Florin Irimia

Excerpt from

Critics about

Novel, Ego. Prose series, Polirom, 2014, 232 pages

Copyright: Polirom

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Excerpt from

In a Hotel Room, Somewhere


I wake up abruptly and it is dark. I am alone and something tells me that I ought not to be and that in a few seconds the fear will grip me once more. Fear and revulsion at something. Something I have done, something that ought not to have happened, but did happen, something horrible, like an incurable disease, like a premature and violent death. Something for which I will have to make a reckoning. My ears are hissing like I had two seashells bunged inside them, and somewhere, in my brain, a malevolent little man is crushing a mound of walnuts with a hammer. There ought to have been someone beside me in bed. Yes, a sleepy, naked woman, my guarantee that I have things under control. A trace of memory, a diffuse feeling, the memory of a reality that perhaps did not take place signals to me the absence. I try to detect a trail of perfume in the air, among the sheets, something to tell me that I am not mistaken, but when I inhale I smell only the ordinary odour of a hotel room. I close my eyes and my limbs begin to tremble, a fine, almost imperceptible tremor, which would be visible only on a sheet of transparent plastic. Then, I think I fall asleep. And I become thirsty. I dream I get out of bed and go to the bathroom to pour myself a large glass of water. The door is closed, but the light is on inside. As if somebody were in there already. As if that somebody were waiting for me. I can hear the tap running, evenly, monotonously, conveying to me some kind of message. I dream that I am afraid. I grip the doorknob and am about to turn it, but in that same instant I wake up. I lie motionless, waiting to ascertain where I am (in a hotel room), whether it is summer or winter outside (it is spring), what day and month of the year it is (3 April). I couldn’t remember any of all that. In the end I looked around for a clock (my wristwatch has vanished or perhaps I never had one) and I found one in the form of a mobile ‘phone, placed neatly on the bedside table. The hour, the day and the month. The year is the current year... As for the hotel, I know only that it is a tall building, because I looked out of the window just now. I couldn’t see much – the window is small and rather narrow – but I saw that it was snowing, I have no idea what town this is, in this country all the towns look the same – but I could see that I was high up. At least literally, if not otherwise. I have always liked to take a hotel room on an upper storey. That I remember. It is as if you are above your destiny, above what others have decided in your stead. Which is an illusion, obviously. But which holds, which works, as long as nobody throws you out of the window. As long as you do not think too much about how it is only an illusion. The clock on the mobile ‘phone shows 2:56 in large figures. Almost three in the morning. My mouth is dry and heavy, as if it were lined with a thousand pebbles. I ought to go to the toilet. No! To spit, rinse my mouth out. No. Don’t go! Why? It doesn’t matter. Why doesn’t it matter? It’s better this way. I don’t want you to go there. I swallow. I sense something coming towards me, like an evil spirit, like a spy sent up from Hell, it stalks me, sniffing my heart, which starts to beat faster. A cold, malign sweat oozes through my skin and as it does so I remember what I dreamed...

The light in the bathroom. The tap running. Signs of somebody having been in there. The scene left behind, the painting of a demented artist. But dreams are dreams, an intense, somehow necessary cerebral activity, but nothing more. They are not premonitions, they do not reveal to us what we are afraid to discover for ourselves. We dream in order to forget, some say, not to remember. Perhaps this is just what happened to me: I dreamed too much during all this time, and now... now the telephone is ringing. Not the mobile. It is the landline. From somewhere far away. And the buzzing is not from this century. It sounds ceremonious and lugubrious, with long pauses between each buzz, and it is coming... Where is it coming from? It is as if it were from another room. From another room, but still one occupied by me. It looks like I am staying in a suite. I didn’t remember that. Neither that nor all the other things. A feeling of helplessness, of being abandoned, as if I had woken up to find myself bound to a chair and was now about to be tortured. A feeling of inadequacy, of incompatibility with the world. Bewilderment in the face of destiny’s parsimoniousness. Consternation. Angst. The foregoing crowd together now, trying to find room in my head, like beggars in front of a table laid with alms. I don’t want to answer it. Who could be ‘phoning me at three in the morning? But maybe it is something important. Something vital, something crucial, perhaps at the other end of the line is a voice that wants to come to my aid. As if such voices existed...
“Hello, good morning, I’m calling from reception. It’s three a.m. You asked for a wake-up call.”
“Pardon ?”
“I’m calling from reception...”
“You called because I asked...”
“That’s right.”
“When ?”
“When? When what?”
“When did I ask to be woken up?”
“At three a.m.”
“No, I mean when did I order the wake-up call?”
“Ah, it was yesterday. It wasn’t my shift. My colleague left me the message. Suite 26. Mr Damian...”
“...a wake-up call, at three in the morning.”
“I can’t remember anything...”
“That’s not for me to say... I’ve made the call.”
“Thank you very much.”
“Is there anything else we can help you with, Mr Damian?”
“I don’t think so. In fact, yes. Could you send up a plumber? The tap has broken in the bathroom. The water is running and...”
“Unfortunately, at this hour we don’t have any plumbers available. The plumbers start work at eight o’clock. But I have made a note of it and just after eight a plumber will come to your room.”
“It’s right now I need one.”
“Like I said, there isn’t anybody right now...”
“I think there’s somebody in the bathroom...”
“Pardon ?”
“I think there’s somebody in my bathroom. In the bathtub to be precise. I think there’s somebody there... Somebody who...”
“What makes you think that?”
“I don’t know. Intuition?”
“Leave intuition to the ladies, Mr Damian.”
“Pardon ?”
“Mr Damian, I really don’t have time for such tales. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“Why don’t you believe me?”
“I believe you, of course I do. You should have slept longer. In my opinion. A man needs at least six or seven hours of sleep to be awake in the true sense of the word. Do you understand, Mr Damian? Do you understand these words? Have a nice day!”
And he hangs up.

What is going to happen next, Mr Damian? I say to myself in my mind, trying to explain the strange boorishness of the man in reception, but I do not have very much time to think, because the telephone rings once again. The mobile. 0700 288 900. I don’t recognise the number. I answer, with the feeling that I am making a mistake.
“Good morning, Mr Damian,” says a wheezy man’s voice at the other end.
I am not sure whether he is being ironic.
“I wasn’t asleep,” I answer guiltily, without knowing why.
“I didn’t think you were. Tell me: what is the situation? Is everything under control?”
“Yes... I don’t know why it wouldn’t be...”
“Very well then. There is no reason for us to worry. I am glad to hear it.”
“No reason, true.”
“Then it remains as we planned?”
For an instant I feel like screaming, hurling the phone at the wall. What remains as we planned? Leave me alone or tell me what the hell it is you want from me! But I refrain. I count to ten in my head. I don’t know whether I am doing a good thing or a bad thing. This often happens to me.
“It remains as we planned, I finally manage to mutter.”
Then I hang up. I am still holding the phone, staring at the screen as if I were expecting something else to happen. Some kind of miracle, something that would turn back time, although even if time would agree to turn back, I wouldn’t know when exactly to tell it to stop. A few minutes pass like this. And nothing else happens.
And so I have no choice. I will have to go and look. What could be waiting for me in there? A bloodbath. What could be so terrible? A dismembered body. Man is condemned to knowledge. He wants to know, he is as curious as a cat, he cannot rid himself of the urge. He wants to know even when he knows that it is not well to know. But I don’t tell myself that. What I tell myself is that if I have done something, I would do well to remember why I did it. The motive. The Cause The reasoning. If it can be called that. On the way, on the long way from the room with the telephone to the bathroom, I realise that in a few seconds my life will change forever. Because I am almost certain of what it is I will see. I am by the door. The same as in the dream, the light is on and from inside I can hear the tap running. I turn the doorknob and push.


Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth


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