- Used Books
- Staff Picks
- Gifts & Gift Cards
- Sell Books
- Stores & Events
- Let's Talk Books
Special Offers see all
More at Powell's
Recently Viewed clear list
More copies of this ISBN
The Tesseractby Alex Garland
There was no bright color in the room.
Outside, there was plenty. Through the bars of the window, Sean could see sunlight on drifting litter and flashes of foliage in the narrow gaps between squatter shacks. But inside, nothing. Beige and khaki, faded by age, muted by the hopelessly dim lamps that sat on each side of his bed.
"Stains," said Sean under his breath. It was something that the hotel room had in common with the street two stories below. In both places, there wasn't a single surface without some kind of grubby scar; everything marked by rain or dust, smoke, the overspill from the open sewers, the open fires that burned on the pavement. And blood. There was blood on the bedsheets. The spatter had paled from a few hard scrubs, but it was still rustily recognizable for what it was.
The other thing that his room shared with the city. Oozing out from the sun, heat like molasses. Once it touched you, you were stuck with it.
It had touched Sean that afternoon as he sat on Manila Bay's low harbor wall, looking out at the cargo ships and their fat anchor chains. Up to then he'd been protected by the reassuring air-con of an Ermita McDonald's. He'd gone there for breakfast, around ten A.M., with a copy of AsiaWeek rolled in his fist. At eleven-fifteen he'd stood up to leave and walked toward the exit, where the blue-uniformed McDonald's security guard had obligingly lowered his stockless shotgun and held the door open. Or obligingly held the door open and lowered his stockless shotgun. Either way, one blast of the scorched air and Sean had spun on his heels and marched back inside.
But cool as it was in McDonald's, after a couple of hours Sean could feel the edges of his mind starting to fray. It wasn't the obsessive wiping and washing and ashtray removing so much as the sprawling children's party that had commandeered half the seating area. Overweight rich kids with sulky faces and stripy sailor shirts, shouting at their nannies. No more than eight or nine, most of them, and already groomed for a life in politics. Why did this tubby elite choose to celebrate in a hamburger joint, Sean had wondered as he burst a balloon that had been bounced into his face. The sound made a dozen adult heads turn, and had one of the minders reaching under his barong tagalog to the bulge in his waistband. So, time to go.
Armed with a milkshake, Sean had left the McDonald's and walked to the waterfront, where he'd hoped he might kill time in the company of a cool sea breeze. But there was no cool sea breeze. There was an executive-bathroom hand-drier blowing down his neck. The milkshake had turned to chocolate soup before it was even a quarter finished, the bench he'd chosen was like leaning against an oven door, and the sparse canopies of the palm trees had offered nothing more than a rumor of shade.
Yet somehow, Sean had managed to stick it out until four. He couldn't remember much about how the time had passed; he was simply glad that it had. Ships and water were good for distracting a head that needed to be distracted. Good for a blink and a mild frown, and a glance at a watch that said half an hour had swept by. Sean's only clear memory of the afternoon was standing on the harbor wall and looking down at the beached jellyfish and acres of floating refuse. Like little islands, he'd thought, watching the polystyrene chips and plastic bags that bobbed in the swell. The two archipelagos beneath me. One too big to think about, and the other too big to see.
Back in his room, some of the wetter stains on the street began to glow red as the sun dropped from the sky. Dropped, because the sun didn't sink in these parts. At six-fifteen, the elastic that kept it suspended started to stretch, and at six-thirty the elastic snapped. Then you had just ten minutes as the orange ellipse plummeted out of view, and the next thing you knew it was night. You had to watch out for that in Manila. Ten minutes to catch a cab to the right side of town if you were on the wrong side.
"Like now, for example," Sean murmured as the red puddles blackened and disappeared. Miles from Ermita or any place he knew, holed up in a hotel that didn't know it was a hotel, or had forgotten.
No other guests. No air-con or even a fan. No lobby. Just a chair and a desk and a man downstairs, with his T-shirt always rolled up to his chest and a belly like a brown boulder. A man who usually had a sweat-soaked cigarette tucked between his right ear and the stubble of his shaved head. A man who kept one hand permanently out of view and never returned Sean's smile, simply slid his key toward him with a flick of the fingers.
What sort of hotel had no other guests? Walking down the corridor, through flickering pools of light where there were bulbs instead of hanging wires, Sean had noticed the quiet with growing confusion. He'd also seen open doors, and through them, rooms without beds. Sometimes rooms without walls. Only a few wooden slats, the guts of the walls, or the bones. And past the bones, the neighboring room, equally bare and broken.
Everything weird was the bottom line, and Sean had reached it quickly. Within an hour of his arrival, everything weird; every corner, every noise, every object.
The telephone, sitting on his arthritic bedside table. It didn't work. Of course it didn't work. If the hotel management weren't bothered about missing walls, they were unlikely to care about telephones. But whether it worked or not, did it have to be so mysteriously burned? Cigarette burns, and not from carelessly held butts. These were in patterns, lines and curls. These were the results of someone practicing their torturing skills. Sean had known it as surely as he'd known that the line would be dead. Known it, but refused to accept it until he'd spent five minutes listening to the utter lack of dial tone, pushing the receiver button and jiggling the base in the hope of provoking a little static.
Sean had needed three temazepam to get to sleep that first night. And he'd read over the address he'd been given as compulsively as he'd smoked, examining the bit of paper for anything resembling an ambiguity. Screwing up his eyes, Sean had tried to read Alejandro Street as Alejandra Street, or Hotel Patay as Hotel Ratay. He'd tried even after the sleeping pills had dissolved his focus and his lips were too numb to pull on a cigarette. He'd tried in his sleep, his dream a liquid continuation of the preceding hours.
So difficult to believe he was in the right place. Patay being patay, difficult to believe. But he was in the right place. The next morning, Sean discovered that a note had been left at reception. Don Pepe's elaborate handwriting, confirming their meeting at eight o'clock the coming night. A meeting that was now exactly sixty-eight minutes away, assuming the mestizo arrived on time.
What Our Readers Are Saying
Average customer rating based on 1 comment:
Other books you might like
Featured Titles » General
Featured Titles » Staff Picks
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Mystery » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Popular Fiction » Suspense