The scent of a dream had slipped into the void of a day that was nearing its end. His gaze darted around the room collecting data for his consciousness. The room was plain and neat. A wooden table with a mirror on the left wall, a yellow armchair in the right corner and a bare coat rack looking crippled with three short arms reaching out next to the window. Is being crippled one who has less or one who has more as well? His thoughts were lost in a vacant smile. From the window he noticed a long highway stretching along the coastline of a sea tinted purple by the wounded sun. A pair of suitcases and two leather handbags at the foot of the coat rack, the only indication of life, caught his attention. He moved nearer but suddenly remembered the sand that creased his skin and paused. He peered at his feet. Strange, he was clean. Strange also were the colorful clothes laid at the edge of the bed. Everything seemed new to him. Everything except the peculiar white fish with deep green eyes that was staring at him nailed to the glass borders of its small world next to the bed. It all had no meaning. He recalled Helen sleeping, a dinner party, a curtain being drawn, Anne’s brand new pumps, images like miniature fireworks inside his mind leaving behind only smoke. He was feeling dizzy.
He hastily tried on the light colored trousers. They were his size. He laid his shirt over the closed suitcase. He faced the mirror so closely that it misted over with his breath; he knew that reflection very well. He stepped back, searching for some indication, a possible mark in his skin, his name.
The door opened suddenly. He was a burglar caught in the act.
“Awake already?” asked a familiar face, closing the door with his foot.
He didn’t answer but looked at him empty of emotion. The newcomer was wearing a green suit and a red tie that twisted into a big knot drawing all his attention. He had seen that look and attempted smile before.
“Where am I?” the words hardly escaped his dry mouth.
“In the hotel, Philip”, said the stranger, who was now hanging up his coat, dusting it with his hand.
Was that his name then? It didn’t ring a bell, not even the slightest hint of familiarity. Strange; when you don’t remember your name, how can you hope to remember anything at all? Unless that was not really his name.
“Gustav,” he answered, stressing the “a” as if the question had been asked ten times that day.
“Gustav,” repeated Philip, the word tinged with a trace of intimacy.
He approached him, loosening the knot of his tie, and sat down, his hands resting on his knees.
“Listen Philip, I don’t know what to do anymore.”
“I don’t understand. Your name reminds me of
something, but I can’t remember…”
He was sitting motionless, as if no part of his body was alive.
“How can I explain? You’ve been like this for a week,” said Gustav apologetically.
“Explain what?” Philip resounded as if an electric current had moved every cell of his body. “Do you think I’ll understand? Everything seems familiar, myself included. But that’s just it. Just familiar. Nothing more that this. Nothing mine.”
“Philip…I found you lying unconscious on the beach two days ago.”
“The beach…I remember, I was walking on a beach…a bright light dawning.”
“It seemed you’d been there for hours, days maybe…”
“No…only since the party.”
“The party?” asked Gustav surprised.
“Yes. Hold on a second.” He steadied himself with one hand against the doorjamb, scratching his head with the other.
”What party, Phillip?”
“You said you found me two days ago?”
“Yes, a couple of days ago at noon.” Gustav answered firmly.
“Where have we been since?”
“I took you and left, I don’t know, I got scared. Thought you might have been in a fight. Anyway, you were sleeping. What party were you talking about?”
“I don’t know if it was a party. I remember people and music, some familiar faces…”
His thoughts left gaps that had to be filled. He was moving with short steady steps. No matter how familiar Gustav looked, he couldn’t recall meeting him before.
“The fish? What about the fish?” He demanded Gustav with eyes wide open.
Only what he could see was certain. The fish was there. He could remember buying it. The rest was just a scheme.
“The brush, Philip…Remember it?”
:”Yes, I remember, Brush…It was me that bought him”
“That’s it! One day you came back with the brush.” said Gustav surprised and got up to get closer.
“His name Brush. Not the brush” Philip interrupted his movement abruptly and Gustav sat down again.
“Yes, Brush…Anyway. Do you remember telling me the story about the plankton?”
Gustav’s words buzzed like insects in his ears. How did he know about the plankton? He grabbed the shirt and went out into the narrow corridor that had the intense odor of a hotel. It was a partial remnant of a hundred scents and an even sharper disinfectant. Gustav followed him quickly clutching a pair of shoes in his left hand.
“Where are you going?…Philip!”
“To hell!…if I’m not already there.”
He kept on walking, having decided that movement was an effective solution. Gustav followed him struggling not to drop the shoes while donning his jacket.
“Hold on….your shoes.”
He stopped and turned toward Gustav. He reached for the black leather shoes. They were his size. He looked at Gustav who was standing like a host while his honorary guests leave insulted.
“Where did you find the fish?”
“You had left it here”
“Where, at the hotel?”
“Not this one, the other one.”
“Where was the other one?”
“About an hour north from here. I carried you there. What else could I have done in the state you were in? I was scared…..”
“The plankton. Where’s the plankton?” he interrupted victoriously.
“In the bag. I’ve kept it in my bag.”
Philip was standing there unable to move, the shirt in his hand like a foreign banner. Gustav took it and shook it softly holding it with the intention of helping him put it on.
“Listen Philip, let’s go for a walk and grab something to eat. You’ll be alright. I’m sure you’re hungry. We’ll talk about everything there.”
At least he was right at that. He was hungry and Gustav’s invitation was the solution. There was no reason why he should hurry. In a way his whole life was lost, a few hours more wouldn’t make any difference. He shook his head in resignation and dragged himself to the stairs overwhelmed by the logic of hunger.
The hotel was an oblong two-story structure, freshly painted or newly built, with cars neatly parked and a bower of decorative lights in front of the reception desk. Under the bower, among the empty tables, a fat man with a spade was removing gravel. They set off for the beach. Although it was dark you could tell it was near by the salt that burnt your lips.