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

Fallon Hotel – Chapter Sixteen

Pull Chain

Fallon Hotel – Chapter Sixteen

Waking with a start, Jeri opened her eyes in the gray light of morning, finding it hard to breathe from the compression of Ezra’s uncomfortable grip on her.  Frightened, she realized just how desperate Ezra was to connect and wondered if Andy had felt any of the anxiety and fear that she has in the presence of… what, exactly?  It’s not as if she’d seen anything.  So far, she had only heard and felt the chilling spirit of whatever or whoever Ezra was and honestly, there was no evidence that this was anything other than her over-active imagination.  Maybe she had just become impressionable to the possibility of it at all, because of the stories that Ruth had told; Andy’s unusual (more than usual) behavior; and her own heightened emotional state since they’d arrived at the Fallon Hotel.  That had to be it.  She was just worked up over the fact that they were forced to find a new home and a new existence, away from everything that she thought she knew, but realized she didn’t understand.  Now she was smack in the middle of having neither.  No knowledge and zero understanding, of anything.  She was also hyperventilating.

Lying perfectly still, Jeri chose to instead listen to her son’s breathing, not her own which had become ragged and rapid in her state of distress.  Honing in on Andy’s slow and steady inhalations, she managed to synchronize her breathing to his, and eventually found herself able to calm down.  It wasn’t long before she started to slip back into a light sleep.  A slight tug on the covers brought her closer to consciousness, as she felt Andy get up out of bed and she tried to determine if he was going to attempt to use the bathroom on his own.  Potty training had been such a long and arduous process for the two of them, that there was a now palpable joy in the thought of his independence in this area.  All of his neurologically typical peers from the neighborhood preschool had graduated to using the bathroom on their own by the time they were three years old.  Andy had started the school as a toddler, before his diagnosis of autism, with the firm condition from the educators in the admissions office that he was out of diapers within six months of being enrolled.  When the school was made aware of his diagnosis a few months later, they would not bend on their rules of all students having a basic level of self-help in multiple developmental areas.  As his autism progressed, Andy had struggled with self-toileting, self-feeding, self-expressive language and self-control – all of which ultimately got him unceremoniously kicked out of preschool.  After that, Jeri searched tirelessly to find a home away from home for Andy to grow and socialize, with kids his own age, but she could not find one school in their valley that would accept him.

Now, in the quiet moments of dawn Jeri held out hope that that Andy was ready, after all of their previous struggles, to finally attempt emptying his bladder without any assistance.

He padded across the floor and pushed the squeaky bathroom door open and Jeri heard the click of the light switch and a second soft squeak, as Andy slowly shut the door behind him.  She waited to hear confirmation of the fact that her son was simply answering nature’s call.  After a few moments, the loud clanking of the pull chain and whoosh of water from the overhead tank signaled a finale of something, but Jeri had not heard anything to lead her to believe anything other than her son was simply playing with the antique fixture.

She strained harder to listen, thinking that perhaps he was just test-driving the toilet before making the decision to use it.  It was, after all, unlike any other toilet Andy had ever seen and pretty noisy.  The newness of it would have probably led her to do the same thing when she was young, but she couldn’t remember what her actual response had been, back in the day, when she’d first seen the odd (to her, at any rate) Victorian pull-chain toilets.  She was almost certain that the kid-version of her must have pulled it more than once, out of novelty and curiosity.  What kid wouldn’t?

She yawned and stretched, and the warmth of the covers momentarily pulled her attention away from the happenings in the tiny bathroom.  For the most part, it was very quiet, so she wasn’t too concerned about Andy being out of her sight for a moment or two.  She tried to imagine what possible mischief or trouble he could get into, but she could think of nothing.  There either wasn’t anything, or her foggy-morning, sans coffee brain wasn’t letting her normally razor-sharp senses be employed yet.

The slow, rhythmic sounds of faraway scraping caught her attention, but she could not quite discern where it was coming from or what it was.  It reminded her of the sound that ice skates made as they sssssked their way across the rink, like they had when she’d watched her cousin, Eric, practicing for hockey when they were younger.  She sat up in bed, taking in the room, forcing herself to separate the Montreal ice arena from her current spot in the bedroom of the Fallon Hotel.

Making her way across the room to the bathroom door, she now recognized the sssssking as the sound of two people excitedly whispering.  She was unable to decipher what was being said, but started to panic as she realized that she and Andy were the only two people who should be in their hotel room.

Jeri flung the bathroom door open with a loud bang and saw Andy crouched down at the base of the porcelain commode.  He did not look up at his mother, but began to giggle madly.  Torn between anger and confusion, Jeri bent down and held her son’s face in her hands as gently as could manage, in her agitated state.  In the moment, she chose to play along, rather than respond negatively, fearing that Andy might pull away from, even more than usual.  “What are you laughing at, little man?”  Andy ignored her and continued to laugh, all the while looking down at the floor and tracing the tiles with his finger.  He shook his head and started to mutter, between giggles, “…a chamber pot, under the bed…” He snorted and gasped for air.  “…a little house outside, with a hole where you…”  He collapsed on the floor and continued to wheeze with laughter.  Jeri found herself caught up in it and began to chuckle softly.  The harder Andy laughed, she found herself copying him, partly due to the simple infectious nature of his giggling and also due to the complicated and outrageous situation they were in.  The tight quarters of the bathroom and lack of ventilation made it that much more ridiculous to her.

She thought about how the toilet would likely have been a source of tremendous humor for someone from the Gold Rush era, like Ezra.  She knew that many homes at the turn of the century in America did not have indoor plumbing.  They had rain barrels and wells to get water into the house for bathing and drinking, and pretty much everyone at that time used outhouses or a chamber pot for their bodily output.  The toilet wasn’t even invented until 1858, a year after it was assumed that Ezra had shuffled off this mortal coil, due to fire.  She accepted that there was no way Andy had knowledge of this prior to their coming to Columbia, California and hearing Andy talk about it now, she was resigned to the fact that it had to be Ezra feeding him this information.  It also would make sense that the boy ghost would likely have found indoor plumbing funny and fascinating, since there was no such thing in his time.

Jeri could feel her heart racing and feel the blood pounding in her temples, realizing how angry she was that some unseen entity was relating with her son when all she’d tried to do since Andy was born was bond with him.  It was maddening to think that after all of her hard work — employing multiple therapeutic modalities like the Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS), Applied Behavorial Analysis (ABA), Floortime and Sensory Integration – some brief encounter with some breach in the space-time continuum, or whatever this was, was connecting with Andy in a way she couldn’t.  She started to convulse with tears and could feel, long before she could hear, a growl rise up in the back of her throat.

When the sound finally broke through the surface, Andy curled up into a ball and began to stim and rock violently, shaking his head from side to side as his mother cried out loud.

Seeing what she had done, Jeri silenced herself and held her breath, saddened to see that her behavior had caused her son to slip back into the solitary world of autism, from the equally private one he shared with Ezra.  She gave a weak smile of resignation and turned her head away from him, pursing her lips in frustration.

Confused as to what to do next, Jeri sighed and considered what her options could possibly be in the presence of Ezra.  She could a) try and find immediate alternate housing, in an attempt to pull Andy away from the obvious influence of Ezra and his constant presence in the walls of the Fallon Hotel; b) directly confront the spirit of Ezra when he is engaging Andy (though she is concerned that doing so might be jarring to Andy in the state between Ezra’s world and here); c) try to see what was happening from Andy’s point of view.

She decided to first try the latter option.  Once again employing the deep breaths from earlier, she began to hum the only Stephen Foster song she remembered from her 4th grade studies about California, “Oh, Susana.”  She knew that it had been popular during the Gold Rush era and was the unofficial theme of the Forty-Niners.

Closing his eyes, Andy began to sing alongside his mother, with a strange twang that Jeri had not heard him mimic before.  “I came from Alabama, wid my banjo on my knee.  I’m gwyne to Louisiana, my true love for to see.  It rain’d all night the day I left, the weather it was dry.  The sun so hot I froze to death!  Susanna, don’ you cry.

Despite her concern, Jeri found herself smiling and squeezed her son’s shoulders, much the way she did during her attempts at sensory integration, when she would use deep pressure and joint compression as a calming tool for Andy.

He continued to sing.  “Oh! Susanna, oh don’ you cry for me.  I’ve come from Alabama, wid my banjo on my knee.”

She shut her eyes tight and continued to hum, while Andy sang along.  It was her hope that Ezra might return to the small space and he did not disappoint.  The bathroom was quite warm, with the heater blowing in small bursts, but as Andy sang the phrase about Susanna coming down the hill with buckwheat cake in her mouth, a gradual chill rose up from the floor as though someone had slowly opened a refrigerator door from underneath them.

A small, raspy voice began to accompany Andy.  “Says I, ‘I’m comin’ from the South,’ Susanna. don’ you cry.”

Jeri opened her eyes and tried to locate where she thought the voice was coming from.  Squinting into the corner, blinking few times to try to get a better bead on what seemed to be a very faint and wavering image of a pale and slender boy, she imagined it was what watching a flickering 8mm film in the sunlight would look like.  The edges popped and crackled, leaving everything fuzzy and slightly out of focus.  Even without complete clarity, Jeri could clearly see that it was a boy, about seven or eight years of age with golden hair.  How ironic, Jeri thought – that this boy, who represented a time from so long ago, when the world was crazy with gold fever, would have hair of gold.

For a moment, she realized she’d stopped humming and the vision of the boy started to sputter and Andy’s voice trailed off.  Immediately, Jeri started humming again and Andy, barely missing a beat, raised his voice to complete the verse about finding gold.  “I soon shall be in Frisco and there I’ll look around.  And, when I see the gold lumps there, I’ll pick ‘em off the group.”

Emboldened by Andy’s voice and Jeri’s joining in, Ezra’s voice grew stronger than before and both boys sang the final verse.  “I’ll scrape the mountains clean, ma’ boys – I’ll drain the rivers dry.  A pocketful of rocks bring home, so brothers don’ you cry.”

Going back to her choir days, Jeri found herself opening her mouth wide to finish the final chorus, singing the harmony part, a third above the fellows.  “Oh! Susanna, oh don’t you cry for me.  I’m going to California with my washpan on my knee.”

She bowed her head and closed her eyes, strangely relieved to have finally made a connection of her own with Ezra that didn’t involve pain, sorrow or fear.  She placed her hands on Andy’s and gave a little shiver when she felt Ezra’s frosty cold hands settle on top of hers.  A bizarre trio had formed and she wasn’t quite sure what that meant.

With eyes closed and hands folded, it seemed to Jeri that perhaps some sort of prayer was in order or, at least, a handful of formal words to acknowledge the strange trinity that they had somehow formed.  She chose what she could remember of William Wordsworth’s poem, one of her favorites, about daffodils.  “I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vales and hills.  When all at once, I saw a crowd, a host of golden daffodils.  Besides the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze…”

Before she could finish, she glanced up and saw Ezra hang his head, dropping his chin to his pulsating chest.  He squeezed Jeri’s hand and whimpered.  “No one brings me flowers.”

And then he was gone.

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