Penny Wonderfuls

I take liberties with reality.
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A Rumour of Midnight: The Work Begins

The great work of Mr. Glass began when none of us knew his name or where he came from, and it was heralded by hardly a murmur. In the same way that any empty lot in a city may overnight grow the ragged skeleton of a suddenly-bustling construction site, so did the Hotel Bellevieux–abandoned now for decades and hitherto utterly untouched in its decrepitude–without warning one Monday play host to the scurrying activities of bizarrely-clad construction workers. We were, immediately, entirely enchanted. 

The trucks in which they arrived and the robust machinery they brought with them did not bear the logo of any local firm or company, and in their hurried movements–so very unlike those of the construction workers to whom we were accustomed–they spoke to nobody. They ignored our greetings, or, more horribly, stared us down when any of us dared to approach them and ask questions about their activities. We were rebuffed time and time again by those cold and dispassionate eyes, eyes that told us they meant us no ill will, and yet that they had absolutely no time for us nonetheless. By the time the scaffolding went up—draped in heavy, dark maroon sheeting stretched taut, in what would later be hearkened back to as deliberate foreshadowing—rumours about the purpose of the construction crews were being traded with febrile intensity. 

At first, it was assumed that some wealthy yet run-of-the-mill businessman had decided to refurbish the old hotel and return it to its former modest glory as a comfortable, if not exactly luxurious, establishment. We knew, from that collective memory of gossip that somehow is passed down over the years like a communal heirloom, that inside the place had been left to dust and mold for decades when, one day, the staff had apparently simply walked out. Nothing had been taken: beds were still made, dishes were stacked in cupboards in the kitchens, the once-glittering banquet halls withered in silent decay with the tables still laid as though expecting guests. All the riches of the place were left unmolested, with even the most down-on-their-luck burglars cowing to the power of superstition regarding the mysterious circumstances of the place’s abandonment. 

In truth, as far as we knew, almost nobody had gone inside since the last concierge had exited the hotel behind the litany of staff and locked the front doors behind him, as if closing up for the season were something an urban hotel might do. One or two bold souls had peeked in windows, and Harriett Lane swore her grandmother Sarah had once gone inside; but these minimal investigations were all that we had. Everything we thought we knew was based on the momentary glimpses of the quietly-dissolving interior of that old and crumbling hotel. Really, we had to admit, we knew nothing about it at all. 

Sunday

He dresses for church in a houndstooth jacket and brown slacks and he ties a tie the way she showed him how–half Windsor, he never got the hang of the full. He sits down in the kitchen after making their coffee. He tells her about the dream he half-remembers.

He stands to leave but the rest of him is still sitting. Then he blinks, perhaps, and she is there, standing from her chair, too. She takes his hand, and she smiles, and his eyes begin to blur.

For of course, she was there, all along, just waiting for him to catch up. 

Saturday

He goes for a walk in the neighbourhood with its tree-curtained houses and somnolent lawns. Where the forget-me-nots grow in the shade he scoops up fistfuls and twists off the roots and when he gets home he puts them in a vase on the kitchen table. He tells her about their neighbours. He leaves out the ones who have forgotten her. 

Friday

He reads aloud her favourite poems–Whitman and Browning and Ginsberg–to the purple night air and he whispers a kiss at the end of every stanza. The pages are cracked, but his voice never wavers. 

Thursday

He takes down from the shelves and the dressers and the mantelpieces all of the photographs that show her face. With steady hands he places his favourites in a slim album. He reads each one like a novel. 

Wednesday

He makes too much coffee every time. He pours two mugs full and he sets them down on the clear vinyl table cloth that makes that sticky sound when anything touches it. He talks to her chair. He’s doing alright.

Tuesday

He goes through the closet and touches her dresses as though afraid they might dissolve. Without a tear he boxes them up, finally. He labels the boxes with her name, as though she might need to find them, even now. 

Monday

He finds in a drawer the locket she gave him and the vulnerable curl of hair kept inside. It smells like dust and dried roses and the weight of two decades spent without her. 

June Arrives

Perhaps she moved faster than she thought, or it was not as far as it had seemed, but June came upon the city almost suddenly. She walked the hot road all day while at her back the deep shadow of the clouds ruminated and kept pace with her steady feet. She enjoyed the company.

Ahead of her and reaching higher all the time the sterling spires and cold, glamorous glass of the city shimmered like a desert vision as she traversed the intervening landscapes. She frightened motorists when she walked across a long, squat bridge over a river that surrounded and seemed to hug the metropolis like a covetous lover; the urban fringes of the place sprung up around her, bringing the noise and the smell of metal and concrete and bodies and fumes. She stared down the approaching skyline, and clenched her hands as if she could gather the fresh air and pull it along with her. 

June felt new. Where she walked on the pavement she left riots of chaotic growth in her wake, zigzags of forget-me-nots and goldenrod grasping at her feet as they lifted from the hitherto bare and stony edges of the road and began to crowd inward. Birds tumbled in flurries from the air in mad rushes to be near her and fat, furry bees came to burrow in the locks and curls of her hair. She walked on.

The road struck deep into the heart of the city, and she followed it toward what felt like its throbbing heart. Somehow, for all that she was so brilliantly heralded, she went entirely unnoticed, nothing more than a vision perhaps, a mirage of the macadam. Nonetheless, she walked on bare feet deeper into those new and wild streets, to the calling of birds and the humming of bees and the snap and hush of her white dress around her knees. She breathed the breath of the storm that laughed its anticipation above.

With flowers splitting the concrete behind her in swaths of sudden colour and with thunder at her heels, June came to the city. 

June

Before

June On the Road

June went back through the house, not looking for Mr. Glass, who must have still been asleep. She did not want to see him before she left; he would just sour her mood, turn her gladness into irritation. As she passed the kitchen table, she ran her palm across its surface, and where she touched the wood it rippled and split, and new branches like grasping hands reached up, budded and leafed and grew heavy with acorns in the span of a breath. Even after she left the room, the wood groaned with newly remembered life, and she knew it would be some time before it stopped, and that made her smile.

At the threshold of the house, she paused to look to the road again and watch the movement of the oncoming storm. It seemed, like her, to be in no particular hurry.

Before she stepped out she glanced down at the stone slab below the door. Perfectly stamped upon the pale grey she found two pristine footprints in red, in her blood; around them the rock already was cracking, being unmade before her eyes by the strange ineluctable strength of the flowers pushing themselves through. June stepped over the stone and primly onto the gravel, her bandaged feet already tougher for the pain of having healed. She glided over the stones as she headed out to the road, to race the storm to the City.

June

Before