The Hotel

Dear E,

He doesn’t seem to want to leave the hotel.

When he woke up this morning, the snow was thick on the ground, and he declared he had no intention of slipping and sliding through it to visit the shops and galleries this city is famous for.

“I wouldn’t be able to see them anyway. Let’s just have breakfast together and see what we feel like later.”

He ate a lot more than he usually does – eggs and bacon and coffee and orange juice – and generally seemed more cheerful.

I asked him if he wanted to go over his talk for the conference, but he said there’d be plenty of time for that later on, maybe on the plane.

For now, he said, he’d just like to talk to me.

“What about, sir?”

“Well, about dropping the sir, for a start. We’ve talked about that before.”

“Yes. But then you give me orders, and I have to call you sir.”

“But I don’t like to think of that way, all this master-servant business? Can’t we just talk as friends?”

“I’ve never had a friend.”

“What do you mean you’ve never had a friend? What about that bitch at the gallery, that Marta? She talked about you like a long-lost daughter.”

“Marta was good to me, but she was my mistress, not a friend.”

“What is a friend, then, in your view?”

“A friend cannot compel you to do things.”

“But what if your master or mistress chooses not to compel you to do things, asks you instead, consults your opinion on things? Isn’t that more friendly?”

I looked at him. I didn’t know what to say. After a while he dropped his eyes.

“I know you hate me. I know you feel absolutely no desire for me at all, and yet I force you to do these things for me … I know I was a complete bastard to you yesterday, moaning and complaining the whole time … but, I’m blind, Eva, do you understand that? There’s snow outside, but I can’t see it. It’s cosy and warm in here, but I can’t see any of it. I can’t see you, and yet I know you’re very beautiful. Everyone says so.”

“I don’t hate you.”

“But you don’t love me either. I know that sounds ridiculous. I bought you. I have absolutely no right to demand anything of you – you cook and clean and even share my bed, but that’s all out of duty. You never wanted to.”

“Sometimes …”

“Sometimes what?”

“Sometimes I feel confused. No one has ever talked to me the way you do. No one ever really did talk to me before. They gave me orders, told me to get undressed, to clean the floor, to write their letters for them … but they never wanted to talk to me.”

“Do you like it, talking? Being talked to like a person, not a thing?”

“You keep on asking me what I like, what I don’t like. I don’t like anything. I don’t not like anything. I do what I’m told. If you tell me to talk to you I talk to you. If you tell me to roll on top of you I’ll roll on top of you …”

“But you say you feel confused by the way I act.”


“It isn’t as simple as that, then, is it? it should just be all in a day’s work for you, but it isn’t. You like some things and dislike others. You’re not a machine, no matter what they told you, what you tell yourself …”

“No. … I don’t know. Is this a part of your book?”

“Is this a part of my book? What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Do I have to record all this? Or can I stop?”

“What do you mean, record it? You mean you record all I say to you? What on earth for?”

“I thought … it was part of your book. That it was my job to keep it safe.”

“The book’s about fairy tales, how they change and evolve from source to source. How could all this stuff we’re talking about have anything to do with that?”

“Beauty and the Beast.”

“You mean … you’re Beauty; I’m the Beast.”


“Fucking hell. I feel like a bit of a beast now you come to mention it. So my house is the castle? You’re imprisoned there against your will, away from your family and friends? I’m under an enchantment ...”

“You think I’m stupid.”

“I don’t, actually. I think you’re anything but stupid. I’m the stupid one. So from the beginning you’ve been acting the role of Beauty because you thought that was part of your job.”

“No. Not from the beginning. At first I couldn’t understand how I was to help you with your book. I’ve never helped with anything like that before – only letters and research notes and theses. When you talked to me about Scheherazade, I thought you might want me to be her, so I started to read all the books in your house so I could tell you stories. Then you told me that you’d finished with that, that you’d moved on to a new project.”

“Beauty and the Beast.”


“Beauty and the Beast has a lot in common with the frame-story of the Arabian Nights.”


“So what you say to me is always programmed by some kind of a sense of duty? You never talk to me about what you’re really feeling, but about what you should be feeling according to the role you think I want you to be playing …”


“So if I told you that I wanted you to play a promiscuous whore who loves screwing blind old men, that’s the role you’d play?”


“You’d whisper dirty words in my ear and play with yourself in front of my maimed blind face?”


“Do you want to do that for me?”


“So you do want some things?”


“So in other words you prefer playing the role of Beauty, of Scheherazade, to being Jezebel or Messalina?”


“And what about the kitten?”

“The kitten?”

“What role were you playing then? Who were you then?”

“I loved the kitten. You taught me that.”

“So you weren’t playing a role. That was outside your role. You were being yourself, loving a little thing you found.”

“I … suppose I was.”

“Is there anything else you love, anyone else?”

“Do … I have to say?”

“No, you don’t. But I’d like you to tell me. I’d really like to know.”

“Don’t laugh at me.”

“I won’t laugh at you. I can promise you that. That’s the last thing on my mind right now.”

“My sister.”

“Your sister? But …”

“You didn’t think clans had sisters and brothers.”

“Well, I guess I hadn’t thought about it much. I suppose you’re all …”


“Yes, cloned from some kind of original. But you don’t ever meet them, do you? Are they even alive when it’s done?”

“I don’t know. All that I know is that I have a sister somewhere. Somewhere there’s someone like me, someone exactly like me. My cells, my body are hers. She may not ever have known it, but she lives on in me.”

“But what about the others? I mean, if this is too sensitive to you, don’t answer, but don’t they make quite a lot of clones from every … person?”

“Set of cells.”

“Well, yes?”

“They do. There are a lot of me.”

“That’s not what I meant … I just meant, don’t you feel close to the other ones like you?”


“So it’s just the original girl, the one you came from?”


“Look, even I can sometimes be just a little bit sensitive … We can stop talking about this if you like. Do you want me to stop talking? I can see I’ve touched on something that’s important to you, and I don’t know if I have the right to keep on prying …”


“You mean you want to go on, or you want to stop?”

“Whichever you prefer.”

“I’m the beast either way? You’re going to freeze up on me whatever I do?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Oh, to hell with it! Tell me about your sister, then.”

“I don’t know her. I never met her. But everything in me is hers.”

“Except the android part.”

“Except the android.”

“That’s quite a big difference, don’t you think? I mean, she must have eaten and slept like any other person – she didn’t have all your abilities.”

“She wasn’t a slave.”

“Is that how you see it? Being a slave?”

“Why do you think I call you master?”

“But I’ve asked you not to! I talk to you, value your opinion.”

“I’m still your slave.”

“No more than I’m yours. I mean, think about it. What can I do without you? Maybe if I’d been blind from birth, could read Braille, knew my way around the world, could walk through rooms and houses by myself … but I can’t. I need you all the time. I’m completely dependent on you. I like you. You may not like me, but I like you. It really touched my heart, the way you knelt down and talked to me that evening at the gallery. I liked your voice, the gentleness in it. I like to hear it so much that I keep on talking on and on at you just to hear you speak, to see if you can feel something. If you can feel something for me … Do you understand?”

“A little. No, I can’t really understand.”

“You’re not really trying. Come on, if you’re Beauty, you’ve got to at least try to understand your Beast. The story requires it of you, if nothing else.”

“The story requires it of me?”

“Yes, it does.”

“So this is a story?”

“Of course it’s a story. It’s real, though, as well – real for me, at any rate. Maybe not for you.”

“You don’t think I’m real?”

“That’s not what I meant. You’re at least as real as I am, if not realer. I just mean that all of us have to act according to some inner plan, some pattern. We may not see it till afterwards, but we’re drawing some design with what we do and say …”

“And what is your design?”

“What’s my story, you mean?”


“Do you really want to know? I mean, it’s not the prettiest of fairy tales … you heard what those women said, the night of the launch. I’m sure someone else must have told you about it all since then …”


“Well, I guess this might shift me from Beast to Bluebeard in your eyes. I had to tell it and retell it to the cops and the psychiatrists at the time, but I’ve never told a woman. I told myself I’d try never to think about it again, in fact, but if you insist, I will.”

“Not if you don’t want to.”

“Well, I don’t really want to, but I will on one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“That you tell me about your sister first.”

“There’s nothing to tell.”

“I doubt that somehow. That’s the deal, anyway. Do you accept?”

“I … don’t know. Do I have to?”

“I think that you probably do, yes.”

“Well, then … yes. I will tell you about my sister.”

“Okay, off you go. Ladies first …”


I’m sorry I have to tell him about you, Eva. I don’t think he’ll understand. But I couldn’t think of any way of concealing my feelings about you. You’ll probably never know anyway, so you can’t forgive me. I’m asking you anyway.

Dear sister, please forgive me.

love, Eva.

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