Veintitrés. High Lands

Another country and another town, I had all the time to look at the room. It was unseasonably hot and I switched the fan to circulate the heat from the walls. It started slowly, each blade cutting the air in steady breaths until it spun into a whorl that swept the hair away from my face.

The light was off and from the window, dusk shifted its familiar hue across chipped green walls. I looked out and beyond the river. The silhouettes of corn terraces scanned the valley, black mountainside beneath red shimmered light, a dying sun that left colours in the water like blood on oil.

I turned back and the room reflected heat from the walls, and though the shaft of tossed air in the centre of the room rustled the sheets on the bed, the sweat and the stickiness of the afternoon still held the room in heat’s grip.

My hand slid across a velvet wall until it found the panel and the button for the light, and I pushed it so that a neon, the length of the wall, flicked into life, uncertain at first, seconds of delay. It cast a cold and grey glare on the bed and the table, a bald and blue light that made the sun disappear from the room, made the window seem black with the nets.

The pinpricked blood from shattered mosquitoes splattered the walls and yet those that were still alive hung in the air like silver pinheads suspended on a string.

A cockroach flicked its eyes at me from under the table. The cockroach did not move. It waved its antenna at the chair leg in front of it, and it paused, feeling to cautiously test the surface. It was heavy and lethargic in the shade and I threw a stinking shoe at it, then it was gone. Like it had never been there, like I did not even see it scramble away.

I sat down on the edge of the bed and the mattress sank beneath me and creaked with the weight of the springs. I searched under the bed but there was nothing there but a few crusted tissues and the unswept dust of time.

I lay back, and the mattress moulded around my body and enveloped me in a close and prickling heat. Then I stared up at the fan and watched it wheel the air out from its spokes.

The room would do, for forty quetzals, I thought.

The receptionist was still at the counter when I returned downstairs. She smiled, her gums showing, and she came from behind the counter and said, “You like room?”

It was fine, I said. I looked outside and caught the eye of another traveller as I said it.

He smiled furtively and turned back to the street. The traveller then leant against the steps of the hotel and in front of him he held an umbrella which he kicked with his foot so that the metal point made clack-clack on the concrete.

No, it was fine, I repeated to the woman behind the counter.

Northern Heat © March 1992.
Photos are from Quetzaltenango.

Veintidós. To the Interior Veinticuatro. Alice Part 2
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