I am in a hotel. Dim lighting, a grand staircase, someone is hauling my luggage up the steps ahead of me. There is a vague feeling of unease. The bellhop apologizes that there is no elevator service--they've been having problems. I ask if I can get some food. The answer is indistinct.
It appears to be late and there is no one else about except for an older couple. Dressed to the nines, they're talking in low tones in a corner on the landing. "Good evening," I say but they don't reply. Instead they stop speaking and glance in my direction as I pass. I catch a glimpse of diamonds around the woman's neck . . .
The stairs seem to continue forever, floor after floor, the same zig-zag patterned wallpaper (the old Excelsior in Stockholm?) and the same wide landing--the couple do not reappear. Finally we reach my room but the boy doesn't have the key. He apologizes and I notice for the first time how handsome he is: dark, Arab, with wide teeth. He bares his teeth and tells me that he has the key for the room across the hall, would that be alright? "Alright? I wouldn't want to disturb anyone...," I begin, but he's already unlocked the door opposite. He pushes it aside, smiling, and I look in . . .
I'm home. The old family home, St. Louis, Missouri. Sad blue tablecloth in the sad beige kitchen. A red midwestern sunset outside in the yard--it's fall, the grass is dead. I'm sitting at the table with a cup of coffee in front of me--faded rose pattern, mother's china, a saucer and spoon. I look up and I'm not alone--a figure is coming into focus.
It's my older brother, Martin. He's wearing the same suit and the same pained expression he wore most of his life. "You should have gone into Carleton," he says immediately, naming the company where our father worked, the job that killed him. "Business is dull," I tell him, repeating the same reason I gave ages ago when dad offered to get me a position. "Besides, I'm not cut out for it. I'd shoot some asshole." I am aware that we had this conversation many times, Martin and myself. He died years ago--buried in the same dull suit. He shakes his head, indicating that we just don't understand each other--a gesture which always hurt me, but which he never failed to repeat. Jerk. Dead jerk. Love ya Marty . . .
I wake up. My mouth is dry.