My car battery died and fire burned the hills when I took the room at the hotel. My
brother had been coughing up blood from his mattress on the floor. The small house had
looked sorry as I’d driven away. In the hotel room, I awaited a message that never came.
Instead there was pounding on the floor above and the shower ran incessantly. It strained
the hotel pipes. They groaned and shuddered like a frail body trying to hold life. Scarlet
came over to me in the coffee shop. She should have carried a warning. She had three
children down coast she wanted to forget and was starving herself thin.
Scarlet had left a two-story colonial in a gated community with an SUV in the
driveway. The freeway ran past my room, nonstop. Single drivers staring vacantly filled
the lanes. Scarlet had lipstick on her teeth. She had told her husband she was going to
a weekend seminar on beauty. I’d driven my brother to the pool hall yesterday. We put an
hour on the meter and stayed ten minutes. Before the drugs, my brother was a good
Catholic. He taught me to iron and how to make a wave in my hair. He wore cologne.
Scarlet had stretch marks on her stomach. She had torn family photos and kept the
scattered pieces in her purse. One had a man’s hand on her hip. She said she needed to
lose all that she had known. She would adopt an African boy; she was ready to go there
now. In the dark she slithered atop me and squirmed like a hungry reptile. We could not
see each other. I awoke to the pounding at three a.m. and four a.m. The front desk did not
answer. I could not dial out. Scarlet claimed she was psychic and stared at the ceiling. A
message was coming through for me. It was an emergency. At the room above me a sign
on the door warned maids not to enter. No one answered my knocking.
I began to notice how long quiet lasted. My brother was artistic and could walk on his
hands. He juggled and won money shooting pool. He was especially good at Beatle trivia.
In a dream I put a body in a drawer. The house would be repossessed, and whatever was
in it. I used to wonder what drove people crazy. Now I couldn’t imagine what kept them
Occupants passed without smiles or nods in the hallways. I wondered in whose mind
my brother was still alive. Scarlet heard cops order a man out of a room and force him to
the carpet. There are no musical numbers, parades or announcements before, during or
after important transitions in life. The last photo taken showed my brother bloated and
pale with his cue stick in his hand. Hopes and dreams give in to the silent decay of the
The pounding and the aching pipes were a heartbeat and a nervous system. You know
who it is, she said. I had always said I did not want to remember anyone I loved as
a corpse. We can never know who will leave who, Scarlet said. When I left he had on a t-
shirt and underwear. I worried that he needed a blanket. What were her children’s last
images of her, I asked. My children are alive, she said.
I opened my eyes to a piece of paper on the nightstand. Through the curtain I saw a
suitcase on a broken wheel. Someone struggled with its shifting weight, an unresponsive
mass. I read the note. It said the dead come every day. They are tsunamied, snowed
under, crushed, blown away, shocked, quaked, landslided, rocked, swamped, burned,
exploded and eaten alive. Some waste away, forgotten. Those do not count the ways that
people kill each other. Or themselves.