We had a bet, the damsel and I.
I told her she wouldn't be able to spend a night in the room without being tempted to get into that bed at least once. She admitted the bed was indeed the most beautiful she had ever laid eyes on and that the temptation to sink into it would no doubt be almost impossible to resist. Almost impossible, she reiterated. But not entirely out of the question.
We agreed I would let her take up lodgings in the room for free for an entire year were I to lose the bet. And if at any time of the night I caught her wrapped under the covers for a bit of shut-eye, she would pay me twice the asking amount in rent for a year.
And so she turned up last evening at sundown, two books in one hand and a carton of clove-flavoured cigarettes in the other. To keep me company all night, she said. I made her three pots of tea so she wouldn't go pottering about in the rest of the house in the dead of the night. When I finally shut the bedroom door behind her last evening, the leaves of the apple trees had begun to sing their lullabies in rustles and whispers.
I went to check on her shortly before breakfast this morning. She was gone. The room was mostly as empty and as pristine as it had been before she arrived last evening. A cosy fug of clove and apple scents pressed upon me as I entered. I threw open the curtains; a little sunshine would dispel the odour in no time. Three empty pots of tea rested on the bedside table; I would clean them in time for the next visitor. The bed has been made; it likes to do that itself.
I have never tried to find out what goes on in the room at night. The previous owner of the house had once told me the damsels fall into eternal slumber when they get into the bed, and disappear from this world. Only their Prince Charmings would be able to find them and kiss them to wakefulness. But I don't see how that is going to happen; men are not permitted to take up lodgings here.
But mine is not to question and ponder. I cast a quick glance around the room. Everything seems to be in order. Two Neil Gaiman paperbacks lie on the floor. I pick these to add them to my collection of left-behinds on the mantelpiece in the living room downstairs. I like guests who leave behind useful things.