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How to Rent a Hotel Room

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September 14, 2007

The Italian restaurant hadn’t been doing well for years, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise when it fell down. It happened when I was walking up to it. That was what caught me off-guard, that and the fact that my wife was in it. I was under the black awning, which was the newest thing they had. It flapped in the breeze a little. Where the laces had rotted, the eyelets tanged against the metal in the wind.

I miss her. She had a way of walking out of a dressing room, when she was trying on pants that would take your breath away.

They had had to fire the valet. Business was that bad. I dropped my wife off in front of the creaking place and then went for a space, which was impossible given that it was a bad neighborhood with a lot of new businesses, and so there were lots of fights between owners of vehicles drivers over spaces. I saw a man hit another man with a The Club. Both were nicely dressed, like it was Easter or something.

It was a house that they’d made into a restaurant. There are no zoning restrictions where we live and so people’d make anything into anything. Eating there, you ate in the living room. Or maybe the parlor. It was two stories and my wife and I would joke that all the waiters lived upstairs. Not loudly though, because it might’ve been true.

We had kids. Boy. Girl. Joy of my life. But I couldn’t see them after the restaurant fell down on my wife. Their mother. So I went to a hotel. Because of my grief. The sitter was very capable. She didn’t need to be called in order to stay the night. She wouldn’t leave until we came back. She was that kind of sitter.

There’s a woman here who vacuums the rooms. She reminds me of my wife. The way she walks in with a pile of thin sheets and then shrinks when she sees someone still in the room. Apologizes in a little voice. Then when it’s clear that I’m not leaving, she vacuums and strips the bed like she’s embarrassed. I put on the soap she watches in the other rooms, so she’s more comfortable.

When she was sixteen! She played the tuba! But no one in the hotel bar thinks it’s as funny as we used to.

We loved that restaurant. We went there when we were kids. They served us wine when we went to prom. We told our parents at the restaurant that we were getting married, that we were pregnant, that we were pregnant again. The waiters there knew us. Forgot to charge us for desserts. Short thin stooped men who were so old that they never aged. When we bought our house, one of the waiters hugged me. Of course, they weren’t going to do well. Of course, they’d neglect the necessary upkeep on a hundred- year- old two-story colonial. Of course, a restaurant like that would collapse on my wife.

I brought in a microwave. Eating at the hotel was destroying me financially. Now I eat a lot of soup and ash into a Campbell’s can. It’s a non-smoking room, but management is good enough to look the other way. When I can finally leave, they’ll probably have to fumigate.

The sound wasn’t as bad as you’d have thought. It was surprising, of course. But what was so surprising was how much sense the sound made. It wasn’t any terrible wrenching. Just a sort of exhaust. A poof of wind on my face. Then dust. Dust that I’m still finding on me. In me even. In the shower, I cough up little black seeds.

The thing is, when they hear about my wife playing the tuba at sixteen, they probably imagine this chubby awkward girl who spent too much time in the band room, showed too much gum when she smiled, and had a face ravished by acne. And they’re right. At sixteen she was all of those things. But she knew she was the stereotype of someone playing the tuba in the high school band, and so she volunteered for it. That was just like her!

The cops asked me lots of questions. Had me run through it one more time twenty times. The paramedics put a blanket over my shoulders and shined a penlight into my eyes and gave me a cup of coffee. Everybody was dead in the restaurant, so I got all of the attention. People crowded around and pointed behind the yellow tape at me sitting there blowing on my coffee. It must be what movie stars feel like.

At the end of the night, after the bodies had been pulled out and I identified my wife’s body, I asked them if I could keep the blanket.

The woman who cleans my room had sex with me this morning. She walked in and I turned on her soap. Then she closed the door. Maids never close the door. When she closed it, she became someone else.

Maybe the restaurant had too many memories. Maybe that’s what made it collapse. Maybe my wife and I had stopped making memories and had just been content to live through them. Maybe it was a good thing that the restaurant collapsed on my wife.

The neighbor screaming about his orgasm like it’s something he discovered and is afraid of. The people in the hallway who never know where to put their eyes when they walk by me. The tiny soap. The bolts connecting the TV to the laminated particleboard of the dresser. The filthy gray ice machine that spins for five minutes, making horrible noises, and then spits out ice I put in my mouth. The morons sneaking their dogs in through the back door. These people. These people. They have the gall to complain about the noise I make.

Maybe I should get rid of this blanket.

My children are adults now. How time flies! They have their own families. They bring their children to the sitter, who the new kids call grandma. The sitter sends me pictures in envelopes that I never open. I keep them piled up in the microwave, because it’s got a door that closes and I don’t use the thing anymore. The maid cooks for me. She brings me tamales wrapped in foil. She brings me saag paneer and roti in stackable metal dishes. She brings me wine in the box. She’s the manager now. Her family bought the place and put her in charge. I am no longer on the books. It’s my room, whether I like it or not. She has the room next to mine. There’s a little door that connects our rooms. Both of us have doors and sometimes I’ll open my door and hers will be closed and I’m guessing that sometimes the same happens to her. But there are times when I go up and open my door and I find that hers is open as well. It’s these times that I think things almost have a chance of being all right.

David Stuart MacLean is a writer living in Houston. He was a Fulbright scholar in India (2002) and is a Fiction Editor at Gulf Coast Magazine. He received his MFA from New Mexico State University and is currently pursuing his PhD at the University of Houston, while working on his novel.

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