The Real Thing

The Washwater Hotel: Chapter 9

Tuesday Evening

It was some time late in the day, far after the lunch hour had passed. Joel had finished his sketch of the contraption under the hotel’s entrance, and the notes jotted down to accompany it. The previous pages of the notebook were filled with similar observations. His stomach rumbled suddenly, and he noticed the bright sunlight of the late afternoon shining in the window nearby.

Joel folded the notebook down and placed the pencil on top carefully. He stretched as he stood, cracking his knuckles. He returned to the little kitchenette and opened the fridge in seek of the pre-made meal he had picked up at the grocery store the day before. The rubber seal of the mini fridge dripped water upon the linoleum before his feet. The icebox at the top of the appliance sweated with melted ice crystals, and the condenser had stopped its normal hum. He gripped the sides of the plastic structure and pulled out the fridge, revealing the switch upon the little hidden socket had been flipped to off after coming in contact with the back of the fridge.

Joel reached his arm back into the dim crevice and flipped the rocker back to the ‘on’ position. The fun-sized appliance then began to hum back to life as he shoved it back into place, making sure not to repeat the same mistake. Opening the door once again, he peered down inside to the plastic-wrapped sandwich, poking a finger at the soggy bread inside. He sighed and picked it up before throwing it into the trash on the opposite side of the kitchen. He glanced at the dry pasta sitting on the shelf nearby, then to the big skeleton key sitting on the table by the door. With a sigh, he slipped on his loafers and went out the door, locking it after him.

The dining room was empty, apart from Heather, who was drifting between the tables and looking over the bundles of shiny silverware sitting inside their napkin cocoons. She glanced up as Joel entered.

“Good day, Mr. Yannison.”

“I’m not too early, am I?” Joel looked about, glancing back at the front desk.

“Not at all. Though…” She bit her lip. “The new chef doesn’t seem like he has his menu ready yet for tonight. I think he’s preparing for the lunch service tomorrow.”

“That’s fine.” Joel said, his stomach usurping reason from his taste buds. “But… maybe not the cordon bleu…”

Heather giggled and nodded. “I understand. Take any seat, and I’ll let the kitchen know to throw something on for you. I’ll be back with water in a flash.”

Joel nodded and found a seat at the front corner of the dining room, at a setting only big enough for two people. He posed his chair at an angle to be able to keep an eye on the front of the hotel. The light fixtures dotted around the room seemed sturdy, with brass chains and circular shades of glass. The glass windows looking to the outside were spotlessly clean, and the carpets of an equal quality.

Heather returned with a pitcher of water rattling with ice. “Here you are, Mr. Yannison.” She said, pouring a glass for him.

Joel nodded a thanks. “It’s, uh, fine if you call me Joel.” He said. “Uh, how do you like working here?”

Heather shrugged. “Well, Joel. It’s not a bad place to work. Not too busy. I’m allowed to sit around when I’ve got all my work done and study for my exams.”

“Hoping for Uni?” Joel asked.

“Mhm.” Heather nodded, setting down the pitcher of water on the table. “Trying to get a maths degree. Maybe go into some sort of civil job, engineering or conservation or something the like.”

Joel perked up. “Quite the ambition.”

“Well, working at a place like this has allowed me a unique vision.”

“If you only knew…” Joel mumbled.

A sole bell rang at the back of the dining room. “Oh, that was quick.” Heather said, turning around and beginning her sway back to the kitchen. Joel took his napkin and placed it on his lap. Not long later, the waitress returned with a plate hovering in her hand. Upon it was a simple sandwich of tuna, brimmed with lettuce, and served with crisps on the side. “Chef’s special.” Heather said, presenting it down upon the table before Joel.

Joel licked his lips and nodded with an internal sigh of relief. “Perfect.”

“Well, I will be out of your hair then, Mr. Yann-Joel.”

Joel adjusted his sleeve and picked up one of the triangular slices of the sandwich. The lettuce inside crunched loudly, and the mayonnaise mixed in with the fish unctuously stuck to the side of his mouth. Through his chewing, he caught wind of another guest talking with Heather.

“Oh, Joel!” He heard his name called, forcing him to wipe his face in order to present a proper reply. Marianne was being led by the hand into the dining room by little Anna, with Heather already following after to seat them.

“Good evening.” Joel said, forcing down the bite of food.

Marianne drifted about her chair before sitting down at the adjacent table, her eyes scanning Joel and his meal. “We did not see you last night, and we were afraid you would be eating up alone in your room during your stay.”

Joel sat back and adjusted the napkin upon his lap once again. “Well, it seems I am often occupied and I forget to feed myself sometimes.” He feigned a smile.

“Oh, busy, are you?” Marianne tilted her head. “For some reason I though you were here for pleasure?”

Joel bit his tongue. “Oh, well- I’m sightseeing, and writing here and there.”

Heather returned to the girls’ table and presented a dark bottle down. Marianne finally turned her attention up to the server and began to inquire about their typical order.
Joel shoved down the second half of the sandwich and finished with the salty crisps, before patting his mouth clean. Heather came by as he was taking in the glass of water to pick up his plate. “Any dessert, Mr. Yannison? Er, Joel. I believe there are some of those pastries left from the other day.”

Joel folded his napkin across the table and hoisted himself up out of the chair. “No, thank you, Heather. Should I settle the bill here, or may I defer it to my room charge?”

Heather shook her head. “I believe chef Brian said to take it as a gift.” She finished with a shrug.

“Oh…” Joel paused. “I’ll have to thank him if I run into him.”

“Oh, Joel, you’re leaving already?” Marianne leaned back in her chair.

Joel bowed his head before clasping his hands before his chest. “I am, yes, unfortunately more… work to do.” He said with a shrug before marching out under the archway. “Another time, perhaps?”

Marianne sighed and looked at Anna, who was playing with the floppy stuffed rabbit in her lap. Heather placed Joel’s used dishware on a nearby table and took the bottle opener from the pocket in her apron. “My apologies, Marianne. Let me open that up for you.”

Marianne jerked up and gave Heather’s hand a light touch as she moved to the bottle. “Actually, Heather… may I ask for a bottle of the… other vintage, tonight?”

“Maman?” Anna looked up.

“I can do that, yes.” Heather stood up, taking the bottle under her arm. “I’ll be right back. Your food should be out soon, would you like a tray to bring it up to your room?”

“Yes, thank you, Heather. Anna, you will be okay if you spend an hour or so alone?”

“Okay, maman.”

It was about thirty minutes later that Joel had settled back into his work when a knock came to the door. In his surprise, he shoved the papers into a pile upon the kitchenette table. “Just a moment.” He called out loudly in the direction of the door. Before going to answer the knock, he shoved the measuring and recording tools into his closet and shut the door.

With a turn of the heavy key, he was able to open the door, revealing Marianne on the other side, touting a bottle of wine in the crux of her elbow. “I am not… disturbing, Joel, am I? I wanted to see if you were, perhaps, completed with your work.”

“Well, uh.” Joel swallowed hard. “Not quite. Not busy, actually. To what do I owe the honor?”

Marianne stepped into the room and gave a quick glance about. “Well, little Anna had a bit of a stomach ache, so we headed up early. But I did not get the chance to open this bottle. You do not have an opener, do you?”

Joel turned back to the meager kitchen and the collection of mostly enigmatic drawers. Marianne stepped in after him, and shut the door behind her. Joel pulled open the fixtures one by one, passing plastic tupperware, dish towels, and finally a disorderly, well-used collection of silverware and gadgets. “Here we go-” He mumbled, producing a corkscrew. “I’m surprised your room doesn’t have one. You should ask Mr. Wash if he can provide another. Oh, you can have mine, though, I won’t likely be needing it.”

Marianne bobbed her head side to side as she pried at the plastic seal on the neck of the bottle with her finely cut fingernails. She discarded the wrapper onto the counter and took the corkscrew from Joel. “Merci.”

Joel watched on as Marianne dug the screw into the cork, blocking him inside the ring of kitchen counter. “Well, is there anything else…”

Marianne looked up as she pried the cork loose, feigning surprise. “Oh, you wouldn’t like to join me in a drink?”

“Oh, well, I shouldn’t?”

Marianne looked down at the floor, then to her freshly opened bottle. “Oh, well if you have your work…”

A knot formed in Joel’s throat. He turned to the side and flung open the cabinets to where he had previously seen a small collection of cheap stemware. “Well, not so much work, I guess. I mean, it can wait. I shall join you, if… the invitation is still open.” He carefully brought down the matching glasses and passed one to Marianne.

The fair woman took the glass and touted about the room before heading for the kitchen table, upon which Joel’s papers were still scattered. “So much work, it does seem, though.” She placed the glass down at the edge near her and poured a few fingers worth of the crimson liquid.

Joel followed her about and offered his glass out with one hand, while sweeping up more of the stray papers with his free hand. “Just lots of writing, I assure you. I like to, erm, write. Just for fun.”

Marianne eyed Joel’s glass as she offered up a great deal more to him than her own self. “Writing about what, I wonder?”

Joel sniffed the liquid, revealing that it was not simple grape juice as he had experienced the previous night. “Travel things. Nothing important. Marianne, this is…?”

“The real thing, of course.” Marianne smirked. “You see, Anna misses so much our old home, and the family life with my late husband. Taking in a dinner like we used to calms her. But of course, I cannot afford to put wine on the table each day. But for a special occasion, with a… bon amie… a good friend of like mind, I can splurge, you say.”

Joel took a sip, and the dryness washed over his tongue. “Why… thank you.”

Marianne set down the more than half empty bottle and took up her glass as she marched about the room, finally ending up at the window overlooking the water. “Great view. The same as our room, of course.”

“And a far ways down.” Joel hiccuped, stifling it with another long sip of the wine. “Perhaps I should ask… what keeps you occupied here, apart from Anna, of course?”

Marianne shrugged and took in a long, yet shallow, sip. She spoke up as the tears of the wine crept down the inside of the glass. “I like things such as art. I’m always on the lookout for pieces that catch my eye.”

“Oh.” Joel remarked, his mind trying to catch up. Marianne seemed to sway about the room, though it was possibly also his own vision. She glanced about the room while making her rounds, eventually arriving back before Joel and his stationary location besides the table. She smelled slightly of perfume. With a swipe of her hand, more wine traveled into each of their glasses, emptying the bottle the rest of the way.

Joel looked into her unexpectedly green-brown eyes, then down into the awaiting bounty of beverage in his glass. She took a sip as if to entice him to do the same. She leaned in close, her warmth near, and with a singular clink of her glass upon the table, she stepped back. “May I ask to use your restroom very quickly?”

Joel gulped, the taste of the wine still on his tongue. “Sure.” He mumbled.

Marianne wandered off and into the side room closing the door with a click. Joel turned back to his work and carefully attempted to make less mess of the papers and notes and drawings. Some short or long time later, Marianne returned to the living room.

“Well, Joel, I appreciate your accommodation of me.” She said. “I should head back and check on Anna.”

Joel sniffled and pushed himself up off the table. “Uh, yes, of course.” She walked in front of him while he tried to lean forward and open the door for him.

“Good evening.”

“-evening.” Joel slurred back.

Back down the hall, Anna had been distracting herself with the tube television during her mother’s absence. The door unlocked with a loud clack, and Marianne stepped back through into the room empty handed. “Was it there, Maman?”

Marianne shrugged grumpily. “No luck. Though, we’re still far from done.”

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