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.
It was past midnight by the time she reached the Hotel Exeter. After checking in and reaching her room, she put her bags down, then remembered her phone — still in airplane mode. As she turned the cellular back on, the little service icons blinked to life, and the phone chimed a reminder.
Happy Anniversary! Call S.
Shit. That was still on her calendar? Yes, it had been less than a year since Scott had left to move in with Tracy, Stacy, whoeverthefuck. Damn. She deleted the recurring appointment from her phone with vicious stabs, then chunked the phone back into her purse.
Scott always made fun of her Special Day reminders. Call her sister on her birthday. Buy flowers for Mom on Mother’s Day. But without them, she’d forget, and oh, would everyone be miffed. Why do people make such a big deal about arbitrary squares on the calendar? Show love every day, don’t save it all up for a trumped-up event, that was her philosophy.
What had he said, that last evening?
“You had no idea, did you? I’m not a good liar. All the signs were obvious. And that’s exactly why I’m leaving.”
Her window overlooked the parking lot. With the room lights off, she pulled back the curtains. The frozen droplets, halfway between rain and snow, fell past the glass, down nine stories, tumbling in the glow from the street lamps to land on the roofs of the cars below. Watching the drops fall, her mind wandered back to a December evening, in Nuremburg, a trip she and Scott had taken for their fifth anniversary. Snow falling lightly as they walked hand-in-hand from the brightly lit Christmas market in the evening, stopping in front of the festive display in a shop window to giggle at the adorable glucksswein, “lucky pigs”, made from salami, good luck for Christmas.
Unbidden, tears rolled down her face.
She cried for for half an hour, then forced herself to stop. No use showing up to the client tomorrow (no, today!) with red puffy eyes. After splashing cold water on her face, she crawled into bed.
At first, she dreamt familiar things: of being in college, sitting in a stadium, watching a football game with her roommates. Go Bears! But wait, those weren’t football players, they were — horses. She was at a racetrack, clutching a glucksswein in her hand, squeezing it for luck. Prince Valiant! Go Prince Valiant! She was sweating with anxiety, she felt like she couldn’t breathe. She pulled her tie loose, trying to get some air. Go, Prince Valiant!
At the last minute, Prince Valiant choked, and Number 9 swept past the finish line ahead of him. Damn. She’d been counting on that win, on that money. What would Scott say?
She was in her living room, the night of her last confrontation with Scott, curled up on the couch, bawling. Tracy, Stacy… this had been happening, she’d never known. She’d been too worried he’d figure out how much money she’d lost at the track. Scott looked down on her coolly.
“All the signs were obvious. But you had no idea. And that’s exactly why I’m leaving.”
He walked out the front door, turning to face her one last time before he left. Only it wasn’t Scott.
And suddenly she was in the doorframe, looking back at a woman who wasn’t her. The woman pointed at her with contempt.
“What are waiting for? Get the hell out of here. I never wanna see you again.”
The door slammed behind Mara as she slunk away.
She was at the office, in her boss’s cubicle; her boss standing behind a large wooden desk, wearing an old-fashioned suit. Furious, he slammed a ledger on the desk. Another man stood behind him, stern-faced, arms folded.
“You thought we wouldn’t figure it out? The signs were obvious. And you’re a bad liar.”
Fear choked up Mara’s throat. She could barely get the words out.
“I just needed to borrow it — an emergency. I’ll pay it back!”
“Yes, you will, or I’ll have you put in jail. You’re lucky I don’t call the police on you now. Get out of my sight — for good!”
He turned away. Mara turned towards the door.
Then she found herself in a large room, full of desks occupied by men in white shirts, rolled up sleeves, loosened ties. They avoided her glance as she cleaned out the desk she stood behind.
A heavy suitcase, an old black car. She was driving the road to Utica, in the middle of the night.
She was back in her hotel room, leaning out the open window. It was still night. The streetlights seemed dimmer, and the building across the way had vanished. The air was warm and still; the ground seemed farther away in the dark, the bottom of a fathomless well. At the bottom of the well lay salvation: a passage to a land without pointed fingers or slammed doors or faked ledgers or the threat of police. Just one last plunge….
Suddenly, Mara felt a cold, sharp slap to the face. She opened her eyes and found herself at the open window, one knee already up on the windowsill. The night had gotten colder and the wind had picked up; the drops of frozen rain slammed onto her cheeks like kamikaze pilots, with icy little stabs. Shivering from more than the cold, she eased herself off the windowsill, fastened the window and hurried back to bed, her head buried beneath the blanket.
Top image: Period postcard for the Bancroft Hotel, Worcester, Massachussetts. Source: Wikipedia
The Bancroft was designed by Buffalo, NY architects Esenwein & Johnson and completed in 1912. It is remarkably similar in appearance to the Hotel Utica, built in Utica, NY in 1912, and also designed by Esenwein & Johnson. I spent a lot of time at the Hotel Utica at some point in my working life; I’ve always been fond of it. As far as I know, no one has ever been murdered or committed suicide there.
Glucksswein photo: Nina Zumel