What You Do Not Know You Want

What You Do Not Know You Want
David Mitchell

MY THREE A.M. NIGHTMARE DISPERSED like a disappointed audience as I tried to find the Coke machine. A woman passed, in her fifties maybe, cuddling, saying, "All I want out of life is a good night's sleep." Too woozy to reply, I just smiled back. The second person I met at that sweltering hour was a barefoot girl of eighteen or nineteen, kneeling before the Coke machine, extracting a can from its cumbersome mouth. Pixie-nosed, Oriental, wearing surfer's clothes for pajamas, not an ounce of fat on her, bony as macaroni in fact. "You can't sleep either, huh?" I asked. Apparently she hadn't heard. I raised my voice. "So you can't go to sleep either, huh? We should throw us a party for insomniacs." The machine relinquished her 7UP but she still refused to acknowledge me. Her dead eyes bore through me. "Sure was a pleasure meeting you," I thanked her retreating figure. Bitch. But particles of the girl remained in the air. These I breathed in. Musk, salt, lime.

Back in room 404 my sheets were chewy with sweat. Jesus Molten Christ, where was the Hawaiian ocean breeze tonight? A double dose of aspirin downed with whiskey and Coke-revolting-helped my mind cut its tight moorings. Each lush leaf on the lime trees lining the Ganges at Varanasi, you once told me, houses a soul for forty-nine days before the soul is reincarnated. Did you make that up? Remember the crows on the floating carcasses, eating their rafts? I thought about the Oriental girl, lying on her bed, sipping her 7UP. Her blanking out of me belittled-erased-me more than any verbal insult. Oriental? Who knows? Anyone in Hawaii could be from anywhere, no matter how they look. Who was she thinking about now? Me? Doubted it, but. Hotel rooms store up erotic charge, and men sleeping alone are its copper wires. Once upon a time she would have smiled, stroked her midriff, struck up a conversation. One thing might have led to It. Was she sleepwalking? Or is my voltage weakening now I'm thirty-six? Mirrors are my friends no longer. Nightingale picks through my golden locks for gray hairs. I must laugh along.

"Not this way! Not this way." Jesus Jackhammer Christ, who fell out of that nightmare? A minute passed, two, five, thirty, but I heard nothing more. Hush now, I told my wild pulse, hush, it's tomorrow morning already. I read Confessions of a Mask until Waikiki's tourists, elevators, juicers, chambermaids, toilets, showers, bellboys, lifeguards, deliverymen and waitresses resumed their appointed function in this three-square-mile vacation machine. My Marc Jacob shirt, I decided, should send the right signal to the police. On my way out through reception I was surprised to see not the miserable werewolf who had checked me in, but the Oriental girl from the Coke machine, reading a Chinese paperback with a demon doll on the cover. "Good book?" I asked. "Stephen King," she replied, glancing up, but making no reference to the previous night. "Chinese?" I asked, indicating the book. "Me? The book? Breakfast?" As you know, my interpersonal skills include both patience and charm, so I learned that Wei is from Hong Kong and has helped her uncle in the running of Hotel Aloha since his wife killed herself one year ago. "Sleeping pills," Wei volunteered this detail. "Enough to kill an elephant." "How tragic," I responded. Uncle? If that hairy Caucasian belch really is her uncle then I really am Richard Nixon.

My attention drifted over the lost-property form like a balloonist surveying a strange city. Name, address, occupation. Occupation… how would "Dealer in esoteric memorabilia" sound? I nearly decided the form was a waste of time. Was that fat custodian of justice, picking his nose and wiping it under the seat of his chair, really going to get me nearer my holy grail? One Nozomu Eno at Runaway Korso and even Werewolf at Hotel Aloha were far likelier leads. In the end I wrote, "Trader," figuring officialdom may as well be on my side as not. Truth needed to be cut to size, however. The "missing item" I registered, therefore, was "an ivory-handled ornamental bread knife (approx. 40 cm) last housed in a flute case." That this knife was crafted by the Master Kakutani of Old Edo in 1868, I omitted to mention. That the Yukio Mishima had disemboweled himself with this very blade and attained his gory apotheosis on an otherwise nondescript November 25, 1970, I omitted