The man woke and reached for the alarm clock on his bedside dresser without looking. When his hands brushed nothing but the scratched wooden top, he opened his eyes and realised the buzzing alarm he had heard had been the last sound of a dream. It was already fading from memory like smoke disappearing from an empty room. In the golden light of the sunset, he could see that this was indeed an empty room. Apart from the bed he found himself in and the bare chest of drawers at the side and the cracked telephone perched on it, the room was completely bare. An anonymous room, that could be in any cheap hotel in a hundred different cities.
The transparent curtain across the single window afforded a view of a brown brick building and nothing else, although sunlight was creeping in at an angle illuminating the room in its sparsity. The man pulled back the sheets and swung off the bed, finding he was already dressed in dark jeans and a simple white vest. The day’s heat and the night’s drinking had left the sheets slightly damp, and his clothes stuck to his body. He stood, and braced himself with one hand against the stained wall that he imagined had been white once upon a time as a wave of dizziness hit him. When it passed, he made his way over to the bathroom.
It was a small affair, with a shower head hanging over an indent in the floor housing a rusty drain. Opposite were a cracked mirror and a boiled pea green sink. The toilet had no lid, and the seat was cracked on both sides. He relieved himself and twisted the handle for the shower. The shower head coughed and spluttered brown liquid for a few seconds before clearing into a steady stream of warmish water. He stripped and stepped in, letting the water run over him as he leaned against the tiled wall.
Feeling tender as he gingerly stepped out and reached for a towel, his body chose to punish him for the previous evening’s excess. He lurched towards the open toilet bowl and tossed the contents of his stomach. The smell of it made him retch once more after he thought he had finished, but he could honestly say to himself afterwards that it was the best he had felt all day, short as it had been.
Now he began the arduous task that faces many men (and women) after a hard night’s drinking, the piecing together of fragmented memories and dreams to discover what had happened for him to end up here, wherever here was. The last solid memory was being at a bar he had never been before, having a drink with a charismatic young man at the counter. How he had begun speaking to the mystery man was lost in the haze of what felt to him like brain damage from the vodka he had been lubricating himself with. He remembered certain, what seemed like stark details, such as the black suit jacket draped over the back of the mans stool, or his eyes, which he couldn’t remember as being one distinct colour, torn between blue and a light purple. They had talked about various subjects, their shared unfamiliarity with the city they were in, and their subsequent disinterest in local sports or politics, and about larger global issues currently giving everyone the fear. He also remembered, or thought he remembered, the man buying more rounds than him, and grew suspicious.
After rinsing his mouth, he stepped back to the bed to empty the pockets of his jeans. Wallet, hotel key, coins and a lighter spilled out on the sheet. He reached for the wallet first, and found a reasonable number of banknotes inside, as well as his now defunct credit cards. ID present and accounted for, as well as his collection of randomly acquired and useless business cards. There was a new addition, in plain white, that had imprinted simply
in simple black font.
At that precise moment, as it so often does, the ageing phone began to ring. The man dropped the card on the bed and stared at it, incredulous in his condition that it was actually ringing, and even more so that it was a call for him. His better judgement, if we can call it that in his case, whispered not to answer it, that he was in no mental shape for a conversation just yet. Then the automatic took over, that Pavlovian response to a phone ringing, especially a loud one. He reached for the handle of the phone.
Now, dear reader, let your eyes be guided, as if in a movie, to the space on the floor between the bed and the locker, to where you will see just the corner of a piece of paper. Were this an artfully directed shot in a film, you would zoom slowly in on the paper as the only noise you hear is the incessant bray of the phone. The trickery of cinema would allow you to read this note, for a note is what it is, and allow the inference that it is written in the man’s drunken scrawl. The note reads
- Don’t answer
The man picked up the phone.
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