The Unknown: The Red Line
  Half a muffin, a bunch of coffee, and untold cigarettes. Then: two Bloody Marys on the plane. Then, during the extended Denver layover: first, two pints and three cigarettes. Then, when the flight was further delayed, a 14-oz glass of Avalanche. Then, another pint and another cigarette. Then, on the plane, another Bloody Mary. Then, in the airport, more cigarettes, and then, two margaritas. And a nice dinner. And then three beers.

And the bars have closed.

Will he let me take a shower now, and sleep, for it has been a long day, two, three, four, five days.

And then I look up from the computer and there he is swaying, gin and tonic in hand, and there is a stranger with him, a stranger he has just now met in this town where he knows nobody, and brought to this hotel room.

And they smoke most of the weed, what little weed there is.

And they are telling me to go to a party. A wedding reception down the hall. And I do not want to go. And they are insistent to the point of physically dragging me.

His name is Rusty.

Once I get to the reception, I want to be there even less. There are men in tuxedo shirts who appear at best ambivalent toward me. Large men, from Texas, and women dressed in such a manner that to look at them is to turn them into objects of desire. Their faces are pale and flushed, their expressions stony.

And I want to leave. And Rusty will not let me. And I make him get me a beer and he does. And then there is a sound going around that we are being expelled from the room and will reconvene in the lobby. In the confusion of people, many many people as this room is a suite of at least two connected rooms, with mirrors, and it is difficult to say just how far this mass of large ambivalent Texans extends, I want nothing more then to get away from them, these strangers celebrating this sacred marriage of two people who have long since left the hotel.

And I escape.

And I am in our room and the crowd is moving down the hallway and then there is Rusty and Scott in the room again. Why did he let him back in here? I want to be alone and sleep. And then Rusty smokes the rest of my weed and I let him because it is my last hope that he will not come back.

But he will not let me stay. He insists that I will go to the lobby with him. In the lobby, I expect, are a mass of people. In this mass of people I stand a good chance of being able to lose Rusty. If I act agreeable, and do not argue, then Rusty will understand that I want to and will party with him, he will be satisfied, his mind will eventually drift on to other things, other people, people he knows, at this wedding he was invited to, and I will be able to leave unnoticed, as well I should, and I will not let him come back into the room, and he and Scott can go on and on and bullshit and drink and party.

Earlier I wasn't able to eat very much, because my food was served on a plate on a corrugated steel tabletop in the numbingly futuristic purple curves of the ostentatious restaurant and as I, the only one eating, tried to eat, I faced, across the table, a semicircle of very serious Norwegian hypertext scholars, who wanted to speak to me about Linguamoos, and I was confounded by their accents, the deafening music, and the fact that my ears had not fully recovered from the flight from Seattle. All of which perfectly ruined my appetite. And then the friends I was with persuaded me to go to a bar. I wanted to sleep, but was able only to voice that desire, not enforce it, perhaps realizing that it was futile, that either I would arrive home late and drunk with these people, or I would be awakened by them later.

In the lobby there are only scattered people. There is a waterfall. There are escalators and a grand piano. There is a spaciousness, a depth, an elegance, a seriousness. Rusty and I go outside where, I think, I can smoke a cigarette, although I do not want one, because I am being forced to mingle among people who do not want me, among whom I truly do not belong, and by smoking a cigarette I can appear practical, natural, no longer at the party but outside, where people who smoke need to be.

I will not be able to escape though. Because I am being buttonholed by a stranger with maniacal eyes, telling me things I do not want to hear.

How does it end? It ends when Rusty does not let Scott into the room. From inside the room I observe through the peephole as Rusty leaps up and down, yelling "Toga! Toga!" and moves, like a basketball player, between my friends and the door to our hotel room, Rusty's back to me in the fisheye lens. Finally they disappear into the elevator, apparently able to get Rusty to go back to his own hotel, by leading him there, manipulating his herd instincts.

In my dreams that night, I hid behind the piano.

I ran up a dead escalator. Rusty was halfway up behind me, moving with incredible speed. But he slipped and rolled to the bottom, which must have hurt. I made a break across the conference room to one of twin staircases moving up. I turned the corner and pressed myself against the wall, breathing hard. I heard nothing. I didn't dare peek around the corner. To my right was a bank of light switches.

I peeked down on the conference room and Rusty looked up and saw me just as I killed the lights.


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The Unknown at Spineless Books.