Amanda, a Hyde Parker at heart, now lives and writes in THE2NDHAND’s birthplace off the Blue Line in Chicago.
At the marble countertop, she is struggling to find the words.
“Welcome to the Hotel Grand Royale,” announces a well-pressed, well-groomed clerk. She says she’s here to meet her husband and that he’ll be there soon.
She’s not sure why she’s lying.
“Ah yes,” the clerk is saying, and there is a key in her hand, and she is on the elevator, and her finger is pressing 16 till it lights up, and she looks at her watch, again, and there are maybe twenty minutes.
In the room, there is a narrow rectangular window looking down onto the street, to the café below, the newsstand, the subway station, a woman walking her dog, some teenagers on the corner smoking. She could be anywhere, she thinks, but she’s not.
The door key still in her hand.
Slipping off her sandals, her shorts, her sweater, bra, underwear, she jumps into the shower, gasping silently at the shock of cold before the hot.
For a second, she closes her eyes, thinks: this could be my eternity, like Sartre said. But there’s no time for that: eight minutes already gone, and there is so much to do.
Looking out the window, towel wrapped around her, hair beginning to curl in the hot humid air; a man on a bicycle rides by, unsteadily; two girls run on, followed by an old woman (their grandmother?); a boy, alone, sits on the fountain, earphones on — and does she imagine it? — looks up, at the window, sullenly.
Shit, she thinks. No one was supposed to see her.
There is lotion to slather on her newly shaven legs, another for her face, arms (it smells like rosewater), chamomile deodorant, perfume. The room is suddenly filled with flowers. She sings a song to herself, a Gershwin tune.
“There’s a somebody I’m longing to see…”
At the window again, wearing her black lace bra and underwear, the street is as empty as it was full earlier. Except for that forlorn boy, still sitting there, eyes squinting, looking up at something in the sky.
In front of the mirror, she pulls the pencil hard over her eyelids, patting on foundation, brushing blush onto her cheeks, curling eyelashes, threading inky mascara through each one, coloring in her lips a darkish red, wondering if she’s created a believable rendition of her face, if she’s recognizable anymore, the scar still showing — always showing — bifurcating her symmetrical face, disrupting her geography.
Staring at the watch, only a minute or two left, she sinks onto the floor, back pressed against the bed, kisses its face gently, closes her eyes.
“Won’t you tell him please to put on some speed … follow my lead–”
Rifling through her suitcase, which lies prostrate on the ground, she grabs a dress, pulling it over her head as she stands before the window. It’s blue, silky, hanging loose on her small frame.
It takes all of her to stand upright: she holds onto the window ledge, just in case.
She is looking for that head, the one that bobs a little to the left when excited — needing to get to her as fast as possible, because time is running out, there are no minutes left, only seconds, growing fewer all the while — and this is her forever.
Waiting before the window as the sunlight perishes, molecule by molecule, these maybe 20 minutes in room 163B; that boy smiling up at her, reminding her it’s not a dream, that she is here (not somewhere else); and this version of herself (the one so young, hopeful, humming that song) will stay like this, eyes steady, waiting in ghostly anticipation long after all of this is gone — through the death of this love, and others, marriages, children — there will always be a room locked tight inside her with a narrow window, a wristwatch, and a pain that precedes its own articulation.