Close up Hands Tea x

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

Fallon Hotel — Chapter Six

victoria s loveseatThe walk back to the Fallon Hotel was series of their usual two-steps-forward, then two-steps-back of Andy’s dance of autism.  Andy would dart away from his mother, then she would restrained him as he rocked back in forth in place until he was ready to run again.  As Jeri put it, they would Wince and Repeat until they arrived at their (well, hers at any rate) destination.  It was accompanied by the high pitched wail of Andy’s frustration and the alternating crescendo-diminuendo of Jeri’s equally high pitched pleas of “Stop. Don’t. No. Please.”

By the time the lobby door of the Fallon Hotel shut behind them, Jeri just wanted to rest, even though the day had barely begun.  Sitting on the ornately carved S-shaped love seat in the lobby, Jeri attempted to get Andy to copy her, where he would sit on the other side of the chair, that would have him sitting in the opposite direction, yet facing her.  It was a genius design, really and Jeri found herself thinking how sweet it might have been for her and Brian, once upon a time.

Instead, Andy started to run down the hallway leading to the back exit.  Panicked, Jeri took off after him, expecting him to bolt out the door, the way he’d always done in the past.  It was a habit of his that had occasionally led the neighbors to believe that Jeri was a bad mother, when all she’d tried to do was brush her teeth or comb her hair in a quiet moment.  Andy was an escape artist of the highest form, but it saddened his mother to think that he was constantly trying to run away, from what she could never quite understand, but somehow feared was simply… her.

This time, before his mother could reach him, Andy stopped mid-way in the first floor hallway of the Fallon Hotel and stood ram-rod straight.   He then slowly tilted his head to the side, as though he was listening to someone slightly taller than him.  Inhaling sharply, Jeri stopped and closed her eyes, relieved that for a change, Andy wasn’t trying to make just another quick getaway.   Pressing her back against the wall, she leaned forward to rest her hands on her thighs, grateful for the respite of one more tiny victory.

Tilting her head back, Jeri felt a chill brush past her, figuring that that’s what’s to be expected in a drafty, old hotel.  Waiting for the inevitable goosebumps that came with the momentary cold and unpleasant shift in temperature, she instead found herself pleasantly dizzy.  It was more akin to the feeling she used to get when Brian would kiss the back of her neck when they were first dating, a sensation that had always left her reeling and slightly breathless.

Smiling, Jeri opened her eyes and caught her son staring intently in her direction, as though he was seeing something or someone beside her.  Turning to look behind her, Jeri chuckled, knowing there was going to be nothing to see, but more creepy paintings and lithographs on the walls.  “What exactly are you looking at, my little mister man?”

A faint squeak at the far end of the hall made Andy and Jeri turn in unison, in time to catch Evelyth standing in her doorway, holding suitcases and wearing a large leather backpack.  “Hello and goodbye!” she said to the door as it closed and she clicked the lock shut.

Jeri was surprised to see that she was no longer wearing the standard period clothing required by the hotel.  Standing before them, was a completely different woman, dressed in tight jeans, a vibrant pink and turquoise Hawaiian shirt with a neon yellow visor perched on her head and white sunglasses hiding her eyes.  Overnight, Evil It had gone from a gentle looking woman of the middle eighteen hundreds to a brash member of the 21st century, with no time machine apparently required.

Placing one hand on Andy’s shoulder and raising the other to wave goodbye, Jeri cleared her thought and brought the woman’s attention to the fact that other people were standing in the hallway.  “I wish you good luck and safe travels Ms. Evil… uhm, Evelyth.  I’m sure you’re going to have a fantastic time in Florida.”

Adjusting her visor and removing her sunglasses, Evelyth smiled, obviously pleased at Jeri’s offering of good wishes.  “Thank you, ma’am.  That is mighty kind of you to say.  Flying does make me a little nervous, so from your mouth to the pilot’s ears, I am so hoping all will go well.  And, I sure hope you and your boy enjoy your time here in Columbia.  I actually really do love it here.  But, I just need some time away to reconnect with the outside world, the real world.  That said, I am sure, in time, it will become ‘home’ for the two of you.”

With the kindness of her heart evident in her words, Jeri decided that this would be an excellent time to question the woman.  “Before you dart out the door, Ms. Evelyth — can I bother you to give me a little more detail about what you might have spoken to Andy about last night or, not to be weird or be invasive regarding other guests’ privacy, but I’m just wondering who else might be staying in the hotel?  My son has mentioned a couple of strange things, like… well, the Isthmus of Panama, for example.  And, well he’s mentioned a little boy named Ezra, more than a couple of times and …”

“Excuse me?  Did you say… Ezra?”  The bold woman from moments before slumped and dropped her suitcases to the floor.

A little irritated that she was interrupted, Jeri nods.  “Yes, yes.  Ezra and the Isthmus of…”

“What did exactly did he say about Ezra?”

“He sang a song last night that he said Ezra’s mother had sung, and said that they’d play together again and…”

Stooping over to grab her suitcases, Evelyth spoke fast and furiously.  “Please don’t think I’m crazy, but that boy lives here in the hotel and he has often locked me out of rooms that require either a key from the outside or a solid twisting of the lock from the inside.”

Annoyed, Jeri found herself speaking just as quickly.  “Why don’t you speak to his parents?  You have signs on the back of the guest room doors, for crying out loud.  I mean I assume there’s one in all of the rooms, right?  The sign that talks about children wandering unoccupied and disturbing guests! Surely these people have to be worried that they’re going to be kicked out because of their son…”

“There’s nobody to kick out.  He ain’t got no parents, M’am.”

“What do you mean he hasn’t got parents?  Who looks after….”

Again dropping her bags to the floor, Evelyth looked left and right whispering.  “He’s a ghost, ma’m.  Ezra’s not real.  I mean, he’s real.  Real enough to bang the laundry chute doors open and shut, and real enough to lock me out of guest rooms constantly, but he ain’t real-real.  You need to understand, it’s not like your boy here made it up.  Ezra died down the road a bit in the big fire of 1857.  You can look it up in the archives…”

Shaking her hands in mid-air to stop the onslaught of words from hitting her, Jeri snapped at Evil It.  “Stop it, just stop it.  My ‘BOY here’ doesn’t have the capacity to make up stories.  You must have said something to him about this Ezra last night.  And why would you do that?  Why would you present him with a cockamamie story like that?  It’s cruel.  I spend all day, every day, just trying to get him to understand what’s happening from day-to-day and you’re talking to him about tragic things, like a kid who died in a fire over 150 years ago?  Exactly who do you think you are?!”

Reaching over to grab her bags, Evelyth began to back up toward the exit door, bent over pointing at Jeri with her pinky as she went.  “M’am.  I did not tell your boy anything last night.  We weren’t standing down here all that long and besides, I told you – he’s the one who did all the talking.”

Depleted, Jeri realizes she cannot find the energy to once again explain Andy’s echolalia and limited communication due to his language processing disorder associated with autism.  It is a story she repeats almost daily and hasn’t the patience for now, especially not for this woman.  Now, she finds she has become impatient and beyond angry that this woman, who is obviously disturbed, has been filling her son’s head with useless, cruel information.  As infuriated as Jeri is at the moment, she finds she is now also incredibly relieved to see this woman leave.  “Forget it!  I have nothing more to say to you.  I just wish you would go.”

“I am genuinely sorry for your situation, ma’am, but you should know that Ezra’s not going to hurt you or your boy.  We’ve just always thought that he’s looking for playmates and maybe someone to replace Miss Bella, who died in that fire, too.  Ma’am, I’m going to suggest you talk to Ruth, because she knows the history better than anyone in this town.  Now, if you’ll forgive me, I’m sorry but I have got a plane….”  Before she could finish her sentence, Evelyth was out the back door, leaving Jeri and Andy standing alone in the dimly lit hallway with no sound remaining but the faint buzz of the exit sign overhead.

Exhaling breath she didn’t realize she was holding, an extremely happy Jeri grins, pleased that the crazy lady has left the building.

Taking Andy by the hand, Jeri leads Andy back to the tiny lobby parlor of the Fallon Hotel and seats him once again in the S-shaped Victorian loveseat.  Leaning her head back on the ornately carved wood, she mindlessly lets her left arm drape across Andy’s portion of the chair, letting her wrist fall over his right shoulder.  Quietly, Andy starts to stim, rapidly wiggling his fingers in front of his face, his eyes quickly darting left and right as his rigid body gently rocks forward and back.  Stimming is an activity that Jeri doesn’t like Andy to engage in and she usually stops him, but at this very moment it is the most normal thing he has done since they arrived, so she allows it.

Closing her eyes in order to assess the strange and unusual events since their arrival at the hotel, Jeri can feel the rhythmic twiddling of Andy’s fingers and the slight pitch and roll of his body in motion.  In her mind she replays the snippets of Andy’s dialogue, telling herself that even if she vaguely remembered the history of the Gold Rush, she would have had to pick up a book to re-read about cholera, the Isthmus of Panama and the fires that had plagued the Gold Mining Country in the 1850’s.  She wasn’t sure that it would make any difference, but she now felt that she needed to know more about the facts of what had happened once upon a time, before she went off the rails about the unbelievable information currently coming out of her son and what was happening to him now.

Despite the tension in her shoulders, from worrying about her boy and the million and one questions she had about the past two days and the days to come, Jeri found herself relaxing as she felt Andy slowly stop rocking and stimming.  She realized that he was now sitting perfectly still, and after awhile, she felt the weight of his head, resting on her shoulder.  It was such a warm and lovely feeling, having her son connect to her in this way, that the incredulity of it seemed somehow impossible to her.  Here she was and there he was, this boy whose autism had always prevented him from hugging and cuddling with anyone, and yet he was now leaning on his mother’s shoulder.  Absolutely normal, no matter how abnormal it was supposed to be in the realm of autism.   Then, from faraway, yet somehow in her ear, Jeri heard humming.  She strained to hear better, but knew that it wasn’t Andy’s voice she heard, despite the childlike tones.  Concentrating harder and finding herself falling deeper and deeper into the song, she tried to focus on the melody, which she didn’t recognize.  The lines were beautiful, but they were also simple and easy to follow.  Lightly, Jeri began to hum along, and when the child’s voice began to sing the words, she stopped to listen.  It was a sweet, high-pitched, airy voice with an accent Jeri couldn’t quite place.  It reminded her of the kids in a movie musical she’d watched while still in grade school, at her cousin’s house.  This voice resembled the kids in that film, “Oliver” where the actors clipped their H’s off of the beginning of words, in a Cockney fashion, but this sweet voice also had something else mixed in, a rise and fall that was close to the twang-y way Jeri had spoken to Andy about Gold Panning earlier.  She thought it funny that her imagination could conjure up such an unusual combination.  Laughing softly to herself, she found that whatever tension she’d been carrying in the center of her shoulder blades had dropped and released.  For the first time in months, she felt at peace and strangely, at home.  Breathing deeply, she found the dusty, slightly musty smell of the hotel’s history filling her lungs.  Another scent drifted past, which was a little harder to detect.  It reminded Jeri of the cologne of a family friend they used to visit at nursing home when she was a very young girl, maybe 7 or 8 years old.  The man they visited, was a friend of her grandmother’s and even at 105 years old, was captivatingly animated as he told stories of what life was like when he was her age, almost a century earlier.  His family had come to California before he was born to seek their fortune in the Gold Mining Country, ending up in Angels Camp where he was born, in a little house in what was now UticaPark.  His father worked at the mine in town and he remembered the constant daily roar of the over 200 stamp mills and how his father would come home every night covered in chalky white dust.  Eventually, the family moved away, when the last mine shut down in 1942, and the entire family went on to work in the produce business in Watsonville, California.  It was because of this family gentleman friend, and his colorful stories about the Gold Mining District, that Jeri’s family ultimately took a trip to visit Columbia to “touch the past” as her mother said and connect with another era.

Lost in her memories and the warmth of Andy’s head nestled up against her, Jeri once more felt the tingling of the butterfly inducing chill she’d experienced in the hallway earlier, this time accompanied by light pressure across her left arm.  The song in her head grew louder, as though the singing child was now snuggled up against her on her left, mirroring Andy, who was on her right.  The sensation left her feeling off-kilter and slightly woozy.  Unsure of whether to be alarmed or simply give in to the delicious lightheaded warmth, Jeri found herself humming along with the voice, adding harmony, something she hadn’t done since she sang first soprano in her high school choir.  She was surprised to find that the unfamiliar words came easily to her, as their two voices blended.  All my days are trances, and all my nightly dreams are where thy gray eye glances, and where thy footstep gleams …

The melancholy melody was beautiful and mesmerizing.  The rising and falling of the chorus was then enriched by a third voice that Jeri recognized as Andy’s crisp, clear tones.  In what ethereal dances, by what eternal streams…  Jeri froze and opened her eyes, startled that her son had not only infiltrated her fantasy, but apparently knew the lyrics as well.

Fallon Hotel – Chapter 6

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