By Ben Nardolilli
The glare took him back. He had seen a glossy patch of sunshine like it before. What was it reflecting off of? It took a moment to remember the surface. It was smooth, almost sickly smooth. It had the color and consistency of butterscotch but molded, with curves. Now it was clear to him. The lamp. Every room of the hotel had one. No matter where he chose to stay, it was there, the only source of light when the sun went down. He remembered struggling with the tiny knob under the lightbulb. How flimsy it was. How hot. Sometimes he burned his fingers. It happened when he was nervous. His finger would burn, and he would drop his cigarette.
But only if it was not in the ashtray. Another piece of butterscotch. No. Glass. It was a glass basin for his ashes. A kind of urn for time. He set the cigarette down there when he needed to use the phone. The rotary model was clunky. It was thick. The body was brown but different then the lamp. How were there so many different shades of brown back then? How had each one of them been filed away in his mind so distinctly? There was brown in the sheets, and brown in the carpet. The curtains too? He could not remember the curtains. It was strange. How many times had he stood behind them, trying to see and pretend not to be seen?
No, the sheets were not brown. Of course not. They were honey colored. A dark shade of gold. He remembered afterward, spreading out on them. They feet cool against his skin, all the crisp folds. For such a hotel they always had nice sheets. What a strange place. It had a tropical theme in the lobby despite being in a temperate zone. It also called itself magic despite being part of a regional chain. A region where it snowed. He felt heavy now. Almost as heavy as that receiver. It was hard to put it down without making a sound. Every time he put it set on the hungry towers on the top of the base it sounded like he was angry. Sometimes he was. But not always. Not usually.
The place improved while he used it. He could remember being in the room with nothing to do but smoke, followed by watching the smoke coming up from the ashtray. Then looking at the traffic on the interstate. All those fabulous land yachts with trunks that could hide a body. Not that he ever used them for that. Or thought about it. There were a few close encounters, times he worried he might end up there. At first there was no telling what would happen at the end. But as time went on, he felt more and more safe. There were repeat encounters. Then plans that began in public and not on phones. In bars. Well, the shadows of bars but in bars nonetheless. He could remember when the rooms finally all got televisions. They were in color too.
The carpets changed too. They had too. For a while they were thick. Too thick. They seemed to absorb everything. He had to keep his socks on whenever he was not on the bed. All that orange was good for was soaking up the sweat. The beer. The nicotine even. Sometimes he forgot about it and walked across the floor in his bare feet. He regretted that mistake even now. It made him wince and curl up his toes in his sandals. But the carpets disappeared one day. That was magic, the place living up to its name. What was there afterwards? He could not remember. It felt sterile, whatever it was. He could recall a good deal of burgundy.
After all the waiting, there was some relief. The lamp was no longer the only source of light. It came from outside but it was not the sun or moon. Two large headlights. They would shine through the curtains. He realized that meant the fabric must have had no color after all. They were thin and gauzy, possibly yellowing from the cigarettes. His and other people’s. He would hold them like a veil for a moment until the lights went out. It was important for him to be there so the lights could fall on his body. For the beams to go around him like he was being x-rayed. If he was not there, standing at the window, the car would drive away.
At first, he had to open the door. That was when it was all done on the phone. Later, he did not need to do anything. Two sets of keys could be used. He remembered being able to sit on the edge of the bed, his back to the door. He could be hunched over the ashtray. He could light another cigarette. He could notice what the time was. By then there were clocks with radios in them in every room. He did not have to worry about the television. Someone was there to turn it off. Someone whose hand seamlessly could move from the knob and through the air to touch him on the shoulder with an open palm…
“This is gonna sound weird, but did Gary know someone who died of lung cancer?”
“Um, I don’t know. A lot of people have. I’m sometimes surprised he never got it. Why?”
“Well, we’re in front of this ad and he’s crying. I can’t get him to stop. He’s like totally bawling.”
“I don’t know what it could be. What’s the ad say?”
“It says if you can remember being in rooms with people smoking you should get screened. For lung cancer.”
“It’s got some picture of an…old motel or something.”
“Sorry. I don’t know what it could be.”
* * *
Ben Nardolilli is currently an MFA candidate at Long Island University. His work has appeared in Red Fez, One Ghana One Voice, Caper Literary Journal, Quail Bell Magazine, Elimae, fwriction, Grey Sparrow Journal, and THEMA. His chapbook “Common Symptoms of an Enduring Chill Explained,” was published by Folded Word Press. He blogs at mirrorsponge.blogspot.com and is looking to publish a novel.