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Beatrice unzipped the bag. She took out a book, opened it in the middle, and turned the pages toward Claude. “Read this,” she said.
“Here.” Beatrice pointed to a text with her finger. Claude craned his neck to take a closer look, but did not answer.
“I knew it! You have poor eyesight.”
“That’s right,” Claude answered.
“Do you know how I checked us in at this stupid hotel?”
Beatrice burst out laughing again. “Mr. and Mrs. Nobody.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Nobody?”
“Right,” Beatrice shook off some ashes. “You didn’t notice. Can you imagine how they looked at us every time?”
“I don’t care how they looked at us!” — Claude’s movements became sharp, but he quickly calmed down. “I did not see what you wrote there, I do not care about these stupidities.”
“Exactly! Stupidities. I’ve already said — the stupid hotel. With these nasty yellow wallpapers and ridiculous flowers on them. Of course, you ran away as fast as possible, just not to see how they looked at us.”
Now Beatrice turned cheerful, as if she had come only to tell him this. It started to rain. Drops dripped onto the open pages of the textbook, but she seemed not to notice that, she did not look away from Claude. Whereas Claude was looking aside again, he looked tired.
“Okay,” Beatrice said, rising from her chair, “no offence.”
Claude got up too. Beatrice put out her cigarette, slowly closed the textbook, put it in her bag, and fastened the zipper. It was raining heavily, drops were falling on Beatrice's face, flowing down her forehead, nose, and cheeks. Claude was hiding under the canvas.
“Anyway,” she held out her hand, “either I do not exist, or you.”
Claude decided that perhaps this time she said something really important, but he did not want to think about it. He realized that Beatrice was standing for an indecently long time with outstretched arm, apparently for a handshake. He shook a woman’s hand, which felt unusual. Beatrice smiled and, adjusting her bag, turned around and left.
He walked a little away from the café, then turned around but couldn’t see her anymore. It seemed to him that she had slipped too quickly from sight. The river water level was rising, the rain was still pouring. But passers-by continued to walk as before, no one showed signs of concern.
Claude woke up. Out of habit, he took a glass of water on the nightstand with his left hand, took a sip, caught his breath, and sat up. Hurriedly, with shaking hands, he tried to find the switch for the lamp. He calmed himself down by inhaling and exhaling, reassuring himself, saying that he was at home, everything was alright. A drop dripped from his hair and fell on his shoulder, it was just a drop of sweat. Finally he found the switch. His face, at first relaxed from the fact that the light came on, began to take a different expression. His lips tightened, his shoulders did not move, his eyes froze. He felt as if he knew what should be there in front of him, but something else was there, he believed that this could not have happened: he saw light yellow wallpaper in front of him with pink flowers. He could not hold this tension any longer, so he fell back into bed. He did not want to look around. He wanted time to stop.
Suddenly, the door handle of the bathroom turned. Claude looked up. The door opened, his wife appeared. She was wearing an old white robe, and her hair, darkened with water, hung in strands. She, without even glancing at Claude, but with the appearance of an absolute habit repeated every evening of her life, crossed the room, climbed under the covers, turned off the light above the bed and lay with her back to Claude.
Claude did not move for some time, he only wandered around the room with his eyes, uselessly trying to see something in the pitch darkness. Then he carefully, but quickly got out of bed, picked up his clothes from the floor and left the room. The corridor, with many dark brown doors, was papered in the same light yellow and the red carpet on the floor had blue stripes along the edge exactly as in the room. A man was walking from the other end of the corridor, a bellhop. He walked past Claude, as if not noticing him.
Claude hailed him from the back. “Sorry, could you tell me what time is it?”
The bellhop turned slowly and walked over to Claude. “Good evening,” he said, “it’s exactly eleven in the evening.”
“Tell me, how late is the bar open?”
“Please,” the bellhop answered, completely motionless, his eyes blank, “the bar is already closed.”
But now Claude felt the touch of the light pressure of the bellhop’s white glove on his arm, turning him to face the door of his room. Perplexed, he looked at the man.
“You must admit,” the bellhop said, “if you had come to this room without a woman, that would have looked suspicious. And now no one will find out what you did to that girl.”
Claude at first stood motionless, trying to determine some place for these alien words. He tried to catch some hint in the bellhop’s face, but his face did not change at all. Claude’s mouth opened slightly, a drop of sweat rolled off his temple. Claude tried to express something with his hands, but they did not obey.
“Sleep well,” the bellhop said. “Good night to you and your wife. Good night to both of you.”
And, pushing Claude back into the room, which was so dark that it was impossible to see anything, the bellhop silently closed the door behind him.