Stories

Hotel Angel – Iris Bednarski

He was staring at his suit through the soft plastic film of the dry-cleaning bag. The locker room was empty and still except for the lull of the radio, some ghosts talking. So, a ritual: a few pocket charms laid out neatly before him. Two aspirin, a pack of Camels, and the angel figurine from that peddler by the pier with the weeping smile. These are sacred objects. Struggling to pull the plastic away from his suit he tried to think of something happy.

In the lobby he sat down at the piano and stared at his shirt cuffs, starched raw. He was playing something that didn’t really matter when he saw her. In that moment the curtain raised, the crowd silenced, and the world came to a dizzying stop around her warm body. A gentle glow projected onto her from behind his eyes, with tiny planets of dust and a dancing moth. Beneath the halo her tawny hair was matted wet and she was biting her nails. She looked like the angel in his pocket.

It was the first time in years he wanted to dance. There was that tingling in his spine again and he could feel his blood running slow. He pretended she was next to him at the piano. The image of her in his mind was sketched dull and ugly but her hands appeared perfect. They were white and lithe with polished nails. A crescent shaped scar on the left wrist, tender and translucent, its own fleshy little microcosm. He looked back at her across the lobby. She was sitting now and he was thinking of some music, pale in a memory.

He began to play the best he could, imagining every note the greatest love song with doves and flowers. His hands were tired and worn but he feigned them young again. Joints aching, chest burning, the room went white-hot ablaze. Ivory keys charred black, pedals covered in precious piles of soot. Look at me you beautiful thing you! Then, a reflection in the smooth black fallboard. Someone old and dying. He stopped for a moment, ashamed. The girl was looking at a spot of dirt on the marbled floor by the concierge, still biting her nails.

There was a person in her face that he’d known before. A certain curve when she turned away. He remembered that same curve, callow and new, under the bleachers after the dance. A couple lifetimes ago now but not enough to be forgotten just yet. Some vignettes. One: The dimpled skin on her ribs from that yellow smocked blouse. Two: The sound of her stockings coming up the pine staircase (listen closely). Three: The slow hands in the back of his Chevy Camaro. He sold that car when the engine gave out and with it her phantom body, sunken way down into the leather upholstery.

He was searching for that face within her face when he saw it. Yes, somewhere deep in the whites of her eyes a snowstorm. And when he looked further, deeper, a rose bleeding out red on white. There is a comet passing overhead and it’s shattering into a million little electric stars. Everything is violent blue, covered in moon dust. And that same dust beneath the sand of Bethlehem, on those frozen bodies at Pompeii, is in that pretty girl’s hair.

So when you go to kiss her hard don’t forget that this has all been done before and someone beautiful will love again. But what makes it count is when you stop to blow out the candles and carry her up to bed. And you see that curve turned away. And it becomes so damn holy that nothing else will ever hurt as good again.