WE CAME TO THE HOTEL to end it all. The building sat tucked in the mountains, part of an Edwardian-era resort. Gentlemen and women used to enjoy the crisp air for a few weeks, then exalt the health benefits back to their friends in the city. All those people, we realized, were long dead.
We had traveled thousands of miles and we sat in a room in an abandoned hotel. Winter sun lit up the furred ice on the pane. We bent over the desk in front of the window, our fingers dancing over the pleather inlay. One of us brought out a copy of The Enneads and creased it open to the final section. We had last read Plotinus in a public library in L.A. some years ago. We had studied his Theory of Forms, though understood little of it, save that men and women were indivisible: atoma eidē. We had an innate sense that we were true forms, pure, models for the universe, for our parents, for our lost friends, for all those who had intersected our lives.
Now we were far from anyone who knew us. Outside, snow flurried across the hills and down to the river. We could see a faint reflection of ourselves in the glass; we hardly recognized the blurred faces that stared back. We felt adrift. Tangled and untangled. There was little left for us in the world.
We used the room’s old rotary telephone to call the men who knew our mother; all the numbers we could remember. Voices castigated us. They vented at our intrusion, our prying questions. We didn’t care; we wanted to know which of the men was our father.
The men hung up in salvos of fuck off and wrong number and leave me alone and I don’t know you.
In the dark we lit votive candles, then rolled onto the bed and wrapped ourselves in the sheets. We discussed what had come before and what was still to come. Our brief time apart had shown us we had to separate from each other more permanently. The strongest of us took the handset and looped the cord around our necks, coils tightening against our tracheas.
As children, we were told that we had been part of a multiple. In our mother’s womb there were several of us, at least five competing heartbeats that faded to four, then three. The final two felt forever conjoined: a single person masquerading as twins.
An individual who would never accept they were alone.
At some point late in the night, I heard the mechanical ring of the telephone. The pleasing sound reverberated around the room. Then the phones in the other bedrooms rang, hundreds of them singing together, a chorus. I reached for the handset and pressed it to my ear; I knew it would be my mother; she would tell me to come home.
Christopher Linforth has recently published fiction in Fiction International, Notre Dame Review, Day One, and Descant, among other magazines. He has been awarded fellowships and scholarships to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Vermont Studio Center, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.