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.
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.’
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.
‘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
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.)