In The Red Room by Paul Bowles, 1983
The magic trick:
Presenting a creepy, creepy, creepy story that can be interpreted a number of different ways
I’m going to take the positive approach here. I feel like the murderous man invites the narrator and the narrator’s family to his home in order to purge his guilt. He has them sit in the red room, the room where he once killed two people, so that he can connect to humanity again, connect to some form of normalcy. Oh, but maybe not. Even as I type that, it feels pretty flimsy. There certainly is a feeling about this story of the dumb American. The narrator’s family is oblivious. They are bored and lazy tourists. The man with the murderous past represents violent reality, so maybe he invites them to the red room in order to put them in touch with their own guilt and horror. I really don’t know. All I know is it’s one creepy story. And that’s quite a trick on Bowles’s part.
Finally I had to say something. I turned to our host and asked him if he slept in this room. The question seemed to shock him. Here? he cried, as if the thing were inconceivable. No, no! This house is unoccupied. No one sleeping on the premises. Only a stout chap to watch out at night. Excuse me one moment.
He jumped up and hurried out of the room. We heard his footsteps echo in the corridor and then grow silent. From somewhere in the house there came the sonorous chiming of a grandfather’s clock; its comfortable sound made the shiny blood-colored cubicle even more remote and unlikely.
Dodd stirred uncomfortably in his chair; the bed was too close for him to cross his legs. As soon as he comes back, we go, he muttered.
He’s looking for the book, I imagine, said Hannah.
We waited a while. Then I said: Look. If he’s not back in two minutes, I move we just get up and leave. We can find out way out all right.
Hannah objected, saying it would be unpardonable.
Again we sat in silence, Dodd now shielding his eyes from the glare. When Sonny Gonzag returned, he was carrying a glass of water which he drank standing in the doorway. His expression had altered: he now looked preoccupied, and he was breathing heavily.