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  • GREG OZENFRUMP, IN FADED tan corduroys and scuffed white tennis shoes, rang the door bell of the guest house, then quickly shoved his hands into the pockets of his wrinkled poplin jacket. He eyed the sign next to the door which read in straight bold handwritten letters: PLEASE STEP UP, then dropped his eyes to the stoop just as the door was opened by a plump white-haired woman who stood and said indifferently—"yes?"

    Greg nervously smiled and asked if she had a double-bedded room available for the night. She nodded and led him up two broad flights of stairs, past a kitchen cold and dark, to a room with a basin and mirror, a coffee table upon which rested a television, a wardrobe cabinet, a nightstand and a quilt-covered double bed. He asked her the rate, consented, and then, on the way out—as she had requested—he signed the guest book "Matthew and Madeleine Durand, 28 August 1982, Glasgow." He smiled to himself as he did this. Read this she will, and not far on my heels—we could be husband and wife, brother and sister...

    They took their luggage up the stairs. Meryl had with her a large maroon soft-leather suitcase and an overnight bag; he lugged a blue nylon backpack over his shoulder and a black leather bag. They met no one in the hall. Greg tapped the bridge of his glasses and unlocked the door with the key that had been given to him. Meryl glanced down at the tapestry pattern on the floor, her long black hair falling into her face.

    Inside they dropped their luggage on the floor. Meryl did not like the room and she said so.

    —It must be the only double-bedded room in the whole place or I imagine she would've showed me another, he said, taking off his glasses. Next time, you talk to the landlady.

    She laughed to herself and he placed his glasses on the nightstand. In the stillness of the room he felt cold and uneasy. The musty wallpaper with its columns of twisted yellow flowers and mauve stripes sickened him. Meryl sat on the edge of the bed, wriggling her fingers as though they were sore or strange. She surveyed the walls with a smirk.

    Matt went to the half-opened window under which the dusty heat of a radiator rose to his nostrils. A fresh moist breeze pushed in through the window, writhing the cream-colored lace curtains and chilling Matt's unshaven face. He blinked out at the back garden loaded with overgrown weeds and stray junk. A tomcat scaled the garage roof and, pausing to sniff the blue evening air, disappeared over the crest. Matt lowered the window, but did not close it completely.

    —There's coffee here, Meryl said. You'll have to take it without cream.

    She filled the kettle with water.
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