He began knocking on my door early one evening in June, about the time when the earth begins to breathe and I am moved to leave my window open. Complaints, he said. From the tenant above, to the right if you were sitting facing the door. I cracked it just enough to hear what he had to say.
He had the guise of a messenger, the officiality of a relayer of information, credible to most in the straight red jacket and fringeless haircut the hotel had asked him to wear. For all this uniformity I was inclined to believe him less. I listened with chain lock in place as he spoke to the sliver of my profile I let show through the opening. I wouldn’t let him see my eyes.
“She would like you to turn it down. Says it’s affecting her hearing, that she can’t discern internal noises, much less outside ones,” he said.
I’ve never met the woman upstairs, have no idea what she looks like. “Tell her she must be mistaken,” I replied, laughing silently in spite of myself, shutting the door. I have no intention of complying with faceless requests.
“Very well then, ma’am,” the valet said, fadedly.
An hour later, I am sleeping. The power lines buzz along the desolate interstate, suspended between towers.
In the morning, he is there once more. I wake to him, to his knocking. I stretch the door to the extremity of its links, threaten to break their clasp on each other in order to widen the distance between door and frame. Without completely opening up, I allow him a full view of my face.
“She’s certain it’s you,” he fidgets, looking at the floor instead of profiting from my self-revelation.
“How can she be so sure?” I yawn dramatically, in a way that denotes at once amusement and slight irritation.
“She insists that the sound comes from the direction of this room. Rhythmical, beatlike, she says. Could I take a look at your collection?” he asks.
I am at once flattered and suspicious. “Whose side are you on, anyway?” I snarl, my eyes narrowing to slits. “Aren’t you supposed to be neutral, a messenger?”
“Trying to preserve the calm of the residence. Wishing to appease our tenants and guests,” he responds, hesitantly.
“Tell her to come in your place if she wishes to speak to me,” I conclude, relaxing the links, my movements away from the door swollen and labored from sleep.
There is no response from beyond the door. I decide not to eat. I dress, slowly, and make my way downstairs, into the lobby of the hotel, to put my name on the books, renew my weekly existence.
I am here to work. Improvement, you might call it. For this, the hotel strikes within me the obscurest chord of dread. It begins with the unpolished wood decoration, continues in the caged hand-crank elevator and notices of upcoming extermination, ends with the people who hide in coats and mill about the lobby with their schemes in mind, unapproachable, unreachable. It is a place of transience, needless establishment. People wallowing in nothing, gasping for an assured future. They seek temporary fixes, come in and out of your life like rain, cleansing and gratifying themselves quickly, defensively. There is much to be done.
She’s standing at the registrar, scratching her name in the guest book, looking over her shoulder at anyone who disturbs the air immediately behind her. Unlike anyone in this room, she seeks to make eye contact. The coats shudder and wrap themselves tighter, raise collars, tip hats, face corners, create shadow. With some, she succeeds, only to have her eye sockets pucker and choke the engagement until she shuts them out completely and returns to witnessing her account in the landlord’s book. About her, the vague shapes of cones, multiples of her figure cast on the floor under dusty lampshade light. When she has finished, she shrinks toward the elevator. She bids the bellman to cage her in and throw the crank. “Send her up,” she whispers.
It is with some difficulty that I pick up the chained pen to write. Her shadow has made me aware of triangles that darken as they near the tips, expansiveness moving towards increased concentration. They have infested the lobby of this place. Acute cloaks, electricity, carpet pattern, an annex that narrows as you make your way to the exit, formations of the hands of clocks.
I sign beneath her name, the tenant above, a bit to the right if you were sitting facing the door.
In the evening, there is yelling at the end of the hallway. One voice begins like a phonograph picking up speed and increases to an overplayed cyclic ringing until it is cushioned by the other, a response low and thick like a mattress. When he is finished, she begins again, infinitely, never covering each other, unable to harmonize. I turn my music up. Because of their conflicts, I know who they are. I fear for them and their defensiveness, the ever increasing shadow that shunts them to their end. I raise the volume once more. It is a noise of possession, saturation, exquisite sound funneled over my cochlea. I have eaten little today. Tonight, I almost enjoy the sense of hunger in my stomach, the predisposition of a void to fill. It is good to breathe out, to exhale into sleep.
Removal. I wake to the hum of the power lines, the wailing approach and departure of trucks on the interstate, the rippling wind of the plains that smashes itself against my window screens, slow and deliberate fistfall at the door.
“I’ve been asked to remove your system,” he is telling me. I am not sure I have heard him correctly and squint at him in the brightness that floods one newly roused from sleep. “I am to take it away,” he repeats, and his red cuffs motion to the interior of my room.
“No need,” I say, as if I have spoken my first words. “My work will be done by the end of this week, and I will be moving on.” I am surprised at what I say, and the valet shrinks back into dimly lit hallway, his face fearful in the absence of my immediate compliance with the tenant upstairs.
Everything in the room in the possession of the hotel has been stolen. The television bears the insignia of a Canadian Hyatt. Pirate wiring replaces the original cords, the ends of which still protrude from beneath the set, diced for easy removal during flight. I guessed they wished my system to join these ranks of goods lifted from their origins. Consensual theft, they would call it. Implemented to maintain the comfort of our hotel, like the way God calls people home.
In the morning, the filthy alabaster stairwell reeks of last night’s extermination. I never take the elevator. The waiting incenses me. At least, in taking the stairs, I feel as though I am making continuous progress toward some unnamable destination, living through the remotest, most isolated moments instead of tricking myself that the time spent waiting has been suspended. My skin is colored with the red and blue light of intermittent strobes as I descend, and I peer out the porthole windows at the second floor landing at a multitude of bluecoats and hoses, press agents and yellow restraining tape.
The valet is dead. He has fallen down the elevator shaft and his body is irretrievable as an entirety, shattered on the pistons and gears, pinned and choked by the cables and distributed in the well. Amidst all the movement, I watch as the woman upstairs moves down the middle of the triangle to the exit of the lobby. Making faces at all those she suspects to be torturing her, she ignores the press and runs in line of the camera, is captured there a moment for her indiscretion, and struggles her way out of the masses to drift in the fields along the interstate.
I follow her. The sun reaches its highest point and drains the swaying wheat of all its color. She stands in the midst of it all, whirling and pleading with the sky, groaning from a great, yawning mouth, nothing of which I can distinguish over the pent up wind that gushes at intervals as from a newly opened valve.
Overestimating the distance between us, I reach her suddenly where we stand facing each other like two targets on the breathing, level landscape, the tails of my thin black coat billowing about my knees in the languid, rising motion of snakes.
“You’ve come for me,” she gasps. She shields her face in a desperate attempt to conceal herself, believing somehow that I cannot reach her if she is obstructed from my sight.
“Why couldn’t you face me yourself?” I reply.
Her face wrinkles and her body contracts as she refuses to recognize me. The wind, suddenly fingery and daggerlike, picks at her clothes, and like the shifting coats of the lobby she clutches them to her tightly, protectively. I decide not to reveal myself and turn back to the hotel as the sun passes in and out of swiftly migrating clouds, breaking the color of the field in my path, carrying me along in sweeping bands of gold and black.
For the week I am left I continue to play my music, fulfilled, regardless, inconsiderate. Towards dusk on the eve of my departure, I manage to perceive a renewed knocking at my door.
She stands in the hallway, brazen and furious, hurling insults from her wide mouth.
Abruptly, I kill the music.
She does not stop. There is no noise in the corridor, in the room, in the night, but she is yelling for it to end, that she can hear it everywhere, in the fields and halls, floors and corners, carpets, mornings, night.
“There is no change,” she screams. “All boundaries have come down and gone.”
My work here is complete. In the morning, I leave my system and room and enter the interstate, moving until the limiting of the light.