even when we tried to explain that we were happy to ‘discover’ things for ourselves, he wouldn’t let up. He dropped off a soft toy for Hannah, a kiwi that a previous guest had left behind and never claimed.

After seven or eight visits, we grew desperate to give him the slip and so, though Hannah was still peaky, we bundled her into the van and set off to explore. It was while we were driving around the back of the settlement that we happened across the entrance to the Grand Glacier Hotel. Within minutes of sighting the majestic old building we vowed that, should we ever return to the Coast, we would treat ourselves to one of its rooms, which we were convinced were well appointed, with magnificent views of the mountains. We didn’t go inside, but crept around the edge of the property, taking in the flowerbeds, lawns and tennis court and various relics from the glory days. In our minds, the hotel was indeed ‘grand’, in the true sense of the word — meaning, back then, too good for us.

At The Grand Glacier Hotel Laurence Fearnley

From award-winning novelist Laurence Fearnley comes an intriguing story about recovery, reflection and reconnecting with ourselves and others.

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