|Leaving Small’s Hotel|
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AWOKE feeling much better, even optimistic. I had slept the night
through for the first time in weeks. I had no explanation for the
change in my emotions, but I wasn’t going to poke and probe until I was
miserable again. I wasn’t in the mood for it. I skipped my
coffee and went out for a solitary walk along the shoreline. The
morning was bright and crisp, and I felt so renewed, so invigorated, that
I broke into a run. I hadn’t run far, though, before I came to an
abrupt stop, and stood there, bent over, hands on my knees, breathing hard.
In the crisp morning air, the memory of a dream had returned to me, and
it had staggered me. In the dream, or at least in the memory of the
dream, I was someone else, and now it all came rushing back to me, and
I knew who I had been.
I played it back. I had intended to transcribe it
immediately, but when I heard it I was ashamed of it. I shut the
recorder off and put it in my desk drawer.
Murder While You Wait
(One Flight Up)
The title would be Murder While You Wait: The Memoirs of a Very Professional Killer. The author would be Rockwell Kingman himself. “Call me Rockwell. Don’t call me Rocky.” He might make us some money.
“JEFFREY the realtor called to say that he’s bringing some prospects
on Sunday,” Albertine said, “and he asked me whether we could do anything
about the wildlife.”
“What have they got against wildlife?” I asked.
THAT NIGHT I read “Photographic Proof,” episode eleven of Dead Air, to a sizable Friday-night crowd (sizable, that is, for the time of year). We’ve learned not to expect much business after Labor Day. However, we had a bigger night than we’d had on the corresponding Friday the year before, and I gave myself credit for it.
HIS EFFORT to make clams as popular as hamburgers and to fill his clam
bar with happy diners, Porky White had posted photographs of smiling patrons,
made innovative contributions to clam cuisine, and changed the name of
the place eleven times, settling at last on Kap’n Klam. None of Porky’s
efforts had succeeded, but he had managed to keep his faith. I was
beginning to lose mine—not in the clam bar, but in flying saucers.
I had been interested in flying saucers for about a year and had allowed
my interest to become belief, but the pictures on the Wall of Happy Diners
were reawakening the skeptic in me.
When I looked at those pictures—which I had taken—I saw people grimacing, or clowning, or surprised, not happy in the way that Porky wanted his diners to be happy, but Porky didn’t seem to see what I saw, and the diners didn’t either, not even when they were looking at their own pictures. I remember the Himmelfarb family walking in one evening and going straight to the wall to find their picture, which I had taken a few days earlier.
Mr. Himmelfarb threw his arm around Mrs. Himmelfarb, drew his children in close to him, and said, “That was a great night, wasn’t it? What a time we had.”
I looked at their picture: in it, they were popeyed and pale, with their mouths full. Then I looked at them, standing there looking at their picture: they were beaming. They gave one another a last hug and shuffled off to a booth to reproduce the happy night they’d had.
Mr. Himmelfarb ran the camera shop in town; if he could be fooled by a photograph—if he, a professional, could allow himself to be fooled by a photograph—anyone could. Shaken by what I’d learned from the Wall of Happy Diners, I spent hours poring over the photographs of flying saucers in the enthusiasts’magazines that I bought, looking for evidence, looking ultimately for proof. The more I looked, the more I saw shots of hubcaps and pie plates. My face fell, as one’s face does when the scales fall from one’s eyes.
“Hey,” said Porky the next time I showed up for work, “Quit moping. We don’t allow moping at Kap’n Klam. This is the Home of Happy Diners, the House of Hopes and Dreams.”
“Yeah, but some dreams are just illusions,” I said. “Like flying saucers.”
“What’s this?” he said. “Doubts? A lot of people have seen flying saucers, remember.”
“A lot of people say they’ve seen them.”
“But there are pictures,” he protested.
“Fakes,” I said. I had to keep myself from looking toward the Wall of Happy Diners.
“Sure. Give me a saucer from back there.” He brought a saucer up from behind the counter. I took it, inverted it, and maneuvered it as if it were flying. “See? A flying saucer.”
“Oh, come on,” he said.
“Come on, nothing. If I threw this up in the air and took a picture, I could say, ëI saw this saucer flying through the air,’and I wouldn’t even be lying.”
He took the saucer from me and maneuvered it as I had. “This wouldn’t look like a flying saucer,” he said. “Not like a real one.”
“Give me the camera,” I said. “We’ll take some pictures—we’ll fake some pictures—and then you’ll have photographic proof that flying saucers are just an illusion.”
“On the contrary,” he said, handing me the camera, “you’ll have photographic proof that the pictures can’t be faked.”
We went outside to the parking lot. Porky stood in front of the entrance to the clam bar, and I moved some distance away. “Ready?” he said, and then before I really was ready he tossed the saucer in my direction. I tried to snap a picture of it. It landed in front of me and broke.
“I don’t think I got it,” I said.
“I’ll get some more saucers,” Porky offered. “This is fun.”
“No, no,” I said. “We can’t afford it.”
“Okay,” he said. “Wait a minute.”
He returned with a handful of clams. “Try this!” he said, and tossed the clams into the air.
“I got it,” I said. “I’m sure I did.”
“I’ll get you some money,” said Porky. “You can take that film to Himmelfarb’s right away.”
Inside, a couple was standing in front of the Wall of Happy Diners, looking at the pictures.
“Hi,” said the man. “Can we get lunch?”
“Yeah, sure,” said Porky, at the register.
“Great,” said the woman. “It looks like people have a good time here.”
There was something in the way she said it, an eager willingness to believe, the hopeful voice of the gullible sucker, that made Porky spin around and stare at her to see if she was kidding. She smiled at him. Porky looked at me. I looked at him. He looked at the Wall of Happy Diners. His face fell, and I knew that the scales were falling from his eyes, that the people he saw pictured there were beginning to look like hubcaps and pie plates. He handed me some money. “Get the rush service,” he said. “I want to get a good look at those.”
CLUCK turned out to be a great fan of calvados. After a few, he threw
his arm across Albertine’s shoulders and said, “Jeez, honey, you know,
this is a great place. I’ve never been so relaxed on a vacation in my adult
life. You know what I’m saying?”
“That you have never been so relaxed on a vacation in your adult life?”
“You got it. That’s it. That’s exactly what I’m trying to say. Usually we go to Saint Barth’s, Saint Kitts, Saint Croix, Saint This, Saint That—the whole family, the whole frigging family, and the kids are happy, happy as clams—did I tell you my granddaughter calls me Grampy Clark but it comes out Grumpy Cluck?”
“No, but I heard it on the radio.”
“You what? Oh, I get it. You heard it on the radio. That’s funny. That is. That’s funny. What was I saying?”
“Everybody’s happy on Saint Barth’s.”
“Yeah. The kids and the grandkids, and my wife. They shop and they—whatever it is they do—vacation stuff. Me, I got nothing to do. I sit there on the beach, I try to read a book or something, all I do is worry about the shop. God, the time is heavy on my hands. I get on the cell phone, call the shop. Jeez, it’s one crisis after another back there, and I’m trying to solve them over the phone. It’s fucking frustrating. By the time I come home, I’m a god-damned wreck. I can’t wait to get back to work, except that I got to fix all the things that went wrong while I was away. But here, here it’s completely different. I haven’t thought about the shop for one minute, not one minute for an entire day and a half. I’m up there on the roof, trying to find those leaks, you know. I go along, see a suspicious spot, I rip up the old shingles, start patching it. That’s all I think about—your roof. And because that’s all I think about, I don’t have anything to worry about. I tell you, it’s—it’s paradise. It’s worry-free here. I’m grateful.” He took a handkerchief out of his pocket and blew his nose. “I’m really grateful,” he said, “for that roof.”
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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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