Is this going to take much longer?
Ten minutes ago I walked into the bathroom in the lobby of the Marriott Hotel. Two minutes later another woman walked into the same bathroom but she was crying. The heartbreaking kind, with real tears, a dripping nose and the accompanying hiccup. And now I am stuck in this stall.
I figured she would need a minute to get herself together. So I stayed seated where I was and waited patiently for her to leave. The more time passed, the more uncomfortable I got about being in that stall but the more I realised I couldn’t just walk out of it.
How long can someone cry like that?
It would be embarrassing for both of us if I suddenly decide to get out of this stall after more than ten minutes. Not the usual length of a toilet visit and she probably thinks she’s alone in here. Otherwise she wouldn’t let herself go like that, would she?
My legs are starting to fall asleep. Hurry up!
I can just see her standing there: several used tissues scattered around the sink, some of them probably on the floor, her eyes completely red and puffed up, her face blotchy and mascara running.
And I start to wonder who she is. Is it a business woman who has just done a terrible speech in front of hundreds of her colleagues and was booed of the stage? Did she get fired for her disastrous presentation of a well known client?
Hang on. What’s this?
Lost in my internal musings I didn’t notice that the hiccuping had subsided. She has just opened the tap. Probably to freshen up a little, trying to limit the tell-tale signs. The tap is turned off, the last tissue is taken from the dispenser. I hear the lid of the garbage can open and close. Her heels tick on the floor as she walks to the door and it too opens and closes.
I quickly flush the toilet and walk to the sink. No sign of any used tissues. Putting my hands under the running water, I suddenly hear the door open again. Filled with curiosity I turn my head to see who has entered. And freeze...
It doesn’t take a genius to realise who is standing there. If the scrunched up tissue in her hand wasn’t enough, the red eyes and light traces of running mascara would be a dead giveaway.
She too has frozen on the spot and is looking at me with wide open eyes. Remember that embarrassment I mentioned earlier? Voila.
“Oh, God, have you been in here the whole time?” Her face is on the verge of collapsing in on itself and delivering another bout of crying, so I decide to play dumb.
“I just came in to wash my hands.” And with those words I continue the action.
A faint smile covers her lips. “Thanks for lying, but I was right outside the door.”
She steps up to the mirror and starts rubbing a stain on her white silk blouse. A drop of tears and mascara, clearly not the water resistant type.
That’s going to be hell to get out of silk.
I finish washing my hands, drop the paper towel in the bin and look at her in the reflection of the mirror, pretending to fix my hair. She is a twenty-something blonde - the type men always long for - with long hair, bright blue eyes, a tiny waist, an ample bosom and killer legs, slightly tanned. She is wearing a navy blue skirt with her white blouse and has a matching blue purse and stilettos. My guess of ‘business woman’ doesn’t seem that far off.
Looking at myself in the mirror I realise we would never be mistaken for sisters. I’m not bad looking but would never be considered a super model. My curly brown hair is completely unruly. My hazel eyes do have a nice shine to them and my skin isn’t that bad. But the rest of me is... ordinary. My bosom will never be called ample and my legs are white and skinny. That’s why I rarely wear a skirt. Right now, I am dressed in a pair of washed jeans and a black tank top. Definitely not a business woman.
Having enough of my physical appearance and wanting to distract myself, I turn to her.
“Is there anything I can do?”
Still frantically rubbing the stain. “Not unless you know a good hit man for lousy boyfriends.”
Is this a kindred spirit?
“All men are pigs and we’re better off without them. What happened?”
“He decided that he didn’t want to be with me anymore. Here I was, thinking this would be a romantic weekend, when all he wanted was to break up.” She lifts her head, looks up at me and frowns. “What happened to you? Why are men pigs?”
Clever girl. I smile. “I have just found out that my husband is having an affair.”
“And that makes you smile?” One perfect eyebrow rises. Probably thinks I had it coming if I’m smiling about it.
“No, it makes me think we could both use a drink, and that makes me smile. A woman drinking alone always attracts the most awful men. What do you say? Join me?”
She hesitates, looks down at her blouse. I can tell she is biting her lip. Then, most likely deciding that the blouse is a lost cause, she lifts her head, sticks out her chin and says: “I’d love to.”
After reapplying our make-up, we walk out of the hotel and turn right, letting Lady Luck guide our way. Not too far from the hotel we notice a nice looking pub. Quickly deciding that we have gone far enough, we open the door and step in. The entire pub isn’t really well lit but it is big enough for a bar, a disc jockey station, a few booths and a dance floor. It even has an old fashioned disco ball twirling above it.
We sit down in a booth and order the first drinks: two Margaritas, please. We both cast our eyes around the room and see a few old timers, probably regulars, at the bar, who have clearly never seen two women walk into a bar in the middle of the afternoon.
They probably think it is the beginning of a joke: two women walk into a bar and order Margaritas, says the first to the second...
The rest of the pub looks like any other old pub: dark wood paneling, worn-down cushions in the booths and on the chairs, and the ever present odour of stale beer.
Who cares? We are here to drink away our man troubles and drink we shall.
Starting with the two drinks that are just being delivered at our table. Grabbing my drink with both hands to make sure I don’t spill anything, I suddenly realise I have no idea what to call her. I have left the hotel with a strange woman and I don’t even know her name.
Clearly she is thinking the same thing. “I don’t even know your name.” She gazes at me with those big blue eyes.
“It’s Samantha. Yours?” I smile and take a sip from my drink.
“Megan. It’s nice to meet you, Samantha.” Big sigh. “This is just what I need. Girl’s night out.” She checks her watch. “Or girl’s day out. Whatever.”
We sit there for a moment in silence, enjoying our drinks. I had forgotten how good Margaritas are.
After a while we start talking about men and all their flaws. She asks me about my husband and is sympathetic when I tell her I had started suspecting something about six months ago. Finding another woman’s panties in my car expedited the process a little and I had followed my husband to the hotel where he was meeting his mistress. I hadn’t seen her but why else would he check into a hotel in the same city where he lives?
She tells me about her boyfriend, how they had been happy for almost a year and how he suddenly decided that he didn’t want to see her anymore and how she hadn’t seen it coming.
Several Margaritas have come and gone and two surf gods have appeared at our table. One has brown hair and deep brown eyes, the other blond hair and bright blue eyes; both wearing bleached jeans with tears in them and snug fitting shirts.
Megan is immediately drawn to the brown haired god. If my memory serves me right, his name is Todd. But I’m not sure if I should rely on my memory at this point. Those Margaritas are definitely having an effect on my ability to focus. He might as well be called Ted or Tom.
The blond god is stuck with me but he is trying to make the best of it. “Have you been friends for long?”
I stare at him, trying to get my brain to function properly.
What was his name again? Brian?
“No, we met about an hour ago.” I had been wrong to think two women drinking wouldn’t attract awful men. At least they are good looking.
“Well, it looks like you’ve known each other for years.”
I just smile at him and then turn my head to the dance floor where Megan is throwing herself at... Tim?
I can see why men want to be with Megan, but also why they don’t want to stay. She’s a flirt, or maybe a tease. Not sure about the technical terms. Did I mention the Margaritas?
Anyway, I don’t remember hanging around a guy’s neck like that when I was her age. Listen to me, when I was her age... She is 22 and I just became 40. It’s not like I’m ready for a nursing home.
But when I was 22, I had just gotten my bachelor degree in Interior Design, was looking for work and had just gotten engaged to Paul, my high school sweetheart. It still took us three years to finally get married but we got there. We were serious.
Well, look how that turned out...
Maybe I should have been more like Megan. Have a nice desk job that is just good enough to pay the bills and look for love in every guy I meet. But no, I had to be responsible and work hard in my own design shop. I seem to have missed out on life.
Is it too late to catch up now?
Megan waves at me from the dance floor. Oh, screw it. It’s time for some fun. I get out of my seat and join the two lovebirds.
My head is slightly spinning but boy, it feels good to dance. I remember someone once told me to dance like nobody’s watching. Tonight this will be my motto too. I put my hands in the air and whoop with the rest of them. We are laughing and jumping. Without my noticing it, the blond guy - Is it Brian? - has joined us. He has his hands on my waist and is laughing and jumping with me. I’m not sure how I feel about this but my head is too heavy to think about it.
Megan turns to me and signals towards the bathroom. I follow her, trying to keep upright. When we get to the bathroom, Megan walks into a stall and closes the door. She does however keep talking to me.
I don’t understand a word she is saying but make the polite noncommittal sounds people usually make when they are not paying attention.
The room has started to spin now. I open the tap, bend down and splash water in my face. That feels so good. I am beginning to wonder how it is possible that Megan can still walk a straight line. We both had the same to drink. She probably goes out every weekend and has built up some resistance. Whereas I have spent the last ten years doing nice couple and family stuff. Being responsible, you know.
Megan comes out of the stall and is smiling at me. “So what do you think?”
“About what exactly?” My face is dripping wet. I blindly search for the paper towels.
“About going to the club with Tad and Brian.” She hands me some tissues.
Tad, I was pretty close.
I straighten up and have to grab the sink to keep myself stable. Megan grabs my arm, concern written all over her beautiful heart shaped face.
“Are you alright?”
The spinning has gotten worse and I feel like I am about to faint. A quick glance in the mirror reveals my ghostly white face and I can tell it’s not the room that’s spinning; it’s me. I am shaking my head in reply to Megan’s question. Or at least I think I’m shaking my head.
Oh God, what’s happening?
I try to move towards the door, making sure my hands always touch something solid: sink, wall, anything really.
“Hold on to me. We’ll go outside. Get some fresh air.” Megan puts her arm around me and guides me past the surfer gods and to the back exit.
The door closes behind us and Megan looks around. Then she suddenly lets go of me. I drop to my knees, hard.
What the ...?
I slip to my side and can see blood trickling from my knees. One of them has a small shard of glass in it. In my abbreviated state I try to take the glass out while looking up at Megan. It’s not going so well, so I leave the glass and look up.
Megan is standing next to the door, leaning against the wall and lighting a cigarette she got out of her purse.
When did she grab her purse?
“You’re a tough one. How much do you drink in real life that I had to use two dosages?”
I’m trying to make sense of all this. But those Margaritas are still swimming in my head.
Megan takes a long drag and slowly blows the smoke in my face. The nausea I was trying to avoid suddenly overwhelms me and half of those Margaritas end up on the street. Coughing and spitting, I try to sit up again.
Wait, what? Dosages?
My brain is fuzzy and it is getting very hard to focus. The feeling in my hands is slowly going away. I stare at them in disbelieve and suddenly find myself slipping sideways, almost in slow motion. As if from a great distance I can hear laughing; it’s Megan.
“Look at you. Why would anyone want to be with you for more than an hour? I had to stop myself from putting the gun in my mouth.” She pulls said gun from her tiny purse.
How did she get that in there in the first place?
I am lying sideways on the concrete in an alley. All I can do is look around; no more use of my legs and arms. I might be able to wiggle around a little but what good would that do. All I can do is listen and try to understand why this is happening.
“You still have no idea, do you? God, you’re stupid.” Pointing the gun at my head. “You’re just a dumb woman who doesn’t deserve him.”
My eyes must have betrayed my understanding.
“Yeah, now you get it. Don’t you?” She starts pacing, waving the gun around.” Maybe I can try to stall her. Someone has to come out here sometime and they can stop her. But how do I do this?
“How did you know it was me?” My voice is gravelly but it doesn’t matter; she heard me.
She stops pacing and turns around with a mischievous smile. “I’ve always known it was you. I’ve seen your pictures on the mantel in your house. What I don’t understand is why you didn’t leave him when you found the panties. Any woman who values herself, would have dumped his ass. Just goes to show how pathetic you really are. And why didn’t you get out of the stall in the bathroom? I knew you were in there. Heck, I even followed you in. Did you like my performance?” Her faces scrunches up again and she starts whining. “Why did he leave me?”
Suddenly she stops and straightens up, her face devoid of any emotion. “I know why he wants to leave. You tricked him. You’ve got your hooks in him and won’t let go. But there’s an easy solution to that.” She raises the gun again. “Remove the hooks.”
There’s a thunderous knock at the door. You open it to find an improbably tall, black-robed figure towering over you with a scythe in one bony hand. The figure peers at you for a long moment, then looks down at a clipboard in its other hand. Then back at you. Then back at the paper. It has no apparent face, but you sense that it is puzzled.
“Can I help you?” Not sure what reply you will receive but curious as to why this figure is standing at your door.
“Uhm,” The figure hesitates. Clearly unsure as to which information it can reveal and which it really can’t. Suddenly he looks up, decided. “We are doing a small survey about our customer service and would like to ask you a few questions.”
“Right.” You lean against the doorpost and wait.
The figure in front of you puts the scythe against the wall and reaches in a hidden but apparently rather deep pocket. After a few minutes of groping around he finally pulls out a pen. The pen looks so ancient, you scarcely believe it will actually write.
“First question, have you used our services before?” The figure looks up. It is very hard to see if he is actually looking at you or not because there are no eyes. Nor a nose or a mouth, come to think of it. How is he talking to you? And what did he just ask?
“Excuse me, what?” You lean a little closer, trying to make out anything underneath the hood of the long black robe.
“Have you used our services before?” The figure patiently waits for a reply, pen at the ready.
Nothing discernible under the hood, you try to focus on the topic at hand. “What services are you referring to?”
“Oh, my apologies, I thought that was quite clear.” The figure clears his throat. “Our company specializes in beyond the scope travel. Mostly to the dark and rather hot places where only the fervent traveller wants to go.” He pauzes.
Now it is your turn to be puzzled. “Uhm, I don’t think I've used your services at all. I have never even left the state.”
“Oh,” The figure glances back at the clipboard, flipping the top page to glance at the next one. “Well, I see here that you have used our services exactly eleven months, four days, twenty one hours and thirty four minutes ago.”
“What?” You don’t believe what you are hearing. “What are you talking about? I have literally never left the state. I don’t even think I have left town in the last two years.”
The figure flips to the third page on his clipboard and then back again to the first. “Hmm, no, I believe you are wrong. All the information is right here.”
“Look, I swear I have never left this town. Your information must be wrong.”
The figure scoffs and you sense an air of obvious disbelieve. “I am sorry, sir, but our information is never wrong.”
You squint at the figure in front of you, wishing he had eyes so you could bore into them with your angry gaze. “Fine, I will prove it to you.” You turn around and walk through the hallway and into your living room. There you open the first drawer of the dresser standing in the far left corner of the room. Pushing some stuff around you finally find your diary from last year, pick it up and walk back to the door. The figure is still waiting patiently outside on the porch.
You start flipping through the dairy. “What day did I supposedly use your services?”
“That would be November twenty first.”
“Last year, right?” You ask as you keep turning the pages, trying to find the correct date.
“Right.” The figure starts looking around while he waits for you to find your evidence.
And finally you have it. “Ha!” You exclaim. “See, I told you.” You push the diary into the figure’s hidden face.
He reads the notes made on that date and compares them to the notes on his clipboard. “I am sorry, sir, but you only confirmed that my information is correct.”
“What? It clearly says, Doctor’s appointment, Main Street, at two in the afternoon. I was there for a full hour because, as usual, the doctor was running late.” Remembering the waste of time in the waiting room of the doctor, the annoyance you felt then starts to resurface.
“Yes, that is exactly what it says here.” The figure shows his clipboard to you so you can clearly see that he has the same information. Right underneath the doctor’s appointment you can see another appointment at three fifteen that just says ‘departure’. You frown.
“I was on my way home at three fifteen.” You glance at your own diary where no other appointments were taken down for that day.
The figure sighs. “Alright, sir, I think I know what the problem is.” He hesitates. “What do you remember from your drive home?”
“Nothing. It was just like any other day.” You shrug, unclear to where this is going.
“Think, sir. Think really hard.” The figure clasps the clipboard to his chest and waits.
“Look, there is absolutely nothing. Nothing happened.” You start to get exasperated, already regretting opening the door.
“Fine.” The figure takes a deep breath and continues. “Do you remember a blue pickup truck in front of you?”
“Do you remember what was in the back of said pickup truck?” The figure is now talking to you as if you are a child.
Annoyed, you reply, “Yeah, a big ass box.”
“And what happened to that big ass box?” He tries to coax you to remember. You start to feel a tingle. Something is finding its way in your memories.
“It uhm,” You frown again. “It, it uhm, fell off?” You are not intirely sure but it seems right.
“Yes, it did.” The figure seems rather pleased with this answer. “And what happened next?”
Thinking back hard, your eyes shift restlessly until it becomes clear to you. “I swerved.”
“And I hit a tree.” Still a little unsure about what this means you look up at the figure.
If it had a face, it would be smiling. “There you are. And that’s when you departed.”
You stumble back into your hallway. Suddenly you can see that the walls and furniture are worn and burnt. You never noticed that before. When you look beyond the figure standing in the open door, you can see the burning bushes on the other side of the road. No wait, that isn’t a road. It is a river, bloodred, filled with screaming souls. And then you look at the figure. Finally you can see his face, and you immediately wish you couldn’t. Burnt flesh is hanging from the bones. He might have been a good looking man once, great bone structure, but there is nothing left of it now.
“How is this possible?” You stare at the figure, not really wanting to look at him but not being able to avert your eyes.
“Well, sir,” the figure begins, “due to an error in our administration you didn’t go through the usual reception flow where we explain what happened and what is in store for you while you stay with us indefinitely. This is why you did not know what was going on and made yourself believe that you were still topside.” A lopsided smile. “The human mind is a wonderful thing.” Sensing that this little quirky comment is not going to receive the response he was hoping for, he immediately continues. “Of course we would like to rectify this situation so we are sending you back.”
Cautiously you ask, “Back where?”
“Topside of course. You can start a new life right this minute, if you want.”
“Why wouldn’t I want that?” Still hesitant.
“Well, there is a small limitation in our system which will cause you to die at the same age as your previous life, which is, let me check.” Flips through the clipboard pages. “Twenty seven. Well, that’s not too bad. And we will make sure you have a great life. You will be a rock star, have thousands of fans, will make great music that lasts through the ages before you die of an overdose and wind up right back here but this time you will go through the proper channels.” The figure looks at you expectantly. “What do you say?”
You take a moment to think about this. On the one hand, you are apparently living in hell at this moment and they have just realised that they made a mistake, which might mean that staying here could just be the start of an eternity of torture. You glance at the river of souls flowing in front of your porch. On the other hand, they want to send you back to live the life of a rock star. Knowing what you know now you can surely avoid the overdose.
You smile and stick out your hand. “Deal. Send me back.”
“Perfect!” The figure exclaims and reaches out to shake your hand. Right before he touches you, he says, “And remember, you won’t remember a thing.”
Your smile fades as his hand touches yours and you fall into oblivion, his laughter echoing in your ears.