The Receptionist, a tall, closely clipped man in his early twenties, stands with his hands planted either side of him on the cherry wood desk, scanning the hall with the proprietary smirk he has developed over the years along with his excellent customer service skills. It is quiet for a Sunday. There is an elderly couple sitting over by the window, studying the drinks menu so closely you would think they were going to be examined rather than asked to place an order. A poor advert for the hotel, he thinks. He must have a word with Gerry about reading the clientele and political steerage vis a vis seating arrangements. And then over in the palm zone, hiding himself amongst the foliage, his business raincoat draped over his business bags, a business man abstractedly tapping a Blackberry on his knee.
A woman appears on the other side of the revolving door. The Receptionist watches as she stands there staring through. Has she not used a revolving door before? This should be good. Although he can see she only has a small holdall – rather masculine, he thinks. Probably her husband’s. Where’s he, then?
As she pushes the door round and makes her way inside, the Receptionist runs a finger down the Expected list and taps it at the likely candidate. Single female, two nights paid, debit rather than credit card. He powers up his welcome smile as she approaches the desk.
The basement steps are dark and steep. The two ambulance technicians pause for a moment at the gateway. The one in front pulls a small torch from his jacket pocket, and slinging the bag over his shoulder with his left hand, lights both their way down with his right, until they find themselves in a little square courtyard, crowded with spilling bins and tangled piles of rubbish.
There is a door standing partially open, but the only light visible around it is from deep inside the flat; there is no hall light, and no sounds of life inside.
The first technician puts his foot out to swing the door fully open, but just as he does so his torch illuminates a policeman coming towards them.
‘Whoa!’ the policeman says, putting his hand up against the beam. The technician lowers it. Then: ‘Great. That was quick. Basically, what we’ve got is a forty something guy, very suicidal. He took some heroin today, a bottle of vodka. He’s emotional but not violent. We wondered if you’d mind coming and having a look, see what you think?’
The technicians follow the policeman into the flat, the diffuse circle of light from the torch playing around the hall floor.
‘Sorry about this,’ the policeman says. ‘He’s only got a lamp in the back room for some reason. It’s a dump, basically.’
Walking along the hallway is like walking through a cored, rotten apple, the air mealy with neglect. At the far end the policeman pushes open a door and shows them into a boxy room sparsely furnished with a low sofa, coffee table and a CD radio combo on the floor. The kitchenette that adjoins the room is as chaotic as the bins in the courtyard; in fact, it would be difficult to chose which one would be the safer place to prepare food. Lit as it is by a single standard lamp, the room is a vision of inhumanity. The shadows that rear up from every surface seem more an expression of shock than light.
In the middle of the room there is a man standing, sucking on a tiny, hand rolled cigarette. A powerfully built man, standing rooted in his big black boots, wearing a combat jacket with bulging pockets, at first glance he seems like a workman taking a break. But his mouth is pulled down by the gravity of something lost, and his eyes are rimmed with exhaustion.
‘Welcome to the Excelsior, Mrs Plunknett. I do hope you have a pleasant stay. Of course, if you have any questions about the hotel, its services or facilities, or indeed any aspect of your stay with us here today, do please let the desk know, either by using the little white phone in your room or indeed asking down here directly. There’s also lots we can help you with regarding the town, places to go, what’s hot and what’s not…’
The Receptionist nods forward and raises his eyebrows at this point, implying that they both know that what is hot is not at the top of Mrs Plunknett’s agenda. She smiles in a heavy-faced manner. Some people. He remembers with a shudder what it was like when he was holiday rep at that resort, chivvying along the cow-like hordes.
‘O-kay. Breakfast is from half past seven until nine thirty. Between then and throughout the day you’ll find a wide selection of snacks – healthy or otherwise – available from Gerry, our wonderful Bar manager. Gerry’s ham baguettes are world class - and his Banana Daiquiris aren’t bad, either.’
The Receptionist smiles. If it was an attractive woman the other side of the counter, he would say Screaming Orgasm. He is a professional, though. He understands the need for tact.
‘The Silver Leaf Restaurant is open from six thirty with a full a la carte service. I recommend the Fruits de Mer. I would also recommend an early booking, though – particularly today, Mother’s Day … ‘
That was a risk, though. He studies her face to see how she took it. Was she a mother? She was old enough, but what did that mean? He hopes she isn’t here to bury any of her brood. These things happen. He ought to be more careful.
He waits for her to say something. Again she comes back with a lumpy smile.
‘I’m sure you must be very tired and ready to jump in the shower. I see you’ve come from…’ He makes a show of reading her booking entry, but the woman says: ‘Liverpool’
‘Ah – Liverpool.’ He struggles to think of something to say. ‘That’s – a long way.’
‘Yes it is. Thanks.’ She sweeps the room card from the desk and walks off across the lobby towards the lifts. He studies her as she goes, but whilst she waits for a lift to descend she unexpectedly turns to look back in his direction. He lowers his eyes and pretends to be reading something, and when he looks up again she has gone.
Richard is sitting on the forward ambulance chair, staring down at his hands as the fingers pick and work at each other.
‘I’ve had enough,’ he says. ‘I’m forty five years old and I’m finished. I just don’t have the energy to carry on. I’d kill myself, but on top of everything else I’m a coward. I can’t even do that right.’
He has been clean of heroin for seven years. He took some training, learned carpentry. Got himself some tools and a job first fixing, got himself a nice little place – not this one. But then work started drying up, he fell in with the old crowd. Took a hit and it all started up again. Today he tried to kill himself with an OD and a bottle of vodka, but incredibly, woke up to hear someone banging on the door.
‘I thought I’d taken enough,’ he says. ‘What have I got to do?’ He looks at the two ambulance people as if they are representatives from an alien civilisation he has no connection with.
‘Throw myself off something, I suppose,’ he says. ‘But how do you do that? Jesus – what a fuck up.’
‘Who called the police?’
‘My mum. She got me on the mobile. She said she was going to come down and see me. From Liverpool. And she’s not well. I’ve fucked her life up and I just keep doing it. I’m no good. Just let me go, guys. I’ll take myself away and no one need ever know.’
The technicians talk to him some more, persuade him to go with them to the hospital to talk to someone there. One last chance. For his mother’s sake if no-one else.
‘I’ll go. But there’s nothing anyone can do. And I don’t want to see my Mum,’ he says. ‘I couldn’t bear it.’
The policeman says he will contact the mother at the hotel and at least let her know that Richard is safe, in the hospital, but doesn’t want to see her just yet.
‘I just don’t have the energy to start over,’ he says.
He looks at the technician, sitting there with his clipboard spread across his knees, surrounded by equipment, light and direction.
‘I just don’t have the energy,’ he says.
I'm a long time reader, but don't post in the comments. I just wanted to say how powerful that was - absolutely amazing writing. Thank you.
Thanks very much for your lovely comment - and for reading the blog all this time!
"Walking along the hallway is like walking through a cored, rotten apple, the air mealy with neglect."
Just one of several excellent, evocative metaphors, Spence. This is an excellent story, made all the more touching through the mix of truth and fiction. So sad, and yet so real. I get the feeling that by writing about these people, few of whom you'll ever see or hear of again, you're dealing with your own devils in a healthy, cathartic manner. And by sharing your stories with the world at large, you're helping us all. Nice job. What a talent.
Wren - Thanks so much for that!
Writing this blog does help make me feel better about the job. I think there is a danger that I'll get worn down turning out again and again to variations on a theme of misfortune and loss.
The thing that gets me most is the feeling that for each of these situations - and there are so many of them - no-one will know, and the facts of the event will pass away largely unremarked and unwitnessed.
I don't know. That sounds as if I'm setting myself up as some kind of witness. And it's not really that. You're right - it is primarily for me that I'm putting these things down. I don't feel so bad if I get something on paper. And if someone comments on that, it opens the thing out, and makes it feel less confined, less of an emotional dead-end.
Writing these posts is definitely cathartic. I suppose if I was religious I would go somewhere and pray. As it is, the best I can do is write the jobs up as I experience them, and see what I'm left with.
Thanks again for your lovely comment, Wren
Absolutely wonderful writing Spence. The images are so compassionately described, I am drawn in more than by many novels. Keep up the good work, on all fronts.
Thanks Katharine! :) x
I am amazed. Your writing is fluid, colorful and packed with the emotion of those you are protraying. Good job and please, keep it up.
Thanks v much Bernice! :)
I wait until I have more than a moment to read your posts. They are worth waiting for.
"Writing this blog does help make me feel better about the job. I think there is a danger that I'll get worn down turning out again and again to variations on a theme of misfortune and loss."
I understand your concern. Some days I try to remember whet even one of my patients looked like and come up empty. Whenever I find somebody to write about, however, I can always recall their face. Our blogs keep us connected, I guess.
It's the same with me. I find keeping the blog helps me remember the specifics of all those jobs, and it does feel like a connection. It's easy to get numbed by it all, and reduce some of these things to hard-boiled little anecdotes.
(Loving your book, btw! I'll drop you a line when I've finished it.)
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