The Washwater Hotel: Chapter 4
Joel had unpacked his things about the room, strategically putting away his binoculars, camera, and surveying equipment in the back of the closet, hidden away behind his hanging clothes. He glanced at the hands of the clock near the bed, reading 5:20. He sighed and went to the window to garner one last look out at the ocean and the cliff-side below before closing the curtains.
From the single drawer of the dresser he had managed to fill out, Joel retrieved one of his tshirts and tossed it on the bed before pulling off his button-up. With the fresh shirt on, he snatched up his key and went out to the hall, double checking the handle after he locked up. The walk across the third floor hallway and down the stairs was deserted, but across the lobby, he could hear the faint sound of plates clinking and people chatting over dinner.
The dining room gave him the same uneasy feeling as when he arrived. There were two parties of diners already at the tables, munching on bread and butter. At one far corner was an older man with silver hair, back to the room and a newspaper in his grasp. Closer to the center of the room was a woman and a young girl, their fine wavy brunette hair seeming to be one in the same.
The little Anna tugged on the woman’s sleeve, pulling her up from her eyes locked to the notepad on the table. “Maman, it’s that man we saw earlier.”
Marianne glanced up at Joel, who had just arrived in the entrance. Her eyes perked up, and she waived to him. “Over here! Yes, you.” She caught Joel’s attention. “Come, sit with us.”
Joel glanced around, hoping to see a host, before allowing himself to move to the table with the two ladies, adjusting the hem of his shirt around his waist.
“No need to be shy.” The woman said with a slight accent as she stood and pulled out a chair for Joel. “Oh, I hope we are not pulling you away from a meeting with another someone else?”
“Uh, well, no.” Joel smiled indirectly and took the invitation. Marianne retook her seat and sent a wide smile across the table.
“Good day!” Anna chimed in, jumping forward on her seat. The little serving plate before her was already covered in crumbs, and on her lap was a small stuffed rabbit that had already seemed to have joined in on the bounty of bread.
“Hello-” Joel smiled at the little girl. “Uh, the honor is mine, Mrs…?”
“Not Missus.” Marianne shook her finger. “Just call me Marianne. And this is Anna. We saw you checking into your room earlier. We’re just down the hall- three oh nine.”
“Ah-” Joel remarked. “Well, thank you for the welcome. I’m Joel.”
A uniformed waitress appeared at the side of the table suddenly, interrupting the introductions. “Ah, Marianne. You should have told me that you were expecting a guest.” The slightly chubby teenager smiled at Joel as she presented the bottle of wine forward to the table.
Marianne smirked up at the waitress. “Oh, thank you, Heather. To be honest, I didn’t know I would be expecting one either. Could you be a dear and get us another glass?”
Heather looked back to Horatio, who came forward, a shiny wine glass in each hand. “Hori, one more for Mr. Yannison, please.”
Horatio grunted and placed the matching glassed up on the top of the table before waddling back off in the direction of the kitchen. Heather propped the bottle of crimson liquid on the edge of the table between Marianne and Joel.
“You do drink, do you, Joel?” Marianne asked, looking past the bottle at him.
“Uh, sure.” He returned, watching as the waitress uncorked the bottle with a twist of the arms upon the opener. Horatio returned with a third glass and leaned up close to Joel so as to place it just before him. “Thank you, Horatio-”
The short fellow wandered off without another word as Heather began pouring the wine for Marianne, followed by a similar amount for him. “Enjoy. We’ll have your entrees out in just a bit.”
“But I haven’t-” Joel began, but was interrupted by Marianne’s hand tapping upon his wrist.
“Don’t worry. The meals here are always great. Just wait and see what they will have out for us!”
Joel smiled and retracted his hand back to his side as he peered at the glass of shiny, red liquid. “I take it… you aren’t from around here?”
The little Anna interrupted. “Maman, may I have some?”
Marianne smiled a the girl and took the wine bottle in her hand. “Of course, my dear.” She took up the bottle of wine and deposited a meager amount into the little girl’s wine glass. “Here you are, ma cherie. You are quite right, Joel. The beautiful France is where we call our home. But not for a long time.”
“France, huh.” He sighed and leaned back into his chair. The little Anna took up the tall wine glass and angled it to her mouth before taking a long sip and smiling with lips stained in purple.
“And this little one is your…?”
“My daughter, of course.” Marianne smiled.
Joel caught sight of Heather coming their way from across the kitchen, a wide serving tray propped up high upon her arm. “Here we are, my dears.” She said as she arrived, distributing the seemingly identical plates to himself and the other two.
“Cordon bleu!” Marianne exclaimed as she examined the neat roles of breaded chicken that oozed a pale, viscous sauce.
Joel’s eyes widened as he took in the meal. “Well, you were right it seems, Marianne.”
The woman smiled at him as she carefully laid the napkin across her lap and took a dainty hold of her fork and knife. “Always wonderful.”
Heather took up her serving tray before announcing one last thing. “An interesting bit of news- Mr. Wash just hired a new cook yesterday! It seems we can expect a little variation to the menu as well. Though, I can put in a word to him to keep our recipe for the cordon bleu around.”
Joel looked to Marianne, who stared at her dish in a blank stupor, her fork holding tentatively to a portion of the food. “Marianne?”
“Oh, yes.” She said, the regular accent absent from her words. “Well, we’ll look forward to it… Heather.” She finished, her comportment suddenly back to normal.
Joel took in a few bites of the meal. The chicken was dry, the ham gummy, and the whole dish overly salted, but it satisfied his empty stomach nonetheless. “So…” He began again,
“I take it you both have been at the Washwater for a while?”
“Oh yes, a good few months now.” Marianne spoke again energetically. “Ever since we left that ex-husband of mine.”
“Ah… I see.” Joel paused. He took in a few more bites of the dish before the salt overwhelmed him. Noticing the absence of a water glass of his own, he took up the tall glass for a drink. The liquid to hit his taste buds was none other than a simple, flat, grape juice, absent of the burn of alcohol.
As their collective plates neared empty, Heather once again returned to the table, holding this time, a singular, small white dish, holding three bite-sized pastry cups filled with a pale golden custard.
“Our new chef Brian called them ‘pastel de nata.’” The waitress said, placing the plate in the center of the table. “They’re on the house.”
“Oh, wow.” Marianne hummed, looking to Anna who sat up to examine the strange dessert.
Heather danced around the table, taking up the used dishes in a neat stack. “Let me know if you need anything else, folks.”
Marianne wiped her mouth with the cloth napkin and offered a waive back to the server. “Thank you again, Heather.”
Anna had already taken one of the egg tarts up and began nibbling on the flaky edge of the pastry cup. “Très bien!”
“Sounds like we’ll have to thank chef Brian if we happen to see him.” Marianne nodded.
“Plenty of fun people are about these days.” Her eyes traveled to Joel.
Joel drank down the remainder of the wine in a single gulp before he stood up. “Well, thank you for the company, Marianne. Anna. I will leave the last little dessert for you to share.”
“Well then, we’ll be seeing you around, I hope, Joel.” Marianne stood and bowed her head to him as he began his path back to the lobby. “Remember, room 309.”
As Joel made his way out of the dining room, he passed the owner, who waived at Heather to grab her attention. “Heather-” He asked, pulling away.
“Yes, Mr. Wash?” She asked, approaching him.
“Mr. Narrows is taking his dinner up in his room again. Could you take it up to him for me?”
“Of course, Mr. Wash.”
“Thank you. Oh, he’s moved up to 411, I should let you know.”
“Yes, sir, understood.”
Just as Joel had returned to his room, he met with the floor before the toilet to release the contents of his stomach.