the short story project


Fabio Morábito | from:Spanish

The Forbidden Doors

Translated by : Kit Maude

Introduction by Our Editors

Tusnedor is travelling. He crosses an ocean, arrives at a city and checks in to a hotel. He soon discovers the twin doors connecting his room to the room next door. In a classic act of voyeurism, he opens the first door and leans against the second to listen to the conversation of the two French women staying in the neighbouring room. At the time, the reader doesn’t know that Tusnedor is a writer; he could just be a pervert. The women come to the same conclusion. One of them sees him lurking there and slaps him hard after which he is further humiliated by the intermittent explosions of laughter that emerge from the room next door. Morábito’s story is set in the realm of transgression: only there can the writing truly begin. The following day Tusnedor watches the Frenchwomen leave and that night hears another woman move in. Now the voyeuristic game begins in earnest, doors begin to open and close, there are furtive whispers and silences. Morábito creates a tense atmosphere that explores the boundaries between the private and public domains, between writing and reality.

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Tusnesdor arrives at the hotel at night after a ten-hour transatlantic flight. It’s hot in his room, even though the air conditioner is turned up as high as it will go, and Tusnesdor regrets not having chosen a better hotel. He opens his suitcase and, as he hangs up his clothes in the wardrobe, he notices a door. He walks over to it and turns the handle, but it’s locked. He unlocks the door, pulls it open and sees another identical door behind it. Tusnesdor hears a conversation on the other side, in French, between two women. It’s not the first time he’s been given a connecting room, but only now does he realize how fragile the double barrier is. If it weren’t for the fact that they were speaking in French he could listen in on his neighbours’ conversation. Knowing that it isn’t likely to get him anywhere, he gently turns the handle of the other door. To his surprise it opens, and through the gap he can see the carpet in the next room. The conversation between the women is suddenly interrupted, and Tusnesdor, fearing that he has been discovered, shuts the door to the next room then closes his own, locking it behind him. He stands leaning against the door, his heart pounding wildly. He hears the sound of the women’s door opening and then a knock on the door on which he is leaning. He shivers and wonders whether it’s a good idea to open it. There is another knock, and he realizes that he has to take the situation in hand. Forcing himself to adopt a calm, confident expression, he opens the door. Bonsoir, monsieur, says a petite blonde forty-something, who barks another phrase in French, slaps him and slams the door behind her. Tusnesdor puts a hand to his burning cheek, relieved deep down that it’s all been resolved so fast. Then he hears the two women laughing and his relief turns to anger. He’s angry with himself for having been so passive. Looking back, he didn’t do anything wrong because, to some extent, the door he opened is a part of his room, too, and it is the responsibility of the two women to keep it locked if they want to prevent intrusions. He’s about to knock again to apologize but realizes that his argument is flawed. Although the second door belongs a little to his room, in practice it is a forbidden door, and if he protests otherwise he’ll look ridiculous. He could call reception and complain that the two women are talking too loudly and keeping him up or request another room, but it’s too late to change rooms. He’s exhausted from the trip. He’ll decide on the best course of action in the morning. He finishes unpacking, undresses and turns out the light.

The next day Tusnesdor is woken up by the women’s laughter coming through the wall. He wonders if they’re still laughing at him. He gets up, opens his connecting door and, placing his ear against the wood of the other one, listens in, being careful not to make any noise so that he won’t be caught snooping again and get a second slap for his troubles. Drawing on the little French that he learned at school, and judging from the noises coming from the other side, he realizes, not without relief, that the two French (or Swiss or Belgian) women are about to go out. A minute later he thinks he hears them leave the room. He walks over to the door to his room and looks through the peephole. He sees a young woman in the hall leaning on a suitcase and thinks that she must be the daughter of the one who slapped him. As he’s standing there, a laugh makes him turn his head. The blonde forty-something is standing in between the connecting doors, which are slightly open. Adieu, monsieur, she exclaims and disappears into her room with a cackling laugh. Tusnesdor, who’s standing in his underwear, hasn’t moved. He goes back to the peephole and sees the forty-something woman come out of her room and say something to the young woman, who also laughs loudly. They both turn to Tusnesdor’s door, wave and, still laughing, go to the lifts, pulling their suitcases behind them.

He walks over to the connecting doors and looks into the neighbouring room. The beds are unmade and there are several towels on the floor. He closes his door, but then opens it to close the other one before shutting and locking his. He showers, has breakfast in the hotel dining-room and goes out to buy a newspaper. When he comes back he finds the maid cleaning his room. The woman tells him that she won’t be long, and Tusnesdor sits down to read the newspaper in the only armchair. The maid goes out into the hall and comes back with a vacuum cleaner, which she plugs in. Then, to Tusnesdor’s surprise, she opens the connecting doors. On seeing Tusnesdor’s questioning look, the woman tells him that the plug in the room next door doesn’t work so she takes advantage of the fact that they’re connected to use the one in Tusnesdor’s room. She’ll vacuum in the other room first and then his. Having said that, she moves the vacuum cleaner into the room that not long ago belonged to the two French (or Swiss or Belgian) women and then comes back into Tusnesdor’s room to pick up a cloth, goes back into the other room and a minute later is back to collect her broom before returning once more and coming back again, this time for a brush. In all this coming and going Tusnesdor feels strangely unnerved and can’t concentrate on his newspaper, as though he were observing something he shouldn’t, something that the maids try to keep from the customers so they won’t get any improper ideas.

 After the woman has finished vacuuming the other room she brings the vacuum cleaner back into Tusnesdor’s room and tells him that he can read this newspaper in the other room so she doesn’t bother him while she’s doing his room. Tusnesdor does so, moving into the room that had previously belonged to the two French (or Swiss or Belgian) women, which now looks clean with made beds, and sits in an armchair identical to the one in his room. There, he sees that the differences between the two rooms are minimal; only the pictures are different. The maid finishes vacuuming the carpet in Tusnesdor’s room and tells him that he can come back. Tusnesdor returns to his room and sees the woman close the two connecting doors before leaving.

Half an hour later he hears some noises out in the hall in front of the room next door; he opens the connecting door carefully, sticks his ear against the other door and hears a woman talking on the telephone. He can’t hear what she’s saying because she’s speaking quietly. He hears her hang up the phone and listens to her walking around the room. He wants to turn the handle to open the door and see his new neighbour’s face, but after what happened last night he doesn’t dare. He closes his door, leaves the newspaper on the table and gets ready to go out. He has several things to do.

Tusnesdor comes back at night, gets undressed and decides not to put on pyjamas because of the heat. He opens the minibar and takes out a can of beer. As he drinks he remembers his new neighbour, goes to the connecting door and opens it. He sees that the other door is slightly open, and his heart somersaults. The light is on in the other room. He deduces from the way that the door is swaying that it must have been opened by the breeze from the woman’s open window. He sees the bathroom door and senses that she’s in bed. As he’s looking, the light in the woman’s room goes out, and Tusnesdor immediately closes his door to prevent the light from his room filtering into that of his neighbour. After turning off the light, he goes back and opens the door that connects to the other room. In the dark, standing in front of the woman’s slightly open door he realizes that there is nothing to distinguish him from a rapist or murderer and is scared by his own brazenness. All it would take would be for a slight loss of control, a fit of madness, for his life to take an unexpected turn. He imagines himself struggling with the woman, her screams and then sees himself strangling her. He steps back, leaving his door half open, and goes to bed, remembering to open his window a little beforehand.

 As his eyes get used to the dark, he sees the door swaying and realizes that a current of air has started to flow from his room to the woman’s room next door. He lies still, waiting for a miracle: the woman might realize that both connecting doors are open, get up to peek inside his room and, seeing him lying in bed, slip inside and lie down next to him, murmuring something like, It’s cooler in here. But, half an hour later, no miracle has occurred, and Tusnesdor, who isn’t tired, turns on the television. Before doing so he shuts his door so that the glow from the television doesn’t filter into the woman’s room. Lying in bed, he presses buttons on the remote until he finds an animal documentary, and ten minutes later his eyes start to close. Suddenly, he’s woken up by the television, which is turned up very high and hears someone knocking on the connecting door. Jolted, he switches off the television, gets out of bed and goes to the door. Who is it? he asks, and a female voice tells him that she can’t sleep because the television is so loud. Tusnesdor only opens the door a few centimetres because he’s in his underwear. In the dark he can see that the woman has opened hers just enough to hear his voice. I’m sorry, says Tusnesdor, I fell asleep and must have hit the volume button on the remote by accident. She tells him that the wind blows her door open and she can’t close it because the lock isn’t working. I see, says Tusnesdor, who now understands why the French (or Swiss or Belgian) women didn’t lock their door. And it’s so hot, the woman adds, that I need the window open or I’ll boil to death. She’s speaking quietly, as though she doesn’t want to wake up a potential companion of Tusnesdor. Tusnesdor is speaking quietly, too, although he knows that the woman is alone. Yes, says Tusnesdor, it’s very hot, and adds, I’ll leave my door open a little, too, so you can get to sleep. The woman doesn’t say anything, and Tusnesdor realizes that he’s just said something stupid. OK, she says, and wishes him good night. Good night, says Tusnesdor, and he goes back to bed, sure that the woman hasn’t moved, maybe to make sure that he has indeed gone to bed. He knows that it would have been more logical to tell her that to give her peace of mind he’d lock his door. He feels like an idiot. He’s about to get up and go back to the double doors to contradict his earlier statement but decides not to move, because if he gets up she might interpret it as an approach.

 He can’t sleep. The knowledge that she’s in bed in the next room, naked or almost naked – she must have stood behind the door without turning the light on for a reason – that the two connecting doors are open and that even so the woman said good night, surely because she knows that he’s a decent person and she can sleep without fear, unnerves him. He thinks how wonderful it would be if all doors were like this, double doors left ajar so the breeze makes them sway on their hinges and through which everyone could communicate without fear. Then there would be no forbidden doors or forbidden words or feelings.

 Tusnesdor rubs his forehead. The conversation with the woman has made him sweat. He’s thirsty. He gets up, goes to the minibar, opens it and realizes that the beer he drank a little while ago was the last one. He promises to himself that he’ll complain the next day. They need to put more beers in the minibar and turn up the air conditioning. He could call them up right now and order an ice-cold beer, but he isn’t in the mood for a row. Also, if uses the telephone, he’d wake the woman next door up. Then he nonsensically decides that he’ll ask for a beer from her minibar. As though that wouldn’t be much more likely to wake her up than a telephone conversation! He goes to the door and calls to the woman quietly, unable to think of anything better than, Excuse me, miss. Yes? she answers. Forgive me for waking you up, says Tusnesdor, but I’ve run out of beer in my minibar, and I was wondering if you have one. After a brief silence, as though she were weighing up the possibility of this being a trick, she says, Let me see, and Tusnesdor hears her walk across the room. Then her door opens a little more and a hand appears with a can of beer. Here you go, she says. Tusnesdor takes the can, thanks her and asks her to wait for a minute while he finds some money. You can pay me back tomorrow, she says and goes back to bed. Thank you, says Tusnesdor, and he stands staring at the woman’s half-open door, swaying in the breeze. He turns around and walks to the window, opens the beer and brings his nose to the can to smell her perfume, but he can’t smell a thing. Now she seems younger than he’d thought, about forty, maybe a little more. He takes a swig of beer and thinks about how incredible all this is. When the woman passed the beer to him, their hands touched for a moment. This is like a story, Tusnesdor says to himself. In fact, it’s as though he’s been writing it, as though he’s been adding things to the story the existence of which he sensed the day before when he heard the conversation in French between the two women and turned the handle of the second door, which opened unexpectedly.

 He finishes his beer and goes back to bed. He’d like to have another, especially now that he knows that he’s writing a story. He’s happy that the woman has given him the beer. He doesn’t care if she’s pretty or ugly, old or young, the important thing is the furtive, almost clandestine act of a stranger acquiescing to his request. Little by little he begins to fall asleep. He’s woken up by a quiet knocking at the connecting door. Who is it? he asks. It’s me, your neighbour, replies the same voice as before. Tusnesdor suddenly sits up. Don’t get up, says the woman. I just need some antacid from your bathroom. I used mine up already. You must have a packet, if you haven’t used it. Tusnesdor answers that he hasn’t used it, and the woman asks if she has his permission to take it, because she has heartburn. Yes, come in, he says, still wondering whether this conversation is real. Don’t turn on the light please, says the woman. I won’t, he says. He pulls the sheet over himself and modestly turns to the window. He hears the woman walk barefoot across his room, go into the bathroom and close the door. He turns his head and sees the line of light underneath the bathroom door. Then the bathroom light turns off, the bathroom door opens and Tusnesdor feels a slight shiver at the prospect of the woman claiming that his room is cooler than hers and coming to lie down next to him. But she goes back to the double door. I found it, thank you, she says, and wishes him good night. Good night, says Tusnesdor, hearing her go back into her room. He doesn’t move for about ten minutes, just in case she comes back. Her incursion has filled him with a joy that he hasn’t felt in a long time and has also given him a crucial episode for his story. All this excitement has woken him up once more, and he throws off the sheet and stares out the window. Once again he realizes that he’s sweaty and thirsty. He gets up, goes to the window and looks out, but really he’s only remembering the view of warehouses, low walls, rubbish bins and wavy roofs behind the hotel because it’s too dark to see anything. Tusnesdor’s room is on one of the lowest floors, and the glow from the city’s lights barely reaches him. He walks around, hesitating for a moment, before working up his courage, going to the connecting doors and, clearing his throat, seeing himself acting in his own story, calls to his neighbour in the same way as before. Yes? the woman answers. I’m sorry to wake you up again, says Tusnesdor. She says that she wasn’t asleep. Tusnesdor explains that he’s still terribly thirsty and asks her if she has another beer. Wait, the woman says, and Tusnesdor hears her get up, walk to the minibar and open up the little refrigerator. I have a couple, she says. Do you want both of them? Both of them? Tusnesdor echoes. Yes, both of them, she repeats. And Tusnesdor, for once, reacts quickly and suggests to the woman that, given that she can’t sleep either, they could drink them together, if she doesn’t mind. There’s a brief silence. The woman appears to be thinking about it. Then she answers, Where? My room or yours? Whichever you like, Tusnesdor answers with his heart in his mouth. In yours, she says. Your room is cooler. She says it just like that, Your room is cooler, and Tusnesdor feels a sensation of unreality because that’s what he imagined her saying, and he feels a gap open in his stomach when the door opens and a mid-sized silhouette appears. Don’t turn on the light, the woman says, because I’m wearing the bare minimum. Me, too, says Tusnesdor and asks if she wants to sit down. It’s more comfortable on the floor, she says. They sit at the foot of the bed, using it as a backrest, next to each other, without touching. She gives him one of the beers, and Tusnesdor wonders what the bare minimum the woman is wearing consists of, panties and bra, or just panties? He doesn’t ask that, obviously, but rather her name. Valeria, she answers. My name is Tusnesdor, and she says, What a strange name. Where are you from? My father invented the name, he says, telling her how it came about. He’s told the story hundreds of times. The woman listens carefully, or so it seems to him, because he can’t see her face. He just senses it in the darkness because what light there is is blocked out by the bed and the furniture, because they’re sitting on the floor. Don’t you think it’s incredible that we’re sitting here in the dark, drinking a beer, even though we’ve never met before and have never even seen each other’s faces? Tusnesdor asks. Yes, it’s incredible, says the woman. You could go back to your room and tomorrow we could pass each other in the hall without recognizing one another, Tusnesdor goes on. Yes, she says, maybe tomorrow at breakfast we could be sitting at neighbouring tables and wonder if the person there is the same one we were talking to in the dark, both of us half naked, and we’ll never know. That’s true, says Tusnesdor, surprised by the woman’s eloquence. There is a brief silence in which each drinks. So long as we don’t turn on the light, of course, says Tusnesdor. Yes, says the woman, but it’s too soon to decide whether we’ll switch it on, don’t you think? Yes, he says, it’s too soon. Although he can’t see her, he looks at the unnerving apparition sitting next to him dark. Are you a writer? she asks. Yes, he answers. How did you know? I am, too, she answers, and I lied to you when I said that the lock on my door doesn’t work.

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