|Leaving Small’s Hotel|
YOU CAN READ
The Daughter of Mr. Yummy
STOOD AT THE WHEEL of the leaking
launch, approaching the dock on Small’s Island and the end of my fiftieth
year, throttling down, gauging the speed of my approach and the severity
of the impact if the engine should stall when I shifted it into reverse
to bring the launch to a halt. I expected the engine to stall when
I put it into reverse, because it had been doing that lately, so when
it stalled I wanted to be moving slowly enough to drift into the dock without
doing too much damage to the launch or the dock or the guests, but I was
trying not to look concerned, since I have learned during my fifteen years
as assistant innkeeper at a small hotel on a small island that it isn’t
a good idea to upset the guests before they even set foot on the dock.
IN THE EVENING, I had one drink too many before dinner, and, after dinner,
in the lounge, I began the countdown to my fiftieth birthday by reading
the first installment of Dead Air. I began by saying, “There
are two epigraphs at the start of Dead Air. The first comes
from the correspondence of Denis Diderot, but I found it in P. N. Furbank’s
biography of Diderot, so I’m going to read it as I found it:
The second is from The Two Thousand and Six Month Man by Carl
Reiner and Mel Brooks:
And now, ‘The Daughter of Mr. Yummy,’episode one of Dead Air.”
you are about to begin
your reading of Leaving Small’s Hotel here, I
urge you to read the
preliminaries and the preface first, because
they are integral parts
of the work. —Mark Dorset)
NIGHT, late in the spring, thirty-eight years ago, when all of the summer
and most of my life lay ahead of me, fertile as a field growing wild, five
of us were spending the night in my back yard: Rodney Lodkochnikov, Marvin
Jones, Rose O’Grady, Matthew Barber, and me. Rodney was known as
Raskol, and Rose called herself Spike. The rest of us used our real
names. We were sitting around a fire toasting marshmallows.
We had been talking about the difference between the ideal and the actual—along the lines of “why don’t the insides of the frog they give you in science lab match the drawing in the book?” In the aftermath of that discussion, a silence had fallen. Within it, we toasted the marshmallows and waited for a new topic to suggest itself.
Matthew’s marshmallow burst into flame. He pulled it from the fire and, as he rotated it to char it on all sides, asked, “Can you imagine being someone else?”
“Who?” I asked.
“Nobody in particular. Just not being yourself. Being someone else.”
“Yeah, but who?” asked Spike.
“Anyone,” said Matthew. “Someone who doesn’t exist, but might have existed. Somebody new.” He blew the flame out and began waving the marshmallow in the air.
“Come on,” said Raskol, stirring the fire.
“Okay, okay,” said Matthew. “I mean, what if some other sperm had reached your mother’s egg before the one that did?”
“What are you getting at?” demanded Spike. She clenched her jaw and squinted at Matthew.
“Well,” said Matthew, “what I mean is —”
Spike interrupted him. “What I mean is, are you suggesting something about my mother?” She leaned toward Matthew. The fire separated them, but even so Matthew pulled away.
“No,” he said. “No, of course not. I mean, I am suggesting that she gave birth to you —” He paused, smiling, hoping for a laugh, but Spike didn’t even return the smile. “— and to do that she had to have some sperm —”
“Do you want a fat lip?” asked Spike.
“No, I do not want a fat lip, thank you.”
“Then stop saying things about my mother.”
“I’m not saying anything about your mother. I mean, except for —”
Spike leaned closer. The flickering flames lit her from below. “I’ll defend my mother’s good name against all comers,” she said.
“I’m sure you would,” said Matthew.
Spike squinted at him again. “Are you suggesting that it needs defending?” she asked.
“Oh, come on, cut it out,” said Marvin.
Spike grinned and shrugged and said, “Okay, okay. I was only kidding.” She tossed some twigs into the fire so that it flared dramatically, shrugged again, and added, “For all I know, I’m the milkman’s daughter.
The rest of us thought about this in silence for a moment. Mr. Donati, the milkman in Spike’s part of town, was a short, bald man, heavy, always sweating, with black hair everywhere. Spike looked nothing like him.
I said, “Nah.”
Raskol said, “Not a chance.”
Marvin said, “Highly unlikely.”
Matthew squirmed in place and scratched his ear. When he had something to say he could not allow himself to say nothing, however prudent that might be. Finally, he said, “Mr. Yummy.”
None of the rest of us said a thing. We studied Spike, sidelong, and, trying not to let it show, compared her with Mr. Yummy.
He had been delivering the Yummy Good brand of baked goods in Babbington, where we lived, for as long as any of us could remember. His route took him around Babbington and round and round again, and because he worked at his own pace, no one could predict when he would arrive with his tray of Yummy Good goods. His appearance at the back door, rap-tap-tapping in a jazzy way he had, was always a pleasant surprise. Whenever my mother heard his rapid tapping, she would call out, “Just a minute!” and run into the bathroom to fix her hair and lipstick. His customers called him Mr. McDougal, but their children called him Mr. Yummy. He was ageless, and he was handsome. He had a big smile and freckles, like Spike.
“Now you’re talking!” she said. “Look at these freckles. Look at this smile.”
She smiled her smile, and in the firelight the truth gleamed. Spike was the daughter of Mr. Yummy. There could be no doubt about it.
“I never noticed before,” I said, shyly.
“Maybe you never saw me in the right light,” she said, and that must have been the case, because after that night she became, in my mind, the daughter of Mr. Yummy, and Mr. Yummy became the father of all those things in life that I misunderstood, a role that he still plays.
WIND began to rattle the shutters, and a heavy rain began to fall.
Albertine and I battened the hatches and took to our bed. On the
edge of sleep, I urged my thoughts backward, back to my own back yard,
where I lay supine, looking at the stars on a summer night, looking back
in time as far as starlight could take me — and a drop of water fell on
“What’s that?” asked Albertine.
An other drop.
“What’s what?” I asked.
“Sound?” Splat. “You mean that sound?”
“The roof is leaking, isn’t it?” she said, and she sighed.
“There’s nothing we can do about it tonight,” I said, hoping that she would agree.
“Are you sure?” she asked. “Couldn’t you put a tarp over it or something?”
“The wind would blow it off the roof. In fact, the wind would probably blow me off the roof. You’d see me flying past the window, holding on to the tarp, headed for the open ocean.”
“Okay. Forget it.”
“Remember the night the library ceiling fell down?” I asked.
“I remember,” she said, “but I not going to get nostalgic about it.”
“Are you saying I’m getting nostalgic about it?”
“Yes. You’ve got that tone.”
“Tone? What tone?”
“That poignant tone that you use when you start exploring any memory older than a week and a half — any memory, good or bad. It really is a kind of homesickness, because you’re in love with the past, in love the way other people are in love with the places that they think of as home, and maybe that’s because the past really is your proper home. Maybe you don’t belong here. You shouldn’t be here now. You’d rather be there then.”
“I just wanted to make the point that problems come and go.”
“Lately, they come but they do not go. The roof is leaking, the boiler is — is — cantankerous, we’re completely broke —”
“Actually, we’re broker than that. We —”
“It’s not funny, Peter,” she said, and there was a weariness in her voice that made me feel that she was right. “Everything is falling apart, and we can’t afford to fix it. The more things fall apart, the fewer guests we get — the fewer guests we get, the less money we have — the less money we have, the more we go into debt — the more we go into debt, the less we can afford to keep the place up —”
“Okay, I get it. Enough.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m sorry I brought you here. I’m sorry I got you into this.”
“In the morning,” I said, “we’ll put the place on the market.”
I waited for her to say something, but she didn’t say a thing. In a while she began to breathe evenly, and when I turned toward her, I saw that she was contentedly asleep, and smiling. I moved closer to her, away from the leak, and I pulled the quilt over my head to hide myself from the dripping present.
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Leaving Small’s Hotel is published in paperback by Picador, a division of St. Martin's Press, at $14.00.
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Copyright © 1998 by Eric Kraft
Leaving Small’s Hotel is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
Leaving Small’s Hotel was first published on May 11, 1998, by Picador USA, a division of St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10010.
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