The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
Leaving Small’s Hotel
by Eric Kraft, as Peter Leroy


Chapter 1
September 10
The Daughter of Mr. Yummy 
An author ought to consider himself, not as a gentleman who keeps a private or eleemosynary treat, but rather as one who keeps a public ordinary, at which all persons are welcome for their money. 
Henry Fielding, Tom Jones


I 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. 
   I had three passengers in the launch, a disappointing number.  Three would have been a disappointing number at any time, but it was particularly disappointing on this trip because Albertine had advertised my marathon reading of Dead Air in the hope that she might attract a crowd.  Actually, to be precise about it, we couldn’t have accommodated a crowd, since we have only thirteen rooms and three cottages, but she — well, we, to be precise about it — had hoped to draw a full house, something we haven’t seen in years. 
   Ahead, I spotted Albertine running along the path from the hotel to greet the guests when the launch struck the dock.  I eased the throttle down another notch, came slowly to the dock, and reversed the engine.  It stalled. 
   “Grab hold of something,” I said in the even tone of an unflappable captain.  “We’ll be coming into the dock.” 
   If you had been aboard the launch with the other passengers, you would have thought that everything was as it should have been, that Cap’n Peter probably always brought the launch into the dock this way.  I’ll bet you would have.  Of course, when the launch hit the dock and both shuddered, and you were sent staggering and grabbed for the nearest thing that would help you keep your feet, and the launch rebounded back toward Babbington whence you had so recently come, you might have had second thoughts about your captain, but if you had looked his way you would have seen him smiling, waving to Albertine, preparing to throw her a line, and the twinkle in his eye would have convinced you that the rough landing had been nothing more than a matter of style.  It would have.  I’ll bet it would have. 
   I threw the line to Albertine, and she snubbed it around a piling and arrested the rebound.  She rolled her eyes at me, I shrugged (but not enough for you to have noticed), and she extended a hand to the nearest of the passengers.  When they were all safely off the boat, she delivered a speech of welcome, her usual speech of welcome, with, as usual, a few impromptu additions and alterations. 
   “Welcome to Small’s,” she said. “It’s a pleasure to have you here.  I’m Albertine Gaudet, the Innkeeper. 
    “I hope your journey was pleasant — or, if you came on the Long Island Rail Road, I hope that at least it wasn’t too unpleasant.  You have my sympathy.  I’ve always thought that it would be nice if there were a private Small’s Hotel car, with cocktails and swing music, at least during the summer season, but — well — there isn’t.  I apologize for the launch too, by the way.  We call it a launch, but it’s really just an old boat, isn’t it? We used to bring people from the mainland in a handsome old Chris-Craft runabout.  You would have liked that.  It was a fine boat, and everyone loved it, especially my husband, Peter — whom you’ve met — the launch captain, formerly the Chris-Craft captain — and also Assistant Innkeeper — but it was expensive to maintain and so we sold it for — well — for a nice piece of change, though not as nice a piece of change as we had hoped it would bring us and not as much change as we needed. 
   “Well, anyway, I hope that while you are here you will consider yourselves my guests.  Of course, you’re paying for the privilege of being my guests, which might seem to put us in a relationship rather less intime than that of hostess and guest, but don’t we all, in one way or another, wind up paying our hosts for their hospitality?  If we’re invited to dinner, we’re expected to pay with conversation, aren’t we?  Some gossip?  Maybe even a little wit?  And if we’re invited to spend the night — well. 
   “I hope you will find your accommodations satisfactory.  All of the hotel’s thirteen guest rooms are located on the second floor, and every room has a view of the bay, as you might expect in a hotel on an island as small as this one. (The third floor, by the way, is our living quarters.  Enter only if invited, please.)  If you’re not happy with your room, just let me know.  Obviously, we have more rooms than guests — currently, at least — so it will be a simple matter to move you around until you end up wherever you want to be.  If you’re not happy in the main building, you might like to take a look at the cluster of cottages at the water’s edge.  The rates for the cottages are a little higher than for rooms in the hotel because the cottages are larger than the rooms in the hotel, and because they offer more privacy, and also because we transported them to the island from the mainland at great expense of money and labor.  My husband will be glad to tell you the story.  Just ask. 
   “While I’m on the subject of privacy, let me assure you that you are not required to be sociable while you are here.  We will not urge you to participate in any group activities.  There are no group activities.  Well, none except for the readings that Peter will be giving, but I assume that you’ve come for those, so they don’t really count as group activities, not in the same way.  I wouldn’t think so.  They’re a special case.  A category of their own. Sui generis.  Other than that, though, no group activities.  Except for the morning mud wrestling.  Just kidding.  Really, no group activities. 
   “You are not, of course, enjoined from organizing group activities on your own, if you feel you must, but on the whole we assume that you have come here to be alone and to be left alone.  While you are at Small’s, you are an island dweller, an isolate, and I urge you to live like one. Take refuge in our old hotel, on our island. Absent yourself from the world awhile.  Relax. Go rowing or sailing. We have a rowboat and four small catboats for the exclusive use of our guests — but — ah — you should know that the rowboat and three of the catboats leak — a little — not too much.  First come, first served.  If you don’t like boats — and it’s surprising how many people who come here don’t like boats — you can perambulate the shoreline, take a swim, sit in the lounge and read, or do nothing more than sit on the dock — though I’d watch out for splinters and nails — dabble your feet in the water, watch the moonlight play on Bolotomy Bay, and let the world rattle on without you for a while. 
   “Of course, if you really want to be left alone, you should move into one of the cottages.  They’re not that much more expensive, and they’re very romantic, the perfect place for a honeymoon, an anniversary weekend — or a discreet affair, for that matter.  If any of you decide that you’d like to move to one of the cottages, just let me know. 
“All your meals are provided, of course, and that includes midnight snacks.  In a small refrigerator in the kitchen you will find ‘leftovers.’  We call them that, but I assure you that our chef makes these ‘leftovers’ fresh daily, specifically for snacking.  I want to make it clear that although they resemble leftovers, they are deliberately made to resemble leftovers and are not actually left over from anything.  (Some people have a very difficult time understanding this concept, which is why I’m explaining it, and I ask you please not to be offended by the explanation if you understood the concept before I began explaining it.)  You may tiptoe from your room in the middle of the night to snack on these goodies — indeed you are encouraged to tiptoe from your room in the middle of the night to snack on these goodies, for if you do not, they will just sit there in the refrigerator and go uneaten, and by the next day they will actually have become leftovers, and then what would we do with them? 
   “Well!  That’s everything, I think.  Go on up to the hotel, why don’t you, and Peter and I will follow with your luggage.” 
   The guests started on their way up the path toward the hotel, and Albertine and I begin piling their bags onto a couple of our red wagons, the kind that Dick and Jane used to pull in primers. 
   “What have we got?” Albertine asked. 
   “Well, the couple — ” I began. 
   “The fun couple, Dick and Jane.” 
   “You’re kidding.” 
   “Not their real names,” said Albertine with a wink and a smile. 
   “Ohhh,” I said, raising an eyebrow and slipping into what I like to call my Franche accahng, “hohn-hohn-hohn.” 
   “I told them that we are very discreet.” 
   “Oh, we are, we are.” 
   “And that if they want to be called Dick and Jane, we will comply.” 
   “Oh, we will, we will.” 
   “They’re likely to be easy guests.” 
   “The grumpy guy, on the other hand — ” 
   “Oh, great,” she said.  “Mr. Abbot.  Cedric R. Abbot.  ‘Call me Lou,’ he said on the phone.  ‘Everybody does.’  But you’re already calling him the grumpy guy?” 
   “I’m afraid so.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I think he’s one of those grumpy guys who’s always got a smile on his face, but when you look at that smile you know it’s a lie — you know the smile I mean?” 
   She smiled the very smile I had in mind, the smile that she uses when her picture is being taken in spite of her having made it perfectly clear that she does not want her picture taken. 
   “Uh-oh,” I said, responding to the smile.  “What went wrong while I was gone?” 
   “I’ve had some adventures in repairs and maintenance.” 
   “What now?” 
   “The boiler again.” 
   “Did you call the Tinkers?” I asked.  For nearly all of the fifteen years that we have been running Small’s Hotel, we have turned to the Three Jolly Tinkers when we’ve needed major repairs.  Sometimes the Jolly Tinkers have fixed things; sometimes they have not; and sometimes the repairs undertaken by the Jolly Tinkers have become continuing projects, and some of those projects have been in continuous operation for nearly the entire fifteen-year span of our relationship without showing any signs of coming to a successful conclusion — repairing the boiler, to name a single example. 
   “I did,” she said, “but they can’t come out until tomorrow, because —”  She stopped. 
   “Because what?” I asked. 
   She turned toward me.  There was a tear in her eye.  “Because the Big Tinker died,” she said. 
   “Oh, no.” 
   “There’s a curse on this hotel,” she said.  “It’s a nightmare.” 
   I said nothing to that.  We hauled the luggage to the hotel, and I distributed it to the guests’rooms. 

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: 

It was [Diderot’s] impression . . . that every tendency was to be found in the heart: noble, base, healthy, perverse, exalted, lustful and homicidal. . . . This, he once told Mme Necker, was the ësecret history’ of the soul.  ëIt is a dark cavern, inhabited by all sorts of beneficent and maleficent beasts.  The wicked man opens the cavern door and lets out only the latter.  The man of good will does the opposite.’ 

The second is from The Two Thousand and Six Month Man by Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks: 

INTERVIEWER: Do you remember the national anthem of your cave? 
THE 2000-YEAR-OLD MAN: I certainly do.  I’ll never forget it.  You don’t forget a national anthem in a minute. 
INTERVIEWER: Let me hear it, sir. 
THE 2000-YEAR-OLD MAN (sings): Let ’em all go to hell . . . except cave seventy-six!

And now, ‘The Daughter of Mr. Yummy,’episode one of Dead Air.” 

(If 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)


ONE 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.
THE 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 my forehead. 
   “What’s that?” asked Albertine. 
   An other drop. 
   “What’s what?” I asked. 
   “That sound.” 
   “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. 

You should be able to find Leaving Small’s Hotel at your local bookstore, but you can also order it by phone from: 

Bookbound at 1-800-959-7323 
Book Call at 1-800-255-2665 (worldwide 1-203-966-5470) 
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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. 

For information about publication rights outside the U. S. A., audio rights, serial rights, screen rights, and so on, contact Alec “Nick” Rafter at Manning & Rafter Advertising, Promotion, Public Relations & Used Cars. 





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