The man in the white hat and white suit walked into a shabby hotel room, carrying a battered brown valise. It was a valise that had seen mileage.
The man opened the door, and then closed it behind him. He could feel the frizzy static of the ghosts from the corridor clinging to him. He brushed the left arm of his suit-jacket with his right hand, and then the right arm of his suit-jacket with his left hand, and then combed the front of his suit-jacket with the knuckles on both hands, and did this three times in succession.
Ghosts, he muttered to himself, as he shook the spectral residue from his hands and fingertips.
The man had a straight, lean build. Plank-like. His dark shoes were noticeably scuffed at the edges. His white suit, on the other hand, was well-pressed and remarkably clean. It was as if this was the first time he was wearing it, though he had worn it countless times. Not new, but new-looking. Some illusions were more manageable than others.
The man set the valise on the mattress of a bed with a creaky iron frame. The weight of the valise created an indent in the mattress. The man clicked two metal latches and opened the valise. He peered inside. There it was. The man smiled softly, with a measure of disbelief, and shook his head.
So much weight for such a small thing, the man thought, with a sort of reluctant or begrudging admiration for the thing he had been carrying. The man snapped shut the valise.
The man inspected the dirt under his fingernails. It made him think of moonlight. And sewage. Wasn’t that just the way of the world, his mind pinged back to him. A lot of moonlight and sewage, and what do you do with it? What can you do with it?
The man walked over to the sink, which was recessed into an alcove and had a mirror set above it. The man turned on the faucet. The running water sounded as if it were coming from a distance. The man raised his eyes. The mirror didn’t work anymore. When mirrors stop working, either you’re in big trouble or you’re free. Really and truly free.
The man made circular motions with hands as he rinsed them under a meekly pressured stream of cold water. He washed both the front and back of his hands thoroughly, then took down the hand-towel hanging from a brass ring posted in the wall next to the sink and dried his hands as thoroughly as he had washed them.
The man tried the mirror again, no dice, and hen returned the damp hand-towel to its brass ring.
The man walked over to the room’s only window, adjacent to the bed. He thought of looking out the window, but really it would be the same as looking in. There was no difference. He had learned that a long time ago. No matter where he was, no matter what the visuals or scenery, he could only see in. Seeing out was a function he had never developed.
The man remained motionless in the more or less center of the room, his torso pivoted, as he began to think about what he didn’t want to but had to do, his eyes pinned to the valise set like calculated mockery upon the bed.
In. Always in. What was in, or inside him, he saw, and to the rest of the world, blindness, vagary, lucid blankness.
The man suddenly wished he had brought his memo pad.
He could go to the lobby and ask the clerk for some paper, but he didn’t want to risk contact with the ghosts from the corridor. Plus, his legs were tired, and his eyes . . . it had been a long something. What? Day? Night? Week? Month? It had been long, whatever it was. Interminably long. Deathless. Yes, that was it. There was a deathless quality to the whole thing. God, he wished he had brought his memo pad.
The man broke from his stationary position in the more or less center of the room, and sat down in the room’s only chair, a wooden, straight-backed one that was set next to a desk. There was small lamp on the far left edge of the desk. It was unplugged. The man, while sitting, examined the film of dust coating the surface of the desk. The desk was a depleted brown and the dust-film added a fuzzy gray veneer to that brown.
The man used the tip of his index to trace a circle in the dust. And then other circles. Soon there was a series of interlocking circles. This was something. The pure geometry of dust.
The man was thirsty. And once he became aware of his thirst, he also became aware of his hunger. When was the last time he had eaten?
Seventeen days ago.
No, that wasn’t the last time he had eaten, but his sudden concern with time had caused him to remember that something had happened seventeen days ago, something significant which had changed the course of his life—that was why he had come here, to this room, where he was tracing connected circles in the thin skin of dust.
The man scratched insistently at his throat, near the Adam’s apple, as if this gesture would somehow alleviate his thirst. It didn’t.
He went over to the sink and turned on the faucet. He saw that there was a single glass, clouded over with smudges, turned upside down to the right of the sink.
The man filled the glass to about halfway with cold water, and drank it down slowly. He returned the glass to its upside-down position.
The man looked toward the door. It was a door. Moving on.
I need to sleep, the man said to himself.
The man removed his white hat and carefully placed it on the desk, covering up the circles he had sketched. He sat down in the chair and took off his shoes. He left them there, by the chair, askew.
The man lifted the valise from the bed and placed it on the floor, near one of the bed’s legs. He had to put the valise’s contents out of his mind. There was no use worrying. Moonlight and sewage, and what can you do about it?
The man considered taking off his suit-jacket, but then decided to leave it on. He lay down on top of the blanket on the bed, hands folded neatly across his chest, the portrait of an elegant corpse.
The mattress was thin and the man felt its sharp coils pressing into different areas of his back, a sort of mean-spirited acupuncture. So be it. Sometimes you had to lie down in beds with thin mattresses and malicious coils. The man was determined to sleep.
He would sleep and then awaken, refreshed and with a clear sense of purpose and direction. He intended to look directly into the swollen and discolored eye of what had happened seventeen days ago, and what he was going to do about it. What had to be done.
That was why he had come here. To this hotel, to this room, again. Always he had come here, and he was fairly certain that always he would.
The world belonged to people, and they to it, and the corridors belonged to ghosts, but this room, this room . . . yes, there was a place for everyone.
This notion worked like a lullaby sedative as the man grew drowsy, and drowsier still, before he fell into a deep, colorless sleep.