Saturday, 28 April 2012

HESTER'S HOTEL : Extract from a Short Story


The old man stared at the boy with flowers in his arms, ‘Come in, come in-you shouldn’t have…. thanks.’ The old man placed the flowers on the desk by the wall, above which was a smudged mirror, unremarkable and large, and in the corner a small black television on an extendable bracket. ‘Mum says you’re dying’ the young boy said without emotion. ‘Yes, well your Mum says a lot of things, we all know that’. ‘She said she was there when the doctors told you’. A short silence fell between them.
            ‘I still have a while, so,’ he coughed: a croaking convulsion that threw his head forward into a closed and wrinkled fist. ‘I suppose you’re wondering what your old Granddad has been up to, these last coupla months- what does an old man like myself find to do in these’ he opened his arms wide, gesturing to the shabby room ‘these inspiring quarters’. ‘No, not really’ the boy answered, without looking up. The old man made a short disgruntled noise, half way between awkwardly clearing his throat and starting a wordless sentence. He drew the cheap blinds to reveal a cracked concrete patio.
            The hotel room looked out over a small and parched field, at the end of which ran a nearby and busy motorway. To the left of the hotel was a small garage with two pumps, a small shop and an illogically large car park. The old man was called Hester and he had been living in room 213, of the Hounslow Grange Hotel, for just over a month. His room had oatmeal carpet, fraying near the door and turned up by the patio double doors. Already he had made the bare cell of a room a bizarre testament to his curious enthusiasms.
Scattered around the foot of the bed were three cheap and garish garden gnomes (one with a fishing rod, one with a wheelbarrow and one smoking a pipe on a large red and white mushroom). On the desk were two large oak cabinets. In the first cabinet were a series of stuffed rodents. Taxidermy had been a long-standing trademark oddity of Hester’s. For Will, his grandson and the bearer of the garage flowers, he had fashioned a road-kill squirrel into a tweed suit and glued a deerstalker hat upon its head. The curious ‘Sherlock Squirrel’ was deemed inappropriate as a christening present and besides, at that point Hester was still perfecting his art. This had lent his botch job preservation the amateur look of a malevolent cuddly toy, about to split at the seams.  The assorted gerbils in this particular oak cabinet were far more professional. The scene was meticulously laid out to recreate the JFK assassination, but , of course, with gerbils. History had also been a growing obsession throughout Hester’s life. Piled beside his single bed was a stack of esoteric titles: Blood and the Tsar: Bones of the Peasantry, Osiris and the Starred Ceiling, The Sunflower Battalion, Hitler’s Dog: One Way or Another, The Magic Circle and Necromancy, and, rather incongruously a dog eared copy of Ben Elton’s Dead Famous.
‘I do keep myself busy. I have to, I mean I’m sure you wouldn’t think about that, you have school and, or is it college?’ A brief silence followed, in which Will dutifully ignored the question. ‘But, as you can imagine it can get boring. And, like me, if you know the end is nigh, well, that won’t do will it? Can’t be bored in your last days. No… Come outside, we can sit down.’ He beckoned for Will to follow him; unlocking the patio doors he let the sound of the motorway buzz into the dank room. Slowly hobbling through the blinds and on to the meagre patio (consisting of five slabs of grey concrete, three of which were fissured with weeds) Hester scraped two plastic garden chairs next to each other. Will emerged, squinting in the sunlight and took a chair next to his Granddad.
‘So I listen to music, from 8 till 9 (I get up at 8, I mean often people at my age will rise earlier but I have never been that way inclined) at 9 I walk down to the garage and pick up two Ginsters pasties, a carton of orange juice and an apple. I don’t have a microwave, but often the man at the garage will heat them up, if not, I don’t mind them cold. I return to my room and nap till lunch. I finish lunch around 1:30, after which I stroll beside the motorway looking for dead animals. If I find any, I will spend the afternoon stuffing, or thinking about stuffing said animal. I haven’t been very lucky lately. I normally nap then till evening. Then I’m liable to get drunk and write, I still write a lot, or, if it’s a Friday I go down to wait in the car park. On Friday a coupla locals hang there and I can score. Are you surprised at that?’ Will maintained his habitual silence. ‘Old Hester, your granddad, scores? I take drugs. I mean, I’m on drugs for-well, you know. But these guys bring all sorts. Normally just weed or pills – often had that MDMA stuff. It comes highly recommended. I find myself sometimes staring, sometimes hungry, and sometimes desperately clawing through the T.V. channels for something vaguely pornographic. I won’t order the adult channels. I’m not a sad-case. Seriously.  I tend to think, what would Rose think (if she were here) to see me, drugged up and masturbating to pay per view nonsense, so I don’t. I just search in vain for some paltry bland substitute. Maybe an old film with a topless scene, maybe just a music channel (have you seen those, might as well be…well, they’re best on mute). But there is no need for me to be so sordid. As I said, I’m still writing, still reading, still listening to music and still writing (I said that?) and still here, for now. A lot to be thankful for.’
Will calmly scratched the few hairs that were starting to fluff in pubescent promise on his chin ‘Do you think you’ve lost it Grandad? I mean, it sounds like you’ve lost it.’
‘Lost it? No, I’m embracing it!’
‘I think that’s the same thing.’
‘Well, it really shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be.’
            They both sat staring at the endless stream of traffic that blurred beyond the field. Hester scratched the lime plastic arm of his chair and cleared his throat. Minutes passed, the sun fell behind a cloud and shadows moved across the featureless outside wall of Hester’s room. Looking down beside his feet Will noticed a small graveyard of bottle tops and stubbed out cigarettes. He wondered whether he was bored. Looking at Hester it was hard to feel very much at all. Except perhaps that the large grey shirt he was wearing looked like it should smell, maybe it did, flaring his nostrils he tried to ascertain any unsavoury smells emanating from Hester’s slumped form.

‘I’ll read you a poem!’ Hester exclaimed breaking the silence in a spasm of delight. Wisely not waiting for Will to respond, he struggled out of his chair and disappeared back into the room. Will picked up a bottle top and held it up to the sky. Closing one eye and squinting with the other he moved it in front of the sun. Using the gold beer top to eclipse the sun he held in front of his eye like a gold coin, slowly compressing finger and thumb to bend the metal- he allowed the sunshine to flood back into vision, assaulting his sight with a pageant of purple splodges. He kept staring, mildly hoping he might go blind.
‘Here we go’ Hester emerged clutching a napkin adorned with an angry mess of scrawled bryro crossings out. ‘It’s not that great, still a draft obviously, but I think-’ ‘Just read it’ Will interrupted. ‘You’re right, nothing worse than prevarication. It’s called Miraculous Accident or Check Spam for Details.’ He grinned, waiting for Will to comment on the ingeniously unexpected title. Will of course did not comment. Only slightly disappointed, Hester began:

A poltergeist peal of long dead laughter canned so many, many sitcoms ago.
A sophisticated mouse collapses at the airport, tiny suitcases skid across the marble floor.

To return to the dead laughter: Do you ever think that way about
A morbid profundity, or just perversely wed
To the pessimism
Of what is dead.

‘If it bleeds it leads’ Protects against tooth decay. Ah Muerte! For dinner we are
Relaxing the etiquette. For not every man is a disciple, not every disciple follows
God. I am bored; he spouts the sprocket until colours are without a spectrum:
Each one a tenacious nomad belching for attention. Well, that’s enough. Shake me down.

A Crayola sunset, against which the silhouette of a kite dangling a hooked worm
Seems perhaps inevitable, but no less surprising than its occurrence, if purely
Chance, would have appeared. The always white of a reimagined canvas with
A red feather at its heart.

Don’t leave the hotel. Don’t ever leave the hotel.

His voice ended, the sound of traffic returned. The sun was hidden behind a cloud, its late afternoon rays occasionally breaking through various gaps like pins pushed through a cushion. ‘I’m not sure I liked it’ Will offered, turning to look at Hester in the eyes for the first time.
‘Why not?’
‘It’s sad’
‘Why is it sad?’
‘That you are here, drinking on your own, listening to music, eating garage food, close to death and writing poems that no one will ever read.’
‘Someone might read them’
‘After I die, I want you to publish my writing, I have it all in the bottom draw of the desk- there’s at least a book’s worth.’
‘You serious?’
‘No one will want to read it, why would they? I had no idea what it meant. What does it mean?’
‘What do you mean What does it mean? Did you really just say that?’
Hester stared glumly into the distance, deeply offended, and then, to himself muttered something incoherently. Will could just about make out the words ‘Mother’, ‘Better’ and he thought ‘Margritte’-or it could have been ‘My feet’.


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