Curious, If True
by Elizabeth Gaskell (1860)
(Extract from a letter from Richard Whittingham, Esq.)
You were formerly so much amused at my pride in my descent from that sister of Calvin’s, who married a Whittingham, Dean of Durham, that I doubt if you will be able to enter into the regard for my distinguished relation that has led me to France, in order to examine registers and archives, which, I thought, might enable me to discover collateral descendants of the great reformer, with whom I might call cousins. I shall not tell you of my troubles and adventures in this research; you are not worthy to hear of them; but something so curious befell me one evening last August, that if I had not been perfectly certain I was wide awake, I might have taken it for a dream.
The Hotel Exeter, established 1913 in Utica, New York. If you listen, she’ll share some of her memories — maybe not quite the way you expect.
When a building dreams, it dreams through you.
It took four attempts with her card key before Rachel got the door open. She stumbled into the room, tipsy from the unaccustomed two manhattans and feeling slightly embarrassed about her evening’s behavior. Flirting with another conference attendee! Letting him buy her drinks! Good thing tomorrow would be the last day of the conference.
The conversation had been mostly shop talk — hadn’t it? But not entirely. At least she’d had the sense not to prattle on about how “Young Alex” (that’s what she called him in her mind) was probably about her son’s age. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to run into him tomorrow or not. What if he thought she was some horny cougar?
As she removed her makeup, she scrutinized her reflection. Not too bad: only faint crow’s feet at the eyes; her chin and the skin at her throat were still firm. Her tummy was reasonably flat; her graying hair colored a natural-looking chestnut brown.
“MILF,” she said to the mirror, and giggled.
The Hotel Exeter, established 1913 in Utica, New York. So many things have happened in her rooms. Sometimes, she’ll tell you about them — in her own way.
When a building dreams, it dreams through you.
As Jeff waited for the tub to fill, he cracked open the bottle of Johnny Walker from the courtesy fridge. Why not? He was on expense account. Bottle in hand, he walked back to the bathroom and poured in the packet of bath salts, sipping his whiskey as the flowery, citrusy smell filled the space.The other guys in Sales might laugh if they knew, but a hot bath was Jeff’s victory ritual.
And this one was well deserved; the VP had driven a hard bargain. These small-time companies in out-of-the-way cities were always the hardest: they squeezed all they could from every dollar.
But in the end, the VP had signed. Jeff took a last swig from the bottle, then undressed and got into the tub. The bubbles and foam crackled softly, comfortingly. He closed his eyes and let the warmth seep through his skin….
The Hotel Exeter, established 1913 in Utica, New York. She’s seen a lot of things. Sometimes she dreams about them.
How do buildings dream, you ask? Through the people who dwell in them.
On Friday, Mara signed the divorce papers. On Monday — what would have been their 9th anniversary — she left for a business trip to upstate New York.
Eight hours and three time zones later, she landed in Syracuse. It was 11 PM; the airport was deserted. The man at the car rental desk kept sneaking glances at his watch as he looked up her car. She still had the 50 minute drive to Utica, probably more in this sleety, slushy, frozen rain.
The mattress springs creaked overhead as he awoke and rolled over in bed. The coffee had just finished brewing, but the eggs weren’t done. I turned up the flame and stirred the eggs around in the frying pan even faster, keeping one ear attuned to the rasp of the springs and the creaking of the floorboards.
I grabbed a plate from the cupboard and scooped the eggs on. A gobbet of egg missed the plate and fell to the breakfast tray. Oh, I would hear about that — but no time to deal with it now. Plate on the tray, napkin, fork, knife, coffee cup, coffee. The carafe dribbled as I poured the fresh brew; I mopped the drops off the saucer, and the drips from his cup, then carefully carried the tray up the stairs.
Tom was sitting up in bed, his left hand just about to hit the little silver bell on the bedside table, the kind of bell you sometimes see at the desks of hotels. Tom had been a month in a convalescent home for intensive physical therapy after he’d broken his hip. When he was ready to be discharged, a young aide there had shown me how to buy the bell online. Like many things, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
“Hello?? Oh, hello dear. No, nothing’s wrong. I was just hoping it was Ruth and my grandkids calling. Yes, I’m sure they’ll call soon. You know how busy young people are these days. Uhuh. Well, thank you for thinking of me, I appreciate your call. Bye.”
Today is Marta’s birthday. It’s a big one: she’s turning seventy. All Marta really wants for her birthday is to see her grandkids. She hardly ever sees them, because her daughter, Ruth, is always “too busy” to come visit. She’s also “too busy” to talk on the phone, and she never invites Marta over, either. Marta can count on the fingers of one hand how often she’s seen Ruth’s family in the last few years.
She lives alone, with a cat named Valentino, and a hallucination named Sally.
Aspen are remarkable and unique trees. In fact they are so different that it may be better not to think of aspens as trees. First of all, a stand of aspen is really only one huge organism where the main life force is underground.
Aspis, the aspen’s Greek name, means shield and amongst the Celts its lightweight wood was indeed favoured for making shields. These shields were more than mere physical barriers between warrior and enemy; they were imbued with additional magical, protective qualities to shield the bearer from psychic as well as physical harm.
For a long time, she’d never connected that word on paper with the word as it’s said out loud. When she read it, she’d pronounced it in her mind as “mizzled” — like “puzzled”. So gentle when pronounced that way, like the papery sound of the aspen leaves above her, trembling and shimmering in the breeze.
But the real word: mis-led. Heavy, solid, cold. So fitting to the feeling in her stomach and chest as she sat by the river, re-reading the letter. The letter he hadn’t even left on her desk, merely handed to a library aide, addressed to her. She tore it to bits.
As she released the scraps from her hands, the breeze picked up, ruffling her hair the way her mother used to do to comfort her. The slender trunks of the aspens leaned in the wind, bending down over her head. The leaves rustled harder, like applause. The bits of the letter blew away, following the river. And she cried.
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