Storyglossia Issue 27, March 2008.


by Kathy Fish


Lori likes the man who sits at the hotel bar every other Friday night and gives her tissues when she starts to cry. Lori would like not to cry so much and she's not even sure why she cries, but if the man is there, in his rumpled suit and scuffed shoes, he gives her a mournful, commiserating look and produces the tissue. He says, "It's not so bad.'' She can hardly hear him over the thunking music and the Happy Hour crowd, but it's what he always says, so she nods and smiles and pats his arm.

She likes that he doesn't judge, like the manager, Ike, or the other waitresses and customers. Ike told her he may have to let her go if she can't pull it together. People come here for the happiness. But when the place is overrun with customers and not enough staff, it's Ike who hides in the cooler amongst the boxes of frozen onion and calamari rings until the crisis passes or he runs out of oxygen.

Lori is too wiped out after her shift to want to do much sexually with her boyfriend, Freddie. They're like roommates now, going over the bills together in the kitchen on Sunday afternoons, walking up and down the grocery aisles afterwards, with an envelope of cash marked FOOD. Lori spends too freely. They use the envelopes so she can't go over budget. If they run out of bananas and the envelope's empty, then sorry. No more bananas.

The man at the bar says he works for a company that manufactures industrial laminates. Lori has no idea what these are, but she says, "Cool" anyway. He gives her his business card. It says, "M. Shipley, Regional Sales Representative" and when she asks, he won't say what the M. stands for, so she just calls him M. She slips him an extra Heineken sometimes, when Ike isn't watching.

Tonight, when the man hands over the tissue he asks Lori up to his room. He tells her he only wants to put his arms around her. Every time he sees her, he says, he longs to put his arms around her.

Lori finishes her shift, counts and shares her tips, unties her apron and meets the man outside the bar. She wishes she didn't smell so much like hamburgers. The hotel's ballroom is as big as a hangar and they have to cross it to get to the elevators. One hotel employee moves from table to table with a cart, clearing up. "Hey," Lori says, and the boy says "Hey, Lori," drawing out the vowels, but he doesn't look up.

"It looked so pretty in here earlier," she tells the man, her voice echoing. The lights had been turned down low and candlelight pinged the crystal chandeliers. Men and women in evening dress danced around the room. Now, in the bright light, the ballroom looks hung over. "I hate this shabbiness," she says.

"Please don't cry again," he says. "I'm out of tissues.''

They stand at the door of his room while he fumbles for his key. Lori sniffs. "I think this is just allergies."

He takes all the cards out of his wallet and fans them, like a poker hand.

"I must have lost it," he says.

"This is a fork in the road. You can't find that key because we're not meant to go in there," Lori says, pushing up her glasses. "Also, my ears are popping. Maybe that means something."

"No, I've got it," he says. He tucks his wallet into his pocket and grabs hold of her, squeezing her. Lori lets out a little gasp. He runs his hand through her hair.

Inside, he grips a corner of the bedspread and pulls. It slides off, stiff and shiny with the residue of sex. "These never get washed," he says. "I saw a news segment where the reporter put a square of hotel room bedspread under a microscope. It looked like an ocean full of confused protozoa."

"People don't want to mess up the sheets they're going to sleep on later," Lori says. She is aware of the note of authority in her voice. She runs her hand down the front of her uniform, as if to smooth out wrinkles, and removes her shoes.

"I'm anything but fussy," the man says, kicking the bedspread into the corner.

"Oh I almost forgot,'' Lori pulls something wrapped in a napkin out of her purse and hands it to him.

He sets it on the dais and opens it up. "Oh. It's a sandwich."

"Do you like sandwiches?"

"Sure I do," he says.

Lori takes off her glasses and sets them on the nightstand. Without them, the furniture in the room resembles a family of amiable bears. She switches off the lamp. The man pulls her close and sighs into the back of her neck. It makes her want him.

"The maids have a break room that management doesn't even know about," Lori says. "One of the guest rooms that are supposed to be redecorated? But it's like they've forgotten about it. They have a riot in there. Parties galore. Sometimes they invite me and that means something, because I'm not the most fun person in the world.''

"Could you turn around?" he says. "I want to see your face."

"The maids are crazy. This place is crazy. People have no idea. You know that guy we saw cleaning up? His name is Spencer. He can dance."

The man says, "Please turn around so I can see you."

She runs her hand up and down his arm, but doesn't move. "But this is nice," she says. "Isn't it?"

She feels his mouth on her skin, kissing, biting a little. She turns to face him and they kiss, long and slow. It is beyond her now, and the man's hands are all over her, touching her hair, her face, her body. He kisses her throat, nibbles her jaw.

Lori has a vague sense of Freddie, back at the apartment, craning his neck out the fire escape, calling for her, as if she were a lost cat. She waves her hands around as the man kisses her like she's trying to catch hold of something.

He stops and looks at her. "Are you okay?"

"We should stop," she says.

"Are you sure?"

No she is not.

The air conditioning clicks on and hums. The drapes flutter, letting in a hard line of light from the parking lot.

"Come on. Let me show you around this place," Lori says.

On the hotel roof, they can see all of Orlando, hyper and blinking and spread out for miles. The air is cool and fragrant of magnolias. Lori sits on one of the lawn chairs and pulls off her shoes.

"Don't look," she says, scrunching and splaying her toes.

"This is great," the man says, sitting next to her.

Lori's not used to being with him with so much quiet around. His voice isn't jumbled in with the bar noise, the customer noise, the music. She doesn't have to lean in and go "pardon?" when he talks to her.

Cars pass on the street below, the flags on top of the hotel across the street flutter and snap. There are a million stars, but over the city lights, the sky is a dull gray blanket. Lori remembers the night she and Freddie drove out to the country and lay flat on their backs in some farmer's field to watch a meteor shower. She said to him, "This is the most wondrous place I've ever been to." The next day, they drove by and saw the rusted cars near the farmhouse, the scum on the pond, a three-legged cat hopping among the weeds.

She walks a slow, wide circle around the man. "You're probably tired. I'm keeping you up."

"No, please. I don't want to go back to my room yet.''

Lori shows him places in the hotel other people don't get to see, the kitchen, the break room. In the hotel laundry, Lori says to the two women folding a mountain of white towels, "This is my friend. His name is M." They look up and smile. Lori and the man hold hands lightly, sometimes swinging their arms as they wander around. She notices the hems of his trousers are frayed. One shoe is untied.

They pass through the ballroom again.

"I'm sorry. I can't turn on the lights. We have to be a little sneaky." Lori's focused on the exit sign, pulling on the man's hand.

She pushes open the door and they stand outside it, squinting, regarding each other. The place is deserted except for one of the housekeeping staff pushing a vacuum sweeper around the lobby. Lori picks a small camera up off the floor.

"Does it have a timer? Let's take a picture of us,'' the man says.

Lori laughs. "On someone else's camera?"

"Sure. And then we'll be good scouts and turn it in at the front desk."

He sets the timer and walks across the lobby and places the camera on the front desk. The housekeeper looks up from her vacuuming. He waves Lori over and they stand together, one-half inch apart, in front of a potted fig tree with tiny white lights woven through its branches. At the last second, the man lifts his arm to put it around Lori's shoulder, knocking her glasses askew.

She looks at him. "M., let's go back."

In bed, he kisses the top of her head and pulls her close. Lori whispers into his chest, but teenagers are tromping down the hall outside, laughing. He doesn't hear her. She's aware of her waitress uniform, twisted around her, her hair in tangles.

The man is quiet for a long while, then he starts to tell her things, about how long he has worked for the laminate company and the schedule of cities he travels to. New York, Washington, Orlando, and back. Oh how he hates all the airports and the taxi cabs and the hotel rooms, but that is his job. He tells her that his oldest daughter has bulimia, but she's such a sweet girl and that last year his wife found a lump. She's cancer-free now, but they don't touch anymore and they never kiss and it's kissing that he misses more than anything. He talks and Lori listens, blinking in the dark. And every now and then, he asks her if she's okay and she says yes, yes she is.

A week later, as M. rides the airport shuttle to La Guardia and Lori ponders the unit price on a pound of macaroni, a couple from Ohio downloads their vacation photos onto their computer. They click through several photos of their two children, Sy and Mandy, hugging Mickey, hugging Minnie, shaking hands with Goofy, when they come to an odd photo of a tall man in a wrinkled suit, with his tie undone, who is turned facing a small woman wearing crooked glasses and the kind of smile a woman wears when she's on the verge of tears.

Copyright©2008 Kathy Fish