I packed my suitcase and drove out of Philadelphia. Whether that was yesterday or twenty-five years ago, I am not sure. There is so much to do, so many cities to visit, all those people waiting. I lose track of time. Before I have barely begun, I am completely exhausted. I have to stop. I ask the manager at the motor hotel for a quiet room, and flop into bed. I set the alarm clock for morning.
I must have made a mistake, because it goes off before I fall asleep. I turn it off and try again.
The phone on the bedside table rings. It’s still dark out.
I mumble into the phone. I am still tired. Please, I am not ready to get up.
“No! you must get up now. There have been complaints. You are sleeping too long. Everyone is waiting. Get up!”
I put the phone down, letting the buzz of voice fill the space under the bed. I try to remember the name of the hotel, so I do not make the same mistake again, but I can’t even remember the name of the city in which I have stopped, and under the white ceiling of the hotel room I fall back to sleep once again.
A loud banging on the door wakes me. I wrap the thin hotel blanket around my shoulders and swing open the heavy grey metal door. The night manager, the one who gave me the room, and several other men stand in the dark hallway outside the door. Deep rings sag under their eyes, wrinkles bend the fabric of their suits.
“You must get up!” the manager implores. “These men are waiting.”
“Damn right!” a heavy man shouts. He wears what must have been, not so very long ago, a handsome blue suit. “Nothing is happening, and it’s all your fault. You can’t sleep forever! We’ve got things to do!”
The other men gather behind him, showing their support. They all look too tired to speak for themselves. The hotel manager stands on one side of the doorway, the businessmen on the other.
“Bother someone else’s dreams!” I try to shout, but all I do is yawn loudly. I wave them away, then close the door and chain it shut, and take sheets and pillows from the bed, making a small nest in the bathtub. I close the bathroom door and turn on the ventilation fan to drown out the noise of the pounding and shouting, and fall asleep between the pink tiles and mirror of the hotel bath.
When I finally wake, I am stiff, but rested. I brush my teeth and wash my face, and walk into the room to change. The manager sits in a folding chair. Firemen—thick booted and heavy coated—sit in the two chairs that came with the room, their heads back, but dreadfully awake. A policeman sits on the floor poking at the shine of his shoes. Men and women near him, almost asleep, curl up together in the unmistakable fashion of lovers, but dressed and chaste. The blue suited businessman lies alone on the bare bed; his head is propped up on a briefcase pillow.
“Are you up?” asks the manager.
I raise my arms to demonstrate the obvious.
“Thank God,” mutters the businessman, and he leads the others out of the room, past the door—separated from its hinges and propped up against the wall—and into the slowly lightening hallway. Outside I hear the sounds of engines starting, and a city whirring to life.
The sun rises above the trees while I change my clothes and repack my suitcase. The maid waves to me on my way out. She smiles. She looks rested too. In the car I open the road atlas and check my itinerary. For each city circled in red there are pages of names. I don’t think that I will finish today.