ENOUGH is a Rumpus series devoted to creating a dedicated space for essays, poetry, fiction, comics, and artwork by women and non-binary people that engage with rape culture, sexual assault, and domestic violence.
The series runs every Tuesday afternoon. Each week we will highlight different voices and stories.
The Cheap Seats
I arrive at the theater five minutes before the performance starts. Lorca’s 1934 tragedy, Yerma, about the emotional unraveling of a childless woman, has been reimagined by Australian director Simon Stone and brought over from London where it was met with critical acclaim. Though I’m short on time, I slip in line for the restroom. I flip through the playbill as I wait for a free stall, paying particular attention to the section on Lorca’s history.
Salvador Dali rejected the romantic advances of the Spanish poet. Lorca was denied affection again by what the writer Maurer refers to in the playbill notes as “a handsome, second-rate Spanish sculptor.” I feel the slight in “second-rate,” but mixed up in passion, I would guess Lorca didn’t care about the inadequacies of the artist on the receiving end of his wanting. Desire makes a mess of sensible thinking. Dejected, Lorca moved to New York and took up English classes at Columbia University.
I can’t help but consider myself while reading about Lorca. I came to New York after a failed romantic relationship. I am attending this play alone.
I use the toilet and lather my hands afterwards with soap at one of the sinks. A woman near the door shouts at a teenager I assume to be her daughter. The teenager over-applies lip gloss in front of one of the mirrors and puckers her lips. Her mother huffs from across the bathroom, “Can you pick up the pace?” She adds a snap of her fingers.
“Okay,” the daughter replies in non-answer, an avoidance. I wonder why people rarely say what they mean. Perhaps it has to do with commitment.
Before heading into the theater, I look up at the ceiling of the lobby and take note of the chandeliers, which glow like bunches of Craspedia against the otherwise brooding architecture. I try to photograph the scenery with my phone’s camera but can’t capture the color. On my fourth attempt, the lobby lights flash off and on, a sign I should I head to my seat.
An usher looks at my ticket and points me towards my place at the south end of the theater—Row Q, Seat 1. I bought one of the cheapest seats available, two rows from the back.
I am surprised to find a man my father’s age sitting in my seat. He appears settled in. I check the information on my ticket, consider the possibility that I might have been the one who made a mistake. But no, the man is in the seat I paid for.
I refer the situation to a nearby usher. She is young, soft-spoken—nervous. I suspect she wants to be an actress and that this gig will look good on her resume. “I think there’s someone sitting in my seat,” I tell her. Her eyes plead with me. Might I be able to figure it out myself, I can see she wants to ask. “Oh my. Oh no,” is all she manages to get out, her head waving back and forth in sincere disbelief. I can’t really blame her for not jumping in. She is too tender for this line of work and I don’t want her to lose this quality. I return to face the man myself.
“I think you are in my seat.” You’re in the seat I bought for myself. The seat I bought so I could watch this female tragedy. I want to see a woman scream on stage and I want to see it from the seat I paid for.
I only say the first part aloud in case he’s made an innocent mistake, in case he’s kind and this is all an unfortunate mix-up.
“Well, I bought my ticket a few days after my girl bought hers, you see. My seat is only two rows back on the last row.” He points with his thumb behind him. “I figured you wouldn’t mind if we switched.”
I’m unsure whether it is his use of the phrase “my girl”—I assume the woman he’s with is at his age and that she must have escaped to the restroom for brief relief from his machismo—that bothers me most or if it is the smug look on his face, as though I owe him this gesture because it’s what he wants, but I feel anger rise in my throat as my pulse beats in my temple. It doesn’t matter that it’s my seat that I purchased, that I chose for myself. All of what I want is thrown out the window because of his desires. He’s got me in a public choke hold.
I am heartless if I don’t hand the seat over, that’s what everyone watching us will think. I don’t care about love, so much so that I am willing to deny them companionship for the evening. I’m there by myself for a reason, right? It’s not like there’s a man wants to sit next to me. No one in the whole of the theater would swap tickets to be near me.
I’ve been on planes and buses and trains, all forms of public transport, before, and have given up my seat for people who come as a package so that they can go somewhere together. I like the feeling—the knowledge I have offered some small grace, if only by getting out of the way to help people stick together. I like to see people able to stay with the whomever they came with. They should really book their seats in advance, but I am an accommodating person. It’s less work to rearrange myself.
“It would have been nice if you’d asked me,” I say, “instead of just assuming it was okay.”
“I mean, my seat is only two rows back.” He points again with that sucker punch of a thumb and I want to rip off his whole hand.
I march up the stairs and collapse into his chair. Fuming with embarrassment at my acquiescence, I consider leaving the theater altogether, consider going to the bar downstairs and getting drunk, one bourbon after another, until I finally let myself cry, until I return amped up enough to grab the man by the collar and demand my seat. Instead, I stay where he’s put me. I know the show will start any moment. I don’t want to have wasted my money.
The theater itself is split into north and south, with a stage in the middle for a kind of abbreviated in-the-round effect. I watch another older man approach the man in my seat. “Excuse but I believe I am in Row Q, Seat 1.”
The man in my seat stands up, turns around and yells up to me as though he’s yelling down a hallway. “I thought you said this was your seat.” His aggravation suffocates my last bit of patience.
“It is,” I can’t believe I say aloud.
The second man takes another look at his ticket. He laughs to himself in contented realization. “Oh, I think I’m on the north side and this is the south.” He walks up to me in the back row and asks, “Now, how the hell do I get over to my seat? Do you happen to know?”
“I’m not sure, sir,” I say as politely as I can muster. I have no idea why he is asking me. “I think you’ll have to go down and around, but someone who works here would be better able to assist you.”
Meanwhile, the mousy usher has slipped off to tell another staff member about what’s she seen. The partner of the man in my seat—who is, as I thought, not a girl but a gray-haired woman—returns to her seat next to the man. He slips an arm around her shoulders. I fight the urge to boo.
I am unsure how this happens, but the manager appears. He bends over the man and I hear him offer the man in my chair and his “girl” two seats in the front row. He mentions something about how the performance is sold out and there are only two spots available for the couple to stay together—the back row in his original seat, where I am now seated, or the very front row.
The man stands abruptly, grabbing his coat and his date. He holds his hands out around my seat in a ta-da motion before yelling up to me, “Well, here it is. You can have it now.”
For the briefest moment, I consider staying on the back row. For the briefest moment, I want to give up.
“Thanks for my seat,” I yell after him. He doesn’t turn around. He heads for the front row, his counterpart shuffling behind him.
I hear a sound froth up from other women sitting in the back of the theater. It is faint, like the low hum of a ceiling fan, a lingering sentiment in the air. The whir of unfortunate knowing, of embittered laughter. Their husbands don’t react at all.
I take my seat as the lights lower. I set my bag on the empty chair next to me. The view is only slightly better than the from the back row, but it is mine.
The Guest List
Some drunk fuck is yelling at me at 1 a.m., but some drunk fuck is always yelling at me at 1 a.m. If you’ve worked night shifts before you know—how you reach a certain level of exhaustion where if feels less like things are happening to you and more like you’re in a virtual reality simulation of things that might happen to you. There’s a drunk fuck. He’s yelling at me. It’s 1 a.m. The hotel lobby is blurred at the edges and I’m staring at this man through tunnel vision while he sways, still yelling, on the other side of the desk.
I can’t really process what he’s saying, not filtered through his drunken slurred Southern accent, not filtered through my fogged brain. Every now and then a “bitch,” or a “Jesus Christ” will swim its way to the top of his babbling brook. I’m so tired, I think. You get tired enough and the phrase just echoes around in your skull’s caverns. I’m so tired oh my god I’m tired Jesus Christ I’m tired.
He’s, what, forty or fifty? I’m bad at guessing ages. He has a plastic bag dangled from his fist, with tallboys and bottles toasting each other inside. His friend is here, too, trying to pull him outside while translating this man’s drunkenness for me. The friend is laughing like this is all very funny. “He was in a room here. We just need you to make him a new key.”
“What’s his name?” I ask. He shouts something, and his friend translates this into a nme. I look through the folios. “I don’t have anyone by that name staying here, sir.” My voice defaults to customer service-chipper. The customer is always right, or something like that.
“No, it’s his girlfriend’s room, she’s the one listed on the room.” The friend tells me her name. My eye finds her on the guest list without even trying. She’s all the way up on the third floor.
“I can’t make you a key, then.” It’s just hotel policy. No keys made for anyone whose name isn’t on the room. “If you call her, maybe she could come down and get another key made,” I offer.
“He’s called her. She’s not answering.”
“Could you just make him a key? I swear to god, he was in that room.”
“Um. No.” The friend keeps needling; the drunk fuck keeps yelling in a low, endless background rumble. His tone is rough and threatening. He’s swinging his plastic bag like it’s a club, he’s calling me a bitch, this bitch, he’s doing that drunk penguin waddle through the lobby to yell at the elevator door as if it were his girlfriend, that bitch, that cunt, answer the goddamn phone you fucking you piece of… I’m tired enough that annoyance has a long way to travel to reach my brain, but when it does it crashes full speed through my skull.
“Sir, you need to get away from the elevator, and you need to stop yelling. People are trying to sleep. And like, man,” I turn to his friend, “even if he was on the room I wouldn’t make him a key. I could call the cops. I don’t think you realize how much I could call the cops? You’re really lucky I haven’t already called the cops.” I pick up the phone’s receiver and wiggle it at them.
At this point the drunk man swings the plastic bag in a full arc over his head like he’s spiking a football, and as it hits the floor the lobby is subsumed in a cloud of alcohol stink, the beer and liquor splattered across the linoleum like a Jackson Pollock painting.
“Dude, what the fuck?” His friend stares at me, stares at him. Even the artist himself seems surprised at the mess he’s made.
“Oh my god.” I can’t contain much anger in my exhausted body. “You need to get him out of here.” They both start to say something and I yell over them. “No, you need to get him the fuck out of here, right now.”
The friend drags the drunk fuck out the front door, almost carrying him. I lock it behind them and watch the two men through the glass, arguing, before they wrestle their way into a truck and peel away.
I’m so tired.
My body is auto-piloting at this point, setting up a wet floor sign before I start some of the cheap coffee brewing in the breakfast area. While it percolates I stare at the mess and try to get an order of operations in place. Sweep up the glass first, easier than you might expect, since most of its blast radius was contained by the plastic bag. Get the big trash can and the mop cart from the service closet down the hall. While I wheel them into the lobby a woman pokes her head out of one of the doors. She’s one of a couple of women who stay here regularly, who always pay in cash and let man after man in through the side door. I told them once that they didn’t need to be so circumspect, that I could see them on the security camera, and anyway, it wasn’t a big deal, they’re always good guests, they could bring their men in through the front if they wanted. She’d said that they didn’t want to bother me while I did my homework.
She asks if I’m okay. She could hear the yelling. I tell her I’m fine. It’s fine. She asks if I want any help cleaning up and I say no, she’s busy, I’m busy. She asks if any cops are coming and I say no, I never ended up calling them.
Oh my god I’m tired.
The motions of mopping come easily. I pour myself some coffee and the smell of it mingles with the smell of the alcohol in the air. The fluorescent lights are flashing staccato against my eyes. I leave the wet floor sign up by the soap-slick while I start mixing the batter for the waffle station.
I’m just so tired.
The continental breakfast doesn’t technically open until 6:30 a.m., but I try to get it out early for the team of construction workers staying long-term while they work a project in town, who have to get out the door before sunrise sometimes, and for the girls down the hall who keep strange hours, and for the hotel’s cleaners, who live illegally in a couple of rooms upstairs.
Everything’s set out by 5 a.m. My shift ends at 7 a.m. and I have a class at 8 a.m., so I’m reading from a textbook and not absorbing any of its information while I fold sheets. It’s started snowing outside in the early morning pale light, and my tired brain keeps glancing out the window and thinking the snow smells like bleached linen.
I made a key once for a husband, a couple of years before this night, right after I’d started working at the hotel. His wife was separating from him but I didn’t know that. He’d found out where she was staying . He’d had a copy of the reservation, printed out from an email address his wife didn’t know he could access. I’d called the phone number listed on the reservation and he had the cell phone with him. He’d stolen it from her car, but how could I know that? I made him a key, he went into her room, stole all of her things. I let him check out of the room, gave him his deposit, and then got a call from the police the next day.
I’d fucked up, but the police and my managers forgave it because he was her husband, he had a copy of the reservation with a picture of her driver’s license scanned at the bottom of it. I never saw her; she was a voice on the phone, crying, asking me what information he’d had of hers. I was picturing that driver’s license photo. “I’m so sorry, ma’am. I’m so sorry,” I’d said. I’d fucked up.
I’d fucked up, but thank God, right? Thank God she wasn’t in the room.
A girl comes out of the elevator. I’m bad at guessing ages, but this girl that steps out of the elevator, she can’t be out of her teens. She has acne and hair fried by a straightener, and a lovely heart-shaped face with oversized eyes, and I think she must be younger than me. I’m only just out of my teens.
“My, um… my boyfriend was here? I think. He left me a bunch of messages. I…” She looks at the wet floor sign. “Um, his friend told me what happened.”
Oh, honey, I want to say. Oh, dear, oh hon. I didn’t picture her like this. I feel too awake now, the coffee hitting my gut and souring its way through to my fingertips. I tell her what happened. He came, he smashed, he left.
“But I just mean, I mean, he was my boyfriend, he wasn’t lying or anything. You could have let him up,” she tells me.
“No.” I tell her. “He was really drunk and he was yelling at me. I wasn’t going to let him up.” It’s a surprise, how surprised she looks. “And it’s hotel policy. We don’t make keys for anyone whose name isn’t on the room.”
“Oh.” She smiles. She does. A strange, small, confused smile. “That’s really cool.”
I tell her she could make herself a waffle, if she wanted, that breakfast is out early. I don’t know what else to say to her, what to ask her. She has the room booked for a week. I’ll see her again, I think. Tomorrow night, or the night after that, or the night after that. I won’t be so tired, then. I’ll have something to say by then.
Rumpus original logo art by Luna Adler.
ENOUGH is a Rumpus original series devoted to creating a dedicated space for work by women and non-binary people that engages with rape culture, sexual assault, and domestic violence. We believe that while this subject matter is especially timely now, it is also timeless. We want to make sure that this conversation doesn’t stop—not until our laws and societal norms reflect real change. You can submit to ENOUGH here.
Many names appearing in these stories have been changed.
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