by Marcia Mascolini
Mary Rossi leaned against the front desk of the 36-star Grand Festival Hotel while the registration clerk delivered the awful news to the bejeweled elderly lady in front of her. Mary glanced at Mrs. Davis' suit. It had had silk, dry-clean only, sewn by Donna Karan's own fingers, written all over it.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Davis, we never received your reservation, and the hotel is full," the clerk said.
He cowered behind the desk while Mrs. Davis loomed over him.
"You knew I was coming to this festival. I always come to this festival. I've been coming to this for the last 24 years." Mrs. Davis responded.
The clerk, pale in his brown uniform, clacked the keys of the computer in front of him, then said in a wispy voice,
"Ma'am, the Grand will be happy to put you up at our downtown facility. The hotel van will. . . . "
"You expect me to stay in the city in this sweltering heat? I have every right to stay here. My contributions have underwritten this festival. Furthermore, my patronage of this hotel has provided you with a job."
The clerk looked as if his job was the last thing he wanted, Mary thought. She pulled herself up to her full five feet, three inches, and besotted by Mrs. Davis' jewelry, clothes, and perfume, impulsively butted in:
“I have a private room, a large one with two queen-sized beds and two bathrooms. You could bunk in with me tonight until a private room is available."
"'Bunk in' with you?" Mrs. Davis' shock was palpable, but she caught her tongue in good time. "Well, I suppose it's better than the city." She could not forebear torturing the clerk further, however. "Your manager will hear of this. Mark my words. Someone will pay for this inconvenience."
As with all good deeds, Mary rued hers the second after she had done it. The music festival was her thing, too, though her contribution barely caused an upward tick in the giant thermometer that measured gift giving. She wondered what had gotten into her. Mrs. Davis was not the sort of person with whom she'd normally share a room. Mrs. Davis’ grandfather had invented the blender and made a fortune. Mary’s grandfather was a fireman and saved lives.
Mrs. Davis led the way to the room, striding swiftly on her long legs. Mary felt like a lap dog trying to keep up. When they reached the room, Mary hung her few things in her closet and disposed of the rest in a dresser. Then she did as her grandfather had taught her.
“I’m just going to step outside to check the exits."
Mrs. Davis stared at her as if she'd gone mad.
When she re-entered the room, Mrs. Davis stood fretfully over her luggage, as if she expected it to unpack itself. Did she usually travel with a maid, Mary wondered?
“I’m going to the exhibition of Chapungu sculpture on the grounds. Some of the sculptors are here from Zimbabwe to demonstrate their special carving techniques too.” Mary threw Mrs. Davis an unanswered wave as she left the room.
Elegantly rendered, the sculptures told the story of the Shona people. Mary watched a sculptor bring the eyes of a woman out of the stone. She studied other half-finished sculptures too. She imagined they were living beings, emerging from the stone.
Mary returned to the room reluctantly to prepare for dinner. When she opened the door, Mrs. Davis was staring at her bed.
“What am I supposed to do about this?” she asked. Mary looked at the wrinkled sheets.
"You could pull up the sheet and straighten the covers. It won't take much fixing," Mary said.
“You don’t expect me to sleep on used sheets, do you?”
“You can call Housekeeping and ask for new sheets,” Mary said.
Mary escaped to the shower and then to dinner where she sat with two widows of modest means, music lovers like herself.
“Why ever did you invite Isabelle Davis to share your room?” one of them asked.
“I felt kind of sorry for her. It just popped out of my mouth,” Mary said.
They laughed immoderately at her response.
“Isabelle Davis has been a spoiled brat all her life, and I’ve known her for donkey’s years.”
“Does Mrs. Davis usually travel with a maid?” Mary asked.
This produced further gales of laughter.
“Her husband usually accompanies her though every now and then he comes down with a mysterious illness that keeps him home. It usually strikes when she's doing one of her charities. He becomes slightly paralyzed, but not so much as to keep him from his wine cellar. I think I'll order filet mignon."
Dinner was extravagant and delicious. The concert they heard afterwards was splendid. The pianist approached Mozart’s Piano Concerto intuitively. His playing was elegant. Mary thought of a few lines to open a discussion of the performance with Mrs. Davis to fill the minutes before bed.
“Pelletier brought fresh insights into Mozart’s piece, didn’t you think?” Mary asked later.
“He didn’t play loud enough. I couldn’t hear a thing.” Mrs. Davis stomped off to the bathroom from which she re-emerged in a state:
“My soap has been used!”
Burglars? Then Mary realized Mrs. Davis didn’t re-use soap any more than she re-used sheets. She thought better of suggesting Housekeeping again.
“Perhaps you can think of this experience as roughing it?”
Mrs. Davis sniffed. A few minutes later, she got into bed and turned up the television.
“I suffer from insomnia. I always go to sleep with the television on.”
Within minutes, Mrs. Davis was snoring. Mary lay awake, tuning out both her roommate and the TV to relive every note of the concert. About 3 a.m., she thought she smelled smoke. When the smoke smelled stronger, she tiptoed to the door, opened it a crack, and closed it instantly. The hall was full of smoke. The fire alarm sounded.
Mary tried to wake Mrs. Davis who fought her off. Finally she screamed in her ear:
“You must wake up. The hotel is on fire.”
Mrs. Davis stumbled out of bed. Mary threw a bathrobe over her and led her to the nearest exit. The stairwell was smoke free. They easily made their way to safety where they learned that the smoke was from an oven fire in the hotel’s kitchen. It was quickly extinguished and danger to guests had been negligible.
“You woke me up for that?” Mrs. Davis’ glare offered to turn Mary to stone.
Mary reminded herself that she too was roughing it. When they finally got back to the room, she shut off the television, turned away from Mrs. Davis’s side of the room, and got a solid two hours’ sleep before breakfast.
After years of teaching business writing, Marcia Mascolini retired to write fiction in Portage, MI. Her stories have appeared in Retrozine, the Green Tricycle, Naked Humorists, Newtopia, and other journals. Contact Marcia.