"The Last Word"


Andrew Olson

You’re suddenly stranded outside your hotel room door without a shred of clothing. You thought you were heading into the bathroom, but now you’re standing in the bright hallway next to two elevators. It seems impossible for this to have happened, you think. Even more impossible is the thought bouncing around your head — about Marianne, about how she put you here.

            Your first instinct is to try the door again, and as you touch the cold, metal doorknob you hear the lock click shut. “Shit,” you mutter to yourself. You consider calling for help — but that would only bring people out of their rooms. No, you’re in it for the long haul.

            Your bladder aches. You consider your options: The floor in front of you, an ashtray, an ice machine down the hall. You can’t think clearly; your head’s swimming. You must have been sleepwalking to end up outside your hotel room like this. (Of course you were sleepwalking!) You’ve got to pull yourself together. You’ve got to think of something before someone comes up those elevators or walks out of their room. They’ll think you’re some lunatic. They’ll put you in jail.

            Now it’s coming back—what you were doing before you came back to the hotel, before you went to bed and then ended up in the hallway without any clothes. You were at that Chinese lounge with Ed and Thomas... and Marianne. You’re pretty sure you were loaded when you left.

            You remember there’s a phone in the hallway where you’re standing now. You’ve seen it. Yes... it’s on that little wooden, antique-looking table about 15 feet away, with a lamp and vase of fresh dahlias.

            You make a run for the table. You notice the door directly in front of the table is 718. On the floor is a room service tray with a covered plate, a few pieces of sourdough bread, and a wine glass.

            Jesus, you’ve got to piss.

            But that’s not going to happen. No, you’re going to keep this one last shred of dignity. You’re going to be strong. You pick up the phone without thinking much about what you’re going to say.

            “I seem to be locked outside my room, number 711. Well, the real problem is...I don’t have any clothes on. No, this isn’t a joke...not at all. Can you send someone up to help me out—preferably a male someone?”

            They tell you they’re going to do even better. To guarantee your privacy they tell you they’re sending up a duplicate room key on the right elevator. They’ll place it in a small envelope. You’ll have complete, secure privacy.

            You don’t tell them about having to urinate. No, that seemed like too much information. You’ll just have to wait for the elevator door to open—and then make a dash for it. You’ll be able to open your door, run in the bathroom, and relieve yourself. This will all be over in a moment. And you realize what Einstein said about relativity—about a painful moment seeming to last a long time while a pleasurable moment seeming to last no time at all.

You hate him for saying it.


You’re starting to remember more about what happened earlier that night. After the conference ended at 6:00, you walked through the cool San Francisco air. The lounge you were at in Chinatown, before you were in this despicable situation, was called Benny Lee’s. There were people there from work. Marianne was there. After three martinis, you were up there singing Karaoke. What was that song?—Talking Heads’ “Same As It Ever Was.” Marianne had a few drinks, too, and was flirting. She dared you to get up and sing in front of the lounge. She bet you twenty bucks you wouldn’t do it.

            It was after she’d gone up and sung, with that rich, confident voice that filled the whole lounge, a voice that sounded like it could win Grammy's, and people clapped and clapped that you realized you’d been duped. And then it was your turn. It was like following Barbra Streisand at a talent contest.

            But it didn’t stop there. Marianne challenged you to one of those college drinking games. And in half an hour she drank you under the table. How many glasses of Scotch did she have? No, it was whiskey. She guzzled it like it was water. You fell out of your chair. They had to practically carry you back to the hotel. You’re pretty sure Marianne was walking.


You hear the elevator ding—your key, your salvation. But then you realize it’s the left elevator, not the right, and people are getting out. You hide behind the wall next to the elevator and pray they won’t walk toward you. You hear the other elevator ding, your elevator, but there’s nothing you can do.

            You hear the couple kissing loudly in the hallway. They’re making obnoxious sucking sounds. After what seems like hours, you hear a door shut—and the sucking sounds are gone. You hear the lonely hum of the building. The lights are as bright as the Phoenix sun. You think of Debbie and the kids back home, how they’d probably be laughing at you right now. It is pretty funny, come to think of it.

On the other hand, you don’t think they’d be laughing.

            “I’m sorry, but I wasn’t able to get the key,” you tell the front desk on the phone.

            Once again, they assure you that privacy will remain intact, that you have no worries.

            “I really have to go to the bathroom, too,” you tack on to the end of the conversation. “If you could send that elevator up here soon, I’d be really happy.”

            You wait behind the cold wall by the elevator. You wonder what Marianne is doing tonight. Perhaps she got sick after all those drinks? Perhaps she went back to her hotel room and watched TV or ordered a movie? What she wouldn’t give to see you stranded out here like this.

You’d like to see it happen to her.

            The elevator dings again, and you race down the hallway, all of you flapping out there, and you suddenly understand how an ape must feel in a zoo—only the ape isn’t naked. You are. You walk into the right elevator and see the envelope with the hotel’s name emblazoned across the front in gold letters.

            But you weren’t fast enough.

            No, the door has closed behind you, and you’re heading down, down, down. You press floor 7, thinking the elevator might bring you back without anyone else getting on. But then you see that floors 2 through 6 are lit up, as if some juvenile got on and pushed all the buttons and then jumped off. You stop at another floor; you move over to one side, the wall cold against your skin. No one gets on.

            The elevator continues to descend.

            You stop at another floor. Again, no one gets on. It seems like a miracle. At the next floor, you can hear people outside, laughing from behind the closed doors. Perhaps they’re coming back from a movie. Perhaps they’re coming back from dinner. Perhaps they have children with them. The doors open. You’re standing to the side so they can’t see you. You say as loud as you’ve said anything in your life: “There’s a naked man in here; go no further!”

            You can almost hear them thinking in the silence: Is this a joke?

             And then the door shuts. You’re heading up now, up up up toward the 7th floor. Seventh heaven. You promise yourself, as you have before, that this will never happen again. You’ll never let anyone challenge you to drinking games.

            The elevator door opens. You peer around the corner and then run for your room. The lock opens magically. You run into the bathroom and cut loose. Jesus, a piss has never felt so good. You think about how Alan Shepherd might have felt on that day he relieved himself inside the Mercury space capsule before being the first man to launch into space for fifteen minutes; yes, he had to piss so bad he just went in his suit. Of course, Mission Control had to give him permission. You’re proud of yourself for making it this far. You could have easily gone in the hallway. Everyone would have understood.

            Now you’re lying down, wired and a little sobered from all the excitement. You pick up the phone and dial the front desk and ask for Marianne’s room.

            “It’s 2:30 in the morning, sir,” the man says.

            “So,” you say.

            “Alright then,” he says, and dials Marianne’s room.

            You hear Marianne’s raspy voice answer, and you hang up, laughing to yourself like a kid after a prank call.