:: Article

Palenque Hotel

By Louis Armand.

This extract comes from the author’s novel Palenque Hotel.

“I must formulate completely the work I’m going to undertake. I must search for the law to which all things submit.” Beginning at the beginning. Ah! The first word. First account. First confession. Everything evolving towards a single, far-off point. The shadows set out once more upon their journey. Lentamente! Over the doorstep. The frayed carpet. Up the wall. Across the vast ceiling. Their nightly dumbshow. And that idiot pronoun, staring at its half-formed caricatures through bits & pieces of detached retina. Half-sleep. Insomnia by fractions. The dead hand begins again to work at its strings. Closing around the neck. Turning off the oxygen to the brain. Only then is it time to wake up. Time to keep running. 5:00a.m. Dark out of the Metro. Reaches the corner, crosses the avenue & continues on. Moonlight over the Zócalo like a silent movie’s comforting simplicity. A yellowgrey fog thickening the gutters. Stumbling over cracked pavement, sewer grates, always listening for the telltale footstep. Others’. Doubling back. Scrutinising their shapes reflected in shop windows. Street sweeper. Prowl car. Kid on bicycle dragging a glacier behind on a trailer. Street vendors setting up. Crates of flyblown mangos. Water tanks. The smell of cooking fat. Chopped jalapeño. A drunk lies passed-out on a bench behind a newsstand. Shoes stolen off his feet. A hooker at the end of the graveyard shift bums a cigarette. Hypochondriacs queuing for the farmacías to open. Yesterday’s headlines shining shoes. The widely-reported death of Juan Carnivale. Schoolgirls playing football with a tin can. A comedor on Ignacio Mariscal. Tortilla. Fried egg. Watered-down coffee. I TELL YOU, says the Man, WE’LL DIE LIKE DOGS. Being hungry, being cold. Have you experienced that? Strangers passing in coats with frayed collars upturned. The same strangers perhaps time after time. “Some people find life boring.” Or: “It depends on circumstances.” The politics of an ant crawling around inside a box. A demon in a box, chanting in the dark. PODRÁN MASACRES NUESTROS CUERPOS… Stepping out of the traffic into an alley between kitchen & storeroom. Pots simmer on a stove. A knife working a board, shaving off ever-finer slices of meat till only a sliver of gristle remains. Rows of garbage cans. An unhinged gate. One room leading to another. Other rooms. Other facts. Set against you in a closed, geometrical medium of resistance. Before you. Behind you. Under you. Above you. Backwards, forwards. What resists & what fails. The language of bodies barely seen. Barely heard. Rooms for memory. Or the opposite of memory. The daily crumbling of the sensitive tissue. Pain in the gums. In the kidneys. In the liver. The conduit between shoulder blades. Between nape & anus doused with salt where a soldier shot him. Black sauce smeared all over a pile of dirty dishes. The metallic creak of the stairs. “You know you can’t come up here.” Each step resonating with sharp moans. The tiny shower is curtainless & the toilet has no seat, no lid on the cistern. Lying on the cracked tiles. A ruin with blood spilling out. The wind carries the hum of radios & barking dogs. A janitor is pouring a bucket of water on him. Salí! They’re laughing, roaring. Wheels veer, screech. Vendors chant their litanies, their mantras. A barrel-organ on the sidewalk. Alarms ring. Immune to their insults you grab your clothes from the ground, your shoes, & run. The air clouds with steam. Votive candles. The jammed second-hand of a clock vibrating in place. A boy sits at the foot of a bed pulling on a pair of socks. Siete de la mañana diecisiete minutos. Siete diecisiete… He dreams he is a spoon tapping on the dome of an egg, cracking it. A cracked window. Drowned out by clouds, the morning light fights to pierce through. Curtains. Lamps. In the background the Cerro La Caldera. An open plot amidst the rubble. Pieces of polished glass. Mirror, mirror. I & I retrace our steps. I’m standing at the gate again. There’s no-one. Knocking at the door. Entering. The walls are tiled. A single fluorescent hangs from exposed wires. Metal washbasin with soiled towel. Pieces of eggshell & soft-boiled egg. A cubicle. Two men inside. Grey light through a hole in the wall. A grill over a half-window opening onto a ventilation shaft. Dried shit & sweat & genitals. The streaks of piss are brilliant red. Vermilion. Like great gouts of putrescent liver kidney intestine. In commemoration of Cristóbal Colón’s first fuck on native soil. Contorted by a nervous twitch in the left side of his face. Scalp. The tendons aching in his arms. Close your eyes. Exhale. Tilt head back. Open eyes. See the plumbing gradually subside through the gashed ceiling. Its dilations, its contractions. Pupil dilating. Aperture. Anus contracting. Forcing the internal switch. Its broken mechanism. Dividing the absolute from the not-there. As if, on the other side of a piece of film. Piercing it. As far as the furthest image. Until it bleeds. Or not before it bleeds. As close as the image of it. Blood standing in his shoes, in his clothes. The shape of the room coming apart. Blackness & then blackness & then blackness & then light. A door opens, closes. The same door. Same opening. Same closing. Someone enters. Again. Re-enters. Re-entered. Row after row of locked cubicles. Corridors suffocated with the stench of fucking. Broken-toothed groans. A sewer pipe, ruptured all over the floor. On the wall, a mirror cut into blood-diamonds distorts you. Becoming a hole in the fabric of things. Something missing from the surface of observation. And now the broken light is flickering on the stairs. The room atop Everest. If only you could reach it. But your legs fall out from under you. Inhaling the bugspray carpet. A mattress woven of dead hair, cockroaches, rat bait. Eyeball to eyeball with an upturned ashtray. Cigarette butts ranged on either side in mortal combat. DELICADOS OVALADOS. Empty tequila bottles in silent adjudication. Behind the door is a suitcase full of plastic bags X-ed with packing tape. Awaiting the sinister dismemberment. Bone-saw. Dentist’s drill. Numb from the jaw up. Swollen eyelid. Mouth twisted into a raped sphincter. A side of the face knots into a fist. The other gone completely slack. Once again the self-loathing. Once again morning caves-in the last refuge of stolen sleep. Dear X, I’m meditating a work, not one line of which yet exists. Except this one. Except this.


Louis Armand is the author of the novels Glasshouse (2018), The Combinations (2016), and Cairo (2014), which was longlisted for the Dublin IMPAC Award. He has also published collections of poetry, including East Broadway Rundown (2015) and The Rube Goldberg Variations (2015). He lives in Prague.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, May 21st, 2019.