Failing Upwards

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
Charles Avery, a regular at the Riverbank Hotel, must fight his way through eccentric characters to get some much needed rest

Submitted: July 29, 2012

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Submitted: July 29, 2012

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As I walk in, I could already see “Tex” sitting at the concierge desk. He’s in his underpants and a greasy shirt and, for some reason, is wearing a bellhop hat crooked on his head. Perfect. The guy is over 70 years old, owns the place, and yet he will never admit to his outlandish eccentricities.

The door handle rips off as I enter, the wood breaking away from the brass knob as easily as a rusty nail through a foot. I hold it in my hand for a few seconds. My mouth cringes to the right in annoyance. It’s like I was shaking a hand and the owner of it disappeared. I debated for a bit whether to put it back or not. But to put it back was like putting a bullet back in the wound. What was the point? I fumbled to shove it back into the gapping hole and, when I finally had it in, the handle to my briefcase broke and the bag dropped to the ground. I brought my other hand with the briefcase handle still clutched tightly in it to my face.

This place was starting to rub off on me.

This place was a broken, run down, abandoned, no good, filthy, unorthodox pile of rubble.

So why do I still come here?

Easy Answer.

Rent control.

The owner is senile and still charges pennies a night. How he lives on it, I’ll never know. But, geez, finding a place to stay is hard when you’re a loner in Chicago.

The year is 1953.

And it only gets harder from here on out.

My name is Charles Avery. You can call me Charlie.

“Tex” calls me Mr. Bills.

The dope.

It’s so hard to find a decent hotel around these parts. And I had to work my bony butt off to find the most decrepit eyesore just to feel relaxed.

Every day is an adventure trying to get upstairs.

You’ll join me in the madness, won’t you?

Already, as I’m tossing the broken handle away with a grimace on my face, I could hear “Tex” put on the same dang song that he always plays on that heap of a record player of his. Hallway of the mountain king. He always does that when I show up. Aside from the low-lifes, the down-and-outers, the hobos sleeping around the place, I’m the only one who decides to take the adventure of sleeping in a room and trying to reach the top floor of the hotel in order to do it.

In case you couldn’t find this hotel that I’m talking about, it’s in the upper north side, wedged between two black buildings that are on their way to being abandoned as well. “The Rundown” is what we call it. But, back in the old days, this place was known as “The Riverbank Hotel.”

Already the song starts. And the game begins.

Why is this the old man’s only source of entertainment?

“Evening, Tex,” I say out of the side of my mouth as I hook the briefcase under one arm and try not to crunch the rubble under my feet. All of it is from the ceiling. It started to go ever since the new water damage started. Already I could hear the creaking overhead and ducked as a large chunk about the size of a large portrait comes sailing down and crash lands right at the point where I would have been standing.

I shake and quiver, holding my briefcase as if it were my soul ready to float away.

The old bat “Tex” begins to snicker so much that one of his teeth fall out. He picks it up, dusts it off, tries to put it back, fails, then ends it all with a “Shucks! That was a good one, too.”

Now I get my turn to laugh as I shake off the distress and start making my way as before.

“Bathing time!” someone shouts. And before I could get a grip on anything, the hobos go into their routine. Like excited children they gather and line up against the walls. Three or four on each side are carrying mop buckets. With glee they tip them, splashing the water at every angle on the floor.

My new shoes get splashed at all angles. The hobos, with their clothes still on, thank the lord, are diving on the floor, slipping and sliding everywhere. Some crash into each other and laugh in a drunken stupor.

I try not to spin.

Then, miniature ships of green zigzagged past my feet.

“Rodney, over here.” One of them shouts.

I see the man they call Rodney and he seems more than happy to send the green ship on it’s way, flinging it across the slick ground as if it were a rock skipping ripples in a pond. But it didn’t skip me.

Nope.

The green bar of soap somehow wedged under my shoe and I was slipping all over myself.

This brought another chorus of laughter.

With one bar stuck to your shoe, you’d be surprised how much that throws your walking abilities off. I was trying to keep myself calm, but many of the old tramps provoked the silliness even more. One slid over to me and proceeded dancing with me. The nerve.

The bunch of misfits put on a whole show. A mad bunch of hooligans is what they all were.

I shoved him away, losing my balance, dropping my briefcase in the process. Forget it, I told myself. Every man for himself.

I bend and scrap the large, molded chunk of soap of my shoes. Darting here and there, dodging the wistful winos who seem to be caught up in a dance number, I lurch myself to one of the four long staircases leading to upstairs, the stairways of my salvation, my rest.

Glancing behind myself, as I climb, with my hands as much as my feet, I could see below. Suds. Bubbles. Thousands of, big and small, bubbles soiled by tramps. The dancing men are caked in them. But this does not stop them from drinking, lord no. With the floor so slick, they slide the bottles back and forth, laughing to themselves as they make a sport of it. Some even crash into each other, erupting in laughter once again.

I, myself, oh, did you forget me?

Yes, sir, I’m the one trying to escape all this.

I’m halfway up, gaining distance.

Ker-crack!

Not for long, I see.

The sudden lurch brings me to my knees, clutching the railing.

Then, I glance up to see that the wood, old as it is, has finally given it’s last vow of support.

Confound the damn steps!

Now, as I hold on tight, they give at the top, which tells me that I’m going down in a big hurry. In mere seconds I’ll tumble down, soap or no soap, give my leg a good break then wonder if any of these buffoons will phone for a doctor.

The entire staircase tips sideways, veering to the left, leaving me no choice but to grab onto the enormous chandelier. Scurry and spinning, kicking my legs, unable to control my spin. If only Margery could see me now. She would not have believed it. Neither would I.

Thankfully, I conform into a sitting position in the chandelier itself, giving me a bird’s eye view of the chaos unfolding before me. Like Dominoes, the staircases collapse and crack against one another, creating waves as pipes are bursting all over the place.

The chandelier can’t seem to stop it’s spinning and I hold on for dear life. Funny as it may seem, I never had the stomach for merry-go-rounds at the fair and this one seems to be going remarkably fast. It didn’t help matters much that the roof was now joining into, what I can only describe as the bubble bath mayhem below. Streams of roaring water came down and were just as solid as banisters. I should know, the chandelier kept spinning me into them.

And in the midst of this fumble of fate, this theatrical night which grew worse with each desperate climb to the top, though I can’t remember it going this sour this fast, I saw, wiping the water from my face, one of the boys below had found my typewriter and was using it as a poor man’s excuse for a umbrella. But as he brought it up to shield his head from the streams of water coming down, the ink had run and painted his entire abdomen in blue ink. He gagged and whined as he tossed the devil of a thing out of his sight and, as well, out of mine.

Oh, did I not mention I was a writer?

Soaked as I was, I couldn’t help but laugh at his misfortune. In time he would get his laugh as well. The water started to wane but that did not stop the chandelier from spinning or the chain from tightening, making the ceiling very unstable to handle both the weight of my soaking body and the chandelier.

Readily panicked, I tried to change the trajectory of my fall or, by some slim chance, swing myself over to the banister to the floor I was trying to get to.

“Incoming!” I found myself shouting, practically grunting to get my swing to go in a straight line.

Chunks of the ceiling are giving, making the bums dart back and forth in the water.

The record skips, but still charges ahead.

Inch by inch.

Inch by inch I swing to get my room, to get my rest.

Another large chunk falls, a man below narrowly avoids it and somehow it cracks something in the floor, allowing the few feet of water that gathered to drain noisily into a long forgotten drainage system.

Victorious, I clutch onto the banister just as the chandelier gives, spins and crashes into the concierge’s desk, destroying the floor, the desk, the register, the record player and rattling “Tex” something awful. I knew what he would say. To hell with the rest of his furnishings. That was his only copy of that record.

Now fully tired, I lurch myself over the banister, breathing heavily and dizzy from fright. The buzz has died down and some of the bums below have themselves a nervous chuckle to lighten the mood.

My jacket, as I squeeze the coat tails, oozes a combination of water, soap, sweat and I don’t know what.

Exhausted, I shuffle to the door marked 336, pull back the door to see a glowing white mattress awaiting me.

Rest.

All this work. Now rest.

Ding!

I freeze as I hear the sound. I wonder two things at this point. One would be how on earth could the service bell survive the crash, though I could imagine “Tex” carrying that around with him. He always does. Sometimes wears it as a cap. Second, who in their right mind, besides me, would want to check in here?

After hearing a small chorus of wolf whistles, I receive my answer and cringe as I shut my eyes and pull my hand over them as well.

“Mr. Avery!” Tex calls out. “Seems you have a visitor!”

My back curls as I sniff a few drops of water up my nose and turn on my heel to make my way back toward the banister.

I look down and there she is, folks.

Margery.

Her mascara running, it could only mean one thing. She’s sorry about the fight we had and wants me to come home. I turn back to the bed, it still glowed, waiting for me to slop down and forget it all. And it had taken me so much just to make it up here, just to get some rest.

I turn back to my dearly, devoted, caring, loving wife of ten years, two children and a history of fine peach pies and I say, “Can it wait till the morning? I’m really tired.”

She frowns at first, then smirks.

With that smirk, that famous smirk of hers, I know that tonight she’s getting her way and certainly not mine. Not after all the tears she just shed over our silly fight.

“Sorry, Charlie. Time to go.”

Dripping wet, I nod my head.

How the hell am I going to get down?

 


© Copyright 2017 Roberto Scarlato. All rights reserved.

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