Checking in at the Park Motel on the highway, she says, “Look at that clock on the wall! It’s like the one in the train station! I feel spooked!” “I think the train clock has old-fashioned Roman numerals,” he says, “where this one has only dots.” “Are you sure?” The motel cabin is ultra-modern with no closets or drawers, but it does have a condom dispenser and a minibar. The small TV on the wall is running with the sound off. Vehicles are chasing each other on it. There are crashes, explosions, collapsing buildings, flying bodies, the usual. She stands at the window, looking out upon the peaceful country scene. It’s lovely, but she misses the cluttered alley, the tangle of railroad tracks beyond. The king-size bed vibrates silently when a button is pushed, so they tear off their clothes and throw themselves on it, grabbing and biting with wild abandon, etc., but he doesn’t feel up to it. “Probably I’m only hungry,” he says, shutting down the restless bed. It might help, she thinks, if the springs squeaked. He calls room service and the receptionist tells him the kitchen is closed. “Closed? It’s still lunchtime! Is it ever open?” “Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?” He slams the phone down. “We could take a bath,” she suggests. The whirlpool tub is big enough for four people, which provokes a thought neither of them expresses. They turn on all the nozzles and squat in front of the surging sprays of water. Maybe time just is
, he thinks, and we
flow. He sighs. This isn’t working either. “I know, let’s go for a walk in the park,” she proposes, turning off the water. “If in fact there is one.”
Hoping to excite themselves, they leave their clothes behind and wear only the fluffy white bathrobes hanging on pegs in the bathroom, the paper slippers by the bed. There’s a sign outside their door that points at a path: TO THE PARK. This is somehow amusing and lightens their spirits. They walk hand-in-hand down the path, feeling a bit giddy in the airy bathrobes, until they reach the edge of a dark woods. “It’s like that painting in the Railway Hotel,” he says, somewhat apprehensively. “Don’t be silly,” she says, reaching into his bathrobe with an electric fingertip. “No one else is here. Let’s find a place to dance!” In the middle of the woods, they discover a grassy sunlit meadow, which may be the motel’s namesake park, and, shedding their bathrobes and slippers, they surrender once again to the disciplined freedom of dance. They swoop lightly around the meadow, feeling one with nature and with each other, their dreamlike movements fluid and delightful. “Oh joy!” she says. Then, as though under the spell of the dance itself, they find themselves wheeling down the darkening path into the trees. “Whoa!” he exclaims, trying to slow down. She is giggling, but she’s also frightened. They stagger to a stop, skinning their knees as they tumble. They creep back up the path to the meadow, gripped by the fear that the meadow might not be there. It’s there, but their robes and slippers aren’t. “Oh no! The room key was in my bathrobe pocket!” They pause at the edge of the woods to see who might be watching, then dash to the locked cabin door. They bang their hips and shoulders against it, but it won’t give. He breaks a window to unlock it, raises it as high as it will go. Not high enough for him, but, with her robe off, she’s able to slither through (this whole misadventure is almost funny, he thinks, watching her wriggling backside slowly disappear) and open the door from the inside. “There’s nothing funny about this,” she says when she sees his face. Comedy always ruins everything, one of them is thinking. Distantly, they hear applause. Hopefully, it’s coming from the game show on the TV, the sound now on. “I hate it here,” she says, snapping the TV off and her skirt on. “I want to go back to the Railway Hotel.” He’s already into his jeans and loafers. But the Railway Hotel is booked solid until at least 7:30. She glances at her watch. “I almost don’t remember my husband,” she says. “I remember my wife,” he says. “She’s going to be very angry. What time is it?” “I think it’s Wednesday.” They kiss cheeks and, booking the hotel, make a date to meet again under the station clock.
She arrives the day and time agreed on, but he’s not there. She’s hurt, but also vaguely relieved. She glances up at the clock: Ah, she’s too early. Well, she should probably wait. She thinks about his soapy hands and recovers a trace of nostalgia and desire. From across the arrival hall, her husband waves at her, smiling. Was she supposed to meet him here? She waves back. Luckily, she’s dressed in her customary suede jacket and boots. He, meanwhile, is at a meeting, an appointment he couldn’t miss. He ends it as quickly as he can and dashes off to the train station, still in his business suit, loosening his tie as he trots along. He’s late, and when he reaches the clock, she’s not there. Has she been here and gone? He’s disappointed. After that little jog, he could use a shower, so maybe he should keep the hotel booking. He could bounce on and off the bed again. How did they do that? On his own, he’d only break a leg. He strokes his mustache tuft, glances up at the clock, smiles wistfully. He was right. Roman numerals.