It was supposed to be a nice weekend.
We needed the getaway, you know, we were in one of those tailspins where I’d have a shitty day at work and so would she and then we’d spend the evenings bitching back and forth until we were both so sick of each other we could barely sleep in the same bed.
After the night she threw the television remote at my head I knew we had to do something, anything to fix this or we’d be in divorce court arguing over who got custody of the dog.
Marla loves old shit, specifically architecture, so I thought it would be a nice gesture to find a historic hotel downtown for a jaunt into the city. Score a honeymoon suite or something. We could relax, maybe I’d get lucky for the first time in months. Most importantly, I just wanted to like her again, you know?
That’s how we ended up with our Westie boarded at a kennel, two overnight bags, and a keycard to room 240 at the Hotel Alexandria.
Marla was sour about it at first. It was going to cost too much money, the dog would miss us, hotels are filthy places. Hadn’t I read the same articles she had about bed bugs and dead bodies being found inside mattresses? I let her run her mouth for the first 20 minutes of the drive downtown and sure enough the snark petered out as soon as she saw the glamorous monster of a building I was headed towards. The elegant white exterior, wrought-iron balconies — hell, I don’t give a shit about “architecture” but even I could tell this place was a masterpiece. Probably built by one of those prissy rich boys back in the early 20th century before the bottom fell out and they all ended up offing themselves. Or was that just the businessmen who did that? Jumped off buildings? Maybe the legacy families did okay after the market crash, I don’t know. I guess I don’t really care.
Seeing her face light up like that, though, that was nice. Made me think about how we were in the beginning. Before Marla figured out the right things to say to really cut me to the core. Before I could so clearly picture just getting up and walking out on her, watching as a look of anger twisted into one of fear. Every married couple knows that once you cross those bridges they get burnt. You can’t go back.
We checked in, easy-peasy. Even though the place looked older than my great grandmother on her deathbed we got a keycard, one of those electronic swipey-things, from the slick-haired attendant at the front desk. We headed to room 240. Marla insisted on taking the elevator even though it was only one floor and I bit my tongue to avoid saying something I’d regret.
Above the doors, fancy gold-plated numbers. Two-three-six. Two-three-eight. Two-four-oh.
It was beautiful inside. Massive king-sized bed with fluffy white pillows. Rich, oiled hardwood floors. Around the room, following the crease where wall met ceiling, danced painted depictions of what I assumed were ancient Grecians. Hunting, drinking, fighting. My kind of crowd.
Marla found the bathroom and let out a noise that sounded like an excited little kid. I didn’t tell her about the jacuzzi tub big enough for two. Baths are one of her favorite treats, you know, and I wanted this trip to be memorable. I just wanted to like her again.
She started running the water, I knew it was probably going to be too hot for my taste but whatever, let her have her fun. I could get in when it cooled down.
I took off my wedding ring and set it on the sink. I rubbed absently at the ghostly white skin it left exposed.
As the water ran in the huge porcelain tub, my wife began to take her clothes off. I watched briefly, willing myself to feel that same stirring inside as I felt at the beginning. It’s not like Marla’s fat or anything, I mean she could stand to lose a few, sure, but overall she’s all right I guess. Just not…young, anymore, you know? Not to mention I’ve seen the same damn parts for almost 20 years now.
Maybe that’s why I left. I’d packed everything we needed for this weekend getaway, including girly shit like champagne and bubble bath, but at that moment I suddenly decided we needed strawberries too. I decided we couldn’t live without strawberries. Convinced myself that if we didn’t have some fresh goddamn strawberries the whole thing would be worthless. It was this weird inward push, this crazy undeniable urge to get out of that insanely expensive, gorgeous, mausoleum of a hotel room, to get away from my angry uninteresting wife who’d done nothing wrong but run some water that I merely suspected would be too hot for my liking.
I told Marla I’d be right back. I mean, I wasn’t going to actually leave leave or anything. I was just going to get strawberries.
I left my keycard on the dresser. I didn’t need it, I knew she’d let me back in. Didn’t take my phone, either. Probably because I was afraid she’d call me.
The door to room 240 shut behind me with a satisfying click.
Down the stairs (because I’m not an asshole who takes the elevator for one floor), past the slick-haired front desk attendant, out into the brisk fall air and the sea of downtown sounds. It felt good, being out of that hotel room. Being away from Marla. It’s not nice but it’s how I felt.
Maybe that’s why I took a little longer than I should have. Walked by the first two little produce shops even though I saw strawberries just inside. After I saw the third one I knew I couldn’t put it off any more, I had to get the stupid strawberries and go back to room 240 at the Hotel Alexandria where Marla waited in that huge white tub full of too-hot water.
Why did she have to run the water so hot every time? Why couldn’t she just do things my way for once?
I headed back towards the hotel and reminded myself that I hadn’t even tested the temperature.
Through the doors. Past Slick Hair. Up the stairs. To room —
I stopped, carton of strawberries forgotten in my hands. I backed up, checked the gold-plated number on the room I’d just passed. Walked forward, checked the number above the room where I’d left my wife half an hour ago.
Room 238. Room 242.
No Room 240.
Did I have the number wrong? I mean, sure, maybe I could’ve mixed up 240 and 242. But strange, still, that a hotel would skip a number like that. It’s not like it was the 13th floor or anything, bad luck or that nonsense.
I reached for my back pocket, for the keycard I suddenly remembered I’d left in the room. Because Marla would let me in.
I knocked for about five minutes, calling my wife’s name. I regretted not bringing my phone, but if she was in the tub I’m sure she wouldn’t answer it anyway. I pressed my ear to the door and tried to see if I could hear Marla, or running water, or anything.
Back down the stairs. Slick Hair was flipping boredly through a copy of Us Weekly behind the ornate check-in desk.
“Excuse me,” I said, “can I get a new keycard? My wife isn’t answering the door and I forgot mine inside.”
He gave me the funniest look.
“Room 242?” he asked, already fishing out a keycard.
“I thought it was —” I started, then decided to let it go. “Yeah, 242. With my wife.”
Slick Hair gave me that look again. Glanced at my empty left ring finger. Slid the keycard towards me.
“Thanks.” Was he checking me out or something? It really was the funniest look.
Past the desk. Up the stairs. Room two-four-two, I guess.
The keycard worked. I went in. The strawberries felt uncomfortably warm in their carton, like little pulsing organs. I set them down on the dresser.
I called Marla’s name, pretty pissed that she didn’t have the decency to open the door for me. After all, I’d gotten her strawberries.
But, you see, the bathroom? It was empty.
I just kind of stood there for a few minutes, I think, just staring at the empty bathroom and the empty tub and the empty space on my ring finger. Finally I snapped out of it, remembering that I’d left my wedding ring on the sink before I went out. I’d thought about getting in the tub, that’s why I took it off, but then I decided we needed strawberries, and I left Marla here alone —
I checked the sink. Nothing.
I ran out into the bedroom, looking for the keycard and my phone, both things I’d left behind with Marla. And upon inspection, both things that were gone. With Marla.
Had she abandoned me? Was this her opportunity to finally go, stick me with a hefty hotel bill and an embarrassing story to tell friends and family?
I picked up the phone and dialed the front desk. Slick Hair answered on the second ring.
“Yeah, hi, this is room 242. I was just downstairs, I got a new keycard — did you see my wife leave? After I left the first time, but before I got back?”
An odd silence.
“Sir, I’m sorry, but you arrived alone.”
What do you even say to something like that? Something that crazy?
“I checked in at 3pm with my wife,” I said, but my ring finger was empty and I didn’t have my phone full of pictures of the two of us, vacations and trivia nights and holidays. I didn’t even see my bags anywhere.
“Sir, I really don’t mean to argue, but you checked in as single occupancy. I gave you one keycard, then another when you returned. You’re the only one I’ve seen in the lobby for the last two hours.”
Yeah, because you were reading Us Weekly and didn’t pay attention, you little slick-haired prick.
I hung up on him. I sat on the bed. I stared at the strawberries on the dresser.
Maybe that’s why I took a nap instead of looking for her. I blamed Marla, I guess, even though it was my idea to get the strawberries. I blamed her because I’d planned this nice getaway and I was thoughtful enough to get strawberries and she took my things and ran away while I was gone. Maybe I thought she’d come back.
She didn’t, though. I’ve gone over this again and again in room 242 because Marla never came back, and when I woke up I was still alone and worst of all, the door was gone.
Not like it had been boarded up or anything, just a smooth blank space on the wall where it had been.
Maybe that’s what happened to Marla. She took a bath and fell asleep and when she woke up her door was gone too.
I tried to use the phone to call Slick Hair downstairs but there’s nothing but dead air on the line. Whispers, too, if I listen hard enough.
When I think about it, Marla wasn’t so bad. Maybe I was too quick to anger with her. Snapped at her when she didn’t deserve it. Judged her too harshly. I mean, I’m older and looser in places too.
And when I think about it, I did like her. I loved her. I always have. I just took her for granted.
I’ve had time to think about these things. I don’t know how much time because there’s no clocks in room 242. Funny how you don’t realize stuff like that until it’s too late.
The strawberries sit on the dresser and they never get moldy.
The Greeks above me have started to move. They were hunting and drinking and fighting, now they’re stabbing and choking and laughing. Sometimes they turn their faces towards me, pale marble eyes that don’t blink. When that happened, I thought it was the worst thing, I thought it couldn’t get any more awful. But I was wrong.
I can hear her. I can hear Marla crying on the other side of the wall. In room 240.
I put my hands on the wallpaper where her voice is. I tell her it’ll be okay, that I’ll find her and we’ll go home and everything will be all right, not just now but in so many other ways. We’ll be better. I’ll be better.
She can’t hear me.
Maybe if I go over it again, I’ll figure this out. I’ll find a way to leave this room. I’ll find Marla.
It was supposed to be a nice weekend.