More or Less

They fell silent. It was strange to be indoors but not at work in the middle of the day in the middle of the week. The excuses they had told at their jobs only gave them a couple of hours, but it occurred to him that it probably happened fairly often that lovers arranged to have time together and then spent it fighting.

Maybe he really was going to get away with something

Photograph by John Margolies

He felt rather than saw her looking at the heavy underbite of the dumpster as he pulled the car up next to it. But any other spot in the lot and the car would have been visible from the access road.

She didn’t immediately unbuckle her seatbelt. “Why are we here again?”

“Because I have to have you,” he said, “and this is the only way.”

“That is hot,” she admitted.

She got out of the car on her side, nearer the dumpster, and he got out on his. The side of the dumpster was cottony with rust.

“At the Galleria, there’s always an ad for this place in the slides before the movie starts,” he said.

“I thought maybe you had googled adultery hotel.”

He took out of the trunk a roller suitcase that he had put a pair of shoes into. The sun was just past the apex of its winter arc, and in the windows of all but one of the hotel’s units, blinds were drawn against the glare.

They were exposed to passersby for the length of time it took to cross the parking lot. The gravel along the walkway to reception was littered with cigarette butts that had the absolute whiteness of exploded popcorn.

“Should I not give a real name?” he asked.

“Did you bring cash?”

An electric chime noted their entry into the small lobby. Beside a loveseat a bowl of candies in green cellophane was lit by a potbellied lamp. “Hello?” the man called. An Indian hotelier with a black mustache took up a place behind the counter. The transitioning lenses of his glasses were gray, as if he, too, had been out in the sun a moment ago.

“We’d like a room,” the man said. “Just for today.”

“Would madam like her own keycard?”

“I don’t think so,” the man answered.

“Why not?” the woman asked.

“It costs nothing,” the hotelier said. “Let me give you one.” After swiping the extra card, the hotelier handed it to her enfolded in a little paper sleeve.

In the corridor, the carpet was so dense that their footfalls didn’t echo. The corridor ran down the center of the hotel, like the hollow shaft in a feather.

“I do feel dirty,” the woman said when they were far enough away to speak unheard. “If that’s what I’m supposed to feel.”

As the man plied the room’s lock with his keycard, he felt the anxiety he always felt in hotels—what if he was fumbling at a stranger’s door. At last the mechanism clicked; a light went green. “Here we are,” he said.

She walked ahead of him into the shadows. Two beds stood draped with thin coverlets, like two coffins on a tarmac. The man felt on the wall behind him for a light switch but before he could find it, the door swung to, and for a few seconds they were in the dark, their eyes unadjusted, immobilized by their blindness.

When he found the switch, lamps on nightstands blinked on. The walls were mustard and ocher, and the comforters were chartreuse. There was an ugly quietness.

“This is the part where you say you don’t even see the room because you want me so badly,” he said

“It’s not so terrible,” she replied.

“Don’t apologize for it.”

“I don’t even see it because I want you so badly,” she said as she stepped out of her shoes.

“Even though I don’t believe you, silently I appreciate the sacrifice you’re making.”

“The sacrifice?” she asked.

“Of your dignity.”

“My dignity,” she echoed, but not stiffly. She sat on the bed and pushed her fists down into its soft edge.

With the plastic wands that were attached to the curtains, the man drew them open. When he lifted one of the blinds underneath, a thick bar of gold sun struck into the room. They blinked against it.

“Too much,” she said.

He lowered the blind again. The fingers she had raised to shield her eyes were folded and forked there like the parts of a flower. He walked over to her and stood between her knees. Why had he left her alone for even a moment?

“Yes?” she queried.

“I can’t believe I get to fuck you here,” he said.

She didn’t laugh at him. She looked up at him but didn’t reply.

“I’m just making it up,” he said.

“I know,” she said. “I want to fuck you here.”

He leaned down and they kissed. Maybe he really was going to get away with something.

“Am I playing a part?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Just go with it.”

When they kissed again, she broke away. “Is this what it’s like?”

”I don’t know.”

She picked with a fingernail at a knot in the embroidery on the coverlet. “Can you see how it’s a little like blackmail?”

“No,” he said. “Do you want to go back?”

“Are you asking me that as . . . ?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“We’ve come this far,” she decided.

But the moment was gone. Her eyes were turned to him but they were blank, defensively. “How is it like blackmail?” he wanted to know.

“It says you don’t like it in our house.”

“All it says is I want to go back to something,” he maintained.

“But it was never like this.”

“It could have been,” he said.

“So is it about our being older now?”

“Why does it have to be about something?” he asked. “Why can’t it just be something to try?”

In order to sit down on the other bed, facing her, he took a few steps backward, but once he had sat down there he saw that he was too far away to touch her. So he got up and dragged the room’s desk chair into the inlet between the beds, and sitting on it he leaned forward to knock the backs of his folded hands against the backs of hers. “Thank you for coming here, anyway,” he said.

“I like it when it’s just nice and at home. I guess that’s boring.”

“No,” he said. “It’s just . . .” He didn’t know how to put it.

“Are we going to have to rent a hotel room now whenever we want to have sex?”

“I never said that.”

They fell silent. It was strange to be indoors but not at work in the middle of the day in the middle of the week. The excuses they had told at their jobs only gave them a couple of hours, but it occurred to him that it probably happened fairly often that lovers arranged to have time together and then spent it fighting.

“Don’t listen to me,” she said. “I’m just afraid.”

“We don’t have to do it.”

“We paid for the room,” she said. She looked up from her hands. “It’s so direct. That’s what makes it seedy, isn’t it. You agree to come here, and this is all there is. The two of you and these beds. And then if you don’t do it while you’re here, maybe you never will, if all you are is people having a thing.”

That was more or less what he liked about it.

“Is there tea?” she asked, walking over to the hot pot that came with the room. The hot pot was next to the sink, in an alcove separate from the bathroom proper.

“We can get room service,” he offered.

She flicked through a basket of tea sachets but in the end only poured herself a glass of water from the tap. She carried it over to the window to drink. She looked out around the edge of the blind. She was looking at the car, he thought; she was looking at going home. “Is it that you want to pretend we could get caught?” she asked.

“It’s just a fantasy,” he said.

“I know,” she replied. Because the light was coming in at an angle, it was raking across the thin lines that drew what was almost a triangle under each of her eyes. Even in an affair, even in a one-night stand, there are things about the other person’s body that you don’t let her know you perceive. It’s part of the otherness of the other person. Probably she’s also protecting you.

“What if you had met me in the hotel bar,” he suggested.

“Does this hotel even have a bar?”

“Let’s say it has a really shitty bar,” he said. “And I buy you a drink.” He put his hands in his pants pockets as if he were sidling up to her bashfully. “Would you come back to my room, even if that was all it was going to be?” he asked, when he got to the window.

“And my husband’s out of town?”

“Who?” he asked. He took a sip of her water and then he set the glass down on the perforated steel housing that covered the radiator. He took her hand.

“This is so stupid,” she said.

“Just play with me.”

“And we only have a couple of hours,” she said, gamely. She looked at the red LED clock beside the TV. “An hour and a half.”

“You don’t ever really know you have any more than that, is what I say,” he said. He held her hand at the height of their shoulders, as if they were going to dance. “That’s the sort of thing you say when you’re trying to get a stranger into bed.”

As he embraced her, she turned in his arms to look away from him. “She says, ‘Tell me that someday we’re going to be together always,’” she said. A strip of sunlight came in through the crack at the edge of the blind, crossed the room’s armchair, and ran jaggedly up the far wall. The path of the strip of sunlight is what she was facing.

“Baby, all that matters is we’re together right now,” he replied.

“But we do have a life together,” she said. “And we’re not going to die.”

He didn’t reply. At last they were really cheating.

If you like this article, please subscribe or donate to support n+1.

Related Articles

October 31, 2019
A Cautionary Tale
August 2, 2013

“What did they keep in the cabinets?” asked another chemist, swiveling in his chair with childish speed.

July 24, 2015
Ships of Stockholm
Issue 11 Dual Power
Raisa

More by this Author

September 9, 2011

One at a time, each of us thrill-seekers was buckled into a vaguely diaper-like nylon brace.

August 2, 2013

“What did they keep in the cabinets?” asked another chemist, swiveling in his chair with childish speed.

January 1, 2010

But what about Avatar’s anti-imperialism and anti-corporate attitudinizing? They’re red herrings, in my opinion.

Issue 4 Reconstruction

Literature is only an art. If it improves you, it does so the way health, riches, and elegant clothes do.