FOR ALL TIME: SHORT STORY

There were only four rooms on the sixth floor of the Clearview Hotel. Phillip Eastwood had designed the level before five too many shots of tequila on his twenty-sixth birthday killed him. They’d built the floor the way he’d drawn it as a memorial and named the four rooms after his four Siberian cats, because he had no children or distinctive achievements, apart from dying in a hurricane of neon signs and his own vomit.

Allister Web, more commonly known as The Spider, occupied The Rusty Suite, which was located to the left of The Shrimps Suite, which, very fittingly, housed Mrs P. Haddock. On the opposite side of the corridor, there resided two people who had spoken just once and then never conferred again.

From the moment he saw Gregory Valentine, Nate Silverman could not shake the feeling that, even on a different coast, he still shared a wall with his father.

This was what he thought of on his last day at the hotel, with his eyes fixed on a grey thread of dust by his lampshade and his forehead pulled back into an absentminded frown, Nate’s thoughts streaked through eight states, all the way back home.

He stood, poised outside his front door with one fist raised to knock, like he expected someone to answer. Noiselessly, he turned the brass knob, stepped in, and stopped.

‘Happy birthday, Nate,’ Mr Silverman bellowed from his dining room, two months after his son’s nineteenth birthday.

Nate eyed the gargantuan store brought cake that had been clumsily hacked into crumbling squares. A whole lemon had found its way into the lemonade jug, bobbing and struggling to stay afloat, drowning in a sickly sweet froth. The pearl of light in the top right corner of his father’s eyes made him look like a madman.

Nate let his bag drop to the floor with a thud as his father waited for his reaction, the hand that still held the cake knife trembling with anticipation. Nate sat down, one hand gripping the table leg and the other half stretched out towards the front door, grasping at the lingering strands of reality that licked his fingertips until they stung.

He thought he should visit them, the others, and bid them farewell. He’d see to Mrs Haddock first, she talked like tomorrow would steal her vocal chords, regardless of who was listening. Nate could hear her clarion voice now; it made the wall that faced her room hum like an electric fence.

‘Nate?’ Mrs Haddock’s voice blared out like a siren. Inches away from her door, Nate winced.

‘Yeah, it’s me.’

‘Well come on in, I’ve been waiting for you,’ Mrs Haddock rambled on as Nate let himself in ‘you know I can’t get far with my knees, else I’d walk right on over to your room and murder you for not visiting me.’

‘Well, yes I’m sorry,’ Nate said ‘but, you see, I’ve got this condition with my knees too, they pop right out of their sockets whenever I take a step and then swell up like balloons, you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve had to adjust these bad boys coming across the corridor just now.’

Mrs Haddock let a smile breach her stern expression as Nate sat on the edge of her bed and knocked his knees together repeatedly.

‘Oh, you are terrible,’ she swiped at him, aiming for his leg, but brushing his shoulder instead.

Mrs Haddock was old, Nate knew that the first time they spoke, but she had not a single strand of grey hair or age spot. Her lips, coloured scarlet each day, still had some kind of youthful fullness to them and the nape of her neck remained smooth as glass.

She barely looked a day past thirty, but had he asked her who currently resided in the White House, she would have said Wilson. It was only her legs that betrayed her, they could barely keep her upright and Nate knew they had sentenced her to several life times in this suite

‘I can’t stay long,’ Nate said, holding tightly onto the hand that rested on his leg, but being careful not to grip tightly, even though he wanted to.

‘Will you come over here and talk to me again tomorrow?’ Mrs Haddock inquired as Nate began to leave, he paused and honesty stole tact from him.

‘No, I don’t think I will.’

Fingering her pearls, Mrs Penny Haddock smiled like a ten-tonne truck had not stolen her dancing legs over a lifetime ago.

‘I’d hoped you’d say that.’

It happened again the next day, and the next and the next. Nate would come home to a bizarre birthday welcome; sometimes Mr Silverman would even go as far as to tie half inflated balloons to the front fence, which Nate untied hastily as soon as he got home, in case the neighbours saw.

Each day, before he left the house, Nate reminded his father that today was just a normal day, not a celebration, not a special occasion, but each day he would forget again. According to Mr Silverman, Nate was thirty-nine years old when he was made redundant for arguing with his boss about his own name.

By the time his son was middle aged, Nate had stopped trying to remind him and locked the front door each morning instead.

Nate leant against The Spider’s door for a few moments after leaving Mrs Haddock to the sound of her own voice. He felt his perspective shrinking; his world was a peach stone, with only a fissure between Oregon and New York. The walls pinched and collapsed inwards like crumpled napkins, but this time, he refused to follow their example.

‘Nathan Eldred Silverman, I can hear you thinking from all the way over here.’ The Spider’s voice came from the other side of the door, Nate’s middle name was actually Caleb, but The Spider really didn’t care. He pushed open the door to the Rusty Suite and stepped in.

Since arriving, The Spider had terraformed the once immaculate hotel room into an alien landscape. Splintered plastic littered the torn carpet and a drum-kit slumped against the back wall like a beggar, a gold curtain tassel draped on the crash cymbal.

‘So you’re out of here.’ The Spider scratched a hangman stick figure into his guitar lacquer and blew off the residue before leaning back to observe his handy work.

‘I just came by to say bye,’ Nate leant against the wall tentatively; the room seemed to emanate the same restless energy that The Spider did. ‘And, uh, maybe I’ll see you soon, on the cover of Rolling Stone or something.’ Allister scoffed and flicked a lime green pick across the room with a deft hand.

‘Oh please, that ship sailed before you were born,’ Nate stopped himself from pointing out that The Spider was barely twenty. His brain was so vast that it would take you fifty lifetimes to explore it, but you didn’t bother, because his unfathomable arrogance made him unlikable even to his own mother.

‘Sometimes I think about calling home,’ a silence followed as Nate tried to conjure a response to Allister’s unexpected confession. He lay on the rumpled covers, insolent green eyes darting across the ceiling; the arm that hung off the side facing Nate was flecked with old track marks.

‘Where’s home?’

‘Minnesota.’

Nate turned this new information around in his head, ‘I’m sure Minnesota misses you.’

‘I’m sure you’re wrong,’ Allister snickered as he said it and finally turned to face him. ‘I’m also pretty sure you want to bludgeon me alive, so you better get going,’

Nate didn’t expect him to cry when he told him, but he did, mercury tears pooled in his eyes and dripped off his chin like a broken faucet.

‘I can’t look after you here,’ Nate paced around the kitchen table, exasperated. ‘I mean look at you, dad, just look.’ He jerked open the fridge to reveal the ludicrous amount of kiwi fruit that occupied it and slammed it shut again. ‘What are you doing?’

With his head bowed and tears dripping steadily onto the table cloth, Mr Silverman said nothing
.

‘Look, I’m sorry,’ Nate ran an eye over the wilted sandwiches and week old bowl of trifle that took pride place in the centre of the dining table ‘it’s for the best, this way I know that you’re not going to be in danger when I’m not around.’

‘Okay.’

Nate didn’t say goodbye to Gregory Valentine in the end, he opened the old man’s door and saw him ironing the same two creases out of the back of a blazer over and over again, his arthritic fingers fumbling the iron. It took ten minutes before Valentine noticed Nate stood watching him.

‘What it is?’ Mr Valentine eyed Nate with suspicion, he had these washed out blue eyes that used to be bright, but had now faded like the rest of him. Decades of neat lawns and clean gutters, but no one to share them with had gouged cavernous creases into his face. Gregory was old enough to be Mr Silverman’s father, but the familiarity left Nate winded.

‘Nothing, Mr Valentine, I’m sorry to disturb you.’

Mr Silverman died nine months after checking into the local nursing home, by then his son had disappeared.

New York had never looked so full, the street was heaving with people as Nate stepped out of the hotel lobby, even though it was nearing midnight.

‘Hey kid, are you okay?’ a street vendor tapped Nate on the shoulder and looked up at the Clearview Hotel.

‘I’m fine.’

‘They’ve been meaning to knock this place down for decades, you know,’ the street vendor gestured towards the hotel.

‘Knock it down?’

‘Yeah, it’s been abandoned since like the 1920s, but no one’s got around to it for some reason.’

‘But people still live there,’ the street vendor fixed him with an incredulous expression.

‘Are you kidding me, the windows are smashed and all, the place is a goddamn ruin.’

‘But it’s-‘Nate stopped himself and stepped back onto the pavement ‘right, uh, thanks.’

A few streets down, Nate turned back to spot the Clearview Hotel’s neon sign, so red that it seemed to scald the indigo sky.

‘Excuse me, sir,’ Nate approached a police officer stood outside Mary Goldberg’s Flowers ‘I’m looking for a place called Clearview Hotel, could you tell me if I’m anywhere near?’

‘It’s just a few blocks down, are you a photographer or something?’

‘Yeah, yeah I am, how’d you know?’ Nate lied.

‘I’m always having you guys asking me about that old place, it’s the most photographed abandoned building in the city, you know.’

‘No I didn’t.’

Nate turned back to face the Clearview Hotel and thought he could hear The Spider wailing on his drums, he thought of how the hotel, in all its forty story splendor, would never be big enough to contain Allister Web. Nor could it banish Penny Haddock, who still dreamt rosy dreams about dancing on Ninth Avenue, from his memory.

He looked around him and wondered who else knew the Clearview Hotel as an active establishment, because he couldn’t be the only one who made it out.

He felt brand new, no longer hiding in plain sight, he was new. In this sleepless city, that Mrs Haddock had known as a world of speak easies and jazz, where Allister Web had injected oblivion into his bloodstream, Nate could so easily have felt lost, but he wasn’t. He wanted to know what was playing in the theatre, he wanted to visit a cocktail bar and meet a smiling stranger, to leave the room.

In the warm glow of New York’s nocturnal lights, Nate came to the realisation that all the days, even the bad ones, had been special occasions, and that his father had it right all along.

By Vivien Lin
2016

A winning entry of the Stratford upon Avon Literary Festival Poetry and Short Story Competition 2016.

(Entry was included in winning anthology, however was not awarded the category prize.)

http://www.stratfordliteraryfestival.co.uk/article/creative-writing-competition-2016

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POEM OF THE DAY: MORNING – FRANK O’HARA

Morning

I’ve got to tell you
how I love you always
I think of it on grey
mornings with death

in my mouth the tea
is never hot enough
then and the cigarette
dry the maroon robe

chills me I need you
and look out the window
at the noiseless snow

At night on the dock
the buses glow like
clouds and I am lonely
thinking of flutes

I miss you always
when I go to the beach
the sand is wet with
tears that seem mine

although I never weep
and hold you in my
heart with a very real
humor you’d be proud of

the parking lot is
crowded and I stand
rattling my keys the car
is empty as a bicycle

what are you doing now
where did you eat your
lunch and were there
lots of anchovies it

is difficult to think
of you without me in
the sentence you depress
me when you are alone

Last night the stars
were numerous and today
snow is their calling
card I’ll not be cordial

there is nothing that
distracts me music is
only a crossword puzzle
do you know how it is

when you are the only
passenger if there is a
place further from me
I beg you do not go

RAILWAY CITIES – short story by VL

This train is bound for London, an uninspiring, soulless city, where the sun drags itself along the crumbling pavement in a top hat and gloves. What people are is where they are. I must be London through and through. My lungs are infiltrated with smog. I am circling, forever circling, myself.

‘Why don’t you leave, then?’ Douglas had asked me some time ago now.

I can’t remember what I replied with, but it must have been good because he shut up right away. I’m a magnificent deflector; I guess I have London to thank for that. In case you’re wondering, old Doug’s shovelling earth and herding sheep now, not because he got demoted or anything, but because he left when he wanted to. His stupid corporate mugs are still in our apartment, taking up space where mine should be.

I come up out of the ground just as a lady passes by, she is forty, fifty, maybe? It gets hard to tell after thirty-five and most people will lie if you ask them. Anyway, she looks like a splendid story, with enough creases and ironed out edges to be a long and meaty one too, but the swarming horde smuggles her away before I catch up with her. I would have treated her real nice too, been a proper gentleman and taken her back to a time when scotch was classy and dancing was friendly, nothing more.

The steakhouse I passed two minutes ago is coming up again, and the rain washed awning is gone this time around. What could it take to get it back? Would a twenty do the job, sir? Fifty? I’m a vegetarian, but even an old steakhouse deserves to stay dry, don’t you think?

Things are always disappearing in this city, purses, cheques, people, and no one seems to know or care where they go, they just become sucked into this invisible vortex. If I wasn’t currently occupied with this terrific job, I would do it, I really would. I would stick on a deer-stalker and find a Watson to help me and hunt down the lost pieces of London.

There was a man who used to scowl at me from the coffee house doorway, and I’d kill to have him back too. Which is quite ironic, don’t you think? My morning latte and muffin would have done the job. There was no need for homicide back then. We’re suckers for making life harder for ourselves, we really are.

This train is bound for Paris, where my sixteen-year-old heart lies. My silhouette has faded into the seat of this carriage, but people stopped noticing years ago. Let me tell you something about Paris. Doug would have hated it, hated it with all his muddy heart.

But to me, Paris was the dream, the city of the Great Manifesto, with its eternal firefly lights and the scent of decency, on its glitter dusted pavements one could never truly die. I was going to speak French like a real Frenchman and live in an apartment near the Champs Elysees with a coffee machine. I had plans to marry a Marie or Jaquez with a bob.

Paris was flames and dancers and evening walks on the promenade, a dream for shallow hearts.

This train is bound for Italy. I’m sat here on the cold metal bench on the platform, gulping down scalding coffee from a cup that feels like sawdust, and trying to stay awake. I was saving Italy for when I got tired, tired of swirling crowds and hotdogs, for when I was old and travelled and smiling.

I would find some faded little diner and know the owner by his first name. I’d tell locals about the time I ran a circus in Brazil and the phantom girl who kissed me at the New York cocktail bar I liked at twenty-two. I would eat olives, garlic and sun-dried vegetables until I was a hundred-and-two then die in a striped deck chair, drenched in sun and ready for the moon.

This train feels as if it’s been delayed for light years. You must remind me to file a complaint.

 

RAILWAY CITIES BY VIVIEN LIN

Are We There Yet?

mutters toss and turn under rumpled sighs
seagulls come swooping without warning
finally the kings and queens of little empires
colliding and meeting but never seeing
grasping stupidly at clouds in empty time
hushed whispers fill our heads, our hearts
the cycle the cycle we must not break
we are lost, suspended in a single sunbeam
smiling through the bottomless free fall
the fall it feels like flying, soaring, roaming
it feels so because we imagine it to be
but when imagination slips into the void
no longer do we care if it is to come home
what a childish thing to want, we’ll think
childish thoughts for shallow childish lives
plummeting like devils towards the centre
dreary nights become just like the last
no midnight pondering of other milky spirals
just cling film and wine and autumn gutters
sit down and shut up we’ll say (but shout)
focused, judgemental like we were taught
stars and skies and humans are only dust
ground underfoot, glinting, shattered legacies
we’re made, not living, just standing still
guardians of the summer before we forgot
the night with the rainbow, the saucepan
friends: you can’t remember me can you?
lonely hands in clean kitchens and gardens
how many years will we waste and carry
twist the knot tighter and hurl into bins
sit upright unsmiling to keep our faces
blink each sunny spell and hurricane away
pass our faults along to kids who’ll say
how sad we’ll be when we are grown

the bluest cloud

you came and woke me early today
blue traces in your hair
said the wind had smelt just like the sun
said I could find you there
your sunbeam hands tipped them forward the
driftwood of your conscience
ruckled midnight words of the absurd
borderline of nonsense
you are and will be the greatest thing
i lend my night sky to
all my moonlit sighs of dawn’s first light
they all belong to you
you are enthralled by refulgent flames
planets away from me
constellations sleep behind your eyes
finches yours to carry
laughing the records of ’94
your voice above the keys
glass misted with the breath of a boy
a whisper from the breeze
through the heavy mist of 5AM
the clouds they said to me
the parts of me that fail to reach you
meander in the sea