(not sure where this one came from – just started writing this morning and this appeared)
I woke up in room 3019 in the O’Hare Hilton to a metallic tapping sound coming from the bathroom. It was 1:30 in the morning. My wife lay peacefully asleep, buried in blankets, her back to me. In the dim light I could see the curve of her back under her soft blue t-shirt. It wasn’t that long ago that a night in a hotel room was an excuse for sensual gymnastics but now, in our mid fifties, our appetite for exploration and experimentation had faded with our waning flexibility and stamina, and we were both tired enough by the time we checked in to be content with just sleep.
I laid there in the dark, waking up, getting my bearings, becoming familiar again with the light that we’d left on in the room’s doorway, in the landing in front of the bathroom, when I heard it again, the metallic tapping sound coming from the bathroom in bursts of five or six evenly spaced taps, then a few seconds of silence, then another burst. My wife slept soundly, deep breaths. I quietly got out of bed.
I scratched my head and yawned as I turned the corner to the entry way. The door to the bathroom was half open. I heard the sound again, louder and closer, from behind the bathroom door. I put my hand on the doorknob and opened it all the way, and in the light from the entry way, I could see, to my left, in the mirror above the sink, the movement of a shadow reflected from the bathtub to my right. I looked and there, in the tub, sat a fat man wearing work clothes, blue bib overalls over a white t-shirt, a bird’s nest of gray hair on his head, holding a hammer in his right hand and a chisel in his left, tapping at the drain. It was just a glimpse, and he gave no indication of having seen me. Startled, I slammed the door shut. The tapping sound continued, another burst, and I held onto the door knob, pulling it and holding it shut with all my strength.
“Who’s there?” I yelled. There was no answer, just a moment of silence, followed by another burst of the tapping sound, of the man striking the chisel with the hammer.
“Who’s there?” I demanded, but no response, no indication I was being heard. The man said nothing, and continued tapping the chisel.
“I’m going to call the front desk. If you’re supposed to be working in here, now’s not the time. There are guests in this room. It’s the middle of the fucking night.”
The tapping continued, ignoring me.
“O.K., that’s it, you motherfucker, I’m calling the front desk.” I didn’t want to let go of the doorknob. There was somebody, some fucking nutjob, on the other side with a hammer in his hand. “Honey,” I called to my wife, figuring she must be awake by now. “Call the front desk. Tell them there’s a strange man in our room.”
I waited for a reply, but nothing. You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought, she can’t sleep through all of this. Meanwhile, the tapping continued, the same short bursts, the same pauses. The fucker was ignoring me. He was blatant in his disregard, and he had a hammer and chisel, and he was in my room. Still holding the doorknob, I looked around for something to defend myself with. The best I could come up with was an iron that sat next to the empty laundry bags in the open coat closet across from me. I let go of the doorknob long enough to grab it, and then, holding the iron in my right hand, I grabbed and pulled the doorknob with my left. “Anne,” I called out to my wife, louder this time, “call the front desk. There’s someone in our room.”
From our bed, nothing, and from the bathroom, the same pattern of short bursts of tapping followed by gaps of silence. I carefully released my grip on the doorknob, brandishing the iron in my right hand, and moved over to the bed, to Anne’s side, the far side, next to where the phone sat on a night stand. Anne was still sleeping, her back to me, blankets pulled up, her body rising and falling with each breath. What the fuck, I thought, how the fuck can she be sleeping. From the bathroom the tapping continued. I picked up the phone and dialed zero for the concierge.
The concierge didn’t pick up right away, the phone ringing four times before he answered. While it rang, I suddenly became aware of the silence in the room. The tapping had stopped. I reached down and put my hand on Anne’s shoulder, gently shaking it, trying to wake her. Just as the concierge finally answered, I pulled on Anne’s shoulder hard enough to roll her over. Only it wasn’t Anne. In the dim light from the entry way, looking down at our bed, it wasn’t Anne rolling over. Instead, it was a heavy set older man with a mess of gray hair wearing bib overalls over a white t-shirt, the same man I’d seen in the bathtub. He was awake, our eyes met, and I dropped the phone, and brought the iron down on his face with all my strength. He screamed, his voice surprisingly high pitched, and blood erupted from his nose and mouth, all over the sheets, as I brought the iron down again and again. He finally stopped moving but I continued smashing his face with the iron, until it was nothing more than a red blur. I looked around the room and everything was a red blur. The phone lay on the floor, loudly beeping. I thought about picking it up and redialing the concierge, or 911, when the front door burst open, and the policemen entered, two of them, their pistols drawn and pointing at me. I was still holding the iron, it was covered with blood.
“Drop it,” the first cop said.
“You don’t understand,” I started.
“Just drop it and raise your hands where I can see them,” he said. I dropped the iron and raised my hands. The second cop moved in and pulled my arms down around my back, and cuffed me. The metal of the handcuffs felt cold against my wrists.
“Officer, “ I started to explain, turning to the bed, “this man ….”
And then I saw her face for the first time, a red blur, her hair matted with blood, blood all over, on the sheets and the pillow, and on her blue t-shirt.