Every day on my cruise vacation, the cleaning service leaves my hand towel in the shape of a different animal. The first morning, an elephant. The next, a monkey. Then a duck. I am trying to understand why I find this so thrilling; the towel is only a towel after all, and the animal only an animal. Still, I am always impressed and wonder when the forms will start repeating. There is a little sadness, too—however ingenious the design, it must be destroyed if a new animal is to appear.
Every morning, there is a slip on the nightstand which indicates that we are free to check a box which reads: “please take the day off and don’t clean my room.” One afternoon, I see my maid passing in the hall and feel like I should say something. Instead, I wink. After we pass, a small part of me feels very tired and wants to check the box on the slip. The other part of me returns to the room and folds the towel so that it resembles a flower. The next day, I return to my cabin and find the room cleaned and my towel-shaped-like-a-flower lying there on the nightstand. I am disappointed, though I cannot say why. Did I expect to see a new shape? Despite my disappointment, however, I do not feel tired at all, only vaguely agitated. I sit down and begin to fold the towel different ways myself, trying to create a new and interesting design. When at last I form the towel into a dolphin, I feel satisfied, but only for a moment. There are still so many hours before the cleaning service will come.
Now I begin to play a new game with myself. I enter the room from several different angles—from the bathroom, from the balcony, from the hallway, each time trying to convince myself that I am seeing the dolphin for the first time, just as the cleaning service will see it. Each time, I convince myself less and less—until I open the door and cannot elicit any shock of surprise from my body. Then I am rearranging everything in the room, imagining how it will be seen with every new variation. At last when I must leave, I give one last glance at everything and a terrible anxiety shoots through me: how did I end up in this situation? How did I ever let myself become like this—my heart shrunk, needing so little to fill it? For hours as I walk around outside on the upper decks, I feel the room and the towel tugging on my thoughts—until at last I sit down on a plastic deck chair beneath the fierce sun, the whole ocean spread flat around me—and begin to weep. Nothing but a new animal—something elaborate and unfathomable—will please me now.