By Steve Weiner
Rosenberry was a bed and breakfast bungalow where Highway 52 came to Wausau in central Wisconsin. It was owned by the late Judge Rosenberry, who engineered the five-day workweek. The front porch was long, as long as the house was wide, with a low roof and four squat pillars. Across the street bright white houses leaned back in their anonymity.
It was late afternoon. A man carrying a black cloth bag by two black straps went in. Silver bells jangled on a belt inside the door.
On the left was a room of old furniture, a fireplace with a heavy wood mantel, and a stained glass window. On the right was a larger room behind a square arch. The light level was very low — amber. There were a round mahogany table and dark wood chairs, and a hutch next to a high sash window, its shades half drawn — you cannot see out of such windows.
A slender woman in blue jeans and a red flannel shirt came through the arch.
“You arrived,” she said.
“You’ll like your room. It’s just like home.”
“Would you please take me to it now?”
She led him down the hall. A dark blue and rose runner carpet went straight between narrow walls to the rear, where it hooked left to a door onto rear steps. On the left were three wood steps that curved to a bedroom with a low light burning at the dark headboard. There were heavy curtains and a half-closed shade on the narrow window to a leafless bush. She opened a white door on the right to a double bedroom.
“This is your room,” she said.
The room had a quilted bed and one night table, an oil heater, straw flowers and portraits in an alcove.
“The portrait is Judge Rosenberry’s sister.”
A window was nearly opaque. There was a tiny bathroom with black and white tiles and an inset window on a white shelf. At the other end of the room was a second door, partially open to a second bedroom, also with a quilted bed and a dusty window overlooking bushes.
“You are the only guest.”
He went in as a blind person might, feeling for the door jamb with his forearm, reaching to touch the bed and bedpost, stroking the oil heater in the middle of the room. But he was not blind.
“The room behind the arch where I met you,” she said, “is the breakfast room where we make coffee. What time would you like breakfast?”
“Fine. Eleven o’clock.”
“I’ve turned on the oil heater,” she said. “Be careful. It gets very hot. We never let children near it.”
“I’m not a child.”
She backed out into the corridor, closing the door. He put his clock on the night table. He lay down, closed his eyes, and fell asleep in his clothes. He woke. The clock read 10:55. He went into the corridor and pushed through a thick honey-colored atmosphere. His bare, oily knee (Why was it oily? Why was it bare?) pushed the blue and rose carpet until it rumpled in front of him.
“Wha — ?”
He went further, pushing the carpet high, revealing the old hardwood floor. He passed the breakfast room. Four men, drinking coffee, sat in the dark — conspirators, no doubt — speaking in low voices. He pushed on. The rumpling rug piled up against tasselled curtains overlooking the front porch. He went back to the breakfast room.
“Could I have some coffee?” he asked.
“Go back to bed,” one of the men said. “I’ll bring you coffee.”
He went down the corridor, which now had no carpet, to his bedroom and sat on the bed. He looked at Judge Rosenberry’s sister. He turned to the night table. A white cup of coffee with a saucer on top to keep it hot was under a bright lamp. Who brought the coffee? Who turned on the lamp? The clock read ten after eleven.
“But wait — it is after eleven at night! That is why it is so dark. And perhaps I was caught in a waking dream, in which I pushed the carpets up against the porch window. And that is why they laughed at me. Maybe I asked for the coffee in a sleepy-boy voice. Was I even wearing street clothes or was I in my underpants, which is how I usually sleep. The way he said, ‘Go back to bed. I’ll bring you coffee.’ Wasn’t that dismissive, though friendly enough, the way you would talk to a boy walking in his sleep? But look, I am wearing my street clothes — wait, someone is here and the bathroom door is open and there is a towel on the floor.”
He went into the other bedroom. On the floor was a black plastic laundry bag. A black cloth suitcase was also on the floor.
“Is that mine?” he said. “Did I sleep here?”
He went back to the larger bedroom. A black cloth suitcase was by the quilted bed.
“That is my bag and someone else is here!”
This is not your home.
“I’d better get out of here — ”
He picked up his bag. Suddenly baggage was piled high on his back, and over his head. He held other bags by other handles. He could only see through a slit between suitcases. His back bent, head low in obeisance to the portrait behind the oil heater. It could have been of the Virgin Mary, but it wasn’t.
“Where is the room going?”
A native of Wisconsin who has worked in Hollywood and London, Steve Weiner now lives in Vancouver. He is the author of three novels, The Museum of Love, The Yellow Sailor, and Sweet England.