He opened the screen door, and warm tropical air flowed into the room. The light white curtains filled like sails. He went out onto the deck and breathed in the night air. Across from the deck was the wall of another hotel, with its little decks pointing towards the sea. Television sets glowed inside some of the rooms, and people would come and go wearing robes, wearing bathing suits, some wearing nothing at all. People were sitting, eating, reading. Some of the rooms were dark.
“I’m glad work is paying for this,” he said, looking back into the room.
“I’m glad I got to come along,” she said.
“What are you reading?”
“Still researching dogs.”
“Where’d the conference schedule go?”
“Presentations on how many angels fit on the head of a pin?”
“I don’t know.”
She was reading, naked on the couch. When he looked back at the other hotel, he thought he saw eyes staring from the dark of a room. If those eyes had been watching earlier, they had seen a good show. Now he and his girlfriend were just sitting around drinking, except she was naked, brown and naked and reading a dog book.
“They have dog scouts!”
“Dog scouts and dog camp.” She turned the book around so that he could see the pictures of the dogs with bandanas around their necks. He looked at it and shook his head.
“It says this dog can jump five feet, eight inches high!” she said.
“That’s high,” he said.
A woman in the other hotel came out onto her deck. She was wearing a white robe. She seemed to be looking at him. He looked back.
“It says that playing tug of war encourages them to challenge you. You’re not supposed to encourage that. There has to be a leader.”
“I get that.”
“They live in packs, so they look for a leader.”
He looked back at the room with the pair of eyes. He thought he saw the red glow of a cigarette. He thought the eyes were watching. They were two men in two hotels watching each other, one of them in the dark.
“Let’s get tattoos,” she said.
He didn’t like that other guy watching. Look wherever you want, just not over here! It was impossible to tell exactly where that other was looking. He could have been looking at the sea, or someone else’s room, smoking, eyes burning red.
“I’m serious,” she said.
“I am, too.”
“What’ll we get, then?”
“I don’t know...a dog?”
He came back in and made another drink and stuck a soggy paper umbrella on a toothpick into it. “Alcohol ought to help this finger,” he said. He looked at the red and swollen tip.
“Sea urchin? I have no memory of getting stung.”
“Want another drink?”
“I’m fine,” she said. “What about a Chinese symbol?”
“A tattoo? Symbol of what?”
“I don’t know...love?”
“I don’t think I want Chinese on me—nothing against the Chinese.”
“What do you want?”
“Of course,” she said. Did he detect a sneer? “A rendition of Pliny the Elder’s description of Vesuvius, or the Italian Triumvirate minus Cervantes...”
“I get it.”
But how could he complain? She was beautiful, brown, and naked on the couch. This was paradise, and out there the sea rolled black and boundless, night stars shimmering overhead, leviathan eyes looking up from the deep. Waves broke white on the beach in the shoreline hotel lights. Pools and tubs bubbled below, surrounded by deck chairs and palm trees. A steel band was playing Jimmy Buffet and Calypso music to women in flowery skirts and men in shorts and flip-flops, all drinking drinks and imagining glamorous lives.
“You’re drifting,” she said.
He made her a fresh drink and threw in the old fruit and a paper umbrella. Paradise. Not in the abstract, but here and now. And their fight in the afternoon, screaming in the street, all that business was over and washed on.... Hadn’t he let it go? He put her drink down beside her. She made a thank you sound and continued reading her book.
He went back onto the deck. The other hotel glowed with a thousand eyes. He lit a cigarette. That one man was still there, also smoking, looking out of the dark.
“Shit,” he said. He counted up from the bottom and over from the edge.
“I’ll be back in a minute.” He put down his drink and went out and down the elevator and across the lobby and across the sand and through the bar in the other hotel and up the elevator to floor nine and down the hallway to room 914. He knocked. No answer. He knocked again and the door opened and a man appeared there, and he said to the man, “What the hell are you doing staring into our room?”
“I’ve seen you!”
“I have no idea—”
And he shoved his hand into the man’s chest and felt him step back.
“If I catch you again I’m coming back, and I won’t be so nice next time.”
He went back down the hallway to the elevator and down to the lobby and out over the sand and up to his own room.
“Where’d you go?” she asked.
“Get some air.”
“Right...” she said.
He turned on her. “What? You starting that business again?”
She looked at him, and he read the look. He took up his drink again and went back out onto the deck. He looked over at the other hotel and now the other man was standing on his deck, looking back at him. He stared back. “Shit!” he said.
“What?” she asked.
“Nothing,” he said, and he came back in and fixed another drink. His hands were shaking. Every room was vibrating with occupants, their fantasies, their atoms mixing like cocktails into each other’s lives.
has six collections of poetry in print, a novella called Ghost, and the highly praised, well-reviewed novel The White Field. His work has appeared in several anthologies as well as journals such as The Chicago Quarterly Review, Poetry International, The Galway Review, Bitter Oleander, Chiron, Louisiana Literature, and Slipstream. Translations of his work by Maria Del Castillo Sucerquia appear in La Cabra Montes.
He is a regular contributor of fiction and essays to the online journal Mythaxis, where his interviews with notable writers, artists, and musicians such as Daniel Wallace (Big Fish), Darcy Steinke (Suicide Blond, Flash Count Diary), and Tim Reynolds (T3 and The Dave Matthews Band) have also been popular contributions. Cole’s work has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, and he has received the Leslie Hunt Memorial Prize in Poetry. He lives and teaches in Seattle, Washington.
Author’s website: https://douglastcole.com/