The Visitor

short story

When he woke up he found himself on a bed without sheets, in the corner of a small room. At the other side of the room a window, open, rattling. He put both feet on the ground, waited another five seconds, listening. No sound at all. Then he rose and walked towards the window.

He looked down. A street, empty. A lamp, shedding its yellow glow over cobblestones and facades. The air tepid, even when the silence suggested it was the dead of night.
     “Summer,” he thought.
     In the darkness behind the houses he became aware of hills. Between the houses and the hills a river might flow. He cocked his ears in order to detect a faint rustling of mountain water. But he heard nothing.
     “Maybe the season has been dry.”
     Two cars, parked. An old Volvo and a van, he didn’t recognize the make. Both had red, foreign number plates.

He walked back towards the bed. A pair of neatly folded pyjamas resting on the foot end. He put them on and lied down again, wondering in which country cars carried red number plates. Maybe Canada. But he didn’t remember crossing the Atlantic. And he was afraid of flying. 
     He must have come by car.


It had been the same floor: the third. But it had been winter, there, then. Floes of ice had been drifting by on the river across the street. Fresh snow had fallen, turning the black gloves she was wearing into spiders.
     The car, coming from behind the corner, slow, silent, electric. Down below, in the street: her, waiting. Not even a minute earlier, looking up, one anxious eye upon the corner, she had been waving at him, a gloved, tender, hesitating hand.

The car had slowed down, coming to a halt. An arm appearing from inside like a spring, pushing the door open, the car swallowing her. Then the vehicle started moving again, slowly, he saw her sitting at the rear window, hands in her lap, fixing her eyes on whatever happening in front of her, not daring to glance sideways.
     Upper lip slightly curled, always. More so now: the spring arm hadn’t even broken in on the conversation he seemed to be carrying on with the driver. They hadn’t kissed, thank God. In the front seats both men had been laughing.

He closed his eyes. Black dots in the snow. Car, gloves, her hair. Aniko’s hair, long, curly only at the lower ends, denying gravity. He would not be there when she stripped those gloves off. Put them gently beside her, on that back seat.


Someone knocked on the door. Then, whoever it was, tried the door handle, several times. He wondered if he was supposed to be afraid. He didn’t feel that way. “A door knob moves, and i’m lying on a bed.” A summer night. The window open. He felt protected by the silence. 

A girl came in. Tall, svelte, wearing a blue dress over a red shirt. The dress was dirty, as if she had been working in a garden. In her right hand she held a butcher’s knife – the sort Japanese use for cutting fish. A straight blade, more than two inches wide. She stalked towards the window.

Maybe she wanted to shut it. Maybe this area was afflicted by gales suddenly blowing in from the other valley. Breezes storming up the hills, dashing through open windows into rooms, down the stairs. She took three steps, then a backward move.

They looked at each other. Her hair was blond, she was smoking a cigarette. A detail he hadn’t noticed. Delicate features. Strong arms. Maybe she worked in a kitchen. Maybe she was a cook. She seemed sad when she spoke.
     “I guess you’re the new one?”
     “Yes.” He nodded. He was lying on that bed, after all. It seemed to him he wouldn’t have been able to give any other reason for his lying on this bed, in this room.
     “Good,” she said. “Welcome, Paul. My name is Maria, nice to meet you.”
     “Nice to meet you, Maria.”
     “I’ll leave the window open,” she said.
     “Yes,” he answered. “Leave the window open.”

(to be continued)

(Painting: 'Murder', 1906, by Edvard Munch.)

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