COLLOQUIA RENTS A ROOM
The peeling sign over the otherwise anonymous, pee-stained doorway on Clerk Street said HOTEL YESTERDAY. Underneath it read, “Our motto: Let’s get tomor.”
The few patrons Hotel Yesterday managed to attract were oblivious to the motto. Today was different.
“What’s with the sign? Let’s get a tumor?” the well-dressed young man asked jovially.
Colloquia was perched on a stool behind the hotel’s front counter, her wildly coiffed auburn hair barely an inch away from her smoldering Camel.
“The row fell off,” she replied without looking up. Muffled, like a dog barking through a wall, she heard a train whistle.
“Sorry?” he said indicating lack of understanding.
“Don’t be sorry. What do you want?”
“I’d like a room.”
“To sleep in, of course. Isn’t that why people rent rooms?”
Colloquia looked up from her magazine and scanned the handsome man before her. “Sometimes,” she said. “Will you be sleeping alone?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so.”
“Don’t be afraid,” Colloquia said. “However, unluckily for you, we are full up.”
If you counted the imaginary people she had written in the hotel registry herself that day then, technically, they were full up. Since all but one of those people was an illusion, there was plenty of room at the inn.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
The acrid smell of burning hair wafted through the small, dark lobby as Colloquia inadvertently touched her hair with her cigarette. She casually pinched away the ember as if it happened every few minutes. She looked into the young man’s rich brown eyes, smiled and licked her lips.
He was young. His skin was clear and clean, his eyelashes long and curved, his eyes tucked under thick black eyebrows. His lips always remembered to return to their soft sensual swoop after he spoke.
“Am I sure?” Colloquia quizzed herself. She pursed her lips and looked off into the corner of the room like some old movie star, her eyes remembering the shape and sheen of the last man she had seen naked. When she turned back to look at him, he was naked, the grimy door behind him framing his firm flesh. She blinked and he was clothed again.
Increasingly nervous under the gaze of the enigmatic woman behind the counter, the young man rocked nervously from foot to foot.
“We’ve just had a cancellation.”
His body relaxed and a smile cracked his fine-boned features. “Oh, good,” his voice full of relief.
With a deft movement of her garishly manicured fingers Colloquia spun a registration card toward the young man. “Why is it so important you stay here?”
He muttered the way people do when they are writing, especially writing personal information they want to get correct, or not. He wrote Clark as his first name.
“My father always stayed here when he traveled to the city on business about 20 years back. He often talked about Hotel Yesterday.”
“Really!” Colloquia was surprised. “What did he say about Hotel Yesterday?”
She watched closely as he wrote his last name. Chambers.
“He would tell me about the luxurious rooms and the lavish meals in your dining room. About the celebrities that he hobnobbed with in your elegant bar and…”
As he spoke, he realized there was none of this in Hotel Yesterday and, by its sheer sagginess, there never had been anything even remotely close to luxury here. His voice dwindled into uncertainty and his handsome face twisted into confusion.
Chambers! Chambers! Chambers! In disbelief, Colloquia tumbled the name over and over in her mind. She butted her Camel into an overflowing ashtray and immediately lit another to dangle precariously close to her hair.
“What was his first name?” she asked.
“Huh? Oh, Roy. Roy Chambers. Best damn fly fisherman in ten counties. Or so he’d tell you. He’d say to Mom, “Going to do a little angling honey” and off he’d go with all his fishing gear to satisfy his urges.”
Colloquia had been familiar with Roy Chambers’ urges.
Registration card filled out, wallet in hand, Clark asked, “How much for one night?”
“Twenty.” She folded his money into her palm and held it there for a long silent moment, her eyes half-shut, trying to divine what she could from the residue of the man’s energy left on his money. This made Clark increasingly uncomfortable.
He jumped when she suddenly asked, “Is Roy Chambers your blood father?”
“My blood father?”
“Your biological father?”
“Yes, as far as I know he was. Dad passed away a few years ago. Why?” He was thinking now she’s getting more than a little creepy.
“I knew your father. He never caught a fish in his life. He meant a different kind of fly. Fly-fishing was his euphemism for getting plenty of sex. And this is where he brought his women.”
“What?” The look of astonishment on Clark’s face could not have been more complete or sincere.
“Did he ever bring home any of the fish he caught?”
The question burned a hole in Clark’s soul. “He said he always threw them back, that he didn’t fish to eat, he fished to…” Again, his words died in mid-sentence.
“And how come he never brought back any fishing equipment?”
“Dad always said he kept it at the lodge.”
“The lodge! The lodge! Hah! Come with me,” said Colloquia.
She carefully stepped off the stool and, with a few feeble, difficult leverages, straightened herself, making Clark wonder how old she was.
In fact, the stool had been her perch for the last sixty-five years. Colloquia started to help at the hotel when Harvey got sick and had to stay home. She was fresh out of high school. Her and her mother Angel ran the place spick and span. Then Angel suddenly died, leaving her to care for an ailing father and a rundown hotel. Harvey didn’t live long after Angel died. That’s when Colloquia ascended the stool behind the front desk and presided over the slow deterioration of Hotel Yesterday.
Her advanced age apparent in her slow gait, Colloquia shuffled down a hallway leading to the back of the hotel. The carpet was worn bare in patches and the lights made either a low ominous hum or sporadic crackling noises as they flickered.
“Where are we going?” Clark asked, unsure if he should follow the old woman any further. “Can I just get my room?”
“I’m taking you to your room,” she said a little impatiently.
At a brown door with an old brass number 9 hanging by one nail, Colloquia stopped and fished a large key out of her pocket. She opened the door and reached inside to flick the switch. The room filled with a wowing sound and the overhead light burst into a blinding flash that receded into a pulsating glow covering the entire ceiling.
“Welcome to the lodge,” she said waving her thin arm in a gracious welcoming gesture as she bowed ever so slightly. Clark stepped into the room. With sudden and surprising agility Colloquia moved quickly past him, loudly clicked her long fingernails on the wooden door and said, “Ring if you need anything.”
Scanning his room, Clark Chambers blinked in amazement. The décor, if that was the proper word, consisted of every conceivable kind of fly-fishing gear. Stacked in piles in corners, covering the top of the bureau and the table, leaning against the chair was enough fishing gear to fill a dozen catalogues. Tackle, fishing line, rods, reels, hip waders, rattan creels, every tool needed to outsmart a fish cluttered the room. The bed was an impenetrable thicket of rods and reels, twisted together with tangled fishing line everywhere. He stood astonished and confused.
Clark picked up one of the rod and reels leaning against the back of the chair. On its handle was a small brass plaque, elegantly engraved. It read, “To Roy with Love from Erma. Fish On!” He remembered the Christmas his mother gave this one to his dad. She gave him fishing gear every year but this year was special. It was the year of the promotion when Roy got to travel most all the time. A thick tear rolled over the apple of Clark’s cheek.
Colloquia slowly remounted her stool in the dank lobby of Hotel Yesterday, arranged her arthritic knees as comfortably as possible on its rungs and lit a Camel. She clicked her nails on the counter, turned the page of her magazine and hummed the old Elizabeth Cotten tune Freight Train.