Away

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At the taxi stand, Bird gestures to the woman from the baggage carousel to take this car and he’ll take the next. It’s too fucking cold to keep a lady waiting tonight. The woman drops her gaze, slides her purse across the seat, neatly draws in her legs without hiking up her skirt. A tougher manoeuvre than it looks; stocking-clad landing gear retracting without a glitch. He wonders whether the woman is home now, or starting a visit. Bird stacks his luggage for the driver to load, feeling caught between manners: better to stand idle, or horn in like the driver can’t be trusted to handle a suitcase? The driver grunts, snares the towing strap on the trunk hasp, jimmies it free, chucks the bag onto a greasy jack. Slams the trunk shut.

Bird sits tight and speeds toward downtown Winnipeg, still queasy from the flight. The heat is cranked and his knees are crushed. His head brushes the padded roof; a big fat circus bear cramped in a novelty vehicle, paws fit for clobbering. Repeating the hotel name, Bird settles the headrest between his shoulder blades, cranes his neck, closes his eyes.

Aboard the plane, Bird paced, held back vomit, and counted minutes until landing. He sweated and privately panicked and nearly became a story for fellow passengers to recount, the kind that ends with seat confinement and authorities at the arrival gate, but got hold of himself by imagining faces to match each hairdo that poked above the seat tops. In the airport, Bird dissolved on his knees in the men’s room, barfing so heartily he dislodged his house-keys from his trouser pocket. Now, wedged into the small, fast taxi, Bird defends his devastated belly, cupped hands forming a shell.

“Really, I need you to go a little slower, please. I’m not at all well.”

The driver is squat and doughy; a moist pudding steaming inside a nylon parka. It is unseasonably freezing, threatening snow. The driver in his slithery ski jacket smells overdressed; though, he’s probably smelled overdressed since last winter. He cuts his eyes at this sissy passenger and speaks low about bastards and assholes. As cramped up front as Bird feels in back, the driver hoists himself a few inches out of his seat then drops, trying to locate comfort behind the wheel. This is his tick, the gesture he repeats hundreds of times each day. The seat springs heave and grind as the perfect position eludes him. The driver’s build and boxy knuckles suggest manual labour, and Bird wonders whether age or injury deposited him on his backside ferrying travelers and drunks from place to place. His squirming is a leak of frustration: the driver took up driving and has been sliding around an ill-fitting front seat ever since.

When they reach the hotel, Bird pays by credit card, earning additional “bastards” from the driver. He tries to make amends by unloading his own cases, but the driver swats away his reaching hands, swinging the bags toward a waiting cart. Bird thanks the retreating nylon back, his words white puffs hanging in the cold air.

The concierge is programming Bird’s room keycard when the same lady from the airport steps up, docking her crossed arms at the front desk. Legs clad in flannel now, slender shoes replaced by broad bedroom slippers: here an hour and already locked out. She is steamed, her cheeks are pink. Bird is warmed by this coincidence, casts a smile down the marble counter. She isn’t looking. Bird covers up, makes as though he were stretching his jaw and wipes his lips with thumb and index…no, middle. Damn it, now he’s given her the finger.

The concierge turns Bird over to the night porter, moves to help the locked-out lady. The night porter thinks the concierge smokes joints out back between late-night arrivals. The concierge is pretty sure the porter uses his downtime to jerk off, and gags a little, watching him touch people’s luggage and coats. Masturbator or not, the porter is definitely not a hand-washer judging from the state of his nails.

* * *

Lily checked in well after dark and goodness know what time it is back home. Then the locked-out bullshit, and now she is just plain done. The curtains are drawn, bedclothes turned down, basket of fruit centred on the dining table. Complimentary robe cast over the armchair. She surveys the suite, assesses storage space: two closets lined with shirt hangers and trouser clamps; six bureau drawers; a recessed shelf housing a rough kitchenette.

While Lily counts amenities, Bird is upstairs using his: clipping slacks to wooden hangers; aligning shoes on the little rubber mat; dismantling his fruit basket and placing each item into the mini-bar, except the bananas, which he leaves to brown on the television stand. He steps into his complimentary slippers, slips them off, pushes them under the bed. Rubs his palms together and gets to work on the Front Desk speed-dial, requesting a wake-up call, continental breakfast and three extra towels. The concierge trusts till morning Bird can make do with the standard six already provided? Bird believes he can.

Down below, room 2704 is giving Lily the creeps. Guest services – the root of comfort during one’s journey – amplify “being away”, attending to anticipated but unreal needs and maintaining an astonishing system of sanitation. Home is never this. Each morning the housekeeping team descends like locusts to digest any evidence of guests. For the duration of her stay, Lily will be greeted by quiet space and the low smell of strangely fragrant cleansers.

Upstairs, Bird sits on the edge of the bed and bounces, palms flat at his sides, testing the mattress. King-size. Long enough for his legs; broad enough for outstretched arms. Sweet. He swings his legs up and under the sheets, snares his feet in the quilt, fashions a leg trap from which he must escape before finally tucking in. None of the grace of a lady getting neatly into a cab. Bird tucks his body into a boomerang shape and falls directly asleep.

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