By Michael Bettendorf
I break the seal on the bottle of Dasani in the mini-fridge, knowing damn well it just cost
me five bucks. Highway robbery for twelve ounces of water. But the tap water from the
bathroom sink is mineral-heavy and leaves a taste in my mouth like iron and salt.
I turn the TV on and the room glows electric. The channel is stuck on Telemundo and
after a while, I realize four years of college Spanish has vanished from my brain. It wasn’t
overnight, though it feels like it. I remember parts of college as if tonight were my first night in
the dorms; my head full of nervous whispers rambling on about the endless potential of my
future. But it’s not. It’s another night in a hotel for another business trip, collecting platinum
member points. It’s funny how our brains play tricks on us. Our memories, the work of trickster
I contemplate the shooters of Jack Daniels in the minibar, but remember how much shit
the accounting department gave me the last time I spent my per diem on booze. I sit on the bed
and wonder why hotel beds are always made up so tight. I lean against the pillows that are too
soft and mash buttons on the remote. The channel doesn’t change and it bugs me more than it
should. I don’t watch TV often anymore. It’s not because I don’t want to or that I think it’ll rot
my brain. I work too many hours. Keep an inconsistent schedule. That rots my brain plenty. I just
wouldn’t know where to start, you know? Paradox of choice. It stresses me out and the last thing
I need at the end of a long day is more stress. It’s too late to call my partner and I’m not in the
mood to read tonight, so I mess with the remote some more.
After a while, I drink all the Jack in the minibar and afterimages of college rest on my
mind, fleeting and paper thin.
It’s only midnight and even though the desk clerk said she was working all night; I feel
bad for calling. I tell her the remote isn’t working. That or the batteries are dead. I tell her I can
change them if she’d bring up some replacements and a screwdriver. It’s a funny concept to me.
That hotels screw the battery covers on their remotes shut. She tells me that isn’t necessary and
she’ll send someone up with a new remote soon.
I wait around for a few minutes, watching a rerun of Decisiones, when the phone rings.
“Hey, I was just calling to see if the desk had a spare phone charger I could borrow.”
I consider not saying anything, but remember I spoke first. The liquor crept up on me and
a gentle buzz settled like fog on my brain. Words wade through whiskey fog and roll off my
tongue, “iPhone or Android,” I ask.
“iPhone,” they say.
“Ah, can’t help you there,” I say. “But maybe the desk will have one.”
There’s a pause. It’s filled by Spanish and there’s a knock at my door.
“Hang on,” I say. I set the receiver down on the bed and answer the door. Michelle, from
the front desk, trades remotes with me and asks if I could test it before she heads back
downstairs. I press the red power button and like that, Decisiones disappears into black, like four
years of Spanish. Before she leaves, I ask Michelle if she happens to have an iPhone charger I
“Oh shoot, I’m sorry,” she says. “We don’t have any loaners right now. They tend to
“That’s okay,” I say. “Thank you, anyway.”
“There’s a gas station up the road,” she says. “They’ll likely have one for sale.”
“Thank you,” I say again and close the door. I return to the bed and pick up the receiver,
expecting a dead tone, but they’re still on the line.
“Hello,” I say again.
“Hi,” they say.
“The desk doesn’t have any chargers,” I say. “But the gas station up the street might. At
least that’s what Michelle told me.”
“The desk clerk.”
There’s another pause and I figure they’ll hang up. And then I’ll hang up. I’ll squeeze
between the too-tight-bed sheets and sleep. I’ll go to my meeting tomorrow tired and forget this
interaction by next week. But I stay on the line and so do they.
“Who doesn’t have an iPhone anyway,” they ask.
“People on a budget,” I say. “I’m not some—”
“Don’t say sheep,” they say. “It’s unoriginal.”
“Says the person qualifying their decision to own an iPhone.”
“At least you didn’t say sheeple,” they say. “Those people are the worst.”
“Truly,” I say. “Anyway,” I linger a bit, and pick the phone’s base off the bedside table.
The cord stretches as I walk to the minibar and start in on the gin. “My name’s—”
“No,” they say. “I don’t want to know.”
I take a swig of the first gin and don’t bother putting the cap back on.
“Well all right then,” I say.
“No, no,” they say. “It’s not like that. I think this is more fun, you know?”
“Just think of it,” they say. “This is different. A completely random circumstance caused
by my inability to dial the right number.”
I laugh and make the rest of the gin disappear.
“And think about it. You could have hung up and you didn’t,” they say.
“Same goes for you,” I say.
“So why didn’t you,” I ask.
“I needed a phone charger,” they say.
“And you don’t anymore?”
“Well,” they say. “Not if I’m talking to you.”
“I’m honored,” I say. “To be of service.”
I consider a second shooter of gin, but the room is cold and silent and gin is usually for
lonely nights. It’s not one of those kinda nights any more.
“Why didn’t you hang up,” they ask. “I mean, unless you need a phone charger too, in
which I can’t help you because I don’t have an Android. I have more self-respect than that.”
“You’ve stooped so low in mere minutes.”
“At least I didn’t say sheeple.”
“I’d have hung up if you did.”
“I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t.”
“No changing the subject,” they say. “We already covered our mutual disgust for people.
Why didn’t you hang up? At first, I mean, when you realized I called the wrong number.”
“Curiosity,” I say. “That and I’m a little buzzed.”
“Oh, look at you, mister moneybags,” they say.
“Yeah, right,” I say.
“I know how much it costs to get loaded off a hotel minibar.”
“I’ve probably spent my whole week’s per diem on it,” I say. “Accounting is going to rip
my ass for it. Oh well.”
“Per diem,” they say. “Sounds fancy.”
“It’s Latin for ten buck’s worth of McDonald’s a day,” I say. “I sit through trainings and
seminars all week and have to ask myself if it’s worth it.”
It’s quiet, but they’re still on the line. I can hear the slight crackle in my earpiece from
them readjusting their receiver. I hear their breath. It’s low, but steady.
“What would you rather be doing,” they ask.
I answer with a heavy breath and start to pull the sheets back. I crawl into bed, cold all of
a sudden, and pull the covers up to my chest. The room is lit by the single lamp next to the bed,
above the bedside table. I lie on my back and hold the phone to my ear with my right arm. My
left is stretched out across the bed, far enough for my fingers to dangle over the edge. A lazy
“I don’t know,” I say. And after a little while, “That’s part of the problem.”
It’s the truth, too. But I wish I could unload some heavy burden onto them. Some
repressed secret buried beneath years and layers of life thrown on top of it. There’s no risk in
anonymity. No judgment. At least none that would result in any sort of shame or guilt. I suppose
that’s what Catholics see in confession. Well, except the guilt. There’s always room for that. I
consider lying, but what would be the point?
“How about you,” I ask. “Do you like what you do?”
“No,” they say.
“What do you do?”
“You could say I’m in between opportunities.”
“That’s one way to put it,” I say. “You could work for my company. You’d be perfect in
They laugh and say, “I’ll make sure to polish my resume.”
I hear them yawn on the other end.
“I should let you go,” I say. “You sound tired.”
“Oh, yeah. I am getting there,” they say. “It’s getting late anyway. Tomorrow’s probably
going to be hell for you, staying up this late.”
“Would have been either way,” I say. “At least I’ll have an excuse for dozing off.”
I rotate into the fetal position and rest the phone between my head and the pillow so I
don’t have to use my arms. I tuck my hands between my knees while the room’s AC unit kicks
“Hey,” I say. “Why don’t we meet for a drink tomorrow evening? There’s a bar across
the parking lot. Beats the overpriced minibar. I should be done by five. So, call it six? That is,
unless you’re checking out tomorrow.”
There’s a slight hesitation. I can sense it.
“Or if you don’t want to. You don’t need a reason,” I add. “I completely understand not
wanting to and leaving our situation the way it is.
“Like you said, a random occurrence caused by your inability to dial the right number,” I
They laugh and I think it’s genuine. Tired, but genuine.
“Okay, okay,” they say through another yawn. “Parking lot bar at six. What’s your room
number? Just in case.”
“Forty-two,” I say. “How about you?”
“The meaning of life,” they say. “How fitting.”
“What,” I ask.
“Oh, come on,” they say. “An Android user who hasn’t read The Hitchhiker’s Guide?”
“And a pretentious Apple user,” I say.
“Goodnight, Forty-Two. Wear something so I know it’s you,” they say without
explanation and hang up without giving me their room number.
I’m at the bar by five-thirty. Order a beer to start. Finish it in five minutes. Call it nerves. Take a
leak, return to my stool at the bar top. I have an extra name tag and ask the bartender for a
sharpie. They toss me a blue pen and ask if I want another beer. It’s a sports bar and louder than I
like my bars to be, but they have a decent selection on tap. I order a Scotch ale and write the
number forty-two on the name tag, peel the backing off, and stick it to my chest.
“Highlander,” the bartender says and walks away before I can say thanks. A couple
Premier League teams are playing, but I can’t tell who. Soccer was never my sport. I watch the
game some, but watch the clock closer. I crumple the name tag backing paper into a ball by the
time six-fifteen rolls around. I peel my name tag loose from my shirt by six-thirty. Leave a
couple twenties on the bar top by seven and walk across the parking lot shortly after.
I take my wedding ring off and shower. I slip it back on, rotate it around my finger a
couple times and head to bed. I tell myself there was nothing to read into tonight, but ask myself
to explain why I’m smiling when the phone rings. There’s always room for guilt.
“Sorry,” they say.
“No, it’s fine,” I say. “Truly. I would have ended up at the bar anyway. Is everything
“Yeah,” they say. “I just…I thought it would destroy what we have.”
It feels wrong, but I catch myself smiling.
“And what do we have?”
“A unique relationship,” they say. “Think about it. It’s not quite anonymity. Sure, we
don’t know each other’s names, but it’d be easy enough to find out.”
“And it’s not quite the same as a chatroom,” I say. “If you’re even old enough to
remember what those are like.”
“Unfortunately,” they say.
“A. S. L,” I say.
“Christ, weren’t those the days,” they say. “But you see what I mean. I know I’m talking
to a real person. We can hear one another’s inflections. I can tell when you’re joking without you
having to type LOL into the ether. I can hear how tired you are.”
“And I can hear you aren’t happy,” I say.
“I’m happier than I was,” they say. “Than yesterday at least.”
“Me too,” I say.
“And that’s all that matters,” they say. “That we’re better than the day before.”
I know we can never meet. We stay on the line for a while, though we’re silent for
minutes at a time. Speaking isn’t always necessary because we’re sharing an experience.
Connected, yet disconnected, by a thread of anonymity. I do not know them, but I know they’re
real. And so am I. Our daily allowance of existence is enough. For today, anyway.
About the Author: Michael Bettendorf (he/him) is a writer from the Midwestern U.S. His recent work has appeared/is forthcoming at The Drabblecast, The Sunlight Press, and elsewhere. He works in a high school library in Lincoln where he tries to convince the world Nebraska is too strange to be a flyover state. Find him on Twitter @BeardedBetts and www.michaelbettendorfwrites.com.