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

QUOTES OF THE DAY – SYLVIA PLATH EDITION

‘What did my hands do before they held you?’

– SYLVIA PLATH

‘And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.’

– SYLVIA PLATH

‘Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously close to wanting nothing.’

– SYLVIA PLATH

‘Remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it. I want to become acutely aware of all I’ve taken for granted.’

– SYLVIA PLATH

‘I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.’

– SYLVIA PLATH

‘I want to taste and glory in each day, and never be afraid to experience pain; and never shut myself up in a numb core of nonfeeling, or stop questioning and criticizing life and take the easy way out. To learn and think: to think and live; to live and learn: this always, with new insight, new understanding, and new love.’

– SYLVIA PLATH

‘Some things are hard to write about. After something happens to you, you go to write it down, and either you over dramatize it, or underplay it, exaggerate the wrong parts or ignore the important ones. At any rate, you never write it quite the way you want to.’

– SYLVIA PLATH

‘How frail the human heart must be – a mirrored pool of thought.’

– SYLVIA PLATH

OFF THE SHELF: SUMMER EDITION

Welcome to the Summer edition of OFF THE SHELF. Here I will be listing just a few of the books that have been or will be read this summer, along with a brief review. I hope you enjoy it!

THE ROSIE EFFECT – GRAEME SIMSION

STATUS: Yet to be read
PREDICTED RATING: 10/10
As mentioned in the previous OFF THE SHELF post, I recently picked up The Rosie Project. Having now finished it, I am looking forward immensely to reading the sequel. I had the most amazing time with Don and Rosie in their first adventures together and can’t wait to see them continue in New York.

GO SET A WATCHMAN – HARPER LEE

STATUS: Read
RATING: 10/10

For what was unarguably the most anticipated book of the year, GO SET A WATCHMAN did not fail to impress. The story provided invaluable insight into complex characters and changed the way I saw them. With heartbreaking twists and stunning confessions, GO SET A WATCHMAN is unforgettably striking and poignant. The residents of Maycomb, past and present, will always have a special place in my book shaped heart.

PAPER TOWNS – JOHN GREEN

STATUS: RE-READ
RATING: 9/10

As the Paper Towns movie was due to be released in mid August, I made a note to re-read the novel during the summer. Paper Towns is ranked in the NO 1 spot for my favourite John Green novels. Q and Margo’s wild midnight rendezvous seemed like so much fun that I felt tempted to take off on my by cycle at 1AM and order fries from McDonald’s – just for the heck of it, I’m young and invincible, right? Everything I want is way out there. In addition to this, Paper Towns taught me the importance of windows and doors and the fact that we can see people for who they appear to be, but that doesn’t necessary reflect their true self. We can have a good IDEA of what it’s like to be someone, but we can never truly BECOME another being.
Paper Towns is inspiring, true and important and I can’t wait to see it on the big screen with Nat Wolff and Cara Delevigne

THE ROSIE PROJECT – GRAEME SIMSION

STATUS: Read
Rating: OFF THE SCALE

Picking up The Rosie Project was probably the best decision I’ve made all year. A captivating and startling funny tale of lobster freezing, apricot ice cream and Gregory Peck style suits. Don and Rosie took me on a whirlwind adventure that included cocktails at 2AM, cup smashing and ballroom dancing.
Despite being more that twice my age, Don proved to be hilariously likeable and relatable. His perspective on life was one that I was entirely new to – and it was refreshingly beautiful.
I recommend this book to all of you, trust me on this one, and I can’t wait to see where Rosie and Don will take me in The Rosie Effect.

THR ART OF FIELDING – CHAD HARBACH

STATUS: Re-read
RATING: 8/10

Being a person who knows absolutely nothing about baseball, I was surprised when The Art of Fielding was relatable to me. The story follows several lives at Wetish College and sees the characters through tumultuous phases and times. The Art of Fielding is full of rich characters that stay with you after the final page. Recommended for all those who feel out of touch with their future or are having trouble honing their art.

FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK – MATTHEW QUICK

STATUS: Re-read
RATING: 9/10

Makes me cry every time. Since obtaining this book last Christmas, there has not been a time where I’ve read the entire thing without crying. Leonard Peacock may be strange and disturbed, but the kid just can’t seem to catch a break. FMLP is raw, smart and enlightening. It handles mental health and issues such as sexual assault and family relations with both sensitivity and searing truth.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK – MATHEW QUICK

STATUS: Yet to be read
PREDICTED RATING: 8/10

Having read and loved FMLP, it only seemed appropriate to venture further into Quick’s works. The Silver Linings Playbook is one of Quick’s most renowned novels and I am excited to see how is compares to FMLP.

THE SPECTACULAR NOW – TIM THARP

STATUS: Re-read
RATING: 7/10

The Spectacular Now makes for a light and mesmerising read. Good old Sutter never fails to entertain with is party tricks and playful nature. This story is all about growing up, finding and losing people and cherishing those moments that make like remarkable.

That’s just a small segment of what was on my summer reading list, if you would like to see the full thing, request it in the comment area. Similarly if you would like a full review on any of the books mentioned above, just let me know.

Also, I would love hear any book suggestions that you guys have for me- leave them in the comments with a quick note about what the book means to you.

Thanks
Viv 😉
ALL THE IMAGES USED IN THIS POST ARE MY OWN, PLEASE ASK AND CREDIT IF YOU INTEND TO USE THEM, THANKS!