A Room with a View

Fumbling with the keys, suitcase leaning precariously against the steps, I try the lock again. Third time's the charm and it's finally open. I have the door locked again, keys in the lockbox, and my suitcase inside in a matter of seconds. It's not the worst part of town, but any place looks its most suspicious at 3 a.m.

The light switch eludes me a minute more, until I catch it hiding right where I first checked by the door. A long, low hallway rolls out the dingy red carpet for me, not bothering to roll it back up after I cross. Two doors  on the left stand off against a single door on the right. My door at the end, parallel to the entry, stands awkwardly between them. It's a little shorter than the other three, like it doesn't want to trouble the ceiling. At least, I hope that's my door. I check double-check the description on my phone, then enter the code into its keypad.


The keypad sits in smug silence, offering no response or hint.


A happy beep swings the door open, and I've finally arrived.

"Cozy space within walking distance of the subway. Queen-size bed and en-suite bathroom. Great view of the park. Free Wi-Fi."

No struggle to locate a switch here. The green neon logo of the dispensary next door splashes helpfully over the whole room, pouring into every crevice at least twice. The window through which it shines hardly seems beg enough to allow such luminosity, let alone a view of the park. I cross the ten feet of dirty carpet to learn that I'm wrong: The view of the park is actually quite complete. It's the park itself that leaves much to be desired. Dead trees stand wear guard over bolted-down trash cans and banks of asphalt-black snow piled high by city plows. They're all cast in the aggressive cheer of Grass Ceiling's lit sign. I can't hear the buzz of the neon through the glass, but it's so loud I almost feel like I can.

I draw the curtains, which follow my pull to their closed position rather reluctantly. The rest of the room calms down in the absence of green light, settling into its natural shades of yellow and brown. The cracked linoleum countertop in the bathroom pairs well with the particle-board dresser, especially since there's no bathroom door to stand between them. No mirror above the sink, but a replacement hangs at chest-level next to the front door. There's little floor left between the bed and the dresser, so I try to put my suitcase in the closet. However, the "closet" door has no handle. I check the hinges. It opens only from the other side…the not-me side.

How much of a problem should I make this? 3 a.m. Need sleep. Not like I was excited to sleeping here before anyway. If that bed is queen-sized then I'm an emperor. No visible radiator or thermostat and it's freezing outside. What else is there to do?

I prop my suitcase against the mystery door with my aluminum water bottle barely balanced on top. If anyone opens the door, I'll hear it fall. Then at least I can see what my murderer looks like before he ends me. I fall into bed in my street clothes. Close my eyes, exhausted, but cant sleep. Waiting for the aluminum to clang. Check phone - 3:19. Somewhere out there a heater whirs to life. The heat doesn't reach my room.


I pull the tiny beaded cord on the tiny beady lamp next to the bed. The green neon is no longer peeking under the curtains. I miss it. I stare at my new ugly light source. The yellow bulb is blackened near the crown. The paisley lampshade is faded. Very faded. How old is this thing? How old is its owner? Who is my would-be killer?

There's a tiny pewter frame handing over the dresser. A picture of a dog, sepia-tinged by at least thirty years. The curtains share the paisley pattern of the lampshade. They pair uneasily, not like intentional design, but like the only remaining pieces of some greater set whose better parts have long since left. The bathroom holds a bucket filled with too many supplies for just itself.

Is that right? I check and see two mops, an industrial jug of bowl cleaner, and sponges and rubber gloves. Nestled between the mops is a leather toiletry bag. The zipper has a distinctive patina of age, and the cracks in the leather look well-earned. I go to the dressed and check the drawers, but see no more clues. Back to bed with my meager findings to ponder as my eyelids finally realize their weight. There's no frame under the mattress, just a squeaky box spring that presses all the way through to my shoulders somehow.

The lister's profile showed an older man. Dog long-dead. Ancient matching bedroom décor spread across the other three rooms in the hall. The lister must be tiny, judging by the height of the mirror by the door. Guy has resorted to letting out even his tiniest room; brushing his teeth out of the toilet bucket. He's probably sleeping behind that closet door…

Next morning while waiting for my rideshare on the curb, I open the listing again.


2/5 stars. No mirror in the bathroom.