The first section, “Past,” is narrated by Sara Wilby, who died at age nineteen. About six months have passed since she fell to her death in a dumbwaiter in the Global Hotel, where she had just started working as a chambermaid. Now that she is dead, Sara's ghost wishes she could still feel everyday physical sensations. Over time, she is forgetting words, senses, and abstract concepts such as colors. She recalls the fall that killed her, the stories in the papers, and attending her own funeral. For weeks, Sara practices "performing" herself to her family members, basing her appearances on photographs of herself. "The father" pretends she isn't there and "the sister" craves her presence; after a couple of visits Sara decides it is kinder not to come to "the mother."
Bored with haunting people, the ghost Sara reenters her buried body. She asks this other version of her self to tell her about "the fall." Reluctantly, this other Sara tells the ghost Sara that she had fallen in love with another young woman, a clerk in a watch shop. Having never experienced such feelings before, she worried about her family’s and friends’ opinions. She went by the shop every day for three weeks and looked in at the girl without speaking to her. Her last day of watching was her first night working at the Global Hotel. On her second night working, she bet her coworker that she could fit into the dumbwaiter, which fell and killed her.
Sara's body rejects further inquiries and so the ghostly Sara haunts the hotel. Eventually, she detaches from the world entirely.
“Present Historic” is told in third person. It centers on Else, a homeless woman who begs on the sidewalk outside the Global Hotel. Else has a vivid imagination and a terrible, body-wracking cough. With her impaired speech, she asks people to “spr sm chn”; they often toss coins at her. She watches a silent teenage girl who often sits across the street, where people leave money—sometimes bills—in front of her. The girl generally walks away and leaves the money, which Else then picks up.
The expression on the teenage girl's face looks to Else like love. Else recalls people’s insults and sexual propositions, which she had sometimes accepted. A young woman in a hotel uniform comes up to Else; Else expects to be chased away, but instead the woman offers her a free room for the night. Else remembers being taken to a hotel room years before, where two men prayed over her. Then she remembers her sexual initiation at the age of fourteen at the hands of a middle-aged family friend, Mr. Whitelaw. She remembers her previous companion, Ade, on an occasion when they helped an old drunk man get home and then slept on his floor.
The teenage girl has gone and Else retrieves the pile of money she left behind. It starts to rain, and Else goes finds herself going inside the hotel and taking the room. The receptionist, Lise, is delighted. In her room and after a coughing fit, Else takes a long, luxurious hot bath, and then gets out and leaves the water running. As she sits on the bed and counts her coins, she remembers appearing in a photographer’s feature about things in homeless people’s pockets.
“Future Conditional” also has a third-person narrator. The Global Hotel's receptionist, Lise, is at home trying to fill out a form that contains questions “About You.” Six months after Sara’s death, Lise has developed a debilitating illness that resists medical diagnosis. She cannot work and is largely bedridden. The form is necessary for Lise to receive disability benefits, but filling it out is too exhausting for her. With her impaired cognitive functions, Lise struggles to remember simple words and temporal concepts. I am a good person, Lise thinks, who tries to help others.
Lise thinks ahead to four in the afternoon when her mother, Deirdre, will make her daily visit. Once a popular poet, Deirdre has begun an epic poem about her daughter, to be titled...
(The entire section is 1,371 words.)