Casa Del Alma
Casa Del Alma
Jose Serrano Pasqual
Martin Vansant was, when the last bridge passed away and he was finally on Key West, relieved. The three hours that had been estimated for the drive from Florida City to Key West was in his opinion, unreasonably optimistic. It had failed to account for the long wait to get gas, his wife’s extended breaks to fight back the sense of impending doom and the numerous bottle necks that occurred at little intersections, on bridges and various other strictures that seemed to constantly threaten to choke off the flow of traffic altogether. There was also that very difficult period when Patricia had become silent and stared intently at the long stretches of broken roads and bridge works that paralleled the road they were traveling. Martin could feel his wife’s mind going somewhere else, or at least somewhere different from her usual fears. While she was silent during these periods and her body seemed relieved of the coiling tension which he associated with nearly all of their travels, there was also the sense that where she had gone was not a peaceful place. She seemed to return to herself when they arrived on the Keys, where the parallel roads would momentarily disappear from view. Her returns had been what prompted the stops as her normal fears returned with a profound sense of doom.
Odd though this was, Martin’s own contemplations of the phenomenon receded as he merged into the frenetic traffic of Key West and felt a sense of irritation as his reservations were taking him to the North East corner of the Key. In his own mind, back in his office when he planned the trip, it was a small sacrifice to pass on a hotel at the end of Duval Street for something a little more quiet and affordable a few miles away. But now, having suffered through the arduous trip down he found he resented those remaining miles that stood between him and Duval Street.
Turning sharply to the left, across the two lanes of east bound traffic, Dr. Martin Vansant brought his Cadillac to a halt before the check-in entrance of the Casa Del Alma. It was, upon reflection, largely indistinguishable from the hotels on either side of it. Martin could not, even on a dare, estimate the year of its construction or of its last renovation, except to say that it could not have been more than two to four years different from the adjacent hotels. The light pink, yellow and blue of the stucco finish of the seven story building matched the blue and pink sign that hung at the end of the entrance arch. Martin saw several odd white strokes that appeared on the sign over parts of the letters and made a mental note to inquire about that should the opportunity present itself.
“I’m going to check in,” Martin announced to Patricia.
She continued to sit quietly with her eyes closed, pushing back what was probably a headache or travel sickness.
Martin looked at his wife. “Are you going to come with me?”
“No,” Patricia announced, “You get the keys. I’ll wait until you get back.”
“I’ll be quick,” he promised, for no reason he could think of.
Walking into the lobby, Martin realized much of what he said to Patricia was strictly out of habit. The courtesies, the inquiries, the entire thing was laughable he thought. There was nothing he could say to her that he didn’t already know the answer to. There was no event he could not predict her response to. But he continued to do this and he had no idea why.
“Welcome to the Casa Del Alma,” a young female voice greeted him as he entered the lobby.
Martin’s eyes swiveled up to the reception desk and alighted on the tall narrow form of a young woman, whose badge announced she was “Ada” and welcomed you to the Casa Del Alma. Again, Martin noted a peculiar alteration in the Casa Del Alma logo.
“Hi,” he answered as he fumbled for the bit of folded paper he had wedged into his billfold that morning. “Um, I am Martin Vansant, checking in…”
The paper fell to the floor and Martin stooped to pick it up.
“Yes, Dr. Vansant, I show you’re staying with us for the week,” the young woman said with an efficient enthusiasm Martin had not heard for several decades.
He also was certain he had heard a slight accent, “Yes, that’s correct,” he hesitated.
“I have you in a non-smoking, ocean view suite on the fourth floor,” Ada read from the screen.
Martin looked at the long, narrow facial features that seemed a bit too symmetrical, the dark green eyes and the not quite shoulder length hair that hung straight down falling just above the well starched collar of her blue blouse.
“That is perfect,” Martin smiled, “Miss, if I might ask, where are you from…originally? I note a very slight accent.”
“I lived in Boston for a few years,” she smiled.
Martin’s face clouded over at this information. “I’m sorry, I thought I heard a Spanish accent of some sort.” Martin found himself blushing, “Or at least some romance language,” he retreated further.
“Oh, that. I am sorry, I misunderstood,” Ada blushed in a way Martin found very disconcerting, “I grew up in the Ukraine.”
And Martin noted, on the tag, in letters just slightly smaller than her name was the word “Ukraine.” Seeing no other way forward he asked, “Do you need a copy of my credit card.”
Ada smiled and shook her head, “You have already paid for the week. Unless you expect to have room charges we won’t need a credit card. But we will need you to register your car.”
Martin took the form that Ada was now offering and found there was precious little he could remember about his car, its make its model or the sixty-four year old woman sitting in it.
“I’m sorry,” Martin said sheepishly, “I can’t remember my tag number.”
“That’s alright,” Ada gave him an understanding look, “if you can fill out the color, state and type that is enough. We just want to be sure that the cars parked in the lot are our patron’s cars.”
“Yes, of course,” Martin returned to the card and he seemed to think his car was brown, or possibly tan and it was from North Carolina or perhaps Georgia. “Um. . .”
“Sir?” Ada said in an obliging manner that further flustered Martin.
Now he was certain his car was tan and the vehicle was from Georgia because it was an office car. He also seemed to recall it was a Cadillac. “Oh, well it’s really nothing,” he scrambled to cover his confusion with a question of his own when the sign and her badge came back to him. “It’s…well I noticed that the sign out front and your badge have odd markings on them.”
Ada became very still and her face became hard.
“It wasn’t anything,” Martin gabbled, now filing out the card in a nearly indecipherable sweeping stroke. “I was just wondering about the name and why the sign looked like it was repainted.”
Ada’s face relaxed slightly and she forced a polite smile, “Our company holds many hotels. This location was to be the Casa Del Sol. Unfortunately we found out after we had committed to this name there was already an establishment by that name in Key West.”
“Oh,” Martin said, hoping that the matter might end there as he accidentally struck a nerve.
Ada’s smile broadened slightly, “It was easier to change it to Alma to avoid confusion and all the other costs.”
“I see,” Martin said, passed the parking registration across to Ada.
“You will be in room 412,” Ada handed across a set of access cards and a parking map. “You will go around to here.” She indicated the parking lot circled on the map. “Then you will take the elevator over here in the lobby,” she pointed to the far side of the lobby, “Go to the fourth floor and your room will be the first on your right hand side as you step out of the elevator.”’
Martin nodded his head accepting the pass cards and the map.
“Is there anything else I can help you with?” Ada asked.
Martin stopped and thought for a moment. He was certain there was something else. Something he had felt when she was answering his question about the hotel sign. He was starting to form the question when he heard the clamor of a crowd of young kids come flooding into the lobby.
“No,” he decided, “I think you’ve covered everything.”
“Hi,” a young man said to Ada as he pushed past Martin to get to the check-in desk.
At that moment the phone rang and Ada signaled to the young man and his companions that she would be with them momentarily.
“Have a good evening, Dr. Vansant,” She said, then lifted the receiver, “Thank you for calling Alma Des Nudo, this is Ada. How may I help you?”
Martin stumbled slightly as he moved through the crowd of kids who were now milling around in the lobby waiting for Ada to finish the call. He wasn’t certain as to what she had said when she answered the phone and it was bothering him that there were so many kids in the hotel.
“Listen you fucking prick!” a young woman billowed smoke and abuse at her cell phone outside the entrance the hotel lobby.
Martin moved quickly to the far side of the driveway to his black Cadillac with its North Carolina license plates.
Trisha took another drag on her cigarette as the fat old man stumbled off to his car. His appearance had thrown off her train of thought.
“Baby, you have got to understand…” the cellphone burbled and Trisha felt the warm return of righteous wrath and with it her intended message.
“No, you understand this! I ain’t your ‘Baby’ I never liked any of those fucking nicknames and I am not going to waste time or energy on your sorry ass six months after I dumped you! If you feel the need to get all pathetic every so often, call your mom and whine at her,” Trisha hung up with sharp snap of her phone and then stubbed out her cigarette.
“I show we have three rooms for you,” Ada explained as she read the reservation off of the terminal.
“But we only want two,” Tim whined.
“Mr. Grant,” Ada said, “the reservation is for three rooms. Based on your groups size that would be just about right.”
“Look we have four girls and three guys,” Tim reasoned, “and each room can accommodate…”
“Each room is designated for three adults or two adults and two children,” Ada answered, clearly quoting policy.
“Look we’re only one over,” Tim reasoned.
“Mr. Grant…”Ada seemed to be wavering on this point, “we do have the reservation and cancelation policy.”
“Okay, so the one night on the third room,” Tim conceded.
“Yes but the group is still outside the size of the accommodations,” Ada reasoned.
“By just one!” Tim pleaded.
There was a long pause and Ada began to program the access keys. Tim looked back at the group with a triumphant smile which vanished almost immediately when he saw the door to the lobby open.
“We got the rooms yet?” Trisha shouted as she stormed into the lobby.
Ada’s eyebrow arched and Tim’s shoulders sagged.
Steel strips lined the interior of the elevator causing Martin to wonder if he had accidently taken a service elevator. Patricia, who was viewing the world through a fixed squint, lacked curiosity about anything other than the whereabouts of a dark room and a comfortable bed. The pain had passed beyond intolerable into that realm where pain can only be described in terms of its nuances. When the elevator finally shuddered to a halt and the door drew back with a long mechanical whine, it did nothing to significantly alter Patricia’s pain other than add a new texture.
Martin guided his wife to the door, which indeed was to the right of the elevator and he fumbled with the access cards. After several passes with the cards, a few short beeps and the appearance of a red light he was certain he was at the wrong door and on the wrong side of the floor.
“Pardon me señor,” a woman pushing a service cart along the corridor called to him.
Martin stepped aside, guiding Patricia out of the way of the cart.
“Let me see if I can assist,” the short woman in the gray housekeeping uniform offered, taking an access card from Martin’s hand.
There was a quick swishing noise, a sustained tone then a green light signaled the door was unlocked. The maid pushed down on the handle and motioned for the couple to enter. “Sometimes you just need to slide it quickly,” she smiled and handed the card back to Martin.
“Thank you,” Martin fumbled for his wallet, considered the question of what you tip someone for working the lock on your hotel room door and found he was paralyzed by the mental calculations.
“No, señor, it is not necessary,” she answered, reading his confusion, “I will be taking care of your room during your stay. If you need anything. . . more towels, pillows, anything, just let me know.”
Then she retreated, shutting the door behind her.
“Well, that was certainly very good service,” Martin announced to an empty sitting room.
Patricia, whose pain had not subsided in the least, had passed on through into the next room and was situating herself in the dark, pausing only to turn the comforter down to the foot of the bed. By the time Martin had reached the bedroom he found her stretched out on the bed, breathing deeply with her head sandwiched between two pillows.
“Do you know what they did?” Martin said, seeming unable to tolerate either the dark or the silence of the bedroom.
Patricia offered no opinion, but instead took a slightly deeper breath and pressed the pillow more firmly against her forehead.
“They just blew through the wall of the two units to make this one long unit,” Martin went on in a sort of verbal inertia that was forcing him to continue filling the silence and darkness with the sound of his own voice and observations.
“You are probably right,” Patricia sighed. “I didn’t really get a chance to look at it closely.”
Martin looked at his feet and cast about for something to say. This really wasn’t going how he had planned.
“I’ll need a few hours to settle this headache down,” Patricia said, in the hopes of getting some peace and quiet. “Why don’t you go down to the pool and have a drink or something to eat?”
Martin considered this option and continued to consider his feet. He felt certain he should do something, but what exactly he could not say. There was a vague sense of resentment and irritation. But as this only took him to saying things that were irritating or provoking he elected to ignore this. He felt the urge to return to the topic of the room and the way it had been cobbled into a suite, but this topic did not have a receptive audience. It occurred to him that he should be saying something comforting or reassuring to his wife. Here, experience told him that this was not advisable. So he elected for the reliable and said, “Can I get you anything before I go?”
It was a halfhearted offer, and he knew it was the minute he made it. But it seemed the only thing to say.
“I will be fine,” Patricia said, “If you could just turn the air conditioning down before you leave I would appreciate it.”
“Down?” Martin asked, confused by this, “It’s too cold for you?”
Patricia, who felt the slightest receding of pain from her world, found she was now clenching her jaw. For reasons known only to God and Martin, the setting of a thermostat had recently become a serious mental crisis for him; with the terms “up” and “down” requiring lengthy instruction.
“If you could make it colder in here I would appreciate it,” she said as pleasantly and explicitly as she could manage.
“Oh,” Martin said as recognition of the nature of the request finally dawned on him, “I always think of heat as being turned down…”
“Thank you dear,” Patricia said, restraining the increasing tension which was now causing her headache to rally.
Martin, despite his confusion, heard the term “dear” and knew it meant that his immediate departure was desired. He picked up his keys and wallet and set out for the door. In his haste to leave his wife to her desired peace he forgot to change the thermostat setting. It could be that this was a matter of spite or a general retaliation against his wife for having failed to live up to his plans for the day. But, of the two parties present for the exchange, one was clueless as to the specific motive and the other was trying to will away a headache.
Sipping a cool beer, Tim Grant found himself sliding from outraged to aggrieved, bordering on despair. Given that he had also been indignant, seething and terrified just in the process of checking into the hotel, it appeared that he was completing the grand tour of negative emotional states in record time.
When the hotel clerk – Tim amended this thought to “that bitch” – had insisted he pay for the additional room for the week, he had remained composed. He had not asked for, nor had anyone offered, help with the additional costs of the room for spring break. Instead he had withdrawn from his wallet his “emergency” credit card. The transaction maxed out his emergency card and had insisted into his consciousness several facts he was trying to ignore. In part, he was trying to ignore that this money would have to be repaid in thirty days. Then there was the fact that his “emergency” card was not actually his and that the “emergency” portion of the arrangement was that using the card would cause an emergency. Because what he had done, in fact, was taken his father’s credit card and just placed over a thousand dollars on it.
He had traversed this mental minefield in the hotel lobby by moving all of this information into the category of “future issues” and not worth creating any tension in the group over. “After all,” he reasoned “if he got laid just once this week it would be….”
This thought was interrupted by the realization that this transaction might well be reported to his father by the credit card company as an irregular purchase pattern.
“No one remembers all of the little bad things that happen when they’re having a really great time,” he told himself as he made his way to the rooms they had been given.
The rooms themselves were, after the emotional turmoil of the lobby, something of a relief. Three rooms on the first floor, just down from the gate to the pool. Each room had a small fenced patio, with deck chairs and a patio table. The two double beds were sturdy, as attested to by Mark who had jumped from one to the other, and done in a tropical pattern of palm trees in pastel hues of blue and pink against a field of white.
The concrete walls, whose stucco finish was a shade of tan, had photographs of palm trees in black and white against a sepia painted blue ocean displayed in rattan frames. The viewer, who was accustomed to seeing the bad pastel reprints and slap dash watercolors that are normal fixtures of hotel rooms in south Florida was momentarily transfixed by this odd image, as was Tim. When Tim realized what was wrong with the picture – or at least what he perceived to be wrong with the picture – several critical seconds had passed which involved Mark calling dibs on the bathroom and Dale calling second.
Tim wandered out to the hotel room patio and found that the adjacent patios were already occupied by Trisha, Natalie and Jane. The three of them were on phones and computers updating their webpages, posting pictures and relaying their days activities to friends and family.
“After we all get settled in, how about we go down to Duval Street?” Tim suggested in a hopeful tone.
Trisha, whose side of a phone conversation was a series of “uh huh’s” at intervals suddenly erupted, “he said what?!?”
Jane narrowed her eyes, ignored Tim and Trisha as she continued to type a commentary on her blog on the theme of “industrial terrorism of the European White Male.”
Only Natalie seemed to have heard Tim. “The hotel is shit,” she said.
Tim looked at her for a moment, struck speechless by Natalie’s observation.
“It’s shit,” she repeated.
“Um, how do you mean?” Tim asked, blood rushing to his face and the memory of the credit card now pressing in on him.
“I mean everything,” Natalie said stridently, “Have you seen the pool? Some dinky little thing with a sad excuse of a Tiki bar at the end of it. And the staff, have you seen the staff? One nasty Mexican and some worn out old biddies from some Iron Curtain hell hole.”
Tim’s conversations with Natalie had, up until this point, been limited. He had spoken with her about the spring break trip, as long as was necessary to get her agreement to come with them, and he had listened to her complain about not going to Fort Lauderdale for roughly fifteen hours. But this was, he realized, one of the first extended conversations he had actually had with her and he found he wasn’t enjoying it much. “Um,” he answered decisively.
Natalie narrowed her eyes and curled her lip at him, “I said we should have gone to Fort Lauderdale.”
Tim was baffled by the renewal of this refrain and did something very uncharacteristic, he asked Natalie a frank, question, “So you stayed at an expensive hotel in Fort Lauderdale?”
“Oh, no,” Natalie said quite earnestly, “It was a dingy little piece of crap.”
“So the staff were great?” He found himself continuing through the thick and muddy tidal lands that constituted Natalie’s world view.
“No,” she considered this answer for a moment and revised. “Actually they were terrible. I think one of them stole my cell phone. They were Hattites I think.”
“Haitians?” Tim ventured.
“Those too, I think. Very dark, very foreign and very smelly, whatever they were,” Natalie nodded her head to agree with herself.
Tim gave Natalie a long appraising look. She had met the criteria he had set, to a “T” really. But the more she opened her mouth the more he wondered how anyone could stand to spend any time with her, much less talk to her. Despite this he found himself asking, “So the hotel was on the beach? Or near where the parties were?”
“No,” Natalie sneered once again, as if the questions were asinine.
“So it was a shit place, with thieves for staff and it was better than this how?” he said, truly wanting to know what the secret was.
“Duh,” Natalie said shifting her head and shoulders side to side. “It was Fort Lauderdale!”
Were Tim Grant a pre-med major it may have occurred to him to wonder if the odd fizzling sensation he was experiencing at that moment was the death of some discrete portion of his brain. Being instead a business major he was ignoring the pain and considering how to manage the entire “Natalie” question.
“Where are Sylvia and Erin?” he asked aloud to anyone who might be listening.
“That fucker!” Trisha spat into the cellphone, into which she had been making something like a low growl for the last several seconds.
“Sylvia is taking a shower, and Erin took a walk to find a pharmacy,”
Jane said, as she sent a completed article on “Scars of the Rape of North America” to an online environmental journal.
“Pharmacy?” Tim asked, his mind still unable to get past the “Natalie” question.
“Drug store,” Jane said, and shut down her computer.
“I know what you meant, I was wondering why,” Tim said irritably.
The portion of his brain not damaged by speaking with Natalie was considering the question of whether Natalie would be more tolerable were she drunk.
“I expect she needed something,” Jane said, and gathered up her phone and camera.
“Yes, I would assume that.” Tim was now finding that Jane was nearly as irritating as Natalie.
The portion of his brain that was considering Natalie drunk was not happy with the probable outcome. It had formed the thoughts, “belligerent, vulgar and offensive.” This was, from a neurological point of view a significant accomplishment of multitasking for Tim. Particularly as he did not know the definition of two of those words.
“Do we know when she’ll be back?” He asked.
“Not a clue,” Jane said and went into her hotel room.
“If you see that little dick online….”Trisha launched into a very descriptive and detailed set of instructions that the other party was to follow.
“Natalie nearly incoherently drunk would be…” Tim’s brain buzzed, but came to an even more unpleasant conclusion involving “vomiting” and “incontinent.” These were words Tim did know the definitions of, from watching old television commercials in his marketing classes.
“Wonderful,” was the pronouncement Tim made aloud, and returned to his hotel room.
His brain – or that discrete portion of it neither damaged by speaking with Natalie or otherwise occupied with the general sense of doom that was now predominating his world view – reached a conclusion. It was, it concluded, more logical and less expensive, to simply get anyone who would have to deal with Natalie very, very drunk.
When Tim arrived back in his room, he found Mark was well on his way to finding Natalie tolerable, if not attractive.
“Dale’s letting it air out,” Mark greeted Tim with a status report on the bathroom. “Oh, and I loaded up the fridge. Help yourself.”
Tim didn’t bother to point out that he had put in half the money for the beer and snacks but instead grunted a sort of neutral acknowledgement as he pulled a beer from the hotel refrigerator.
“Should be safe to go in there now,” Dale said, flopping back on the other bed with a towel wound about his head and another wrapped about his waist.
Tim opened the beer and took in the room. Mark in boxers and t-shirt stretched out on the bed with an open bag of corn chips half poured out, two empty beer bottles already on the floor, watching cable. Dale, clad in two towels, stretched out damply on the only other bed in the room. Clearly decisions had been made.
“Fuck,” Tim thought, but what he said was, “After I get a shower, how about we go on down to Duval Street?”
“Hmmm,” Dale seemed to consider this.
“Naahhh,” Mark said, “they got a marathon going on tonight about how people die. It’s epic.”
The fizzle that Tim had felt talking to Natalie was now replaced by a burning glow that pulsed in Tim’s temples. Mark, who had been drinking since they got to Islamorada, was in that mellow drunk state that wanted to eat salted snacks, drink more beer and watch television. Dale was making no commitments, and based on his posture and attitude, was not going to be sleeping on a folding bed. The portion of Tim’s brain that was previously occupied with the “Natalie” question now had a new task. It was making a grievance list and found it was growing quickly.
Resigned to the fact that this evening would not be a wild or drunken adventure on Duval Street, Tim decided to shower and go to the pool. Prodding piles of clothing with his toe he managed to close the bathroom door. It was, after a brief shower – as the shower head had managed only to belch, gurgle and spit a bit of lukewarm water over Tim after ten minutes of patient coaxing – that another red letter item was added to Tim’s list of grievances.
Somewhere, well past “I paid for the extra room and I’m sleeping on a folding bed” and just before a new line header titled “Natalie’s worst attributes are,” was the space his brain elected to add this newest complaint. Groping, shivering, wet and naked from the shower, Tim was made aware that the only two towels not presently wedged up against the base of the toilet were wrapped around Dale.
“Alright,” Tim muttered, and his list making came to a screeching halt.
Pulling on his dry swim trunks he was transported to a place of silent rage. His anger had not abated; it had instead passed into the harbor of tranquility where vengeful thoughts coldly reflect on actions. He finished his beer. He stepped out of the bathroom, taking care to leave the empty bottle among his roommate’s clothes and towels. Mark and Dale took no notice of Tim’s cold and purposeful stride as he retrieved another beer and a room card.
Closing the door behind him, taking care not to slam it, he was met by the warm evening breeze that lifted the cold from his wet skin. He walked to the pool deck, took a seat in a lounge chair, and began to reflect on the events since arriving at the Casa Del Alma. Sipping his beer, he cast his eyes towards the sky and began to pass from rages tranquil harbor toward the despair he was trying to avoid. Another sip of beer found him reconsidering his present circumstances. The pool, while not grand, was a respectable sized hotel pool. The Tiki bar was well attended, and appeared well stocked, looking nothing like the sad affair Natalie had reported. But the most important thing that had penetrated his anger and drew him back from the precipice of despair was the realization that at this moment the pool was teaming with students his own age, and most of them were women.
He closed his eyes, and sighed away all the troubling thoughts of the day. He pictured a successful week ahead. Opening his eyes as he brought up his beer to sip it, he was greeted by the silhouette of an older woman whose posture exuded a stern and menacing quality.
“Sir,” the voice snapped, “I am going to have to ask you not to bring food or drinks into the pool area.”
A cold sweat and paralysis gripped Tim.
“There are signs posted everywhere,” her arch tone left Tim speechless and impotently gapping.
“Erin Hardinger,” the pharmacy clerk called out into the small lobby that was bound by commercial fridges holding beer on the one side and dental appliances on the other.
In a nearby chair, a young woman put down a magazine, and strode up to the small window that bore the sign “Consultation” over it and greeted the clerk, “Yes, that’s me.”
“The pharmacist will be with you in just a moment,” the clerk gave an efficient little smile and retreated.
After a few moments a tall, clean shaven man with short cropped pepper gray hair, wire rim glasses, and a white lab coat onto which his name and credentials were sewn, stepped to the window. He looked out, a bit confused at the young woman in the khaki capris and the moss green top. She was, he realized, the age of his own daughter, and given the list of pills he had before him, not a well person.
“Ms. Hardinger,” he began, with as much formality as he could inject as he believed this consultation would be most unpleasant, “I have contacted the network and the prescriptions you have asked about have run out. Your doctor will need to call in an authorization to refill them.”
“Yes,” she nodded her head, in an understanding and engaged way.
“The pharmacist you normally have fill this gave you a few days more pills while waiting for the prescriptions,” he continued, as the blue eyes met his in a way that was not vacant or pleading.
“That’s correct,” Erin agreed.
“The problem is, your doctor never called in, and the doctor never responded to the calls or the fax we sent,” the pharmacist realized it was his voice that was plaintive as he described what had taken him nearly an hour on the phone to determine.
“I believe that’s right,” Erin said.
“You will need to contact your doctor directly. There’s nothing we can do,” the pharmacist concluded.
“Thank you,” she said, then turned and left.
The pharmacist watched her walk away. The stride was not dejected or angry. It was a casual, though slightly pigeon toed stride of a young woman who was simply taking a walk. She was not enraged at the time wasted, defiant as to the facts received or embittered by the fact that she would not have her medications.
The pharmacist watched her for a few more moments, her shoulder length straight blond hair swinging to and fro in time with the stride. A more terrifying sight had not met his eye in some time when he considered the medications she was running out of.
Erin’s mind was peaceful and she was calm. “I am about to feel my life again,” she thought as she set out to walk back to the hotel.
The trip was, when Erin considered it, a useful one. She had a few purchases she had needed to make while she was at the pharmacy and that she had accomplished. She had really needed to get away from everyone after being in the van with them for so many hours, particularly Natalie. Then there was the question of her medications that needed answering. That being answered, there was just the walk back to the hotel.
While Key West was, by all indications, a place where one would leisurely stroll, drink and stumble to a cab or one’s hotel, the northeastern portion of the key was uniquely hostile to pedestrians. Erin found she was pressed to the edge of the road where cars went racing by as visitors rushed to and from the south side of the key. Those that were racing to old Key West occasionally honked a greeting at the young woman they saw on the far side of the road. Those that were coming back would sometimes roll down car windows to yell cat calls or just shout out their schools’ team name.
“Go Spartans!” a van with Michigan tags howled to the world as they went whizzing by Erin. Another gave out a cry for the Crimson Tide and others joined in to let those who were sharing their school pride know that they were welcome to fuck off.
The noise washed over Erin as she made her way along the narrow shoulder of the road towards the next island of stores and stalls. She found herself consciously wondering about what she was feeling. She was certain that whatever it was going to be like it would be something that began little by little. “Perhaps I will be outrageously happy,” she told herself.
It had been years since she had been outrageously happy. Her two years with Mac had been alright, but they were not, as she considered them, happy. Nothing in her world had been one end or the other since she started taking her medication back in eighth grade.
“Maybe this is it,” she thought. “Maybe I’m starting to wonder about what I have missed over the years.”
Erin crossed the parking lot, darted between cars going off and on the road until she came to a small grassy area at the far side of the lot that appeared to be a park. In the lengthening shadows cast by the setting sun, she could see the outline of three shabby figures huddled together near the fork of two palm trees. She stopped to watch them and wondered if they were students who had hitchhiked down to Key West. She saw their bags stacked together and it occurred to her that they might be planning to camp in the park. She was starting to turn towards them, to say hello when she heard an odd noise in the distance. There was a low dull rumble, a piercing chirping noise and the clattering of metal. She turned expecting to see a dying car come rolling to a stop on the shoulder of the road. What she saw was a woman in long sleeves with baggy trousers tied shut by a length of twine. The woman was old, Erin thought, but whether she was ten years or forty years older than her she could not tell. The woman’s face was hard and sun beaten and her eyes were swollen. She ignored Erin, plodding past her, dragging a beaten suitcase from which hung a bright pink identification tag wound into half a dozen shopping bags filled with cans that banged against one another as the suitcase’s protesting wheels rolled from the cinder shoulder of the road to the uneven ground of the park.
Erin stood and watched as the woman joined the three others. They stood together in the fork of the palms for a few moments and then the others gathered up their bags. The group moved off to the far end of the park where it rejoined the road and they started to head northeast towards the hotels. Erin followed them and wondered how often she had seen them, or people just like them and not noticed them. Maybe everyone else saw them all the time and only Erin had missed them because of her medication.
The silent procession shuffled and plodded along the road, the only noise being the sounds of the chirping suitcase wheels, the clanging of cans in bags and the grunting and wheezing of one of the men in the group. Erin was, despite her measured pace, catching up with the group as they came to a small bridge abutment. It occurred to Erin that she had barely noticed the bridge when she crossed it coming from the hotel. But now, as the group came to it, she realized how narrow it was and she worried that someone might be hit by a passing car as they crossed the bridge.
She was only a few steps behind the group when she realized one of them was missing. No one had cried out, no brakes had screeched, but there were only three people standing. She looked ahead and saw that they were not crossing the bridge. One of the three now disappeared from view in the darkening sunset and Erin saw that they were climbing down the bank under the bridge. The old woman turned and stared at Erin, her swollen eyes narrowing to a hard squint. Then, without a word, she stepped back from the road, lowering her bag with the bright pink tag behind her as she disappeared into the darkness.
Bright colored lights shown on Tim as he stared at the bar manager. He had been standing at the bar for a good fifteen minutes waiting to be served. Why he was there, he was not entirely certain. Paralysis and impotent rage had given way to a craving for revenge long after the bar manager had told him off. How ordering and paying for a drink was revenge he wasn’t certain, but it had made some sort of sense to him at the time. Perhaps he was going to be rude; he was certainly not going to tip. But he had not anticipated being ignored.
Looking about the bar he felt the sinking feeling of Fort Myers and Panama City. There were a half dozen older couples settled in at the bar. Some were having a drink before setting off to Duval street, others were reviewing the day’s shopping and sightseeing. Next to him a fat old man was thumbing through a stack of brochures and listlessly poking at his dinner.
“Miss,” he said through clenched teeth.
The bar manager ducked below the bar to retrieve a bottle of spiced rum.
Tim considered resorting to a “Ma’am” but was distracted by the departure of a couple at the end of the bar. Tim slipped around to claim one of the seats only to find one had already been claimed by a tall blond man in swimming briefs.
Oh, please let him be gay, Tim thought to himself as he retreated back to his position next to the old fat man with the brochures.
“Miss,” Tim resumed, only to watch the barmaid walk away to wait on the blond man in the swimming briefs.
Then an attractive young woman in a bikini sat down next to the blond man, who proceeded to order her a drink.
Martin looked up at the young man who had jostled his arm.
“Sorry,” the kid muttered and retreated further down the bar.
“Not a problem,” he answered the kid, and went back to looking at the real estate brochures.
The day just had not gone right for Martin. The drive, Patricia’s headache, all of it. He hadn’t even gotten to tell her about the house they were going to buy in Key West.
“Damn,” he muttered.
“What?” the kid asked.
Martin looked at him and wondered what the kid was talking about. He was sure he had seen him a few minutes earlier.
“Miss,” Martin called to the bar maid.
“Yes, sir?” she asked.
“I’m done, and this gentleman,” he nodded towards the kid, “would like to order something. So would you please bring me my bill and take his order.”
“I will bring you your bill right away,” she said, ignoring the second part of request.
The kid muttered “thanks,” and tried to move further away from Martin.
Martin paid his bill, picked up his drink, his brochures, and went off to find a lounge chair on the deck to finish reading.
Tim walked away from the bar holding the beer, his face crimson. This was worse than Fort Myers or Panama City. First the fat old man had to draw attention to him, then the bar manager made a painful show of announcing Tim’s order so that whole bar could hear.
“And you want a beer sir, is that correct?” she said, pulling the tap.
Then like a chump he left a tip. Worse than that was when he heard the blond guy talking, he had an accent – a fucking British accent, and he sure as hell wasn’t gay. He was hanging all over that little red head who sat down next to him at the bar.
But the worst part was when the two of them looked at him with his beer and the guy said, “hardly looks old enough to drink.”
Then the girl laughed. God he wished it had been a horse laugh, a braying laugh or a nasal laugh. But it hadn’t been. It was sweet, it was musical and Tim felt it. He felt it cut him as he walked away and he felt the impotent rage surging in his chest.
Taking up a position as far from the bar as he could, he sipped the beer and surveyed the pool. The old people were now in the pool, some walking back and forth, some couples splashing one another and several milling around the stairs sipping drinks and quietly taking in the early evening breeze. This was a sure sign to Tim that everyone worth meeting was already on their way to Old Key West and he fell, once again, into a bitter resentment. Fuming at a night that had already served up so many failures and humiliations, he finished his beer and resigned himself to a night of tortured sleep on the steel bear trap and cardboard mattress that was the foldaway bed. Part of his mind, the part that remembered the emergency credit card, remembered that someone was stuck sharing a room with Natalie. That part of his mind had already concluded that anyone who would be forced into Natalie’s presence for any period of time would need to be very drunk or very stoned, was happy with the prospect of wrestling with the foldaway bed. The girls wouldn’t be getting any sleep that night as they would have to listen to Natalie saying “we should have gone to Fort Lauderdale,” over and over again. That part of Tim that could still laugh at something found comfort in that thought and the thought that someday some poor son-of-a-bitch would have to listen her say that night in and night out for what would likely be the rest of their lives. After all who could stand her more than a few days without blowing their brains out?
Tim was setting down his empty beer can when two towels were dropped on the lounge chairs next to his. Two young women, right around his age, had claimed the lounge chairs and were now walking to the pool. Tim realized he had only seconds to act. He would have to be casual, but he would also have to get into the water before the girls did.
Darla slid beneath the surface of the hotel pool. She felt the ache and strain of the day wash away and she could hear Kate’s feet churning the water nearby. Rising from the water, she shook back her hair and followed Kate over to the wall where jets of water were streaming into the pool.
“Do you see that?” Kate asked, inclining her head towards the figure that was thrashing across the pool toward them.
“Yes, sad really,” Darla smiled and moved closer to Kate, whose hand slide to the small of her back.
Kate laughed and the thrashing figure stopped, whipping his head back as he broke from the water.
“Evening,” the American boy said.
“Good evening,” Darla answered.
He was truly pathetic, she thought, but so were most men. A thought which was reinforced by the arrival of Roger. Where the American boy was pathetic for being nearly transparent, slightly balding and a generally poor sample of the species, Roger was pathetic in the way only the best of the gender could be. Athletic, vain and not at all conscious of any shortcomings, he was unapologetically vulgar.
“Evening girls,” the broad shouldered young man called out to the two girls leaning up against the far side of the pool.
Tim kept his face a mask of cordiality while fuming at the arrival of the guy. Things had been going so well. He had managed to swim a strong lap from the far side of the pool and had just made a strong opening with the large breasted English girl when the meat head had come plunging in.
“Hi,” Tim found himself saying to the young man.
The young man turned to Tim and said, “Evening,” in a tone that Tim translated as “fuck off,” but were he more international in his understanding of social courtesies he would have translated as “piss off.”
“So,” Tim found his mouth getting out ahead of his thoughts, “where are you from?” he addressed the group in general.
“University of Miami,” the big breasted girl answered.
Tim’s face clouded over. Really?”
“Yes,” the broad shouldered young man grinned at Tim.
Tim’s mouth made a start at another unguided comment but he managed to bite it off in time, deciding to interject some purpose into his next remark, “First time to Key West?”
“Yes,” the thin shy girl who seemed to hover at the side of the other answered, “we’re touring the Key’s during the holiday, then we are going back to Miami to cruise to the Grand Bahama Island.”
“Really?” Tim asked, reconsidering his strategy and wondering if he might not get on better with the thin shy girl. “That sounds like a fantastic vacation.”
“It has been quite nice, so far,” the big breasted girl said, sliding further back toward the edge of the pool.
Tim felt clashing emotions. On the one hand he was certain that something the big breasted girl had said was meant as an insult. But despite the fact that a portion of his brain was giving marching orders to his feet, he found he was rooted to the spot by a sense of anticipation.
Darla felt Kate’s hand slide beneath her bikini bottoms and she backed up to pin Kate’s arm against the wall of the pool. The American boy just stared foolishly and Darla found herself all the more disgusted with the gender.
“We came down from up north,” the American boy said, staring at Kate.
God, how stupid he is, Darla thought.
“We?” Roger asked.
“Yes, there are eight of us,” the American boy jerked a thumb over his shoulder toward the hotel, “the rest of them are getting changed. We just got in. Took about fifteen hours of driving.”
“Really?” Kate asked, in a bored voice as she casually pinched Darla’s bottom.
“Sure,” the American boy said, face reddening. “Dale did most of the driving. But Mark and I helped out. The girls slept most on the way down.”
Darla watched as Roger did the mental tally and she could see he liked the sum.
“There’s one of them,” the American boy said, and waved frantically at an attractive blond woman in a green t-shirt and khaki capris, “Hi, Erin.”
The young woman gave a half wave and stepped quickly to the door of her hotel.
“That’s Erin,” the American boy said eagerly.
“So I gathered,” Kate said, cupping Darla’s buttocks with her hand.
“She is cute,” Darla said casually, “We’ll have to meet up. . .ouch.”
Tim’s heart was racing. Everything was going well. He had met a group; he had met the alpha male, he didn’t know which of the two girls was the alpha female, but it was all going well. What’s more, he found he was in an unaccountably excellent mood. Neither girl had actually come out and expressed an open interest in him, but he was feeling a strong sexual energy that was nearly electric.
Then the blond in the swimming briefs arrived with the red head from the bar and Tim felt the familiar sinking feeling.
“Spence,” the broad shouldered young man called out.
“Heads up,” Spence yelled, and tossed a can of beer to him.
“Cheers,” the young man said and popped open the beer.
Tim tried to find an in, an opportunity to comment or even just to excuse himself. But the group had slammed closed. The blond young man in the swimming briefs, Spence, had the group’s undivided attention and was laying out the evening’s itinerary.
“There’s this brilliant club called the Garden of Eden,” Tim heard Spence saying as Tim climbed from the pool.
While not happy, Tim did not despair. The principle was sound. When he first met the girls, it had been awkward and matters were made worse by the arrival of that meat head. But when they knew he was with a group they warmed up immediately. The meat head started showing some manners and the big breasted English girl even suggested that they all meet up. The arrival of Spence had sucked, but he was sure it was something he could identify. Perhaps it was the girl to guy ratio. Or maybe Spence was just a personality that closed the group’s circuit. Toweling off, Tim tried to think of a term to describe the phenomenon but found nothing was coming to him. “Oh, well,” he thought, as he walked back to the hotel room to face the bear trap bed with the cardboard mattress, “at least one of the two girls is interested in me.”
He made a mental note to try and get the girl’s name the next day.
Martin Vansant wondered who the kid was who walked past his lounge chair. He had found himself staring at sheets of paper he could not read and was not certain why he had them. He thought he might be hungry. He reached into his pocket and found the room card. He would go to his room, once he remembered which one it was.
Patricia Vansant was standing in the shallow waters off of the Key staring out to the horizon of the Florida Straits. The sun was at its apex and she felt her skin melting away into the perfect breeze. Something told Patricia that her headache had passed. A nagging thought drifted off with a distant cloud against the blue sky that merged with the aquamarine ocean that rippled slightly as the waves dissipated on the coral some distance out.
Which Key stood behind Patricia she could not say, as she had only caught glimpses of them between headaches and anxiety as they had driven down. Perhaps it was all of them she thought, in some half formed recognition that what she was experiencing was not entirely real. But even with this she found she could not emerge from the present moment, where breeze, ocean, sun, sky and flesh merged seamlessly to an endless horizon. The nagging sense that there was something, besides her own thoughts and the limitations of the body, that was trying to make itself felt, returned to her. It was not unpleasant. It was like those sections of road and bridge that were cast out from the Keys. They were oddly peaceful and somehow natural in their shape and form. Patricia found a thought. Her thought had come into the moment and it seemed to her the oddest thing she had ever thought in her life. She thought how beautiful bones must look bleaching on the sand in the sun. Because she was certain that was what the bridges were, bones bleaching, decaying and returning to the elements.
Looking down at her feet in the water, she felt the rush of the tide between her toes. She saw the aquamarine water turn a milky white as it foamed around her ankles. The horizon remained blue and the waves seemed to break more slowly far from shore.
Text Copyright 2014 Jose Pasqual – Walking Back From Key West
Text Copyright 2014 Hellbent Press
First print Copyright March 2014
No portion of this maybe reprinted, redistributed or otherwise republished for sale without written permission of Jose Pasqual and/or Hell Bent Press.
The author authorizes linking, emailing, electronic distribution of this article, if the following three criteria are fully met. 1) The article is republished in its entirety, including this authorization and copyright statement below, with full attribution as presented on this site 2) the readers or recipients must have granted the sender permission to send material, articles or communications to them. 3) All hyperlinks contained in this article remain active and functioning when the article is distributed.
Notwithstanding the granting of the authorization of non-commercial distribution, the Author and Hell Bent Press retains all copyrights, commercial publication rights, print and electronic, for this article.
NOTE: Images are the property of the parties to whom they are attributed and their use for non-commercial use for this posting does not indicate any involvement in or support of the text being provided free of charge.