The Voice In The Hall

by Mike McGrath (C) 1985

    A voice in the hall said it was three in the morning and he marveled to himself  at his wide awake state. It probably had something to do with the music blaring top 40 hits next door and of course the company he didn’t keep in the hall.
    Howard Munroe lay propped up against the wall on the lumpy bed with worn sheets pulled  around him and a book of short stories open at his side. He  wanted to be anonymous and alone after his three year stint in the small northern town which was home, most of the time. Now, he was indeed alone in one of the many cells that made up this Victorian vintage hotel in the heart of downtown Toronto.
    He was thankful for the contact he had made with the young man last night. He was relieved at the opportunity to lay in bed and linger in whispers and chuckles with his new friend as the hours slipped away. He was grateful that kind mind had accompanied him back to embarrassing accommodations to share a hard and trim body in tight hugs that turned quickly to heated love making.
    Tonight, Howard was on his own. It was what he had wanted, to be lost in the midst of thousands of city people, all going about their lives oblivious to his. No doubt he felt a quiet comfort and some serenity but he was nervous too as though in the eye of a storm. It did not take long this night for the peace to turn on Howard in loneliness again and to make it worse he seemed to have become acutely aware of every sound around him.
    The hall reverberated with stomping feet and crude, drunken chatter. Somehow even the laughter that drifted through the warped plaster walls was cruel and had an edge to it. This could have been a 24 hour donut place if sound were his only sense. In fact these sounds came from the hallway outside the dingy room where Howard lay listening.
    There were several sharp raps on a door in the hall and a voice followed, “It’s Brian, man. C’mon lets go,” a young man  whined. He got no answer. He knocked again and harder. “Just a beer, c’mon don’t make me wait here,” the voice was more determined. There was another pause and no answer. “Fuck,” the voice said in anger and the sound of slow steps faded down the hall and then were punctuated with a burst of disco music that drifted up from the bar below, past the shuffle of feet  and down the corridor, then they were gone with a slam of a door. 
    Next door the music blared out of a portable radio, “Life, la la la la la, life is life, la la la la la,” and his was accompanied by sensual sighs, that progressed to grunts and then laughter.
    The north still had a hold on Howard and it caught him again for a few seconds and made him writhe in pain that was a missing feeling of sickness that churned in his stomach. He thought of the old woman, fragile, thin and wrinkled. He imagined he was a boy again and was cuddled in her arms as she sat in her rocking chair at the window.
    He could almost hear her weak but still beating heart and see her glazed but still bright, dancing eyes that momentarily calmed him with deep wells of love.
    Then he wiped the scene away by rubbing his eyes so hard that it hurt. He cupped his hands over his face and a deep breath became a long and drawn out sigh.
    No, he reminded himself, he could not let the thought of home and the old woman pull too greatly or the result would find him back in the Buick and heading out of the neon night city to the expressway and the narrowing, dark road that wound back up north.
    The voice in the hall was back again on the tail end of three sharp and loud knocks, “Look. It’s me again. Just tell me your OK. You don’t have to let me in. C’mon Ken just one word. OK?” Silence was his answer and he beat on the door, “This is bullshit and you bastard you’re just going to make me wait all night,” the voice said in a mean and desperate tone and then left again with hesitant steps that did an exit with the disco beat  rushing up from the first floor and then again with the slam of the door there was silence in the hall.
    A few minutes passed and from the far end of the hall a door opened and closed in a series of knocks. Greetings were punctuated with rough  words like fuck, shit and screw and a party  stumbled back and forth between the distant room and the hall. The party grew quickly.
    From the direction of this party a young woman’s voice sliced through dull drunken sounds after two slight knocks on a door, “I’m here,” she said.   The door opened and the party spilled into the hall with heavy metal music and a sexy young male voice, “Yea, come on in.” He sounded eager.“Oh, whoa,” the girl’s voice said to what she saw. “What are those guys doing here?”
    His reply was cool, smooth and meant to be reassuring, “Oh its okay, they’ll mind their own business. Anyway in half an hour they’ll all be passed out.” 
    “No way man, it’s too crazy,” a more defiant tone spoke out of the woman. Street wisdom barked out of her, “You want me in there, get them the fuck out or forget it.”
    “I can’t babe,” he swooned and then harshly added, “What you wanna do fuck on the staircase?”
    She was blunt, “It would be a lot safer,” and her high heels kicked in with hammering clicks that faded down the hall, let in the disco beat and a door slammed.
    “Fuck you bitch,” came a frustrated retort that was obviously more for the ears in his room than the departed visitor. Grunts and roars of laughter drew him back into his world and the party was shut inside again.
    Howard shook his head in amazement. This he was not used to and it filled him with a combination of disgust and sadness. He felt disgust for the thin emotion that bounced back and forth between the voices and their seemingly desperate situations. Then he felt sadness for what he imagined was poor luck, which had taken them to a rough edge that glittered like fools gold with alcohol, drugs and fast, risky money.
    Two days, Howard thought and he could move on to a more comfortable and sane environment. He had been naive on this jaunt into the city and had settled too quickly for the huge Victorian hotel, which with its outward shell had promised much more grand accommodation. He felt a little cheated too; the advertisement he had read in the Body Politic claimed  Ernest Hemingway as a resident for a short while in his early days as a writer with the Toronto Star.      
    Howard adored Hemingway’s work and admitted to himself now that he had been pulled in by a sense of history and nostalgia and some pretentious notion that he fancied himself as a writer.
    This glamorous hook led him to a decaying cell where wall paper heaved from disfigured walls and cracked plaster mixed with the shadows cast from the dim lamp light to make crazy designs on the ceiling ten feet above his head.        
    He tried to imagine the grand state of the old hotel in the 1920s, the toast of the wealthy and high society. The red brick, castle like building would have jutted high on the city scape back then. Ornamental chandeliers, oriental wool rugs and gleaming wood staircases would have given the hotel a prominent place in Toronto. There were still enough hints of what had been and it captured Howard’s imagination.  For thirty-five dollars a night he felt he could put up with any inconveniences for a short stay  in the belly of this ragged Victorian princess.
    Bass notes came up from the disco below in dull thuds that shook through the room and rain beat, whipped by the wind on loose panes from which only the fuzzy sight of other panes in the dark could be seen lit in a building across the way.
    The pop music next door mixed with a bizarre harmony in sounds of lust, the dull disco throb from below, muffled rock beats down the hall and rain that pounded in a pulsating rhythm. These were sliced with the wail of a siren that cried in panic and distress from the suppressed but ever present roar of the city at night.
    Then he was back with the same slow leather heal to pine step sounds, “Please. Its me Brian. Please Ken I promise I’ll go away if you just say something, anything,” the voice trembled. Then he cried, “You really are a bastard .”
    There was a pounding on the door and what sounded like a bang made by the force of an entire body crashing against the door. It was quiet for a moment and then the voice groaned as the pain of love lost slipped up and out of him. “Oh Ken, Ken. I love you Ken, please.”
    As though tethered with a greater weight, the feet moved in sluggish creaks, hesitated, then continued to where the disco music came up to welcome the wounded young man back downstairs, the door slammed and it was quiet again.
    Howard looked about his room and was overwhelmed with where he was and also with the demands of his day. He shut the light out of it all with a flick of the lamp switch and then went in a drift off to sleep.
    Deep in the caverns of slumber he could hear from far away the goings on about him. From where he lay there were familiar passings and knocks and voices. They trembled in waves to him like thunder announcing a storm.
    In panic he awoke trough the layers of numbing, fluffy sleep to horrific screams that bolted him automatically up and to the door. The screams were trying to get in and Howard, in a knee-jerk reaction, unlatched the lock and pulled on the heavy oak door to reveal wild eyes in terror. Wild eyes that pushed him aside and against the wall.
    A naked young man covered in blood tore into the room and scrambled on all fours towards the far window. He was followed by a bearded fully clothed assailant that jumped on his back and in great thrusts was burying flashes of steel into his victim’s back. Blood splattered in streams up and over  everything and Howard, on impulse, lunged at the bearded assailant.         
    “Ahh, you fucking cunt,” the bearded man with the knife screamed and Howard knew it as the recurring voice in the hall. In reflex, Howard tried to overpower the flailing figure but the voice turned in the violent body with the power of ten men and put his flash of steel into Howard with a crunch that broke though his rib cage and exploded his heart. A butcher knife sucked back out and the voice with crazed eyes in a screwed up face, behind a full black beard let out a satanical laugh, then went back to hacking at the writhing form on the floor.
    Howard fell slowly against the wall. He was poised to holler for help, there was a great scream just on the edge of his tongue but he was frozen in this cry and everything slowed and then stopped and locked into one last frame of the scene that hung there before him.
    There was no breath to come, no way out, no angel of mercy, time stopped dead and Howard was cold then very warm. This last view of the murderous rampage began to melt in colors that dripped and flowed where forms had been and then he went with a sick feeling into the deepest dark there could be. He felt as though he was free falling into empty wells of blackness and then a dot of light appeared and grew.
    He came to screaming but it didn’t seem right. It was new and it was fresh and he was crying and gasping and ripping with his arms and legs at the air. There was the thick sweet odour of blood and he cried out but could not find words to speak.
    “It’s a boy. A good healthy boy,” the voice said. Howard Munroe felt his memory banks empty as he was raised in the air and gently slapped.
    He tried with all his might to hold on to his one final thought in this new world, “Oh no, not again,” this thought echoed in his mind and began to fade as air filled his lungs, images blurred with a new light and  energy burned in him like a fire in renewed  ignition after having been blown back from dull embers.

The End

Comments Off on The Voice In The Hall Copyright © 2020 All Rights Reserved

Site Admin