I was basking in Indian Summer at the hotel by the bay in a place called Maine.
Most of them were all leaving, the tourists that is, back to the cities and their pointless jobs and a house that even isn’t a home and love that is loveless and wayward. The scars of their garbage and smells and grime and innate asinine babble have been left behind. Maybe the Village of the Sun Hotel and Resort will be a bit quieter now. Maybe I can get some thinking done. I have a lot of things to think about—not all of them good.
I pulled up a chair by the large window in my room and just sat there. I peered out. I thought about how terrible it must be to look up and see bombs falling from the sky every day. Why are people so awful to other people? I guess I was lucky to be where I was—alone in a quiet room among the rugged guts of Maine. How easy it is to lose sight of that fact.
The big yellow earth movers across the way were now idle, the sun was sliding away and the gouges that they left behind took on almost Heavenly hues. I was almost sad about that. I don’t know why. All this trouble in the world and I guess I’m just confused, thinking maybe I am living in flattened, blood-riddled Palestine. But I know better, really. Does the ocean god even care to caress the soul of Gaza, or Kiev for that matter? What about dystopian D.C.?
After a bag full of meditative reflection and four fingers of bourbon, I dressed up in my favorite white suit and looked at myself in the mirror in silence. I realized I was hiding behind the threads of that ivory armor, only to conclude that the getaway is the only way to live—for now.
I shrugged the muted hysterical feeling off and went down to the hotel restaurant for an early dinner. I was old enough for that now—the early dinner that is. When I arrived, I was the only one there and I was seated at a small table near a big window that looked out onto the harbor wiped over with dusk. The restaurant was quiet except for the muffled shuffling of dishes and pans in the invisible kitchen beyond the lifeless buffet tables and shadowy walls.
My waitress was from somewhere else, and she brought me my usual beer and some iced water and a little wicker basket containing stiff little breadsticks wrapped in plastic and a fanned card deck of melba toast. She was golden brown with science-fiction eyes. She smiled at me without saying a word. She left me and puttered about, straightening tables and chairs as I looked over the menu. Then I asked her a question across the room.
“No Tasmanian devil tonight?”
“Tasmanian devil?” she said, confused.
“To eat. I don’t see it on the menu.”
She scoffed and waved a burnt umber hand in my direction. “Nobody eats a creature such as that,” she sharply advised. “You’re jerking my foot.”
I smiled at her in playful defeat. “All right then. I guess I’ll have the pork chops.”
She came closer. “How would you like them?”
“I would like them cooked.”
“And how about a side? Veggies? Soup? Salad? A sweet, sweet surprise, huh? Why don’t you take a good look at me?”
I smiled at her again. She was entertaining. “Does your boss know you flirt with the guests?”
“Of course he does. He encourages it. For the tips. And I need those tips. One would think such a fancy place would pay more. Oh no. They do not.”
“I’ll take the veggies, by the way. Heavy on the carrots. I’m really into carrots—glazed if you got them—and a nice iceberg salad, none of those bourgeoisie hippie greens, but with radish and cucumber and more carrots, and some creamy French dressing on the side, and I’m talking about the bright orange creamy stuff, none of that Russian rip-off.”
She concentrated as she wrote in pencil on her small pad. Then she looked up, smiled, and attempted a joke. “Do you know why rabbits eat carrots so much?”
I played along. “No.”
“You’ve never seen a rabbit with glasses, have you?” She laughed as if it were the funniest thing she ever heard.
“That’s awful,” I said, chuckling along with her.
“And what about you Mr. Ripley?”
“What about me?”
“You’ve been here awhile, and I know nothing about you. What is it you do? … out there in that frightening world?”
“I’m an architect.”
“Oh. Do you build the big buildings?”
“No. Custom homes mostly. Very custom. Retreats for the mind.”
“Retreats. That sounds nice. But still. Such a sharp, smart, handsome man all alone in a place like this with nobody by his side. Don’t you have a wife? Not even a lady friend?”
I paused, took a deep drink of my beer, and cleared my throat. “My wife died in a helicopter crash.”
She put a hand to her mouth. “Oh no. I am so sorry for that.”
I knew she would want to know what happened. Everyone always does. So, I unzipped my soul and told her. “We were on our honeymoon at the Grand Canyon, and she wanted to take one of those helicopter tours. She begged me to go with her, but I just couldn’t. I was too nervous, too scared. I encouraged her to just go without me. I didn’t want her to miss out. She went, and the damn thing crashed. There was nothing left of her. I had no wife to bury. God must hate my guts.”
She looked at me, stunned and crushed. “You poor soul. That’s terrible. Had I known I would have never asked. Please forgive me.”
“You didn’t know. It’s all right.”
She struggled to smile. “Very good, Mr. Ripley. I will go now, and I will take care of your dinner tonight. It’s on me. Everything. You’ll be okay. You just enjoy your time here.”
“Okay—What’s your name? I always forget to ask or maybe you told me and…”
“I told you. Many times. Vyda. My name is Vyda.”
I watched the water in the harbor melt and bend a dark blue reflection, repeating and repeating, reminding myself of mortality. A young man with uncontrolled shiny hair came over and lit the candle at my table as the darkness grew thicker. He smiled. “Good evening, Mr. Ripley. Can I get you anything else while you wait?”
“How about another beer?” I picked up the tall glass and drained the small puddle at the bottom of it. “This one is empty.”
“Certainly Mr. Ripley. I’ll bring it over immediately.”
Some old song from pre-war days started scratching its way out of the hidden speakers in the ceiling. I was still the only one there.
The young man with the shiny hair returned with my glass of beer. He set it down, took a step back and cleared his throat. I looked up at him. “Yes? What is it?”
“Excuse me for disturbing you Mr. Ripley, but the hotel manager would like to speak to you.”
“Now? I’m about to have my dinner.”
“We realize that sir, but he said it was extremely important that he talks to you.”
I sighed and wiped my face with a red cloth napkin.”
“All right. Tell him to come over.”
I gulped down half the beer and then eyed the round man in a suit of all white who came marching toward me in short strides. At least he had decent fashion sense, I thought, but even so, it was ill-fitted, the fabric of his clothing rubbed together as he walked and made a whoosh-whoosh sound. Light reflected off his large balding head and he squinted his eyes with sinister purpose.
“Are you the manager, then?” I asked as he stood at my table.
“I am indeed the manager of this entire hotel, Mr. Ripley,” he answered, spreading his arms wide and looking around with pride.
“This must be really important because you’re interfering with my dinner.”
The manager took the empty seat across from me without invitation and wiped his meaty hand down his moist face of Asian descent as if he were considerably distressed.
“I’ll get right to the point. We have a serious problem, Mr. Ripley.”
“We keep inventory of all the towels in this hotel. It’s a very, very strict inventory, I must add. We keep track of every single towel—from the day it arrives brand new, to the day we lay it to rest.”
“Are you missing towels? Is that what this is about? Towels? You’re disrupting my dinner because of towels?”
“Yes, Mr. Ripley, we are missing towels—three to be exact.”
“Well, what the hell does that have to do with me?”
“The point of origin for the said missing towels just happens to be your room, Mr. Ripley. You are still in room number 71, yes?”
He eyed me viciously. “Well, then perhaps you know the whereabouts of the three missing towels?”
“I don’t know anything about missing towels. I’m here on vacation, to relax. Your god damn towels are the least of my concerns. Perhaps one of your underpaid employees is unable to do simple math.”
The sci-fi golden waitress arrived with my bulbous salad and a steaming plate of chops and big glistening carrots as bright as a Florida oranges nesting in the hot dew of a grove. I looked up at her and smiled in appreciation. She smiled back, nodded to the manager with disapproval, and disappeared.
“Would you like some of my dinner, Mr. …?”
“Kenichi. And no thank you, but please, go ahead and eat. I can wait a moment.”
I poured my dressing and then stabbed at the salad and ate some. I cut into the meat and took a bite and chewed. Mr. Kenichi watched me with strange curiosity.
“Is the food good?” he asked in a tone louder than necessary.
“It’s pretty good. The pork is a bit overcooked, though.” I set down my silverware. I couldn’t eat with him looking at me like that. “But I don’t know why I even ordered the pork chops. I always make little stupid mistakes like this. I should have ordered the fish and chips or the lobster. Jesus, I’m in Maine. What the hell is wrong with me?”
“Are you done berating yourself, Mr. Ripley?”
“Sorry about that. I have a lot of personal problems. But that aside—are you accusing me of stealing towels?”
“Mr. Ripley, the evidence is clear. The room attendants bring in the towels and then there is not the same number of towels when they come to wash them. There’s no other explanation than you must have slipped them into your luggage to take home.”
“Hey, look. I think you’re making way too much of this. Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe I took a few down to the pool by accident and forgot them there.”
Mr. Kenichi alarmingly slammed his meaty paw down on the table—silverware jumped; plates rattled.
“No! There are towels available at the pool for use by guests. They are different. They are specific for pool use. You do not bring the towels from your room! Never! Everyone knows this!”
“Okay, this is beyond ridiculous. You’re losing your shit over towels? I have had enough of this. Good evening Mr. Kenichi.”
I wiped my face again and got up to leave, but as I did, two young busboys, including the one with unruly and shiny hair, suddenly appeared behind me and forced me back down into the chair by the shoulders.
“What the hell is going on here!?” I yelled out.
“I wasn’t finished with you, Mr. Ripley,” Mr. Kenichi sneered. “I’ll give you one last chance to be honest with me. Did you steal those towels!?”
“I, I, I don’t know. I’ve been here for a couple of weeks; maybe they got mixed in with my things. I sure as hell didn’t take them on purpose!”
“Then you won’t mind if we look around your room then, eh?”
Mr. Kenichi snapped his chubby fingers and the two busboys each grabbed me by an arm and hoisted me up. The tips of my shoes dragged against the carpet as they hauled me away and pushed me into a lobby elevator. Mr. Kenichi pushed number 7 with a fat finger and grinned at me.
“I have a very nice hotel here, Mr. Ripley, and I intend to keep it that way. Everyone deserves a fresh, clean towel, not just you.”
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