a fiction short by Pasha Malla
([email]pasha [at] ekno [dot] com[/email])
[b]Rm #312 – Ludwig Van Beethoven[/b]
Mr. Beethoven checked in with only one piece of luggage, a leather- bound valise. He failed to tip either the doorman, or the bell boy. In the elevator he broke wind and blamed it on a child.
During his two-night stay, Mr. Beethoven amassed a substantial bill viewing pornographic films on pay-per-view television. Evidence of semen was found in the bedsheets, wastebasket, shower and bathroom sink. Upon departure he was heard to refer to the hotel as a “shithole” and refused to offer identification while paying by personal cheque.
But in the room where Mr. Beethoven stayed sound has changed. The door opens not with a creak, but the chirping of sparrows. The bathroom taps pour a desert wind. You speak and your voice comes out thunder.
[b]Rm #801 – female novelist[/b]
A certain prolific female novelist stayed recently for one night in Room 801. The novelist, who was listed in the registry under a pseudonym, mainly kept to herself, emerging only to use the ice machine and remark how pleased she was to “have a room of (her) own”.
The novelist was pleasant, but confrontational when it came to hotel policy. However, it should be noted that while she persistently questioned the necessity of specific check-out times, no one was at any point afraid of her.
One peculiarity has emerged from the novelist’s stay: Ms. Maria Jimenez, the chambermaid assigned to Room 801, has since been unable to tell stories. Ms. Jimenez, who has worked at the Sarnia Best Western for close to a decade, and is renowned among the hotel staff for her sense of humour and intriguing tales of “the old country”, has become plagued by the worry that each anecdote she recounts will only be a version of the memory of the last time she told it.
[b]Rm #609 – Tyco Brahe[/b]
Tyco Brahe was a delightful guest. He beguiled both staff and patrons alike with lectures on the cosmos. In the sauna, he was consistently the first one up to pour water on the rocks.
Mr. Brahe spent four nights at the Sarnia Best Western. He was cordial and clean. He tipped the chambermaids generously. He allowed the children of other guests to look through his telescope. Mr. Brahe did, however, become agitated when kept up by a fornicating couple in Room 607. He resorted at 2:14 a.m. to paging the front desk the concierge, while sympathetic, felt uncomfortable intervening.
The smell Mr. Brahe has left in Room 609 is queer. It is familiar. It is the smell of your own home or rather, that specific smell of other people’s homes you never assume your own to have, but of which you become suddenly aware only after returning from a lengthy vacation.
(Story first published in [url=http://www.opiummagazine.com/storymallawestern.html]Opium Magazine[/url])
(c)2003 Pasha Malla
Stewart couldn’t decide how he felt about the war in Iraq. He went back and forth. One day he was for it, the next day against. Meanwhile he monitored the news from the Middle East with a growing impatience. Was war a fait accompli, or was the buildup merely a bluff?
Stewart did not like to wait, and he did not like uncertainty. What bothered him most about the affair in the Middle East was that he couldn’t make up his mind about the proper course of action. He liked being right, and he could live with being wrong, but not knowing what to do or think was driving him crazy.
His friends were no help. Monday Stew had sent an e-mail to several dozen of his friends and relatives asking for their views. Wednesday morning he was more uncertain and confused than ever.
“What a bunch of wafflers!” he proclaimed. He wrote back thanking those who had responded and totaled up the score. “It’s Doves 9, Hawks 4,” he reported. In fact, few had a clear-cut, yes or no opinion.
The next morning, Stew leapt out of bed with more than his usual enthusiasm to greet the day. “What’s wrong?” his wife asked, turning on a light.
“Charlie horse,” Stew replied. He limped into the bathroom.
When the cats were fed and the coffee made, Stew went into the small bedroom in their home that they called the office and turned on the computer. It was time for the latest episode of his favorite soap opera, Saint George and the Dragon.
Stew read an op ed piece in the Christian Science Monitor that warned against the irresolute use of power in the service of confused policy. He also read a stirring defense of the looming war by John McCain in the New York Times. In the senator’s view, it was a fight for peace, liberty, and justice.
A cartoon by Bob Gorrell was good for a chuckle. The drawing pictured Tony Blair proposing several benchmarks that Saddam Hussein must meet to avoid war, number one being surrender.
That afternoon Stew sent an e-mail to a friend telling him that he had won the Wishful Thinking award for his response to Stew’s query about the war. The friend had written,
[i]Here’s what I hope happens. Assuming the US goes in: the Iraq military caves in after a few days of onslaught and Saddam is removed (eliminated?) and the Iraqi officials and general populace accept a US engineered governmental change. The campaign is short, our economy rebounds (Osama is finally killed) and the stock market goes up and the birds sing and the sky is blue and we all hold hands and sing “We are the World.”[/i]
Later that day Stew received an e-mail from another friend, a retired doctor. It was an article by Elie Wiesel reprinted from the Los Angeles Times. We had a moral obligation to intervene said the Nobel Peace laureate. Hussein was a madman with an arsenal of unconventional weapons, which was why we had to deal with him sooner rather than later.
That evening, at dinner, Stew told his friend Nix about the Wiesel article. “It really set my teeth on edge,” he said. Stew and several of his A.A. friends were seated at big, round table at an Italian restaurant. They had given their orders to the waitress, and Nix had asked Stew if he was going to change his bet on Iraq. They had been arguing about the outcome of the buildup in the Middle East for weeks. Nix said there wouldn’t be a war, and Stew said there would.
Stew told Nix that what he learned from his e-mailed request for his friends’ opinions was that he really didn’t want to hear it if it supported the case for war. Nix replied that it was like when a newcomer in A.A. asks his sponsor a question. “When the sponsor tells him what he thinks, the new guy gets angry,” Nix said.
Every Saturday and Sunday Stew and Nix went for a two-mile walk in a local business park. They walked for the exercise, but they also enjoyed the conversational give and take.
That Sunday Stew asked Nix for his opinion about the war. “I know you think it won’t happen,” Stew said, “but do you think it should? Are you for or against sending in the troops?”
Nix replied that it was hard to know because we didn’t have enough information. “The government is lying to us,” he said. Nix said he thought the war was more about oil and Israel than they were letting on.
“All in all, I’d have to say, no, I’m not for the war,” Nix said. “On the other hand, the President has drawn a line in the sand, so I suppose he can’t back down now.”
Stew nodded his agreement.
That afternoon, another one of Stew’s A.A. friends e-mailed him a petition against the war. He was supposed to add his name to the list and send it on to all of the people he knew. There were 335 names on the list, many of them from France and Sweden. Stew forwarded the petition to Nix and then deleted it.
The following night, at an A.A. meeting, Stew apologized to Nix for sending him the petition. “The devil made me do it,” he said. Stew knew that Nix, a burly Vietnam vet, did not like peace marchers and anti-war protesters.
Nix asked Stew if he had heard the President’s speech that evening. Stew said yes, and Nix asked him what he thought of it. “I thought it was good,” Stew said.
“Me, too,” Nix said.
Earlier that evening, the President had issued an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein that in effect signaled the beginning of the war. What the people at the meeting seemed to like best about the speech were the comments directed at the French.
The topic for the meeting was boundaries. The secretary picked that topic, he said, because he was having trouble at home, and he couldn’t fix the problem. He didn’t like the feeling that he wasn’t in control of his life, he said.
When the secretary called on Stew, he said that he used to have problems with boundaries, but he didn’t anymore. He had learned to say no, he said.
When it was Nix’s turn to talk, he said that he agreed with Stew. It was a matter of self-esteem. “It’s hard,” he said, “but you have to learn to set healthy boundaries.” He told the story about his older son who got in trouble with the law one night and ended up in Juvenile hall. Nix and his wife let him stay there four days. When the boy got out, Nix asked him how he liked jail, and his son said he didn’t. He never went back, either, Nix said.
After the meeting, several of the men gathered in the parking lot to socialize for a few minutes before going home. One of the men passed around a copy of a photograph of a U.S. trooper in the middle of the desert. The trooper was urinating on a monument to Saddam Hussein.
Tuesday morning the news was that Saddam would stay and fight and that U.S. and British forces were massed by the frontier in Kuwait. The arms inspectors had packed up and left Iraq, as had the French and Greek envoys. Military experts expected a war to begin at night–though a full moon might lessen the cover darkness might give.
Meanwhile, the nation was put on alert against terrorist reprisals. Three government ministers had resigned in Great Britain, and French President Jacques Chirac claimed that there was no justification for the decision to use force. The Russian President and German Chancellor were also unhappy.
The Iraq people stocked up on food and other essentials. In Baghdad several thousands Iraqis held a government-organized demonstration and urged a jihad, or holy struggle, against invaders.
In the Kuwait desert, U.S. and British troops packed up tents and prepared to invade. “Finally, we’re going somewhere,” said a sergeant with an army engineering unit.
Elsewhere in the world, oil prices dropped 10 percent and stocks jumped. World opinion on the wisdom of the war was divided. Some feared more violence in the U.S. and beyond. The U.S., Britain, Spain, and Italy accused doubters like France, Germany, and Canada of repeating the mistakes of those who appeased Adolph Hitler in the 1930s. Meanwhile, resistance to helping U.S. forces appeared to be softening. Turkey was said to be ready to open its airspace. The previous day, Australia had announced its support for the U.S. position, and Poland said that it was sending two-hundred troops.
That evening when his wife got home from work, Stew told her that he thought that most people would be relieved once the war got started.
Paula gave him a look that said, “Speak for yourself.”
The next morning, before he got up, Stew lay in bed watching one of their cats play a game that she played every morning. The cat, a calico, first chased the other cats off the bed, then, immensely pleased with herself, she lay down on top of the comforter and began to chase her tail.
The DOW spikes up, banking on
a dwarfish draft of Armageddon gloom.
Our president will speak at five.
No casualty is casual.
It’s hard to match a suit and tie
to splatter of the coming blood.
Ahmed, a driver in Iraq, says:
“This is a miserable life.
We spent it shopping for war
or hiding from bombs.”
He recites his summary
as if his time is finished as a boiled egg.
All eyes red from pressing
night’s extended weight.
Justice spelled so many ways our alphabets
no longer know their proper forms.
Iraqis seal their windows shut as if a roll
of tape will come between the fragile glass
and force of missiles jetting
through the tainted sky.
Stirring the hostile soup.
It seems the only spoon we own,
yet who can watch the broth of freedom
dwindle to a water drop.
Have you ever sat on a fence,
answerless and trembling,
wishing posts were firm mirage?
I swing like heavy pendulums
between the prayer to end this horror
and nightmares of approaching graves.
The writer with no salving words,
no sonnets in a pocketbook.
No talons on the olive branch,
no wings of doves, no angels near
as embassies evacuate, as guns replace
the meetings of our shattered hearts
now beetles under heavy boots.
Philanthropy or wet revenge —
I can’t decide and so I kneel
as quicksand travels to my chin.
*First Published in Ariga