She sees everything, dropping ash and laughter into the carpet.
by Edward J. Rathke
A hand lies on my stomach.
I open my eyes. The room is dark and shadowed with the first glimmer of sunshine hidden behind a curtain. A face is beside me under hair the color of a starless night—short and messy—her eyes closed, her breath uneven. Sweat and smoke linger in the bed and mingle with the scent of flowers in the rain. Lifting the blanket, she’s all ribs and sharp hipbones, but delicate like wilting petals. She stirs and opens her eyes. I drop the blanket, embarrassed.
“What’re you doing?” She curls up and pulls the blanket tight. Her eyes open wide and she smiles.
“Looking for my clothes.”
“Want another look?” She throws the blanket from us and I cover myself with both hands. She sits up and I count the bones of her spine, the ribs poking through her skin below perfect tiny breasts, a weeping rose tattooed low on her hip. She grabs a cigarette from the bedside table, offers one, but my hands are busy.
“You don’t smoke now?” She laughs at my modesty, lights her cigarette, and hops out of bed.
She stands naked and dresses. No underwear or shame, she bends over, grabs her jeans, and glances at me watching her ass. She pulls her pants up slow, rolling her hips in circles and laughing.
“Who are you?”
She turns around while putting on her tanktop, her nipples sharp and visible. “Your dick remembers me.”
I start to harden in my hands. I see my pants across the room. “Is this your room?”
I waddle to my pants over a stale carpet that curves into the wall. She smiles, blowing smoke and watching. I hold my pants in front of me and hop backwards to the white bed where I struggle with them. She sees everything, dropping ash and laughter into the carpet.
A new man with pants on—the room’s still dark, but the walls seem to glow. Everything washed the same shade of dovewhite, the walls and carpet inseparable. “Where are we?”
“You really don’t remember?”
I try, but last night doesn’t exist. “No.”
“Makes things easier, I guess.”
She sits on the bed and looks at me next to her. “Fuck?”
“Does it matter?”
“What’s your name?
“What do you want to call me?”
“What’s in a name?”
“Cute.” She lays back, her eyes still on me. “What do you want to do now?”
“I could buy you breakfast.”
“What do you want to do?”
She puts out her cigarette on the bedside table, coughs, and closes her eyes. “You really don’t remember?”
The room is small and cold, the constant bright white fucking with my eyes. I get dizzy trying to figure out where the wall ends and the ground begins. The girl and the lost night are secondary to the disquieting sensation of the curved floor and walls, this loss of balance, this imperceptible void. I reach to her and touch her hand with fingertips. “I can’t remember anything.”
“Do you remember your name?”
“You’ve not been here long enough.” She slides her hand away from mine and I realize how young she looks next to me. Her eyes closed, bored.
“How old are you?”
“Does it matter now?”
“I’m twenty eight.”
“Good for you.” She scoots back to the top of the bed, sits up, and shakes her hands through her hair. “How old do you think I am?”
“You look like a teenage angel.”
“Feel like a pervert now?”
“Age doesn’t matter here.”
“Where are we?”
“You showed up at the gate yesterday morning the same way everyone does. No car, no wallet or ID, no change of clothes, just a head full of memories you’re trying to lose.”
“What is this place?”
“Whatever you want it to be. I call it the White Hotel. Some call it home, others, a graveyard.”
“I’m not dead.”
“Don”t be an idiot. The dead aren’t welcome here.”
I try to remember how I got here, where this place is, but all that comes is her. The room closes in, waves and spins, expands and contracts, and I taste vomit. The constant void circles me, and equilibrium disintegrates. “I feel like I’m losing me.”
“That’s the idea.” She lights another cigarette and offers me one. I take it.
“When did you get here?”
“After my mom hung herself.”
“If you hold something close, it never dies. Everything else, though, blank. The White Hotel wipes everything away; these walls swallow it.”
“I don’t want to forget.”
“Sounds like you already did.”
“I can’t even remember last night.”
“It takes time to get used to your memories falling apart.”
“But I don’t remember anything.”
My life washed away in a day that never happened. I chose to forget, but I can’t remember. Nothing flickers in my mind, not even a mother’s death to hold onto. I sit alone. Smoke dances around the room and falls upwards where it collects like a puddle. “I feel sick.”
“It’s the absence of everything, of borders, lines, right angles, and colors. Everything blends indistinct here. It facilitates the memory loss. If there’s nothing to hold onto, no sense of structure, time, or place, your mind slips. You get used to it, though.”
“What about outside?”
“Don’t look out the window.” Her body straightens, her eyes wide. She pulls on her hair with her free hand and inhales deep on her cigarette.
The room moves without me—a white void swirling—my head swims. I toss my cigarette and close my eyes trying to steady myself in the darkness behind my eyelids.
A hand on my shoulder, her hand, she whispers, “You’ll be okay. It gets easier.”
Something breaks inside and my chest gives way. I cry for things I don’t remember, for a world I can no longer know. A lifetime, my life, forever lost in a single day that never happened. I turn to her with eyes underwater and bury my face on her stomach. She holds me and strokes her hand through my hair. Whispers fall to me like petals in the wind, tender and soft, promising comfort. Her gentle embrace, I release everything in tears for all that’s forgotten, for what I loved and hated, for the me that was me just two days ago, now dead and lost somewhere in this white at the end of the world.