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Lisa hesitated in front of room 6067 for quite some time. In her hands, she held the ironed shirt on a hanger. Beyond this door stayed the man with the deep hoarse voice. Lisa heard the murmur of him and his lawyer, X. Him, loud and arrogant; her, even and rational. None of the words were distinct. Otherwise, Lisa wouldn’t have stood here. She wasn’t an eavesdropper.

But she also was no fool. The events of today—unlike the rest of her beautiful, peaceful, remembered life—all connected to that man.

First, the tug of war between the winds had occurred outside the hotel when Koe and Joe had accompanied the man from the cliff to the building.

Second, in the cocktail lounge, when Lisa had spilled the drink and grabbed the man’s arm to avoid falling, she’d seen a mysterious overlap between the old man’s face and that of his younger version. And before that, when she’d taken a step into the lounge, she’d tottered so that Koe and Joe had had to support her, like some damsel in distress.

Then, the blood flood in the laundry room. Now that, unmistakably, must mean something. Must, so that Lisa had come here, to the hallway in front of room 6067, to learn just what it meant, even though she dreaded the answer.

She clasped the shirt hanger tighter and glanced around. To her left and right, white marble hallways carpeted in black stretched as far as she could see. What miracle that the housekeeping staff kept such a large structure smelling flowery and breezy at all times, despite the constant mist outside.

A soft jazz recording played. Not one of the more complicated tracks that required thought and attention; more like, elevator jazz for the troubled. Lady Song figured that music helped keep people’s minds off unproductive thoughts, such as how they shouldn’t have died before doing x, y, z, or how they shouldn’t have died at all. Famous classical music with too clear a meter, thought the lady, brought back memories, which was also undesirable. Of course, the people who’d actually produced and played these elevator jazz tracks were bound to die at some point, and then, for them, all kinds of memories would resurface. But Lisa trusted Lady Song to think of an alternative before a bunch of them were due in afterworld. For now, the music did a great job preventing Lisa from understanding the details of the conversation in room 6067.

But when the old man’s voice turned from speaking to shouting, Lisa flinched and couldn’t help but hear:

“You’re supposed to be my lawyer!”

X responded in an unwaveringly calm tone, the meaning of which Lisa couldn’t understand through the door.

“So in this world, lawyers aren’t obliged to try to get their client out of any and all kinds of trouble?” shouted the man. “Isn’t that what you get paid for? Not by me, but by someone. If not, why bother with you at all?”

X, once again, said something in a quiet voice.

“Forget it,” the man said. “If you aren’t on board with this, I’m going to defend myself. What a waste of time. Get out of here, useless bitch.”

“Excuse me?” X said.

Lisa grabbed the door handle, cool against her hands that suddenly sweated, hot. Maybe X needed help.

“You heard me. Get out. You’re fired,” the man said.

Maybe X was gonna open the door from her side? Then Lisa didn’t have to do a thing?

“Mr. Cattaneo, I warn you,” said X, firmly but her voice without a hint of outward agitation. “Your best shot is telling the truth. Should they find out later that you actually killed someone and lied—”

“I only told you so you could build an actual case, not to tell me to act all moral!”

Lisa’s heart raced. Though the afterworld court seemed to lack proof, somehow, Cattaneo had indeed killed someone and had confessed to X.

“They will find out,” continued X. “They don’t take this kind of ‘glitch’ lightly. They will invest all the resources they have to investigate your case. And when they do find out, your sentence won’t end with going to hell.”

“What are they going to do if I deny everything? They have no proof. The girl I killed never turned up!”

“They will find proof. If not in this standard form of records”—Lisa heard the sound of X waving a stack of paper—“then through some other means.”

Mr. Cattaneo snorted. “Seriously, you’re the worst lawyer ever. I guess that’s one irrefutable evidence that I’m dead. Yeah, a lawyer who tells me to confess all my sins in front of a judge. Ha!”

“I am a lawyer who knows how to accept reality,” said X.

“Reality,” he grunted. “An overrated concept for losers who can’t shape their own future.”

“You committed too many crimes. Of course you will go to hell. Fraud. Lies, including having affairs—”

“Lots of people have sex with lots of people.”

“Yes. The Supreme doesn’t care how many people you’ve had sex with as long as you didn’t lie to yourself and to the other party that your union was something sacred. It’s called the freedom to make choices; otherwise, the endless possibilities that the universe presents won’t be properly represented. The Supreme doesn’t expect every human to want the same things. It judges more harshly for the things you said you’d do, but didn’t do. And”—Mr. Cattaneo seemed to have tried to say something, but X pushed on, louder and firmer—“you take everything lightly right now, but I’m telling you, admitting your guilt and staying within the frame of the law will be the best-case scenario for you. I wouldn’t take chances if I were you.”

“Listen, woman,” said Mr. Cattaneo. “I didn’t get here by not taking chances.”

X snorted. “Listen, man. You sure did take chances and that’s how you got here, but you don’t seem to know where exactly the place you got to is, so let me tell you: it isn’t a good place. You will go to hell. The only question is, which kind?”

“And you are in the hotel room of the client who fired you five minutes ago, so look who has no idea where she is. Get out!”

Lisa could hear the dragging of a chair, then X shuffling paperwork and clicking her briefcase open.

“In hell,” X said, “you’ll be in such pain that you won’t even feel the want to speak. Your worst fears await you there. Standard customization. I can picture your worst fear as a combination of impotence followed by castration, your numerous trophy mistresses cheating right in front of you with men with less money and power than you, your wife finally recognizing you for the dick you are and showing no reaction whatsoever to anything you say or do, and your children selling the company that you inherited from your father because they hate you and all memories related to you. Then sprinkle that with some eternal insomnia and constipation, and you got your hell.”

“What did you say?” Mr. Cattaneo seemed to be taken aback against his will. He even sounded a bit scared.

“Yeah,” said X. “You called me a bitch, you think I’ll refrain from expressing my opinions about you? And I’ll tell you this, too: the fact that those kinds of fears are your worst fears says a lot about you and nothing good. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t handle you. I’ve seen worse, like people who’ve killed multiple others and argued that they did nothing wrong because they killed for a god. I even managed to get them to hell; their version of customized hell, that is. But only because they admitted what they did. The Supreme hates liars more than anything.”

“What was their hell?” asked Cattaneo, undeniably concerned.

“Their god torturing them for eternity, telling them repeatedly, over and over again, how useless a flock they were, and that he didn’t possibly create any idiots like them: murderous blasphemers, who dirty their own god’s name through their stupidity. Fortunately, you believe in no god, and therefore by definition you cannot commit sins in the name of god. But you are guaranteeing a worse misery by lying that you didn’t kill that girl.”

“How could hell be hell if there’s something worse?” asked Cattaneo. “What could possibly be worse than hell?”

“Why would I tell you? I’m not your lawyer.”

With that, X seemed to have turned away from Cattaneo because their voices approached the door.

“Yeah, get out. And don’t you dare tell anyone what I told you.”

“Unfortunately, I have no choice but to keep my mouth shut. Regardless of what you think, I was your lawyer until you fired me. Attorney-client privilege in afterworld is a lot more inflexible than in beforeworld.”

Lisa toed and froed, the shirt on the hanger shaking this way and that way. Should she hide around the corner or something?

But before she could decide, the door opened. Lisa stepped back. Surprised, X also took a step back. Then, she quickly glanced into the room and shut the door before Cattaneo noticed Lisa.

“What are you doing here?” whispered X and pulled Lisa by the arm around the corner. X smelled of the ocean: vast, faintly salty, of freedom.

“I— I came to return this shirt to Mr. Cattaneo,” said Lisa.

“How much did you hear?”

“A lot.”

X sighed. Like all lawyers, she wore white. But beyond that rule, they were free to choose their own wardrobe, and Lisa had always thought that X’s fashion sense outshined that of any other lawyer.

“Long” seemed to be X’s keyword: her black hair tied as a ponytail that reached her waist; her high-waisted, wide-legged pants with daring lines and absolutely no wrinkles; her white stiletto sandals, their heels at least four inches high—a miracle that someone walked in those, in Lisa’s opinion. X also wore a white blazer that fluttered dramatically with her every step.

The only part of her look that changed regularly was her lipstick color. Today, she wore rose-red. Modernity in the extreme. She was a head taller than Lisa, too, adding to the sense of awe that Lisa experienced when she faced X.

Of course, X had one weakness: being scared of the murk. But so what? Her successful career despite such fears only ennobled her further.

“You know you cannot tell anyone, whatever you heard, right?” asked X.

“Yes, of course,” said Lisa.

“Whatever happens, happens. It is not right, it is not wrong, but it is what happens.”

What X had said sounded like a fact that didn’t need to be stated. But it was actually one of the most frequently used phrases at the hotel. The phrase served as a reminder that too much interest, too much compassion, anger, empathy, or any other emotion, was bound to burn them out. Regret was a scary thing, and one had to remember, over eons, its weight added up.

So, Lisa responded, “Yes.” Then she added, “But are you all right?”

“What do you mean?”

“That man, he called you a bitch, yelled at you, fired you.”

To Lisa’s surprise, X smiled. “Countless people have called me a bitch and it doesn’t hurt me one bit, Lisa. They can call me whatever they want. It doesn’t change me. As to the yelling, if that is the only way they can communicate, that is their problem. Firing me is also their problem, not mine. Of course I’m all right.”

Lisa had known that X was a tough lady, but not to this extent. Truly, a person to emulate.

“Now,” said X, “do you want me to accompany you to Mr. Cattaneo to return the shirt?”

“No, I’m fine on my own,” said Lisa. She wanted to be just a bit more like X: confident alone.

“Okay. Well, I think he is unintelligent in a haughty way, but not foolish enough to hurt you in this hotel. But don’t waste time with him, okay? He’s no one’s problem but his own now.”

“Okay.”

“If he asks if you heard anything, just say you didn’t.”

“You think he’ll believe me?”

“I think he’ll be too glad to not believe. Well, then.”

X offered her hand. Lisa shook it: a silky soft, well-manicured hand, which harmonized well with the rest of X, so well-groomed. Then, fluttering her blazer like a white warrior’s cape, X walked off in her stilettos, which were fierce enough to generate a clumping noise with every step despite the carpets.

Left alone in the hallway, Lisa approached the door to room 6067. X was right. Whatever happens, happens. It is not right, it is not wrong, but it is what happens.

No one knew enough to understand why something happened. All that had happened to Lisa today could have been caused by factors completely unrelated to Lisa or even Mr. Cattaneo. Too many people came and went. The wind, of course, constantly shifted. Lisa, of course, felt dizzy from time to time. But the blood flood…

No use ruminating.

Lisa knocked.

“Come in,” bellowed Cattaneo.

At this, Lisa winced and for a second considered hanging the shirt on the door handle and leaving. But no, not after seeing X, so undeterred after that conversation with Cattaneo. So, Lisa said, “Mr. Cattaneo, I have your cleaned shirt.”

“About time,” he murmured. His footsteps approached.

Lisa stood tall, her head high, waiting. The door swung open toward her. Cattaneo gazed down at Lisa. He only wore navy cotton lounge pants under the bathrobe that reached his knees. A glimpse of his chest hair repulsed Lisa. But the faint jasmine shampoo smell neutralized the chest hair effect; the man could hardly be blamed for wearing no undershirt after showering.

“Oh, it’s you.” He smiled awkwardly, his botoxed wrinkles stretching to their maximum capacity. Then he added, “You, in person.”

Without any warning, he stuck his head out of the door so that Lisa jumped back. He looked left and right.

“Did you see the lawyer?” he asked.

“Yes, on her way out,” said Lisa.

“Hmm. She say anything?” He reached out for the shirt.

She handed the hanger to him and asked, “Say what?”

“I don’t know, just, stuff about me.”

“No.”

“Did you hear anything?”

“Hear what?”

“Never mind. Come in, come in.” And before Lisa could utter a word of protest, he pulled her inside with his free hand.

“Let go!” she yelled belatedly—

A blast of air blew the door handle out of Cattaneo’s hand. By the same blast, Lisa flew against the hallway wall facing room 6067.

Cattaneo started, “What the hell—”

“You got your shirt, I’m leaving. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” Lisa scrambled up and hurried away.

Okay, there was no denying, Cattaneo was causing at least some of the inexplicable wind phenomena.

“Lisa. Lisa!”

She didn’t stop.

“Don’t you remember me?”

She stopped in the middle of the hallway and glanced back.

“Lisa,” said Cattaneo, and ventured a smile. “You know my name and you still don’t remember me? Marco Cattaneo. From the laundry.”

Lisa frowned. Laundry? She was the laundry manager at the hotel. She knew everything about laundry here. Marco Cattaneo wasn’t part of that.

“The laundry in Everton… Never mind. You really don’t remember,” he said, his smile becoming bolder. “I thought you were just pretending back at the bar, and then I wasn’t sure anymore—but of course, I have aged, and you haven’t, the tiniest bit. Obviously, time works differently here.”

“What are you talking about?” whispered Lisa. Her voice shook and she had no idea why. This was her workplace. Her home. She belonged here. He was just a transient. Yet he acted as if someone had guaranteed him safety, no matter where, no matter what he’d done.

“Well, maybe it’s better if you don’t know,” he said. “In fact, I’m sure of it. You go on with your life—or death, whatever this is. I will go on with my afterlife. All right?”

Just when he grabbed the handle to pull the door closed, Lisa fully faced him.

“No,” she said. “I want to know. What are you talking about? And how do you know my name?”

“Ah, someone told me at the front desk.” He waved off her curiosity in a goodnatured fashion which infuriated her. That was the type of waving-off that men used to trivialize the concerns of a woman as overly hysterical.

“Wait!” said Lisa.

Another blast of air blew from inside room 6067, keeping the door open. Flustered, Cattaneo attempted to pull it closed with one hand, the other still holding the hanger with the shirt. When that attempt failed, he tossed the shirt into his room and pulled the door handle with both hands. That, too, failed.

Lisa marched toward him. Her perception of him, as well as the air in this hotel, had shifted. This air and parts of it—wind, blast, breeze, gust of all strengths and speeds—they meant her no harm. At least, they didn’t mean to harm her and her only. Because now, looking at Cattaneo’s alarmed expression, evidently, he far from controlled the air.

Lisa grabbed the other side of the handle. With the door between them, Cattaneo and Lisa pushed and pulled, until one last blast of wind swept the door from his hand and she slammed against the wall opposite of room 6067 once again.

But she didn’t collapse on the floor, scream (though it was painful), or forget her purpose: she wanted to get into room 6067. Why? She wasn’t sure. Perhaps simply because Cattaneo, who’d wanted her to come in, didn’t want it anymore, and her dislike for the man was growing by the second. Or, perhaps because half of the wind seemed to be helping her, if she could allow herself to come to such an absurd conclusion.

Lisa grabbed the door that stood wide and marched into room 6067. Cattaneo backed away. He looked around to ensure that no random objects flew at him. The door flapped both ways from its hinges. The curtains fluttered to such an extent that they hung horizontally, so mercilessly whipped the air current from all sides despite the window being shut. Said window overlooked the front of the hotel. Mist enveloped the road leading away from the building to the cliff, but that view didn’t last long. The window fogged up at a great speed so that the room disconnected from its environment.

Lost, Cattaneo stared at Lisa, who by now had also ceased looking around the room. She blocked his view to the only channel to the outside world: the door. Pillows, tissues, pen and paper, and lamps whirled around them. But such objects didn’t slam into each other or into Cattaneo and Lisa; they flew in an organized fashion. Hovered. Circled. A controlled dance. As if on standby.

Lisa gazed back at the open door. The hallway outside had also fogged up. She turned toward Cattaneo.

“What are you doing?” he mumbled.

Indeed, what was Lisa doing? She imagined walking out that door, ignoring all that had happened today, content in knowing that Cattaneo was afraid of her. Then, she’d regain the life of peace she cherished so. Washing bedsheets, chiding the twins from time to time, visiting the cocktail lounge and chatting with Mina while listening to Zach’s music. Never happy, never unhappy. Loving the monotony and its certainty. The one change that she might allow to happen might be holding hands with Sam.

But if Lisa wanted to know this, the source of the wind, why Cattaneo unsettled her, why he knew her, then…

No going back, she told herself.

She placed her palm on the door. She pushed. The door slammed shut. The lights went out.

© 2021 Ithaka O.
All rights reserved.
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
No part of this story may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author.