Hotel Eternity

"Excuse me," she asked, turning away from the dresser with the crisp white card in her hand. "Why is it called Hotel Eternity?"
The old man paused and looked at her politely, the same way her mother had looked at her before she hit her-no, that wasn't quite right. Her mother hadn't ever hit her. Mother was too polite to hit people outright. But her hand rose to the back of her neck anyway to feel the line of that scar her hair covered.
"It is called Hotel Eternity, ma'am, as we wish you will never want to leave us." He bowed to her and left.
There was another little card, exactly like the one in her hand, on the dresser propped up against a picture. The card was a pale pink and it said, with scrolling letters: Welcome to Hotel Eternity. The picture was of a young man, his brown eyes were shadowed. When she looked around, there were pictures all around her room; photos and paintings of drab men and women. There was only one window, and it was covered with dark curtains.
She didn't open them; it was gray outside.
There were the sounds again, the sounds of someone yelling that she could never quite make out. Never? How could she say never when she had only been here an hour. Not even an hour, she looked down at her watch. It was hardly even time for lunch and she had arrived at eleven that morning. But it seemed longer. It had seemed like eternity that she had stood at that window and looked out at the gray world beyond.
Outside the windows, everything was gray and dull. Even the grass that had seemed so bright and green as she drove up, took on the hue of warm gruel, and the horses that moved listlessly in the far field were monochromatic against the drab sky. It should have been raining, but the clouds refused to break open. It had been that way for days, back at home and the melancholy that had been so strong there had followed her to this hotel. The hotel her mother sent her to, so she could wait for him.
"Excuse me."
She turned around and saw a little girl standing in her doorway with one arm curled around a tattered toy rabbit. Her hair was pulled up tight in a single braid that fell over her shoulder all the way down to her waist. And her eyes were wide and dark brown with heavy blue-purple lines under them. Like she hadn't slept for days.
"Yes?" she said.
"What is your name? I'm Sara." The girl moved forward into her room, bare feet padding on the deep red carpet, her free hand reached out and she touched the bed, vague sort of smile on her face.
"I'm Georgia," she said.
There was a crash that echoed up the hallway and a loud scream of something that was almost pain. A door opened and slammed shut, there was the infinitely loud sound of shoes on the floor but when she moved over to the door to look out, there was nobody.
"It's just the man at the end of the hall," Sara said, "He makes a lot of noise. Sometimes, when its really late at night he cries." She pulled herself up onto the bed and laid on it, little knees bright white against the black skirt. "My bed isn't this nice," she said, "Mother says I should get a new bed but the people won't give me one." Then Sara sat up and smiled again. "Well, bye."

Georgia walked around the hallways, stopped and looked at the paintings and portraits, saw each face cast in gray shadows and grimacing in pain. Their eyes were dull and hollow, staring from one portrait into the next without recognition-and more importantly without hope. She felt each moment in this hall dragging by like hours. The maids moved around her, scurrying from one room to the next, and sometimes she looked at them, opened her mouth to speak to them but they did not pay attention.
The man at the end of the hall had been silent since the day she got here-barely a week ago, it seemed like months already-and she had not seen Sara since that first day. Everyone was busy here, everyone but her and she walked these lonely hallways looking for him. But he would not come for her, not yet.
Mother never liked him anyway. She had gotten so mad when Georgia told her about him. It was the first time she had heard her mother curse. Motherfuckers like that trash are not allowed near my daughter. But she hadn't cared then what Mother said and didn't care now. Not really.
Her hand strayed up her neck to the scar on the base of her skull and she ran her fingertips over it, felt the slickness of the pink skin. It felt like something she should have remembered in greater detail. It had hurt once, she knew and sometimes when her head ached, the scar burned and itched. It had been an accident, she had been skating and slipped, fell down to the ground and bashed her head on a rock. But he had saved her, held her hand while she got stitches and kissed her as they left the doctor. They had laughed about it.
"Excuse me ma'am," the old man said to her, he was standing a few feet away from her, arms behind his back and a strange crooked smile on his thin lips. His hair was white and thin, circling the crown of his head like a stringy cloud. "You seem sad, is there anything I could help you with?"
Her hand dropped from the scar to her shoulder and she smiled at him, felt her heart yearning for the warmth of his hand and knew that she was just being silly. He was going to come for her because that's what they promised. "I was just wondering who all these pictures are.they look so sad."
The man turned his head and looked at them. "Yes, sometimes, they are very sad." Then he looked at her and bowed his head. "They are former inhabitants of Hotel Eternity, ma'am."

The dreams were haunting her. Georgia sat at the table and looked at the oatmeal. The image-more than that, the feel of it-of the living room floor rushing up to meet her, the lurch of unfamiliarity, the loss of what she had considered reality. These things haunted her. She stared at the oatmeal and saw the carpet of the living room, saw the flecks of black as drops of blood.
But that had never happened. It was her nightmare, the dream that she had every night since her mother whispered the first curse word- motherfuckers-and since he promised her that he would save her, would come for her, would stand by her side and keep her safe no matter what. She felt his hand on hers, had felt it that morning when she woke up to the bright dawn and felt the wind of the breeze on her face, and she had smiled, felt warm and loved then. But the feeling faded, the wind turned cold, the sky sank back into gray and she had thought, just as the last of the yellow light was gone, that she had heard his voice.
Whispering her name.
"Not hungry?" Sara asked, she leaned against Georgia's chair, the time- worn rabbit still clutched in her arm. She was wearing a white smock today, and white socks, her eyes were wide open and ringed purple. "I'm not hungry much anymore either. Mama cried yesterday because I was getting so thin."
Georgia managed a smile. "Where is your mother, Sara?"
"Mother reads to me sometimes," Sara said brightly, her eyes were deep brown in the dullness of the room, and her cheeks were rosy pink, gums healthy red and teeth bright white. She looked-for a moment-like a beautiful little girl. "But mostly she's busy."
"What about your father?"
Sara just gave her a smile and turned around, walked away with stilted steps, like she wanted to stay and go, and when she reached the door, she turned and looked at Georgia. "Daddy did a bad thing. Mama said Danny made him go away forever."
"Danny?"
Sara nodded. "Danny was my brother." Then she turned and scuttled out of the room, ran down the hallway with whisper-quiet steps. The fluttering of her retreat was overtaken by the echoing crack of metal against wood, the scream of pain and anger, and the rush of shoes on bare wood.
Georgia got to her feet, left the breakfast sitting in the empty dining room and ran out into the hallway, down to where the double doors were, to where the noise came from and stood there. It was quiet now, the sound of feet was gone and the screaming was silenced. But there was an unpleasant smell, the sense that something had been done here, something to restore silence to the deadness of the hotel.

If she looked closely, she could still see the red tints in her hair. The flecks of yellow in her brown eyes and the deep pink of her lower lip. But the overcast sky invaded the peacefulness of the hotel and sapped them all of their colors, drove away the warmth of the blankets and destroyed the comfort of her thoughts of him. Georgia stood alone in the hall, looking at the double doors of the man that screamed. Looking at the polished looking glass that was so old it was made of silver. And thought how odd it was to be hanging on the door.
"He won't come out," a new voice said, and she saw in the looking glass a man standing next to her. He was tall and smiling, his eyes were dark and his hair was hanging down around his face messily. "They never let him out of his room."
She turned to look at him. Smiled because it was polite, and saw the brilliant blue and red of his vest. They were just little threads woven into the black cloth, but they were color in the world that had gotten starker and grayer every moment she had been in this hotel.
"I am Faulk," he said, extended his hand, and she took it, he kissed her knuckles-his hands were worm and his lips were pale pink. He smiled at her and she was completely breathless. His eyes were full of things, of life and secrets, of love-she remembered love-and joy and happiness.
"Georgia," she whispered, but she could hardly breath and her word came out as a whisper.
His hand touched her hair and she giggled nervously, stepped back away from him. "It's okay," he said, "I understand. I forget sometimes that things change outside of this damn hotel. I've been living here since I was born you know. Everything is the same and gray here, isn't it? But your hair is truly stunning."
"Thank you." She bit her lip and moved forward again, to where his hand still hung in the air like he was trying to reach for her. His fingers touched the top of her head and she looked up at his eyes-endless brown eyes-and felt like her heart had almost completely stopped.
Behind her there was a thunderous crash and she screamed.

The dream came again. Her mother saying that awful word-motherfuckers- and the sound of something cracking, a watermelon rind, a liquid thud and the warm running on her neck. She woke up crying, her lips trembled, and the sky outside was black. She couldn't hear his voice anymore when she slept, she couldn't see the brightness of the dawn anymore and the colors that had once been gray were now fading entirely to nothing.
She shivered and pulled her knees up, scrubbed at her eyes as tears ran down her face and she wondered-not for the first time-if she was dead. If this drab world was death and somewhere she had forgotten that she was dead. That maybe the thought in the back of her mind-mother doesn't like motherfuckers, you know-was right maybe-mother won't allow her daughters with those dirty bastards-her mother had hit her. Just once. Maybe mother had finally stopped being so politely mean and reached for the only thing nearby. Maybe mother's hand found the handle of her little brother's baseball bat and maybe the wet cracking sound that she heard in her nightmare-
The door to her room opened, and she screamed, the light from the hallway spilled in and the figure there screamed back. Masculine scream, one of agony, he slapped his hands over his ears and stumbled forward, his feet were shuffling along the ground and she tried to get out of the covers but they seemed to be hanging on to her, holding her down as the man moved closer.
He lurched, and fell onto her bed and she beat at him, but the screaming had stopped and he rolled his head and looked up at her, his mouth was open and his lips were colorless, he was gripping her arm tightly in his sweaty hand. "Let it end," he whimpered, saliva gushed through the gaps in his teeth and rolled down his chin. It dripped in strands to the dark covers leaving little spots that were dark-like blood on the carpet. His eyes lolled loosely in their socket and he tried to pull himself up but he was stumbling again.
"What?" she said. Whispered it to him.
He pulls his hand away and covered his ears again. "MAKE IT STOP!" And she heard something then, like a loud wailing, a constant scream, but it wasn't his scream. His teeth were clenched and his white lips were blue now. He fell back onto the floor and gasped out one more time: "make it stop." Then his body convulsed, his chest rose off the floor and his toes curled down tight. Saliva welled up out of his mouth and sprayed as he screamed again. The same long scream she had heard so many times before.
And the rush of footsteps brought a horde of white-nightgowned maids to her door, to where the man lay and jerked on the floor. She watched them attend to him, hold his hand and wipe his chin, and then they picked him up and carried him away.

"Mother says its almost time," Sara said. She smiled, her lips were perky pink today and her eyes were bright and full of life-hope. She leaned forward at her side and looked down at the bowl of oatmeal. "The food tasted great today, don't you think so Georgia?"
Georgia couldn't taste it. She couldn't even barely see where the oatmeal ended and the bowl began. They were both gray. The walls were gray and the sky was gray and the little girl at her side was full of color. Her dress was green and her eyes were brown. Her hair was bright and shining, bouncing around her beautiful little face. Georgia couldn't answer so she just smiled and ran her fingertips over the scar on the back of her neck.
Sara stopped moving and looked at her. She sighed a little sigh and then said-quietly so nobody could hear what she said: "Sometimes, if you listen very closely-you can hear them talking to you. Even when you're awake." Then the little girl kissed her cheek and ran away, giggling and spreading her brightness.

Georgia sat in the front hall, she had been there since breakfast and the time for dinner had passed. Tears that had risen were drying on her cheeks and her hands that had once been shaking were steady now. The whisper of his voice in her ear had been a comfort when she had forgotten things-Adrian never wanted to play baseball. Mother made him-but she was starting to remember little things. Important things.
--motherfuckers-
He was reading to her, as she sat her, reading her poems. His poems that he had written for her, a long time ago when she first met him, when he was just a boy and she was just a girl. They were love poems, about her hair and her eyes, about her laugh and her smile, about his heart and how it beat for her. Silly poems, but he was reading them to her now in a voice that was broken with tears.
-not MY daughter-
The old man with the white hair walked past her, at his side was a new inhabitant of Hotel Eternity, a young man with a motorcycle helmet in his hand and a bruise on one of his cheeks. He was smiling, though, and talking with enthusiasm about the brand new bike he had just bought.
"And love.for how it moves in me,"
She closed her eyes, felt the tears brimming again. Forced away the voice that she wished she had never called for, and remembered.
Mother hated him. Mother hated all the hims that had come before, and hated all the ones that might have come after because nobody was good enough for her daughter. They were all-motherfuckers-evil. All of them, they were the bad ones, the ones that would destroy what Georgia could become. And that day, she had been standing in the living room, looking at her mother with her heart beating so hard in her chest that her hands were shaking. But Georgia had known then, had known that she loved him and nobody was going to make her give him up. Not her mother, not her father or his parents or anyone else. They were meant to be together. They promised.
"NO!" she screamed, so loud it should have made the glass on the mantel shudder. "YOU'RE NOT RUINING MY LIFE ANYMORE!" She had stood her ground, looked her mother straight in the eye and she had meant it.
That was what broke her mother, she was sure, that was why her mother reached for the bat, why her mother's hand curled around the aluminum and lifted it, why she screamed so terribly and brought it down with that wet- crack of the watermelon rind and the ground had rushed right up and smacked Georgia in the face.
It was the reason she had a scar on her neck. The reason she was always waiting for him. The reason she could hear him reading his poetry to her.

"Eternity breaks too soon, and how it wounds the mortal heart.Georgia.wake up." He was crying, she heard the break in his voice and her chest tightened so painfully she couldn't breath. The hotel around her grew darker, deeper shades of gray and even more everlasting and dim than before.
"Its difficult," Faulk said, he was standing in the middle of the hall, dressed in deep red and his face was glowing in the low light. "To hang on here. So many people come and leave so quickly. So many want to leave."
"This is hell," she whispered.
"No," Faulk said, "This is the world between. So very few people can live here for very long. Most give up, some fade away, some fight so hard only to lose." He sighed and his eyes were shadowed-the picture. The picture on the dresser in her room! He was that man.
"What world between? I'm dead."
He tilted his head to one side and gave her a small, private smile. "No, child. Not quite yet."

Morning broke over the horizon and the grass was green. The horses that waited in the yard were brown and black and white, they nickered and ran and their manes flowed in the wind. The sunlight was warm and golden, the grass blew its earthy fragrance in through the window, and the room itself was bright with color.
Georgia stood at the window, one hand on the sill and smiled.
The world between.
She had been very smart once, a while ago, before the scar on her neck. Her mother had always been proud of her baby girl that was so smart. She could be anything, she would do everything-live the dream that mother could never have lived.
Somewhere, in the back of her mind, she realized that she didn't even hate mother for this. It was pity. She pitied her because her mother was a pitiful thing that had lived off the goodness of others the whole of her life and sucked the life out of the things she touched. With mother the world was always gray. There was never any hope.
Georgia could not live that way. She had found him-Timothy-and he had been beautiful. Light and color, sound and taste and touch and everything. He had changed her into a beautiful thing that loved beauty and mother had never understood.
The old man was in her doorway; he looked at her and kept his hands behind his back. "If you wish to see the master of the house, you may, but you will not be allowed to stay here anymore."
"I know," she whispered, to him, to herself, to the window and the breeze and to the voice that read on-over and over to her-
".love that lives forever, that burns so bright and deep."

She turned the cold glass knob on the door and pushed it open, sucked in a breath for courage and crossed the threshold, out of Hotel Eternity and into the room of the master of the house. His back was to her when she closed the door, and she waited while he turned.
"I had hoped you would wait," Faulk said. His eyes were bright here, green and blue, red and purple and brown. All at once. His skin was pale and his clothes were pitch black. He stood behind a desk that had only an open book with wide, thick yellow pages. It was littered with the black marks of the people that had come before her, the pictures that hung on the walls all over the hotel-like Sara's picture, was Sara afraid?-and she understood it better here than anywhere.
"Why?" she whispered, moved forward, reached for the pen that lay in the crack of the book.
"Because," he said, "You would have woken up. In time. You could have been so happy, Georgia."
She looked at him, at his eyes and they were brown now, just brown, serious and serene and there was something like tears on his cheeks. "What does death care about life? How long would I have had to wait? How long hearing what I can't have? Do you torture people this way?! By making them wish for life and pushing them into this world-the world between?"
"No," he said. He moved forward and leaned over the desk, looked at her very closely. "Humans do this to themselves. The world between was created by your will to live. The body cannot manage to live, but the mind and the soul cannot manage to die. Machines are wired into your skulls and your hearts, little tubes are stuck in your arms and your daily wastes are filtered out through straws. Humans invented this."
She smacked him. "It was made to bring hope!"
"Did it bring Sara hope? Her father beat her to death and your precious doctors of hope filled her body with fake blood and fed electricity into her body until her heart beat again. To bring hope. It brought hope to that little girl for twelve years, Georgia. Imagine living here for twelve years, alone and cold and knowing that there is something bright and beautiful waiting for you that you cannot reach because of the hope that your mortal relatives wish."
"You just said you wished I hadn't given up," she whispered, felt tears on her cheeks. She had thought she was in purgatory, some realm between when she had died and when she would pass on, but this was worse. Knowing was worse. She wasn't dead. She was alive somewhere, in a hospital, in a bed, with him reading to her lifeless body everyday.
"And I wish you had not. It is not all bad, Georgia. Nothing is all bad. The man you saw earlier today is already well again, eating and living and breathing. For every terrible thing in our world, there is something great. You could have been great, Georgia."
"Stop," she whispered. The pen was like a brand gripped in her fingers and she clenched her teeth as she leaned forward to scrawl her name in the book-death's book-and he sighed when she was done. But when she looked back up at him, he was gone, the world was gone, she was alone in a nothingness, a void that screamed around her-the wail, the man's wail as he writhed on the floor of her room-her chest felt hollow and silent. Her body was lax and tired, and she her throat constricting around the invasion of something solid, felt air burning through her that she was not breathing.
The wail reached a fevered pitch and she thought-dimly-that's asystole. That's flat line. I'm dead. That's the sound of the heart-monitor, and that poor man. They wouldn't let him die, they kept bringing him back.
There was something cold and wet against her chest and then a shock, a volt that burned and made her scream. It charged through her, she heard the rush of footsteps, saw the flutter of white and closed her eyes against it.
Wished for something. For death or another change, for the memory of what Faulk had said to her.
You could have been great.

"Excuse me," she asked, turning away from the dresser with the crisp white card in her hand. "Why is it called Hotel Eternity?"

THE END
October 27, 2004