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by Barry Yourgrau

I come into my hotel room with my small bag. I put it down by the bed, and look around. The room is dowdy and old, with a nondescript view through the dingy lace of the curtains. The carpet is threadbare, with an ominous concave area in the middle of it. Very carefully I crouch and lift back the carpet by an edge. I stiffen, involuntarily making a noise. I drop to my knees and peer down.

A hole gapes in the floorboards,
giving on to a naked abyss...

A hole gapes in the floorboards, giving on to a naked abyss, a chasm that dives away into an unfathomable yawning distance in the earth. A dank breeze plays at my hair. With a thudding heart I stare at what I've disclosed. Then I reach over and spread the carpet again as it was, and sink back on my haunches, my fists clenched by my thighs, as I collect myself. This carpet appears to be the false cover of a trap. One naive step, one careless turn--and a person would plunge away into nothingness. I grunt to myself, and shake my head with an intimate shiver. I run my hands through my hair, and get to my feet and open the suitcase to start putting some things in the bureau.

Then I go downstairs, to the hotel bar. I order dinner by myself at a small table by the wall. The place is shadowy, dull. There is only one other diner, a woman. I strike up a conversation with her. After dinner I buy her a drink at the dark little bar counter. She's pleasant enough, if much-traveled, and likes to laugh. Her dress and coat are a bit worn. "Why don't we go up to my room," I suggest, "There's something I want to show you." The phrasing of the sentence provokes her to blink at me. A smile works her mouth. She bursts into a laugh.

I steer her blandly over
to the side of the bed,
to sit.

We come into my room and I steer her blandly over to the side of the bed, to sit. I pour a couple of drinks from the bottle I have on the bureau. We salute. "So what is it you want to show me?" she says, with a tart hitch of her lip that's meant to be intimate and worldly. I look at her. In the lamplight, her features are coarsely etched. But there is an underlying vulnerability that stirs me, oddly, as it did downstairs. I sit beside her, and lean in, and we kiss over our drinks. When we part, I take a deep breath. "Ready?" I ask. I can see the gravity of my tone confuses her. I climb down from the bed and edge along on my knees to the carpet. I'm a little drunk, and worked by a peculiar drift of emotion. She gazes down at me, baffled, trying to grin. I do the same. I throw back the carpet. She peers forward, then she gasps. Her drink splashes. She gives out a pathetic cry and scrambles wildly back along the bed against the wall, huddling away, crying out.

Her lipstick smears
on my shirtsleeve.

Her reaction catches me unprepared. It shames me. I bring the carpet back and waddle over on my knees. I climb up beside her and put my arm around her, as she shudders and twists against the force of what she's seen. Her lipstick smears on my shirtsleeve. I smell her nondescript perfume and am gnawed by pathos. She whimpers beside me, deeply wounded, like a terrified child. "Come now, you've seen worse," I murmur, stroking the brittle mass of her hair. "You've seen much worse in your time."

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