Room 307 - Mario Berardi

Texto en español en Acomodando palabras: "Habitación 307"

Traducido al inglés por Jack Buckeridge.

The young man, stood in the lonely avenue, lost in thought. Steady drizzle showered the uneven cobblestone, the abandoned factories in the distance, the footpath opposite and the old three storey building that seemed to be waiting for him. He'd left his suitcase on the footpath and his hand gripped the small green paper that he'd carried there as if his life depended on it.
 The circumstances that had determined that he, just he, would find himself at the door of what promised to be a "hotel for writers" were shrouded in mystery. Chance, the life force or perhaps simply a stroke of luck had placed the flyer that advertised the hotel in his hand. He didn't even remember who had given it to him: it could have been a street salesman in a flashy red track suit, or one of those little old men who scrape an existence together distributing pamphlets.
 He was a writer who paid scant attention to the facts of life. A writer, despite the fact, that he'd never finished anything at all.
 He wore his shoes out wandering aimlessly through forgotten suburbs, while his mind stumbled down its own alleys, imagining stories endlessly. He let them grow and spin around his head, until the characters and scenes disappeared in a wild flurry of action and gestures. He would search for the right place to sit down and write; dismal bars, dark parks, on bench seats in forgotten streets, but when he did, the stories eluded his pen. He tried to write in every possible way but never managed to write more than a few mediocre lines. Yet, some imperious force drove him on with his senseless task, an inner voice that convinced him that without literature there would be no life.
 From this roaming world of daydreams, he had arrived this cold morning in the desolate avenue of the Bajo slums. He reread the pamphlet without paying attention to its hastily written style, nor to the scarcity of information with which it pretended to lure customers. There could be no mistake, it was the only building on the block which matched the marked address, but just the same he lingered a few moments more contemplating the old ramshackle mansion, the rusty weathercock on the tin roof, the sign at the entrance that was missing the letter "H".
 "So what. "he thought," it is a Hotel for Writers.How else could it appear?"
 He entered, climbing the battered front steps.
 The concierge received him,an old thin man dressed in filthy gray overalls, who wrote his details down without interest and then insisted, in spite of hardly being able to walk, on carrying his suitcase to the third floor. The corridors were empty,but the young man thought he heard mysterious whispers, feverish typing, exalted soliloquies as they went by.
 On arriving at Room 307, the concierge opened the door, gave him the old key and hardened his expression and warned him, "Read the rules carefully. They are very important."
The concierge turned around and went down the corridor quickly. But the young man had come here to write not read, so he didn't heed the old man's words and took his laptop out of the suitcase and stared around the room, searching for the best corner to begin. There was nothing special to be seen apart from the mouldy wallpaper, torn here and there, and a small table with uneven legs in front of the bed. What had he expected to find? A specially decorated room, its price tailored for famous writers, with enormous book shelves around the walls, and well-stocked bars. The old hotel room was anything but that. He lifted the small table up and placed it in the corner furthest away from the bathroom, steadying it against the wall, so that it wouldn't move so much. He lit a cigarette and sat down to write.
 A few hours later, as was always the case, nothing had happened beyond a couple of miserable paragraphs. He opened another packet of cigarettes and stopped staring furiously at the faded wallpaper, as an almost imperceptible noise, like steps sliding across a wooden floor attracted his attention. He lit another cigarette and put his ear to the wall if only to distract himself more. It was certain, there seemed to be steps, perhaps someone barefoot, probably a woman. He concentrated on the sound and thought he heard soft singing also. The steps seemed to be following a rhythm, set by a voice, that was even more certainly now that of a woman.Instinctively, he touched the wall softly and was surprised when an important chunk of wallpaper came unstuck and fell, hanging by his shoulder.
The sudden collapse of mouldy wallpaper had revealed a small hole in the wall which he at first concluded was there by chance, its appearance marking a sudden change in his luck. But on thinking it through he concluded that Hotel Service had placed it there, to inspire their guests. He put his eye to the hole and looked in. A girl, was sliding barefoot across the floor as if dancing, her slender hands stroking the air, her tight body in perfect control with each new turn she made. He didn't look anymore, because he knew straight away that she was offering him the most valuable thing of all; a story to be told. The story of a ballerina who sought her destiny in an old "Hotel for Writers". He began to write.
In little more than half an hour half he'd written more pages, and quality pages at that, than he'd written all year. He read them and smiled satisfied. Then he he put his eye gratefully back on the small aperture, to find the girl reposing naked on the bed, staring at the ceiling, her arm stretched towards a glass of champagne that awaited her on the bedside table. With a shudder, he reread the last paragraph of his story. A sudden irritation making reading difficult, but he forced himself to concentrate on each one of the words.
 "but the ballerina hadn't arrived at the hotel to rest. She was there for another reason, although she still didn't know what that was. Determined to be not overcome by sadness, she decided to celebrate alone: she ordered a bottle of champagne, opened it, served herself a glass and, after undressing in silence, lay down on the bed and stared at the ceiling."
 The writer scratched his chin, suprised and a little frightened. Instinctively, he smoothed the wallpaper back over the hole and resumed writing. But after a couple of paragraphs he couldn't resist the temptation of spying a little more on his neighbour. She appeared to be slightly drunk, as she danced her way naked around the room. Astonished,this time he had no need to reread his story to confirm that she was doing exactly what he had just written. He recovered the hole and remained seated for a long while, smoking restlessly. His mind had gone in so many directions in the last years trying to discover the secret of writing but it was only now, here, in the Hotel for Writers, that instinct told him he was getting close to the whirlpool of creativity that had always been inside him.
 He had arrived. He was a writer! He looked at the computer screen and threw himself into a frenzy of creativity.
 He stopped to rest after the end of the second chapter, in which he told, with newfound skill, how the ballerina of the old hotel, alarmed by certain disturbing noises, covers herself with a sheet and goes down the corridor with trepidation. On arriving in front of room 307, she pulls the sheet tightly around her shoulder and knocks on the door lightly.
He lifted his head as he hears light taps on the door of Room 307, amazed at his command of destiny, convinced he is pulling every string, but curiously nervous with his discovery of such power. He suddenly imagines her delicate feet disappearing down the corridor and rushes to the door, opens it, to find his doubts misplaced in her smile. With a gentle flourish of the hand he invites her in.
He closed the door but in that sublime instant in which literature is fused with reality, he understood that he had committed a tremendous mistake in not having written (nor having thought) how things would proceed once she was inside,and now that she was expectant and excited in front of his tired eyes.
The girl seemed to be aware of the circumstances, because she walked boldly to the bed, sat down and offered a young girl's smile. He was the one who didn't know what to do. Walking towards her, pretending to be more confident than he was, he kissed her on the mouth. But she pulled back, apparently offended. He sat at her side and tried to seduce her with small talk but only received a mocking smile and the sound of humming in return. He remained on the bed staring sadly at her bare leg, uncovered by the sheet.
As if she'd never come into the room at all, as if she was alone, as if he didn't exist, she stood up suddenly and slid across the floor to the other side of the room, then back again in a balanced rhythm, improvising a sort of choreography that filled the room with disconcerting figures.
"I should have written it" he thought, "another paragraph and..." And with a written solution in mind he ran to the table, grabbed the laptop and locked himself in the bathroom without giving any explanation. Seated on the toilet he reread the last paragraphs.

"The ballerina, attracted by the writer's intense look through the window, covered herself with a sheet and went down the corridor determined to meet this man that secretly made her restless. She knocked on the door, the writer opened it and invited her in, she entered his world happily…"

He stopped for a second to think. Only a second, because he couldn't allow her to get bored and retrace her steps out of the room. But at the same time he had come to a crucial point in the drama and didn't want to make a mistake. An acceptable idea came to him. He wrote it down:

"The young man, with masculine aplomb, approaches the telephone, calls the concierge and orders a bottle of champagne and two glasses," he added, after looking thoughtfully at the girl, "and something to eat at the houses'choice."

A nervous wrap on the bathroom door interrupted him.
He went out, expectantly, only to find the concierge standing in the room with a tray and the items ordered and the girl disappearing into the corridor in a huff. He stared at the concierge and the unwanted bottle of champagne on the tray and made for the door to follow her. But didn't. He wasn't willing to expose himself to further humiliation. Or the possibility of a painful rejection.
"I told you to read the house rules." the concierge said putting the tray down on the bed and walking to the door. "Here you must follow the rules."

As soon as the door was closed, the writer ran to the wall, dragged the wallpaper down in a rage and looked into the other room. The ballerina was throwing herself on the bed. He forced himself to pay careful attention to every detail. The girl was shaking and crying. The bedside table was empty, the bottle of champagne and the glass had disappeared.
Without wasting time, he installed himself in the bathroom again, disposed to rework the novel, at least in the crucial aspects. He wrote for a long time, for how long he wasn't sure. He felt tired, but also strangely happy: for the first time he'd been able to write a well-rounded story of life. In the new version, he was the writer who visited the mysterious girl, taking the glasses and champagne with him. It was also him who pushed the door open softly with his foot, without taking his eyes off the body of the ballerina. Sure of himself, the youth sat down on the bed, smiled honestly and confessed that he had been spying on her. And that he hadn't thought of leaving without seeing her again, and would never tire of seeing her. As if driven by a secret destiny, the girl dropped the sheet and slipped sweetly upon the wooden floor. She would tell him that it was his eyes who drew her improbable choreography. After looking at her fascinated for a long while, the writer served the champagne, got close to the girl imitating her light steps, and offered her a glass to toast. She accepted the glass modestly. After, in a sequence of building passion, the two drank, smiled, danced, embraced, kissed.
He wrote what would happen later, dragging the details out, describing each image in precise detail, delighting in the pleasure his pen now gave him. He took time to describe the body of the woman, her fruity aroma, the great nipples, the shapely hips, her perfect legs. He told, at his pleasure, the writers acts, his glorious nudity, the ability of his hands, the acrobatics of his tongue, the power of his animal desire, his full erection.
Nevertheless, he suspected that something was not quite right, he had to stop himself at the end of the episode, just before the inevitable orgasm. He'd carried his enthusiasm too far, but he wasn't physically in this whirlpool of passion, but still in the bathroom conceiving it, writing. He had been transported through the vividness of his fiction to a point of uncontrollable excitement. But there was no returning now, and he ran to the girl's room, taking the bottle and the glasses with him, knowing that now he wasn't responsible for his actions. And although he could check that little by little everything was happening as it had been written, things were starting to drift. He had the feeling he was going off the boil.
Just as in the story, the writer opened the door with his foot and stared at the ballerina, but banged his knee painfully on entering. He sat down on the bed bedside her, smiling anxiously, his voice not as firm as he would have liked. She seemed indifferent to him but agreed to dance nude for him anyway, her sensual body trembling lightly. Afterwards, he served the champagne awkwardly and attempted foreplay with her clumsily, in a way that was more fleeting and bitter than he could have imagined. He came almost immediately, and finished without pain or glory over the girl's trembling thighs.
 His grotesque shriek cut through her angry cold silence.
Half nude, embarrassed, furious, the writer returned to his room without looking back, blindly prepared to throw everything into one last desperate effort to wipe everything out that he had written. He entered the bathroom and looked at the laptop screen, savouring perhaps the possible and definitive end. It was then that something unexpected happened, one of those facts that in a novel, impose an inevitable twist in the life of the characters. Alarmed by a barely perceptible hiss, he ran to the door and stared at a little pink envelope on the floor. With fine lettering, the letter was addressed to him, to Mr.Writer. He opened it and read with anxiety the text of the short missive. It was obviously a letter from her, in which she confessed to have come to the hotel to be looked at, desired, yearned for. But never, she clarified as well, to be outraged. He paused thinking of broken love, stained illusions, a woman's grief. In a point, to him, it seemed that she had written it to another man, any man, all men. Until,unexpectedly, the text expressed her disgust with a wounding sentence, "Miserable beast. I wish I could twist your balls as if a hungry dog was biting them" Immediately, an animal pain moved him in the crotch and forced him to double up painfully. But he couldn't stop reading, all the way to the end, accepting in the reading the encarnation of the atrocious torments that she had imagined for him, the insensitive acts of evil that could only surge out of a mind, blind with rage of a disgusted woman.
The concierge found him on the floor, naked and dirty, mouth open, nose bloodied, he body whipped and palpitating. He examined him lightly, only to check if he had survived the received punishment, and went to stand in front of the door of the room, turning his back. He arranged his glasses and read, staring at the old cardboard that had hung there since time immemorial.
Regulations of the Hotel for Writers-he recited in a monotone -Article One: it is prohibited to spy through cracks that could be in the walls. These activities are only permitted to true writers. Article Two: The hotel does not take responsibility for the inconveniences caused to guests on occasion of trying amorous interchanges, furtive visits or exagerrated outpourings. Article three: Room 307 is not available to writers. The only people that can enter belong to the hotel service and can only do so on occasion of doing cleaning or maintenance. For the rest, the room mentioned remains reserved, in any case, for characters summoned by true writers to the effect...

Characters? a groan of the writer interrupted him, laughing as if for the first time in his life. What do you mean "characters?"
"Yes,it's like that." the old man replied laconically. “ Characters."
It can't be.I ... I…
"And who do you think you are, then?”
“Well, I... I am a writer”
“A writer? How? Where is your work? What have you written? What are you called? Do you have a name? You are only "the writer"
Then as if he had received a blow in the face, he understood everything. He hadn't thought about it until this moment, but it was like that. Not even in his own novel did he have a name. He had never had one. His entire life could be summed up in this afternoon in the hotel. Exhausted, he collapsed on the bed with his face in his hands.
"No it isn't that bad,you mustn't take it like that." the concierge added, in a single gesture of humaneness. “After all you have been called for a story of love. More than one are envying you”.

Mario Berardi

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