People had been trying to shut down the hotel since the early Protestant work ethic showed up and told everybody how to run their businesses. Prostitutes and poker had to be moved to the basement, to the attic, at least during daytime. Ash’s Great-Grandmother stepped in to partner her husband around 1890, and the pictures show her as a ghost of a woman. Technically, she was also my mother’s Great-Aunt. Great-Aunt and Great-Grandfather counting money in the back while a smoky hallway of people laughed and the night went on.
I wonder about Karma and wonder if the wives of the men coming from the whores at the hotel woke up in Syphilitic sweats, paying for their husbands’ good time.
The diner, next door to the hotel, is a train car. Ash’s Great-Grandfather opened it as an extension of the hotel. It’s a stop on those tours some historians give when talking about Prohibition. Gramps had a side line in the basement, as a bootlegger, cooking up whiskey and Pimm’s No. 2 Cup. I’ve been in the basement but don’t remember much because a five pound drum of Canola oil fell on my head. When I came around they kept asking, “Gracie, how many fingers? Gracie! How many?”
“The middle’s the only one that counts,” they say I answered.
Now the hotel is where Ash’s mother lives, alone, and man is she mean. The old coot makes Ash wait on her hand and foot. Like he didn’t have enough to do in the diner. It’s ‘Ash!’ this, ‘Ash!’ that, to the point that he hates his name and has asked me to call him Declan. ‘Ash!’ She sounds like an old egret, and resembles one too, apart from the pearls and emeralds on every finger; her hands are twisted like a tree branch on Halloween. Ash moved into the storage space above the diner in the train car and turned it into a little one bedroom apartment just to get away from her. Some people have to sleep in grease to miss their mothers, I guess.
Ash reminds me of a merman. He has black hair that floats like seaweed floating down the Cape after a thunderstorm, grey eyes like tornadoes. Tornadoes sucking me up. For the record, he’s never been anywhere, done anything or seen anything; he’s never talked to anybody not like us.
We go over to the diner because Ash technically is the owner of the dump and we can eat for free. Covered in grease and rain, we hop onto the bar-stools and he puts his arm around me and I remember what safe feels like, though I’d never admit that to anyone. His mother, the old coot, is wearing the dumbest apron I’ve ever seen, the thing must be 100 years old and rotting off her hips and she throws a stack of napkins before us and says, “Gracie, don’t bring that sour face to my table.”
I’m thumbing the napkins and Ash is wringing out his red bandana when Clay walks in with a trail of booze floating behind him and doesn’t acknowledge anybody. He reaches behind the bar counter for a plastic pint glass and walks right back out while the sleigh bells attached to the door chime. He raises his hands above his head and stands in the parking lot outside the diner. In the grey air he looks like a silhouette somebody would needlepoint. He straightens his arms and holds the glass out like he’s trying to catch rain in it.
“God,” Ash says, and goes out after him, hugging him from behind, trying to pull him in. Everyone else in the diner is on their knees in the booths, hanging onto the window ledge, pointing, laughing hysterically, laughing like fools, laughing at the wrong thing.About the author:
Nicolle Elizabeth is forthcoming in Best American Women’s Travel Writing 2011 and is the author of Read This Sh*t Out Loud, which is anthology of her older and newer flash fiction pieces. She is a National Book Critics’ Circle Member and contributor to Words Without Borders, the Brooklyn Rail, the Rumpus and other fine publications. She blog here: http://glassatlassassafras.blogspot.com/ and is happy to have this bit of her in-progress novel included in the greatest of greats, which is Word Riot.