Arnon Grunberg

The receptionist at Bally’s Park Place Casino Resort was addressing us with exaggerated friendliness. As if it wasn’t five thirty in the morning. As if there wasn’t any make-up running down Rebecca’s face. As if my own face didn’t bear the telltale signs of the bargain basement.
‘A room for one night?’ she asked.
‘Maybe two,’ I said. ‘We’re not sure yet.’
I’d given Tony a big tip and sent him back to New York.
I handed the receptionist a different MasterCard; this one had a four-thousand-dollar limit, and I hadn’t used it for a long time. Then we took the elevator to the eighteenth floor. The room had a view of the ocean. And of the boardwalk. It was still raining.
Rebecca walked around looking at the room as though it was a house she was planning to buy. She opened closets. ‘There’s no mini-bar,’ she said.
‘No,’ I said, ‘they never have them in casinos. They don’t want you to stay in your room.’
There were two beds, I sat down on the one by the window.
Some blue and green light from the neon signs was coming into our room.
‘Do you want anything else to drink? Shall I call room service?’
‘Some water,’ she said.
We had to wait fifteen minutes for a bottle of mineral water.
We didn’t say a word. I looked out over the deserted boardwalk. The only person on it was a man in a raincoat, walking around in circles like it was summer and he was out enjoying the sunshine.
After she’d finished her water, Rebecca took off her shoes and said: ‘I stink.’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ I replied, ‘we’re pretty far apart.’
Once Rebecca had locked herself in the bathroom for a shower, I went back downstairs.
‘Where can I make a phone call?’ I asked the receptionist. She was the same one who’d just checked us in.
‘Behind you,’ she said. ‘But there’s also a telephone in your room.’
‘No, no, thank you,’ I said. ‘This will be just fine.’
My mother was already quite old when she bought herself a dog. To keep her company. She stuffed it full of vitamins, because she said it had eaten nothing but junk at the animal shelter.
I said: ‘It’s a dog, Mama, you have to feed it dog food.’
But she gave it cucumber peelings. Peelings she’d first used on her face, because cucumber peels keep the skin young.
One evening she called me.
‘The dog and I have something in common,’ she said .
‘What’s that?’ I asked.
‘We’re both survivors,’ she said.
As it turned out, she wasn’t too right about the dog being a survivor. It didn’t survive more than three months on the rabbit food my mother fed it.
I never saw the dog, but she’d sent me pictures of its grave. I know it’s a strange thought, but while I was standing there in front of the payphone in the foyer of Bally’s Park Palace, I suddenly wondered if anyone would take pictures of my grave.
I waited while the hotel in Vienna put me through to my wife’s room. It took a long time. I stood there listening to waltzes for four minutes. Finally I got my wife on the line.
‘Robert,’ she said, ‘Robert, is that you?’ I’ve been trying to call you at the house the whole time, but you didn’t answer.’
‘No, I’m not at home.’
‘So where are you?’
‘I’m in Atlantic City.’
‘What are you doing there? In the middle of the night?’
‘Looking around, observing people, the usual.’
‘Listen,’ she said, ‘when I tried to pay my hotel bill, my credit card was blocked.’
I felt myself wobble, a dizziness that started in my head and slowly worked its way down.
‘Blocked. Which one did you use?’
‘The MasterCard.’
‘Yeah, maybe it’s over the limit.’
‘How can it be over its limit? We agreed that I was the only one who would use the MasterCard, and I never use it. It was so embarrassing, the psychiatrist from Rome had to lend me the money, I didn’t even have enough cash with me. If he hadn’t been there, I might be in jail now.’
‘No, they wouldn’t do that so quickly.’
‘How can a credit card suddenly be blocked? What’s going on? This has never happened to me before. It was an incredibly painful situation, six other psychiatrists were standing around me and I couldn’t pay my hotel bill.’
‘I thought the conference was paying for the hotel.’
‘Not the extras.’
‘Was it so much? What did you order, anyway?’
‘You know, it adds up; a dinner, the bar, room service, the cleaners. Before you know it you’ve got a bill of a couple of hundred dollars. Who are you in Atlantic City with?’
‘With that French guy.’
‘What French guy?’
‘The one from the restaurant.’
‘Oh, Gérard.’
‘Yeah, Gérard.’
‘So why did he go to Atlantic City in the middle of the night?’
‘He wanted to see what it was like.’
‘Wanted to see what what was like?’
‘Life in a casino in the middle of the night.’ I cleared my throat. ‘Don’t you have another credit card with you?’ I asked.
‘No, I just told you that. Why don’t you ever listen?’
‘I am listening, I’m just a little tired, it’s the middle of the night here.’
‘Then you shouldn’t go gambling in the middle of the night.’
‘I’m doing research.’
‘So how’s the research coming along?’
‘It’s coming along. What are we going to do about your money?’
‘I’ve got my bank card with me. I can try to get some money with that. Do you think there’s still anything in the account?’
‘It’s your account, so there’s probably still something in it. I never touch it.’
‘Are you having fun in Atlantic City?’
‘Yeah, it’s going very well.’
‘You sound tense.’
‘I am tense. It’s the fatigue.’
‘Do we need to spend less money?’
‘No, there’s no reason for that. Everything’s fine. Everything’s great. When are you going to Basle?’
My wife had friends in Basle. She was going to visit them. My wife had friends all over the world.
‘This afternoon. I’m leaving for the airport in a minute. The psychiatrist from Rome is giving me a lift.’
‘Oh, that’s nice. Give me the number of your hotel in Basle.’
I wrote the number on the back of an old receipt.
‘It’ll be all right with the money,’ I said. ‘It will be fine.’ ‘And with everything else?’
‘That too.’
‘You’re my Princess Fairytale, right?’
‘Am I?’
‘Of course you are. But I have to go now, I’ll call you in Basle. Lots of kisses.’
‘Lots of kisses,’ my wife said, ‘lots and lots of kisses.’
The receptionist smiled when I walked past. ‘Good night, Mr Mehlman,’ she said.
In the elevator there was a man who put his hands in his pockets and pulled out handfuls of chips. ‘Luck really exists,’ he said. Then I went deaf.