Alex waits to be stolen away on the last day of his first life. He can see the hotel. His backpack is filled with beat-up notebooks tied with shoestrings, freezer bags stuffed with money, and a change of clothes for afterwards. The revolving doors of deliverance welcome strangers inside the hotel. He has a headache he can’t shake because he is between worlds.
Dolly is waiting inside. She’s come to take him across. It’s only a day away now. The man he is will disappear into the realm of hungry ghosts where he can’t hurt anyone ever again. When he closes his eyes he pictures the universe as an oil well. When he opens them he can hardly breathe.
An early morning fog saddles the streets, and covers the buildings in a white dream. People walk down the street; pencil marks in a sketch left undone. No one sees him. He wears his only suit. In a clean white shirt, black jacket, and slacks hemmed inside with bondage tape he could be businessman. He could be anyone at all. The city turns to paper as he practices stillness.
Courtesy vans drive down the one-way street in front of the hotel. Young mothers push strollers toward rows of apartments, and street-level daycare centers. Every other person on the ground is moving ahead of him. He puts his palm against a lamppost and watches them disappear like hope.
The bellhops at the doors are thin-faced models. They speak into walkie-talkies and smoke cigarettes when they think no one is watching. Together they share a Camel and spit on the steps. He’s not there.
Dolly hasn’t come yet. She’s waiting for her time to appear, and that leaves him in limbo. He knows the world between Heaven and Hell feels like being in the backseat of a locked car parked in an empty garage. There is nothing to do but wait.
Walking to move, he tucks prayer beads back underneath his shirtsleeve where they dangle loose. The notebooks in his backpack chew a groove into his shoulders. Blue-lined pages filled with drawings, medical reports, old poems and philosophy wait their turn to be considered by the vagrants who will discover them after he’s gone away. If he had a watch he would check it. To himself he begins to chant Ohm in time with his breath; his mantra for “I’m sorry.”
But where is Dolly with her killing baby eyes?
The bellhops won’t know. Her name isn’t in the reservation log. To Alex she is Dolly Harness. To others she is whomever she chooses to be. She lives so many lives that there is no way to catch up. She’s coming to help.
When he stops, he puts his hand on the red brick wall outside the hotel to feel the vibrations of dead romances and sleepless nights. Across the street modern art statues stand guard over a wishing well. Their twisted iron figures are signs and memories.
Dolly smacks him in the face with warm palm when she appears behind him, not hard, but sweet to bring him back into the present. She knows how he gets lost. Today she is a redhead with looping curls that slope down to her chest. She sings a song from The Velvet Underground as they walk inside the hotel to begin the ritual. “And if you close the door, the night could last forever.”
The lobby of the Millennium Hotel is a vast marble cavern with crimson sofas and oriental vases. Marble floors lay fifty feet below the vaulted ceiling with frescoes of heroes dying in Greek tragedies. At the top of the stairs he unwinds the prayer beads from his wrist, and rolls them between his fingertips. There is only his breath. There is only the now. He is the last man on Earth.
Dolly walks to the reception desk one foot perfectly placed in front of the other as if she were walking a window ledge. Her hands slide up the brass bars when she gets there like a butterfly pinned to a child’s album. Alex has no idea what story she tells the clerk. He hasn’t been given any lines to deliver, so he waits for his cue.
Dolly holds the handle of her seal-skin bag with both hands. Her knuckles read ‘DOLL FACE.’ Inside that bag is the solution to all his problems; forever after in a carry-on.
Once she’s given her keycard to their suite they stroll away from their life before. She hooks her arm into his as they move toward the elevators as the image of mismatched honeymooners. Inside the elevator, she frees her arms from his before thumbing the button marked “Close.” Then she takes out the keycard and sticks it in a slot marked E for “Executive.” Her crushed cherry lips cut through him like a razorblade.
“Are you ready?” Dolly asks.
“We’ve come this far,” Alex says.
“Do you have any second thoughts?”
“No. This is for the best.”
Ivory buttons light up for a heartbeat then dull as floor numbers flash and die. The light moves up the panel toward a button with a golden E. E stands for “Ending.”
On his way to the clouds Alex realizes this will be the first night he and Dolly will be entirely alone. The first time they met they were both too naked. They saw in each other what they saw in themselves. Since that first meeting he had only seen her in restaurants, on missions or at bus station, places where it’s easy to be distracted from who you truly are. He is sure that she saw this night coming from the start.
Music surrounds them with the sounds of waterfalls and woodwinds. Expensive hotels don’t want recycled Carpenters’ songs played on cheap keyboards. They want Chinese flutes, the echo of rain as it moves across the Himalayas, or a chorus