The Hotel

Tianxing Ma

By This Time Tomorrow

There’d been no soup course at their wedding, she didn’t think. Or if there had been, it had leaked into the toilet by the time they had left. The cloy of champagne still furred their teeth when the bellboy showed them to the room that night, smiling. “Congratulations,” he said. Lai tipped him extra.     

Maria saw that Lai’s eyes snapped wider when he stepped into the room. His cheeks had grown mottled as he came down from drunkenness. He toed off his shoes and walked around the room, touching with his usual precision the polished mahogany desk, the crystal vase, the bouquet of flowers still bundled in waxy paper on the bed. He picked up the flowers, then frowning, said, “I should thank your parents.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Maria said. For her, everything in the room was edged in shadow. A heat spread up through her chest, separate from the shots of vodka her bridesmaids had handed to her that still sluiced her blood. “Come here.”

His socks were silent against the carpet. He kissed her, his fingers on her shoulders damp from the flowers. He tasted sour. Maria tried to shake the jacket off his shoulders. He laughed against her mouth, his lips pulling taut over hers. She kept trying but could only process her movements a second after her body had moved, blackness rushing in to fill the gaps between.

“Do me instead,” she said and turned around. The dress her parents had given her had 37 ivory buttons down the back. She wanted Lai to lick a line down her spine as he unhooked each one.

He didn’t. She rubbed where the bones of the dress had dug red stripes into her hips, her stomach, pouched out from alcohol. Lai was there too, warm brown palms, the pink in his cuticles not even as light as her skin. They kissed. Lai shed his jacket onto a chair. He nudged her stumbling fingers away from the buttons on his shirt and peeled it off himself as she worked on his belt.

He made a noise in the hollow behind his teeth. Maria felt it around her tongue and pressed harder against his. He extracted himself from around her.

“Don’t give me that face, Maria. I have a surprise for you.”

“What is it now?”

He pulled a silver cigarette box out of his pants. It was thin, the metal worn dull in places.

“I just want you to fuck me,” Maria said.

Spinning it between his fingers so he touched only the sturdier end, he held a joint out to her, the paper greening under the light. “I brought this for you,” he said, and closed the box. His arm was steady, extended towards her.

Maria laughed. “You know me too well.” She took it and smelled it, and the skunkiness mingled with the sharp stink of her breath almost made her retch. “Where’s the light?”

“I have to do something first.” Lai was glancing at the things he’d inspected before. The desk, the bouquet. His eyes, trained on the bathroom, didn’t stray to where Maria’s bare feet collided with the king-size bed or to the joint she held at the middle, as she brought it again to her nose. 

The edge of the bed folded beneath her knees. Lai was walking out of the bathroom, prying open a small sage box. He tossed the shower cap inside to her and started to remove rubber bands from around the stems of the bouquet.    

“You’re not drunk at all, are you?” Maria said. She hadn’t watched him too closely at the reception, assuming he and his friends were tipping Jack Daniel’s up high into their mouths as both their families disapproved quietly from behind their steak and foy thong. His smile had been small and pointed, like a pebble in a shoe, every time she looked. It niggled within her and the way the alcohol seemed to broaden the night.

Maria wanted some clothes. The front of her thong stretched into her vulva, but she felt too liquid to remove it. Lai plucked the shower cap off her lap. Standing atop a chair, he filmed the shower cap over the smoke detector, stretched a rubber band halfway around it with one hand, pinching it against the plastic of the cap with the other as he rounded it to enclose the whole smoke detector. Maria remembered, watching him fasten two more, a video she had once seen in which 76 rubber bands had crushed a watermelon. Each pull of his muscles was deliberate. A line had creased between his eyebrows. He looked at the plastic bunching over the detector when he was finished, his mouth a little hard and hopeful. He put the chair back behind the desk, struck a match from a box he had taken from the lobby, and passed the joint to Maria, who blew a stream of smoke into his face. The rest curled inside her.

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