“I’m only passing through,” he said quietly, “one or two perhaps.”
“I’ll leave it open,” she said, unconsciously still holding the tissue to her nose. She handed him the key without looking up.
It was approaching midnight on the third night of his stay. The basement bedroom was dark except for the halo of a street lamp from across the road and a flickering light from the bedside plug. Lazarus couldn’t sleep. He filled a glass with brandy and ice and sat at the desk. A 1978 Mauser pistol waited harmlessly on the writing desk. He had loaded it and placed it on the table the instant he walked into the room. He looked at it, as he sipped the brandy. It’s such an easy thing, he thought. To pull a trigger. To place the barrel against ones temple and squeeze.
Outside, it began to snow. Parked cars lined the curbs but there was no traffic at this time. A lorry spewing grit had passed his window about an hour ago. Ghostly pedestrians had criss-crossed the road on their way to and from somewhere, but now a silence smothered the street.
The eyes of Napoleon observed him from the brandy bottle on the mantelpiece. He ignored them and swirled his half empty glass in a circular motion, recalling the merry-go-round in the park next to his grandparent’s house. His older brother Jonathan, used to spin him around making the sound of a jet plane or a racing car. The ice chuckled in the glass as if sharing the memory.
The room smelt of pine. The cleaner had inserted a fragrant expelling plug next to his bed. “Plug these in to every room. I want this place smelling like a forest.” Ms Kelly had instructed the cleaner outside Laz’s room that morning. I suppose it does smell a bit like a forest. A plastic forest. He thought.
He looked again outside the window and saw a man in the middle of the road staring back at him. The man wore a long black coat, a woolly hat and fingerless gloves. He motioned to Lazarus, beckoning him to come outside. Lazarus stared at the man. “My God, I think that’s Jonathan,” he said. Jonathan had died 10 years ago that night. An event, that in its own way, had led Lazarus to this moment.
He ran from his room, up the stairs and out onto the street. But when he arrived at the spot where he had seen the man, no one was there. There were no footprints in the fresh snow. No sign of anyone but himself, standing under the dampened street light.
“Jonathan?” Lazarus called out. There was no reply. Save the snow patting his shoulder and melting on his hair. Suddenly, the ice that had enveloped his heart over the last decade, thawed and a warm feeling moved into his soul. He felt he was in the presence of his brother, despite the absence of Jonathan’s body. He looked back into his tomb of a hotel bedroom. He saw the gun, the brandy and the small flickering light from Ms Kelly’s pine forest plug. He knew then, he would never again return to the person he was just a few minutes beforehand.
Lazarus wrote about the experience of seeing his brother, or “The Angel”, as he named his book. He did return to the hotel, many years later. Ms Kelly was still managing the place. The smell of aged pine, decay and what Lazarus could only describe as sadness, still filled the place. “Would you like a double room?” She asked, looking up from her computer without smiling.
“No, thank you,” he replied. “I just wanted to have a look if that’s ok?”
She turned her eyes back to the screen. “Feel free”, she murmured.
Lazarus glanced down the stairs to the basement. ‘How different things might have been’, he thought.
He then crossed the threshold back onto the street. He felt the snow on his face and glow from the street light in his blood. He smiled to himself and walked home.