I checked in just after sunset. I wasn’t feeling well but that was normal. An old man behind the desk handed me the keys to room 314 and went into a coughing fit as I headed for the stairs. They creaked all the way up to the third floor and stopped. I passed a fat bimbo in the hallway. She wore a baby blue circus tent and fuzzy golden slippers. She had a bewildered look on her face, as if she couldn’t find her way back to the room filled with straw. Under one arm she carried a funny-looking dog. Who knows, maybe it was a goat. It kept licking at her arm as if the arm was a large stick of butter. I could tell they were made for each other.
The room was about what I expected. Just a room. Not immaculate but not filthy. Cheap but not disgraceful. The sort of room where newlyweds have to stay when their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Or the room where a failed man goes to blow his brains out when he wants to be discrete about it. I had a gun but I wasn’t about to use it on myself.
I loosened my tie, lay down on the bed and listened. I could hear the stairs creaking again as Bimbo went down to the lobby. She was probably married to the scarecrow behind the desk. The goat was probably their child. Listening, I thought I could even hear the old man coughing again three stories below.
The curtains in my room were open so that the lights of the town shown in across the walls and ceiling. The various configurations of neon sent streaks of color into the room, flashing, flashing, on and off. Gleaming cars turned corners onto the well-lit boulevard only to turn again and disappear behind other corners. The whole scene was like a living jungle of light shifting around my room. I lit up a cigarette, smoked it slowly, finished it.
Sometime later I woke up, realizing that I’d drifted off to sleep still fully dressed. My watch said 10:30. I called room service for food and then went to splash some water on my face. I stared at myself in the mirror above the sink. A cockroach skittered out from beneath the mirror and looked at me, twitching its antennae. Before I could smash it the thing ran down to the floor and disappeared.
“Room service,” said the voice through the door. It was a girl about 21-years-old. Behind those pouted red lips she was pale, pale with stringy yellow hair. I paid her. “Thanks,” she said with a stringy yellow voice. I took a few sips of the stringy yellow soup and then shoved it aside in disgust.
Outside, the neon lights were still going strong. Cars continued to appear around corners, glide down the boulevard, turn out of sight. Like clockwork, no surprises, no intermissions, just the same show over and over. The only human sound was the guy coughing downstairs. By now he’d probably locked his wife in the basement or given her some knockout drops. She wasn’t the sort of thing to be trusted roaming loose at night.
I started to sweat. I lit another cigarette but that was no good. The smoke tasted lousy. When I ground the cigarette out on the floor I saw another cockroach, or maybe the same one. I trapped the little bastard under a drinking glass and watched him try to get out. There, I thought, you can stay there till you starve.
I stayed awake the whole night staring at the wallpaper. I stayed awake till my watch said six o’clock. It was still dark outside. I went to splash water on my face for the hundredth time but by then it wasn’t doing much good.
At nine o’clock in the morning it was still dark. I felt for the gun tucked in my belt. What it could do for me now, I didn’t know. After a while I stopped looking out the window to see what was going on. I just lay there on the bed, sweating. Finally, I went to sleep.
When I woke up nothing had changed. I looked at the cockroach under the glass. It was alive. I ordered up some food and tried not to look at the blond who brought it in. I tried to appear impatient. Actually, I was scared. I was already too afraid to leave the hotel, even to go across the street to see a movie. I was afraid that the girl in the ticket booth might be the same one who handled the room service here, afraid that everyone in the theater would look like the old man, or his wife.
It stayed dark outside. I stayed inside. Several days went by. All I did was eat or take showers and wait for the cockroach to die. Several times I thought of killing it myself.
Later, I awoke from a violent dream to find myself on a sofa in the lobby of the hotel. How I got there I could not remember and will probably never know. I asked the man at the desk if there’d been any messages for me. He started coughing uncontrollably but managed to shake his head no, no messages. I started up the creaking stairs again. I could feel myself slowing down, each step getting harder to take. By the time I was halfway up I had decided to order up a case of scotch and try to drink myself to death. It wasn’t until I reached the third floor that the creaking stopped and I started to laugh, laughing all the way to my room, laughing even after I’d shut the door and looked at the cockroach again.