(This is the first scene of a story I began for Creative Writing class, but didn't want to finish. Maybe some other time I will finish it, but for now, here it is, and here it stays.)
The bellhop felt that he had never seen such a couple as the pair he was escorting to room 902, but he was not sure why. The lift was out, so the wiry, scarlet-uniformed bellhop made his usual show of brassy apologies and led the way up the sweltering back staircase used only by the help. Even carrying the ginger-haired man’s navy-blue matched suitcase set, the bellhop breezed up the stairs, clearing two tall steps at a time in his customary swooping march. Behind him, the lady in the red dress panted elegantly and clutched at the dilapidated railing. The ginger man tried gallantly to cover his own breathlessness, but sixteen stairs ahead, the bellhop could hear his half-stifled gasps. He was so busy listening to them that he forgot to count how many levels they had climbed.
“Just a little farther, Sir, Madame,” the bellhop announced confidently, making the first break in the icy silence. He was sure they felt that this staircase was as interminable as he did, and as he looked back, he saw the woman shoot him a grateful look. The man glowered. He said nothing, but puffed a bit of air from his red cheeks, reminding the bellhop of cartoon bulls on television. The bellhop quickened his pace a little. “Will they have the lift fixed soon?” the woman asked. Hearing the ghost of a southern accent in her voice, the bellhop realized that it was the first time she had spoken. He thought her softness a strange contrast to the man’s throaty growl; earlier he had commanded the attention of the entire lobby, barking at the staff about parking, prices, and poor service while the woman clutched his arm and smiled a faint but sincere apology to everyone else.
“A repairman is already working on it, and it should be functional by this evening. I am sorry for the inconvenience,” the bellhop told her, then could not help but imagine that if they did not get there soon, the man might make him sorry. The elevator’s repair was outside the bellhop’s control, a condition he resented deeply. The bellhop was sure that the ginger-haired man was the type that would reward anyone who eagerly jumped to his every command. He had seen a million self-important men do the same thing: roar orders, then, remembering the way their fathers had treated the help, smile and pull out a fifty-spot for the bellhop with his pleasingly quaint “Sirs”. It was American. There was something tickling the bellhop’s mind, though. This one didn’t share the snarling smile of the other businessmen; there was something carnal, almost beastly, about his casual domination, and here in the closeness of the concrete staircase, the musk of his power was overwhelming. The bellhop gulped down the feeling that his every footstep was sinking frantically like bare, blistered feet in a dune. He tried to take three stairs in one step to overcome the sensation and stumbled on his patent leather shoes.
The wad of scarlet and navy and shiny black tumbled wordlessly down twenty-one stairs, making a thud thud thud all the way. It halted limply at the woman’s feet. “Oww,” it groaned. The woman dropped to her knees, her soft repetitions of “Are you okay?” falling all around the bellhop’s rumpled form. It was less of a question and more of a statement, but, with his eyes still closed, the bellhop thought to himself that he didn’t mind. He tasted blood, and a headache had already begun to bloom in his head. Opening his eyes, the bellhop gazed up into the woman’s pale face and marveled at the tamed flames of her lips. He watched them as they repeated one last “Are you okay?” and had to blink to guard his eyes from her luminosity. He suddenly felt the clumsiness of his lanky frame and the grunge of his sweaty uniform and spent several seconds thinking of how to fix himself. The bellhop answered, “I’m quite alright, thank you, Ma’am,” because he could think of nothing better to say.
“Well, since you’re fine, get up already,” the man said in a grunt that grew into a seething growl, “You’ve gone and thrown my goddamn suitcases all over the goddamn place, and now you think you get to take a nap? I should report you.”
“I’m very sorry, Sir,” the bellhop announced with more composure than he felt. He stood, brushed himself off, and took the dented scarlet fez from the woman’s hands in one graceful motion. Heaving the suitcases into the air again, he felt his achy joints lurch forward and was afraid that he was going to fall again, but he caught himself and as simple as that was walking again. They were just a flight of steps below the ninth floor landing, a fact for which the bellhop was very grateful. He could feel bruises swelling beneath his uniform; his right shoulder, left shin, and forehead throbbed in unison like sarcastic applause for the worst performance of his career. Although they were steep, he had never fallen on these stairs, and he wondered where exactly he had gone wrong. The bellhop recognized that the fall had ruined any chance of receiving a tip from the man. The bellhop was good at his job, and he knew it, but now he had screwed it all up; these rich guys never paid out if even a single thing was amiss.
The wobbling first steps after the fall became steadier as they climbed, but they also took on a sort of hopelessness. Though he was strong from carrying silver trays and suitcases throughout the extensive hotel, the bags felt heavy in his hands. He hoped he had broken something in them when he fell. The bellhop tried to pay his own body no attention. He distracted himself by watching the pair out of the corner of his eyes. They, unaware of his surveillance, staggered stoically, heads down to watch each step. It was as if they were the first explorers to cross some oriental desert; the woman clutched her purse now as if she might plant it in the name of some great nation. The man occasionally glanced up at her as if he might use her the same way. His aura of command had increased now that his panting echoed in the oven of the staircase and two large rings of sweat plunged from his armpits, and he seemed to push the other two upward with only his presence. As the ninth floor rose haltingly before them, the chorus of heavy footfalls changed. The woman, her red dress streaming behind her, surged past the bellhop and for a moment eclipsed his view of the ninth floor door.
The bellhop decided right then that he hated them, both of them. He had never thought anything of carrying duck a l’orange to pinstriped businessmen or misguiding housewives long-distance in Dubuque while their munificent husbands cavorted – they were all but fixtures to him, and he begrudged them nothing; he was content to be able to pay the grocer, the landlady, and the bartender. But these people… they made him desperate. He had to reach the top first. Yes, that was the way it had best be. He looked up at the red dress swooshing its way up. He increased his stride to three, now four steps, dodged to the woman’s right, listened to her swoosh by, and then dove to his left, blocking her. One stride, a second, and the door stood before him. The bellhop set one bag down, used his newly freed hand to turn the latch, and plunged into the air-conditioned hallway, carelessly tossing aside instincts that begged him to hold the door, and listened, for the what seemed like the first time, to his instinct to breathe, to breathe, to breathe.