From the Roof of The Henry Vaughn Hotel
Words By Peter H.Z. Hsu, Art By Daniel Reneau
There is a man. Let’s say the man’s name is Steve. Steve is on the roof of a hotel. Let’s say it’s The Henry Vaughn Hotel. Steve is alone. Steve is alone on the Roof of The Henry Vaughn Hotel. Steve stands alone on the ledge of the Roof of The Henry Vaughn Hotel.
There is a man. Let’s say the man’s name is Steve. Let’s say Steve is a physicist. Let’s say Steve the physicist is teaching a class. Steve explains to the class that any state can be represented by two or more other distinct states.
The class stares back at him.
Steve tries to explain using an example.
Steve says, There is a tree in a forest. Let’s say the tree falls. Let’s say no one is there to see the tree fall. Has the tree both fallen and not fallen?
The class stares back at him.
One student says, It is fallen.
Another student says, I don’t think you’re saying that right. It should be, Does it make a sound?
Steve says, No. I’m sorry.
Steve tries another example.
Steve says, There is a cat in a box. Let’s say the box is closed. Let’s say this box has a cat-killing machine inside of it. The cat-killing machine is set to fifty-fifty. This setting means there is a fifty-fifty chance of the cat-killing machine killing the cat. No one knows if the cat-killing machine has killed the cat until someone opens the box to see what has happened to the cat. No one opens the box to see what has happened to the cat. Is the cat both dead and alive?
The same student that said, It is fallen, says, It is dead.
Steve says, No. I’m sorry. No.
There is a woman. Let’s say the woman’s name is Madeline. There is a man. Let’s say the man’s name is Steve. Let’s say Steve is on the Roof of The Henry Vaughn Hotel. Let’s say Madeline and Steve are together on the Roof of The Henry Vaughn Hotel.
The Roof of The Henry Vaughn Hotel is a bar. The Roof of The Henry Vaughn Hotel is Madeline and Steve’s favorite bar. It is an old-fashioned bar. It has red vinyl booths in its indoor seating. It has heavy wrought-iron chairs in its outdoor seating. It allows smoking in the outdoor seating and sometimes also in the indoor seating. It has a mix of old people and young people, but the old people and the young people don’t mix. The young people don’t notice the old people. The old people do notice the young people. Madeline and Steve are young people.
Madeline and Steve are not a couple. Madeline says they are just friends. When she says this, she sounds embarrassed. Steve says they are best friends. When he says this, he sounds happy. Madeline is engaged to marry another man. The other man’s name is Donovan. Donovan and Madeline and Steve are all friends. They have been friends since graduate school and now work as professors in two different universities in the same city, Steve and Madeline at the state university and Donovan at the private one.
Madeline and Steve finish their drinks. Madeline and Steve have drunk the same number of drinks. Madeline has been drinking whiskey sodas while Steve has been drinking craft beers. The craft beers come in large glasses. The craft beers have high alcohol content. The craft beers have made Steve much drunker than Madeline.
Madeline and Steve leave the Roof of The Henry Vaughn Hotel. Madeline and Steve get into the elevator. Madeline and Steve take the elevator down seven floors. While the elevator descends, Steve holds Madeline from behind. Madeline leans into Steve. Steve tightens his arms around Madeline. Madeline rubs Steve’s forearms and then steps away from him and then makes a joke about the art in the elevator. The art in the elevator is a Wild West scene where a man dressed all in black is prominently featured. The man dressed all in black wears a soft hat and a white necktie. The man dressed all in black leans against a wooden rail outside a saloon and smokes a cigarette while a caravan of settlers passes. A brass tag says, Henry Clay Vaughn, Old Los Lunas, 1888.
Madeline says, A priest and an Okie walk into a saloon.
Steve says, You know that’s not a priest.
No? says Madeline.
That’s Henry Vaughn, says Steve. The deadliest gunman these parts ever seen.
Well, says Madeline. He looks like a priest.
The elevator reaches the lobby. The doors open. Madeline and Steve make their way through the lobby. Madeline links her arm through Steve’s arm so that they connect at the elbow. Madeline leans on Steve’s shoulder. Madeline buries her face in the furry lining of Steve’s coat, rubbing her nose back and forth and saying, Brr.
Madeline and Steve walk past a couple. The couple looks at them. The couple are old people. The couple are white people. The couple are old, white people. Madeline and Steve are not white. They are Chinese Americans.
As they walk past the old, white couple, Madeline smiles at them and says, Good evening, Sir. Good evening, Ma’am.
Steve smiles at them and says, Good evening, Sir. Good evening, Ma’am.
The couple smiles at Madeline and Steve and says, Good evening, Sir. Good evening, Ma’am.
When Madeline and Steve get to the front door, the doorman opens the door for them.
Madeline and Steve say, Thank You, in unison.
The doorman is the last person Madeline and Steve see that night. They stand next to the doorman for a few seconds. They stand underneath the awning, which is only a few feet wide. It’s raining.
Steve looks at Madeline and says, It’s raining.
Madeline looks at Steve and says, It’s raining.
The doorman looks at them both and says, It’s raining.
All three nod.
Madeline says, Brr.
Steve says, It’s not cold.
Madeline is very skinny.
She says, Don’t be a sizeist.
Steve says, Sorry.
Steve says, You want my coat?
Madeline says, No.
Steve takes off his coat.
Madeline says, No, seriously, I don’t want it.
Steve puts his coat back on.
Steve has the keys to Madeline’s car in his coat pocket. He is not sure how the keys got there. He almost gives the keys to Madeline. But it is raining. They rush across the parking lot and hurry into the car. They sit. Steve sits in the driver’s seat. Madeline sits in the passenger seat. It’s cold. It’s wet. The windows start steaming up very quickly. Madeline draws on the steamed window. She draws a heart. Steve watches her as she draws. Steve thinks Madeline is such a good drawer, not a drawer like in a bedroom cabinet, but a drawer like in a person who draws. Madeline draws another heart. Then she draws another heart. Then she breathes on the window and fog covers over all three hearts.
Steve starts the car. Steve backs out of the parking space. Steve bumps into another car that is parked across the aisle.
Steve says, Oops.
Madeline says, Let’s get the fuck out of here!
Steve says, Okay!
As Steve drives, he makes wise comments. The wise comments are mostly quotes from famous people. Steve’s favorite quote is a quote from Ernest Hemingway.
Steve can never get the words exactly right, but it goes something like, The world kills everyone, especially the very brave and the very good and the very gentle. If you are none of these, be assured, the world will kill you too, but there will be no special hurry.
Steve says, It’s from The Sun Also Rises.
Madeline says, Okay.
Steve says, Or maybe For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Madeline says, I wouldn’t know.
Steve says, Or maybe A Farewell to Arms.
Madeline says, It’s a beautiful quote.
As Steve drives, Madeline sings songs. Since it is Madeline’s car, it is playing Madeline’s songs. The song that comes on is […]. Steve can’t remember the song that comes on. It’s on the tip of his tongue, but he can’t remember. Madeline sings it. Madeline sings the song that comes on. Madeline is not a good singer. But she sings anyway. Steve listens. Steve is a good singer. But Steve does not sing. Steve listens. He can’t remember the song that comes on. It’s a beautiful song. He listens. It’s beautiful.
Steve drives over a slick spot of road. Steve loses control of the car. Steve drives the car into a telephone pole. Steve is knocked unconscious. No one is around. No one sees the accident. No one is there to find them.
Until Steve regains consciousness, is Madeline both dead and alive? Until someone finds them, is Madeline both dead and alive? If no one ever finds them, is Madeline both dead and alive? If Steve never regains consciousness, is Madeline both dead and alive?
There is a man. Let’s say the man’s name is Steve. There is another man. Let’s say the other man’s name is Donovan. There isn’t a woman in this scenario. Let’s say the woman’s name is Madeline. But there isn’t a woman. But if there was a woman, let’s say the woman’s name was Madeline. Let’s say, if there was a woman, Donovan was engaged to marry Madeline. But there isn’t a woman.
Steve calls Donovan to ask if he will meet him on the Roof of The Henry Vaughn Hotel. When Steve calls, Donovan doesn’t pick up. Steve leaves a voicemail message. Donovan does not respond to the voicemail message. Steve sends Donovan a text message.
The text message says, Can we talk?
Steve waits for about twenty minutes. Donovan does not reply to Steve’s text message. Steve sends another text message.
This message says, I’m sorry. I feel awful. Please can we talk?
Donovan still doesn’t reply.
Steve texts, ???
Donovan replies to this message, Ok.
When Steve gets to the Roof of The Henry Vaughn Hotel, Donovan is already there. It is early in the day. The Roof of The Henry Vaughn Hotel is not yet open for service. Steve walks toward Donovan. Steve feels relieved to see Donovan. Steve thinks maybe with Donovan there, things will get better. Steve puts his hand out to shake Donovan’s hand.
Steve is about to say, I’m so glad you’re here.
As Steve is about to say, I’m so glad you’re here, Donovan punches Steve in the stomach.
Steve is surprised. Donovan punches Steve again. Steve turns and runs toward the doors that lead out onto the Roof of The Henry Vaughn Hotel. Donovan chases after Steve. Donovan is a faster runner than Steve. Donovan catches up to Steve. Donovan pushes Steve in the back and Steve falls forward and lands on the floor. When he hits the floor, Steve’s head strikes the concrete. Steve is knocked unconscious. This is the second time Steve has been knocked unconscious in the past week.
When Steve regains consciousness, he finds that he is in the outdoor seating area of the Roof of The Henry Vaughn Hotel. Donovan is still there. Donovan is smoking a cigarette. Donovan offers Steve a cigarette. Steve accepts. It’s very windy. Steve tries to light the cigarette. He is unable to. Donovan doesn’t offer to help. Steve tries again to light the cigarette. Steve gets it lit. Just as Steve gets it lit, the wind picks up and yanks the cigarette out of his hand. The cigarette falls over the ledge. Steve turns to look at it. It flutters as it travels down the seven stories from the Roof of The Henry Vaughn Hotel. It disappears out of view before Steve can see it hit the ground.
Steve says, Dang it.
Donovan hands Steve the cigarette pack.
Donovan says, Sorry.
Steve says, No, I’m sorry.
Donovan says, Yes, you are.
Steve says, Thanks.
Donovan and Steve sit and smoke. They go through the entire pack of cigarettes. They don’t talk much. When they do talk, Steve says things that seem to annoy Donovan.
Steve says, Sorry, a lot.
Donovan says, Stop saying Sorry.
Donovan says, You didn’t know, did you?
Steve says, Know what?
Know that she loved you.
She loved you.
Love, like in-love love?
There is a woman. Let’s say the woman’s name is Madeline. There is a man. Let’s say my name is Steve. Let’s say Madeline and Steve get into Madeline’s car.
No one is around to see us get into Madeline’s car. No one is around to see who decides to drive Madeline’s car. If no one is around to see who decides to drive Madeline’s car, would it be the case that both Madeline decides to drive Madeline’s car and Steve decides to drive Madeline’s car? Would each possibility be as real as the other? Each possibility playing out as its own universe within The Infinite Universe?
In the universe where Madeline decides to drive instead of Steve, everything is almost exactly the same. Madeline and Steve drink at the Roof of The Henry Vaughn Hotel. Madeline and Steve say, Good evening, to the old couple. Madeline and Steve walk arm in arm. Madeline draws hearts. Madeline sings. Steve talks. Madeline sings and talks. Madeline sings. Steve listens as Madeline sings. Everything is the same. Except.
The car doesn’t skid off the road. The driver doesn’t pull left. The passenger isn’t flung head first through the windshield and into a telephone pole.
Instead, we continue to talk. I tell her about things that are important to me. I tell her about these things indirectly, and I don’t know if she gets it. But I don’t know if she doesn’t get it.
She sings loudly to a song on the stereo.
And she laughs a real laugh.
And she screams, I love this song!
She looks at me like she has something important to tell me.
I turn to her, riveted.
She smiles and starts to say more things that she loves, I love song. I love car. I love.
She says this in that universe the same way she did in this one, on repeat, the same song, the same words, the same song, the same words.