Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"Mr. Barbicane Takes A Trip" Chapter Nineteen

Looking up, Mr. Barbicane could see himself suspended upside down from the floor of the elevator in the mirrored ceiling of the car. He was alone in the elevator as it carried him to the eighth floor, his one bag beside him.

Check-in had gone well. His reservation was still in place in spite of the delay; the hotel’s computer was in constant and friendly communication with the airline’s computer and was aware of the delay. Mr. Barbicane put the room on a credit card for which he would be credited with frequent flyer miles for later use, and was given a similar, although flimsier piece of plastic with a magnetic strip on one side and the Hyatt logo on the other which would serve as his room key. He signed a document indicating his understanding of the covenant between the Hyatt Corporation and himself, thanked Dave after telling him he required no assistance reaching his room, and went to the elevators at the back of the lobby.

When the elevator doors opened on the eighth floor Mr. Barbicane saw himself again in a large mirror bolted to the opposite wall above a narrow table crowded with flowers. He stepped out of the elevator and started pulling his bag along the corridor after first referring to the informative sign that indicated what rooms were in which direction.

The wheels of his bag whispered on the hallway carpeting as he moved along the comfortingly familiar space, more of the protective tube of travel, this section done in warm browns and deep reds with light coming from amber sconces every fifteen feet, staggered between the walls to create even illumination. No noise but the hush of the closed air circulation system and that sense of life beyond the walls. No, not beyond the walls, not the life of the people in the rooms, but in the wall. The mantra of the wires and conduits and telephone lines that stitched the building into a whole.

Mr. Barbicane reached his room, which was room 814. He slid the plastic key card into the door lock and was greeted with a pin-prick of green light. He opened the door and stepped into the room beyond.

The light by the bed had been turned on so Mr. Barbicane did not have to enter a dark room. It was as he knew it would be: the bed sharply made with a crisply ironed bedspread echoing the color scheme of the room which was a continuation of the color scheme of the hallway, a chair near the head of the bed, another chair at the desk space growing out from the combination armoire and dresser, all a dark mahogany color, the chairs upholstered with the same fabric he’d seen on the chairs in the lobby. Mr. Barbicane’s heart filled with aesthetic coordination as he moved into the room and placed his bag on the foot of the bed.

He went to the window and opened the decorative curtains and the black-out drapes behind them to look out at the short term parking lot where he saw row after row of glowing circles of soft orange luminosity around the bases of the metal stalks supporting the security lights. He saw few cars and no people. The loop roadway beyond the parking lot was empty as well. Pittsburgh, or at least those parts he could see from his hotel room, was asleep.

Mr. Barbicane opened the armoire, found the plastic ice bucket on its courtesy tray along with two squat glasses and, checking to make sure he had his key, left the room and padded down the hushed corridor to the door concealing that floor’s ice machine. He found the ice machine in a boxy little room, more closet than room really, filled with fluorescent light and also containing a vending machine offering cans of soda. He filled his ice bucket and purchased a can of Diet Coke and a can of Diet Nestea Ice Tea. Crunching the two cans into the ice cubes he returned to his room.

Back in the room he would use for the next few hours, Mr. Barbicane opened the mini bar and put the two cans he’d acquired from the vending machine into the small refrigerator already containing smaller , but vastly more expensive cans of the same beverages. On the door of the mini bar were several small packages of candy and salted snacks, each going for approximately two dollars a piece. Above these was a regiment of small bottles of various liquors including some of the same vodka consumed by Diana during final approach.

That brand was not Diana’s brand of choice, it was the airline’s. Diana preferred Stolichnaya, which was what she purchased at the twenty-four hour convenience store and gas station at the edge of the airport before starting the drive home after leaving the aircraft that had brought Mr. Barbicane to Pittsburgh. She bought a 1.75 liter bottle of classic, unflavored Stoli along with a bag of Pepperidge Farm Double Chocolate Milano Cookies, a quart of milk and a lotto ticket. Returning to her sweet little VW beetle (one of the new ones that look more like toys than the old ones ever did), which she had parked beyond the gas pumps, she took the bottle of Stoli out of the bag, cracked the tax label and opened it. She put the bottle to her lips and tipped it back, filling her mouth with the approximate equivalent of a double shooter. Diana then brought her head down, removed the bottle from her lips and swallowed.

The vodka burned more than it would have if it had been chilled, or better yet, come from the freezer. But the convenience store did not keep a supply of chilled vodka and Diana did the best she could with what was available to her. So the liquor took a more ragged path into her than it would have had it been chilled or, better, from the freezer, where the alcohol never freezes but becomes colder than something that has frozen. The molecules slow and the liquid takes on a perceptible thickness, an increased viscosity as you pour it into your mouth and take it into you. The cold fire slides into you with the promise of comfort and warmth and distance to quiet the troubled soul.

There was vodka in the back of Diana’s freezer and she thought of it now as she took one more swallow of the Stoli then capped the bottle, put it back in the plastic bag with the milk and the cookies and the lotto ticket, and started the car. She drove through the pumps and the pumps made no noise. Once there were rubber tubes stretched out between the pumps of gas stations. A car would drive over them and inside the gas station a loud bell would sound, alerting the staff that there was a customer, someone who needed them outside. The tubes and the bells and the people who help are all gone now. Gone so long it seems they might never have been there at all.

The airport access road was empty and there were only a handful of cars on the expressway as Diana headed home. She felt the vodka arrive at her fingertips and smiled. This was a good life. Self-sufficient. A job she actually liked. An apartment she could afford. Feeling had started to return to her nipples following the breast augmentation surgery and the implants themselves had settled nicely. She was happy with her decision to go from a “B” to a “D” because what’s the point of doing something like this if you don’t really do it? Much of her wardrobe had to be replaced, including all her uniforms, but there was no way around that. She liked her larger breasts. She felt they helped her achieve a level of self-confidence and positive body image previously lacking in her personality. She was never not attractive, but now she was simply better. All was good in her life. She was firing on all cylinders now. And there was vodka at the back of her freezer and she would be home in half an hour.


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