It was when she yelled at him for making noise as he stumbled back to bed after a trip to the bathroom that Jack decided he had had enough. It was her shoes in the middle of the floor that he had stumbled over anyway, and at seventy-six he figured he deserved to be treated with more respect.

So the next day when she went off to her hospital volunteer group he threw a bunch of stuff in a suitcase, trying to make it resemble the packing jobs she had done for him hundreds of times when he’d left on sales trips in the past.  He couldn’t make it neat but he threw some stuff in the suitcase and dragged it downstairs and was halfway out the door when he realized that they only had one car now and she had it so he wasn’t going anywhere.

He went back inside and stood in the hallway, shifting from foot to foot and wondering what to do next. He felt dumb, a grown man standing at his own front door next to his poorly packed suitcase. So he picked up the phone and called a taxi, a task that in the past had always been performed by his wife, and was amazed when the taxi came within minutes and the driver took his suitcase and placed it carefully in the trunk of the car.

“Going for a trip?” the driver, a dark-haired young man, asked, glancing into the mirror. Jack thought that the driver looked a bit like himself, many, many years ago. He thought and for a moment he didn’t know what to say and then he supposed that, yes, he was going for a trip, and so he said, “Yes.”

The driver glanced at him again in the mirror and didn’t say anything more.

When he got to the hotel he unpacked his suitcase and put his things in the little hotel drawers and then realized that he had forgotten his toothbrush, deodorant, underwear and after shave.  He stood there at the foot of the perfectly made bed thinking that he had remembered all of the most external things, the sweater, the shirt, the pants, even a tie, but he had forgotten the items most intimate to himself.

He sat down on the stiff blankets with his feet up on the bed and clicked on the television. He had a funny feeling in his stomach, like he had done something terribly wrong, a feeling that had followed him throughout his life, arising whenever he deviated from what he believed was his designated path, but then he told himself that he was seventy-six years old and if he wanted to take himself to a hotel he could do that.

He watched a few foolish game shows, slowly feeling himself falling under their spell, observing the drama on the faces of the participants and realizing, as he never did when he sat before the set at home, that these were real people, on the stage and in the audience and running the cameras back in the dark control rooms, pushing buttons that made all the images fly through the air, and that the moments of the lives of all those people were flashing past just as they were for him as he sat on the hotel bed and watched.  It seemed odd that he never had this thought when he was at home. When he was at home his attention went from the newspaper to the television to lunch to some card game with the neighbors and he never realized that he was profoundly under some strange spell that kept him from seeing that the moments were passing by. But they were. He sat on the bed, blinking.

Then, for some reason, it all seemed very sad, the cheering game show participants and the obedient applauding audience and himself, sitting there with his skinny feet in his socks sticking up at the end of the hard hotel bed.  He stared at his toes and thought that his toes had always been there, every day, about six feet away from his head. Good old toes, he thought. Then he thought, what, I’ve been in a hotel for about four hours and already I’m going off my rocker, offering heartfelt appreciations to my own toes.  He clicked off the TV and snapped open the room service menu and ordered lunch.

After lunch he sat in the chair by the desk and wondered what he should do. Perhaps, he thought, I should go to Prague. He had always heard it was an interesting and beautiful city and for a few moments he imagined himself walking through its ancient streets. Then he imagined some robber sticking a gun in his ribs and ordering him to hand over his money. That would be a joke. He would grab the guy’s arm and bend over so the gun was against his head and he’d tell the guy to do a good job. It would be an interesting death, he thought, blown away by a robber in the streets of Prague. He wondered what Betsy would think when she was told about it on the phone or read about it in the newspaper.

Then, thinking about Betsy, he realized that she would catch on as soon as she returned home from her meeting. She was smart like that. She would notice immediately that the suitcase and the clothes were gone and she wouldn’t insult him by believing that he had wandered off on some dementia-induced escapade. She would stand in the bedroom and look at the open closet and drawers and she would wonder for a second, and then she would know.

Sitting in the hard desk chair he tried to remind himself of the resentment that he had felt at the many small insults he had suffered over the years. The insinuations that what he had done was never enough, that he wasn’t smart enough or romantic enough or successful enough. Well, maybe, even now he had another destiny, in Prague or Sydney or some other such god-forsaken place, and all he had to do was unhook himself from this one.

In the evening he dressed up in his sweater and tie and good pants and went down to the hotel bar. The bartender brought him his drink and asked him if he was from out of town.

“Nope,” Jack said.

The bartender glanced at him and didn’t say anything more. Jack drank his drink and thought, what am I supposed to say, no, I’m not from out of town, I’m from a few miles away and I’m seventy-six years old and I’m running away from my wife?

That night he slept fitfully on the hard hotel bed. He kept dreaming that he was in Prague and unknown people were chasing him through the ancient streets and he kept thinking, why am I running away, why am I running away?

He woke up foggy headed and ordered orange juice and coffee and toast in his room and clicked on the TV and found, remarkably, that the news was showing some kind of demonstration in Prague with students running around shouting in an indecipherable language while police with dark plexiglass shields were advancing upon them.  For a few moments he stared at the television, grimacing.

Who cares about Prague, Jack then thought suddenly as he finished his coffee and replaced the cup firmly in the saucer, the moments are passing by in Prague and here and what does it matter if they are filled with ancient buildings and demonstrations or card games and nagging. It is something else that matters.

He went downstairs to get a newspaper and paid his bill and glanced over then glanced back again and saw that Betsy was sitting in the lobby. She was sitting in a flowered chair with her purse in her lap and she was looking at him.

He felt something happen inside himself and he walked over to her. It was something like nervousness but it was a good nervousness, like before a big game when he was a kid. She looked small in the chair, with the back of the tall flowered chair towering over her head and he looked down at her and he saw that her eyes were glistening. He noticed the deep lines beside her eyes and on her forehead so familiar to him and he remembered when there were no lines and he noticed the perfect directness and clarity of her gaze. Prague, he thought, shaking his head.

“I’ve been an ass,” he said, looking at her, “It won’t happen again.”

She looked at him with her gleaming eyes. She smiled, and he felt something in his heart that he hadn’t felt in a long time.

“Let’s go home,” he said.

She stood up out of the flowered chair and took his arm and then they walked together out of the hotel, towards home.