Close up Hands Tea x

Sit a bit and hear some observational stories I’ve been steeping.

Fallon Hotel – Chapter Eleven

“How do you, I mean… You just got here, Gwen!  What do you…”  Jeri felt queasy and realized that she couldn’t finish what she wanted to say and honestly wasn’t sure that she really wanted to know.  The idea that this young woman, who was new to the hotel, spoke about Ezra as if he was real and recent, was more than she could handle.Fallon Letterhead

Gwen put her hand up to stop Jeri and looked up at the ceiling.  “When I first arrived the owner gave me ma’ keys and ma’ instructions and had walked out of the building.  Right after, I thought I heard noises coming from the laundry chute.  I thought maybe he’d forgotten something and had come back in.  But, there was nobody there.  I then went up and down those stairs checking to see where this funny little bangin’ noise had come from.  It became like a cartoon, because if I was upstairs it seemed to come from downstairs, and when I went downstairs, it just reversed back upstairs.  It was maddening!”

Gwen pulled a lace handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed it at her forehead, now beaded with tiny drops of perspiration.  Jeri wondered if the handkerchief was from Gwen’s personal collection or part of the costume that came with the keys and instructions when she clocked into work today.

Pressing her lips in a thin line, Jeri wasn’t speaking, but this time on purpose.  Experience had taught her that people get frustrated with silence and usually begin babbling just to fill the space.  She’d always referred to the tactic as her very own personal Jedi Mind Trick, and it almost always worked.   People usually spilled information all over themselves, whether they wanted to or not.  Gwen was proving to be no exception.

“After awhile, I gave up and went about checking items off of ma’ To Do List.  I popped up to retrieve the linens from one of the rooms and when I went into the hallway, the door shut and locked up behind me.”  Gwen squinted and shook her head.

When Jeri didn’t respond, Gwen looked up at her, exasperated.  “You don’t understand, do ya?  Someone, or something, had to have done it from inside.  I can’t be sure, mostly because it sounds crazy, but on top of that, I almost thought I could hear someone giggling like it had been a joke and all.

I wasn’t fearful, because I’d read a couple of notes from previous caretakers about funny shenanigans that go on in the hotel.  No, I just went down and got a spare key from behind the desk and went on about my business and tried to forget about it.”

Slightly more condescending than she meant to be, Jeri grinned and nodded her head.  “Yes, I’ve heard a tale or two about this Ezra and I’m sure it’s all very harmless, depending on how much you decide to believe.”  Jeri waved her hand dismissively and walked over to where Andy stood ramrod straight, using a crayon to conduct the dust as it danced to a silent symphony in a shaft of light.  “If you’ll excuse us, we’re going to try and rest a bit before we head off to Ruth’s.  We’ll just see you later.”

With a polite and somewhat embarrassed half-smile, Gwen bent her head down.  “Certainly.  I-I’ll see ya both in awhile.”

The two women then passed each other in the hall, as though their odd conversation had never taken place.  Gwen gave a little wave to Andy, but he didn’t acknowledge her either.  He just stared down at his feet as he followed his mother back down the hall and up the stairs, back to their room.

At the top of the stairs, they paused outside of their room and Jeri looked at the door lock and key more closely.  She realized that every time since arriving, when they’d left their room, she needed to manually lock the door from the outside, unlike other hotels that would lock automatically or simply required you to push a button from the inside.  Stepping inside the room, she began to fiddle with the bolt and doorjamb, trying to assess if it was possible to lock the door in any way, shape or form, by accident.  After several tries, she realized there was no way to do so.

Without being asked, Andy walked over to the bed and stretched out on top of it.  He pulled the fuzzy red blanket Jeri had brought from his old bedroom and covered himself up.  “Goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere.”

Jeri recognized the quote from “Goodnight Moon” the book by Margaret Wise Brown that she’d read to Andy every night since he was an infant.  He’d never sit in her lap and read with her, like her friends kids did and that always made her sad.  Then, one night he picked the book up from off the floor and began to recite the book from beginning to end, not at all in connection with the corresponding pages, but in sequence nonetheless.  His reading was spot on from start to finish.  Jeri cried, as she was so touched to find that her son had been paying attention after all.  They were together, apart.  But, that was okay.  He was still connecting to her, in his own way.

Curling up next to Andy, Jeri thought she’d read a bit while she and Andy had some quiet downtime, but as soon as Andy started to softly snurfle in his sleep, Jeri found herself following him right into her own dreamland.

The room was completely quiet, with the low hum of cars going by, only occasionally punctuated by the muted roar of a motorcycle.  As Jeri drifted away from the sounds of the outside world, she found herself in a room surrounded by rich, decorative wallpaper covered with what looked to be flowering artichoke plants that she remembered seeing a few years earlier in Castroville, California.  In the center of the room she saw a sizeable round-topped trunk with leather and iron bands, handles and a large ornamental iron lock.

As a rule, Jeri would never be presumptuous or adventurous enough to go rifling through property that wasn’t hers or hadn’t come with an invitation to do so, but she could feel her curiosity getting the best of her.  She pulled at the heavy iron lock and slowly lifted the lid of the trunk to see what was inside.  In the far right compartment, there were toys piled up on top of each other.  There was a Bilboquet, almost identical to the one that she had purchased for Andy earlier in the day at the Pioneer Emporium.  There were marbles of every color and size, an abacus slate chalkboard, a turnip shaped top wound with string and a small green book titled “The Boy’s Own Book” by William Clarke.  Glancing around and feeling a bit guilty, Jeri opened the front cover and saw the inscription: To Miss Bella and her borrowed boy.  Enjoy.  Warm regards to you both, Thaddeus.

“The Boys Own Book” was a quaint, old-fashioned book filled with chapters on how to play games like hoops and marbles; sports like Leap Frog and Trap, Bat & Ball; card tricks with names like Buried Heart and Mouse in the Pack; and other chapters called “amusements and pastimes” that included Draughts and Checkers, among other things that Jeri had never heard of.  Some of the pages had small slips of old newspaper stuck in them, like the chapter about Arithmetical Amusements and the one titled Paradoxes and Puzzles that showed you how to fold paper in an “infinite variety of forms.”  Feeling terribly curious and much bolder, Jeri knelt down and began to look through the other items in the trunk.

The compartment on the left was deeper and seemed to be filled with what Jeri assumed was tissue paper.  When she touched it, she realized it wasn’t tissue paper at all, but very thin, old gauze.  She pulled it up and saw a ceramic locket that opened to reveal a curl of blond hair.  Underneath that was another sheet of gauze that held a black wreath, wound with white crepe tied into a bow.  Digging ever further, Jeri found another square of gauze that held a child’s set of suspenders and small leather shoes.  Both items were charred black and had left the material they sat on sooty and soiled.  The strong smoky scent filled Jeri’s nostrils and made her eyes water.  This wasn’t the nostalgic smell of a roaring summer campfire from childhood memories, but the stench of an acrid, likely suffocating and dangerous type of fire.  The fire of nightmares and chaos.  Coughing, Jeri covered her mouth and began to back away from the trunk.

Like a mountain climber descending a long and steep ice face, Jeri rappelled away from the trunk back into the corners of the room with the beautiful ornate walls and back into her room at the Fallon Hotel.  Blinking her eyes, she glanced around to see the electric “oil” lamp that sort of resembled the fabled Aladdin’s Lamp on the tall dresser near the window.  Turning on her side, she stared at the oak nightstand with the lovely lace and etched glass decanter set, the kind left by a thoughtful hostess for late night thirst.  Her throat was raw and scratchy and she closed her eyes again, wishing she had thought to fill the duo with water before her afternoon nap.

To her right, Andy stirred slightly, but Jeri could still hear him breathing the slow, deep breaths of one who was sound asleep and far away.  She rolled back onto her pillow and smiled wide with gratitude for the rare deep and peaceful moment.  Mother and son, side by side, flat on their backs, enjoying a wonderful quiet respite.

Quietly, so as not to disturb her sleeping angel, Jeri swung her legs over the side of the bed and got up to reach for the paddle hairbrush she’d been given years before by her great aunt, back when Jeri had much longer hair.  The older woman had grown up with the sensibility that one should brush their hair 100 strokes every night before bed and while Jeri no longer had long hair and only swiped the brush across her head a handful of times, the boars hair bristles made a sound like no other brush and it made her happy.  The “Ssssk-ssssk” was rhythmic and soothing.  “Ssssk-ssssk.  Sssave me.  Sssave me.”  Jeri stopped brushing and listened.  Nothing.

Again, she ran the brush through her hair. “Sssssk-sssk.  Ssssk-ssssk.  Sssave me.”

Jeri stopped and spun around to see Andy had turned on his side.  In three steps she was right in front of her son, listening for signs of breath and evidence that he was talking in his sleep.

Lying motionless, with his mouth slightly open, Andy continued to breathe slow and deep… and completely silent.

Convinced she had to be going mad, Jeri dropped to the floor and curled into a ball.  Every single day since Andy’s initial diagnosis there had been tantrums, self-injurious behavior, screaming or screeching and some kind of chaos.  Lots and lots of chaos.  And now that it was quiet and they were enjoying some kind of normalcy, it seemed like Jeri was going to create madness where there was none.  Was she incapable of embracing the gift of genuine peace and quiet?

Sobbing softly, Jeri began to rock back and forth and realized that she was stimming, mimicking the same behavior as her son when he’d had enough of the world at large.

She only stopped for a moment, when she heard another noise coming from behind her.  It was the “Ssshk-ssshk” of shuffling socks on carpet.  Continuing to rock, she began to shake her head side-to-side and in double-time rhythm to that of her body’s motion.  If she was indeed going crazy, she understood that the feeling of her body in motion was incredibly soothing and made the rest of the world go away.  There was no room for any other thought, emotion of physical sensation.  No wonder Andy liked it.

The tiny hairs on her arm stood up as Jeri became aware of someone touching her.  At first it was gentle, like the nose of a bunny or guinea pig’s paws on her arm.  She thought back to when she took care of the class pet in the 3rd and 4th grades.  One year it was an all white bunny named “Harvey” that frightened her with his pink eyes and glassy stare.  Another year, it was the brown and white striped guinea pig who, because of his markings, always looked like he was frowning and unhappy with his food choices or the way Jeri hung his water bottle.  His name was Sully and that semester the word “sulky” showed up on a vocabulary list and for years after, Jeri thought the animal’s name was Sulky.  In time, in her mind, he became Skulking Sulky Sully.

Her arm started to hurt as something or someone started to pinch (or bite?) her.  Jeri opened her eyes and stared into Andy’s frightened eyes.  “Momma Mia, here I go again.”  Jeri smiled, knowing that while Andy’s face looked scared, he was reciting the lyrics to one of his favorite ABBA Songs that he’d heard long ago, but never forgot.

“My, my!  How can I resist you?”  Jeri sang back.  She grabbed Andy and pulled him close for the bear hug she knew would throw him into a state, like an animal growling and thrashing because he was caught in a trap.

Instead, Andy melted into his mother’s arms and finished the last line of the chorus. “My, My.  I could never let you go.”

Together, they began to rock back and forth – less like stimming and more like a mother and son swaying to the rhythm of a song they both loved.  Andy began to hum and Jeri began to cry.

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