Her next move was masterful in all its simplicity: she ignored me. It started with her visits to my sick bed becoming shorter and more rushed. She had appointments, she said, appointments on the mainland. People of the past, people of today. Her good friend the glassblower, her dear dermatologist, her old limp lover from Trieste. She would introduce everyone to me when I was back to normal, I’d better get well soon, at least eat your cookie, drink some of your tea.
Previously she had let her hand rest long and lovingly on my clammy forehead many times. With those graceful cigarette fingers of hers she had brushed my hair from my face, brought her eyes close to mine, said things about my suffering that were hers too. But that joint suffering was a thing of the past. Not only did she stop touching me, she looked at me with the look of someone looking at a knocked-down dog that’s been rotting by the side of the road in the sun for days; a look in which pity and disgust competed for precedence. Soon she stopped talking about getting well, she didn’t talk about anything anymore, she stood in the doorway, just shouted, “ciao!”, blew an air kiss into the room and flew.
I felt abandoned as a twelve-year-old girl in the schoolyard, but tried to see it as something positive. Her disinterest would make me better, I’d recuperate, take my daughter on my arm, run away from this nightmarish five-star abode.
Twice a day someone came to clean the room and change the bedding. On those occasions, the tall boy—he seemed to grow an inch every day—lifted me out of bed and put me in the wheelchair. Everyone didn’t seem to care at all about my condition. Apparently it was quite normal for the cleaners to find hotel guests shivering and sweating in their beds. This hotel’s service was so damn discreet that they would dispose of a corpse without flinching.
When she didn’t come at all, and I couldn’t remember how long I hadn’t seen or heard my daughter, when the nine-headed horse began to neigh so loudly during her nighttime visits that I couldn’t hear my own thoughts, then I, in short, having reached a nadir within the all-encompassing nadir, I pulled the tall boy by the sleeve.
“I’m being poisoned,” I whispered“I’m being poisoned.” He nodded, nothing else, he held the wheelchair and nodded. Suddenly I had had enough of him, of his indifference bordering on contempt. The arrogance! This was not service, this was sabotage.
“I want to speak to the manager,” I said, as loudly as I could, “I want to speak to the manager now.” The tall boy looked at me for the first time. „What do you think this is, miss, a hotel?”
Next week: The Venetian mask.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of August 25, 2021