I couldn’t tell you how many times I checked the clock. I’m sure you know how it went, anyway. You look at the clock and it’s only two minutes later than it was the last time you looked. Next time you check it’s only been three more minutes. The next time you hold out as long as you possibly can until you’re sure it’s been at least twenty minutes, and then you look and it’s still only been five. And then finally you start thinking about something else and you don’t look at the time and suddenly it’s been an hour and if you don’t hurry up, you’re going to be late. So rather sooner than I expected, it was after four and I still had to find the hotel, so I decided I’d better get going. I hastened back to the car, and it was almost a relief to be rushing around because if I instead had to think about what was going to happen in less than an hour from now, I was worried that my brain might implode and I would have come all this way for nothing.
I must have made half-a-dozen wrong turns on my way to the hotel. I’d always had a lousy sense of direction, but this was unusually bad, even for me. I was downtown, and each misstep resulted in an eternity of turning around or circling the block and waiting for traffic lights and pedestrians. By the last time, I was half-convinced I was trying to get lost on purpose. But then I realized that if that happened, I’d have to call and tell him, and having that particular phone conversation sounded even more unendurable than seeing him in person. And when I crept around the next corner, fingers clenched to the steering wheel as if it were a life preserver, the street sign told me it was the right one and there I was, driving into the hotel parking lot at last. I still had twenty minutes to spare. Why wasn’t it over yet?!
I sat absolutely still for five of those minutes, mentally commanding my heart to cease its infernal yammering. I spent the next five gathering up my things and checking to make sure that all of the windows and doors were locked and the parking brake was set six or seven times. And then it was ten till and I still had to get to the tenth floor and I figured I’d better hurry because I didn’t want to be late. What was this, a job interview? Contempt for my own foolishness finally got me going. I made it through the lobby and all the way up the stairs to the tenth floor without hesitating, and then I was in his hallway and the room was right there, but I was panting and sweating and I couldn’t go in just yet. Unless it was the thirty-eighth floor or I had a lot of baggage or companions, I always took the stairs, and now I regretted that age-old resolve on my part because I was a mess and even worse, I’d lost my physical momentum and had started thinking again about what was going to happen here. Big mistake.
The hallway was high-ceilinged and dim. Phony candle-type lanterns hung in iron brackets every ten feet along the walls, spilling what little there was of their eerie light onto the blood-red carpet. The only windows to the outside were at the very ends of the protracted hallways; I could barely make out the tiny breaks they carved into the pervasive gloom. I wondered briefly if they were large enough for me to jump through. Hoping for respite from the strangling sensation that clutched at my throat, I craned my neck skyward. The ceiling was decorated with some sort of bronze gilded pattern, and where a moment before it had given the impression of loftiness, now it seemed to be pressing down, ever closer to my unprotected skull, and the gilding wasn’t an artistic design, it was a web of interlocking chains poised to drop down and trap me there, where Michael would undoubtedly find me the next morning, huddled in a whimpering ball and ready for the insane asylum. I peeked reluctantly back towards his door. It stood tall and ominous, a large black iron knocker dead in its center. “Boom! Boom! Boom!” I seemed to hear it clamor, surely in order to summon the damned spirits within. “Boom! Boom! Boom!” And then there was a slow creaking sound, like that of a poorly-oiled door or the gates of hell opening, and I leapt into the air and from that elevated vantage point finally saw that there was a visitor entering another room down at the other end of the hall.
I exhaled. Somewhere in my head I heard chicken noises and that was annoying so I ran a brush through my now mostly-dry hair, resettled my bag on my shoulder, and took a fortifying deep breath. I took the teeniest hold possible of that big black knocker and gave it the most timid tap I could muster. “Boom!” it resounded. I heard movement inside the room, and then a chasm was opening before my eyes, threatening to swallow me up, and I held my breath as the door separated slowly from its jamb. I don’t mind telling you that in that moment I was scared out of my wits and not in the least bit horny. And when he finally appeared in the doorway the expression on his face told me that he felt about the same way.
“Hi,” I said, showing off my quick wit and brilliant conversational skills.
“Hi,” he answered back, with equally impressive eloquence.
And then we stared at each other, motionless with fear.
“Can I come in?” I asked finally, speculating with some justification that the answer might be no.
“Oh, of course.” He moved aside about three inches, and I wiggled my way out of the hallway and into the room.