written, edited, and produced by Viktor Devonne for 2 Night Stay
performed and recorded by Charles Stunning
The bitter cold continued to permeate the walls of the foyer, up the stairs leading to the lobby. A more piercing winter was known to few as this one raged on with its snow and wind on this Christmas Eve.
Margaret stomped her feet, soaked with the melting snow, at the top of the stairs, relieved to see a light going in the lobby fireplace. She stood in place as she shook the residual white nuisance from her altogether unsatisfying coat. She peered around the lobby, which glowed from the embers in the hearth.
Clomping her boots to the front desk, she was greeted with the mirthless eyes of Farrell, who was just as compliant to work Christmas Eve. He presumably had no one who could love him enough to rather the night with. Farrell’s wrinkled, thin face, slowly acknowledged Margaret’s presence at all as he blinked slowly behind his spectacles. “Margaret,” his dry lips permitted him to gasp out.
Margaret did her very best to be of cheer; “Merry Christmas, Mr. Farrell!” she said with her characteristic whimsy.
“Yes,” was Farrell’s only reply, as he seemed to flicker like a Cinemascope projection, his eyes darting back to the newspaper splayed out on the desk. He was traditionally a man of few words, as Margaret had come to expect.
“How has your day been so far, Mr. Farrell,” Margaret pressed on for community, as she made her way through the increasingly slim crevice in the desk towards the employees-only area.
“Yes.” Farrell muttered. “You have four beds to make before 6.”
Margaret pressed her mouth into a self-pitying smile and nodded down, suppressing a grim laugh. “Yes, Mr. Farrell.” In these sixteen months working at the hotel, this exchange all but verged on comparably romantic.
Margaret maneuvered to the private room beyond the front desk, where she was to leave her coat and collection of scarves, to dry. She kicked her boots off, and found a sensible pair of brown shoes next to the coat hanger, which she would soon strap on. Beneath her coat, an immaculately ironed navy blue and chocolate brown uniform came forth. Heavily fashioned with off-white doily material, she was topped with a crocheted hydrangea that much resembled a series of moths feeding on her lapel.
She paused to check any ladders in her tights before she returned to the front desk, which had little change in atmosphere. She smoothed her already flat apron, her fingers pushing at the starchy brown fabric, and attempted another round of conversation.
“Mr. Farrell, will you be needing any tea before I go?”
Farrell bristled. Begrudgingly, he lent her both eye contact and a weak smile. “Please.”
A Christmas miracle, Margaret marveled, as she headed towards the employee kitchenette. Emerging in ten minutes time with a heaping cup of instant tea, she set the saucer before Farrell. She allowed five seconds to pass for a weary “Thank you,” to be heard and she was off.
Once in the bedding room, beyond the view of the general clientele, Margaret gathered together her items. She pulled the clean, folded laundry from their respective cubbies and shelves, prepared the evening before, likely by a maid with better luck to have the night off. Well aware that all service was on her shoulders this evening, even if Jeffrey the doorman handled the incidentals, she settled herself for a long evening of solo work. However, she had only just over an hour to set the four beds Farrell warned her about.
As she walked past the hat rack where her drying coat stood proudly, she clasped her hand bag from the floor, lifting it to the cart, and rested it on the linen. The brick red and pine green crocheted bag contrasted with the ivory bedding in color, wear, and likely price tag.
She gripped the cart’s front handle and pushed it forward. One might as well start with the first floor.
Margaret passed the front desk again, as she walked towards her first charge. She intended a friendly smile at Mr. Farrell at the front desk, but saw him otherwise engaged with a guest. This guest, yapping dog and all, was a woman about sixty, twice the age of Margaret, and a fur coat that would have paid for Margaret’s daughter’s new clothes for five or six years. That ermine muff was no small treasure, either. “Twelve weeks piano lessons,” Margaret made a quick currency translation in her head.
The dog, a small caramel, deep brown, and white beagle, was fascinated at the cart and gave exasperated barks as Margaret passed him and his mistress. Margaret permitted a momentary reminder of the Christmas wish that Emily, her daughter, had made – well aware, it was to go unfulfilled a further year.
The first room on her list was 101. It was a small room, typically held for the hourly guest; a man who was on business and needed a place to bathe and freshen himself before heading out into the world. Sometimes Margaret would see a young woman enter the room first, and she did her best not to stare too long or make assumptions, much as they were.
Margaret clasped the ring of keys in her hand, and searched the appropriate. She soon has the latch open, and then the door. A rush of floral perfume filled her nostrils.
“Hi Maggie,” said a warm voice. Older, wiser, and ever-stuck in a mode most sultry, the voice belonged to an Eva Waggoner, who was no stranger to the room, or to these halls.
“Miss Waggoner,” Margaret nodded as she shuffled into the room and closed the door after her. “Merry Christmas to you.”
Eva was dressed, or somewhat undressed, in a snow white negligee, immodestly wrapped with a sheer, thin fabric masquerading as a robe. She kept one hand perpetually on her hip and the other holding a never-ashing cigarette.
She was, as you might imagine, quite dead.
“Miss Waggoner, you’re looking well.” Margaret was never one to leave conversation out of the air, and despite what she presumed her differences with Eva Waggoner might be, she refused to be rude.
Eva exhaled in boredom, a cloud of smoke from her lips instantly vanishing before it had a chance to swirl upwards. “You know, I’m thinking of leaving this place. Starting over somewhere. West, perhaps. Phoenix. Colorado, maybe.” She stared upwards, giving her greatest Lauren Bacall, as her finger tips gently padded her pin curled hair, slightly askew but quite fetching. She could never get it to set right these days.
“That sounds lovely. A clean start.” Margaret began with the sheets. Pulling the set of slept-in fitted sheets, a divine recent addition to the inventory, Margaret looked beyond any soil marks, wishing them away. It made it easier to handle the materials if she never considered what went on in the beds she changed.
“A clean start,” Eva murmured in her one woman show. She thrust her shoulders to the side as she danced gently, the muslin robe catching the movement and lingering in the breeze. She stared at the vanity , watching her lips pout around the drooping cigarette. She was now Dietrich.
The vanity’s table, every inch a Hollywood star’s, was strewn with cosmetics and atomizers. “It’s no good here, Maggie. The men, they’re just too much.” Eva picked up yet another rouge.
“And for so little in return,” Margaret hummed, sweeping the sheet flat. She grabbed the pillows from the headboard and began to switch out the covers.
Margaret peered over a pillowcase under her chin to see Eva comparing a strand of pearls and a ruby pendant. Eva’s eyes went to Margaret, “Well, it is a special occasion, you know.”
Eva returned to her own reflection. The pearls. Margaret took the cue and laid the pillow down, making her way to Eva. Eva smiled like she would at a loving sister, and let the pearls—considerable wages, Margaret knew—fill her hand. Margaret sighed at the touch of the beads, and dismissed a jab of envy. She arranged the necklace properly and lifted them over Eva’s head, and placed them tenderly on her cool, pallid skin. “Thank you, Maggie. You’re sweet to me.”
Margaret smiled, sadly, staring at the two of them in the mirror. This glamorous almost-was and this simple, modest never-could; they seemed like something out a before and after.
Eva turned and began her work again, as Eva purred some Dinah Shore hit, spraying herself with eau de something or other lilly and magnolia, and practicing her Hayworth.
he perfumed air went stale for a moment.
“Oh, Margaret,” Eva called out. She never called her Margaret.
“Yes, Miss Waggoner?”
“I’m terribly sorry but I do know I left some awful mess in the bath. I just can’t be sure what I was thinking. But I do apologize so profusely.” Eva’s usual lightness enriched by her smoky, husky voice was near-eternal but presently in conflict with a vulnerable sincerity of apology.
Margaret steadied herself. Room 101 was unpredictable, as was Miss Waggoner. She was warned by the most words Mr. Farrell at the front desk had ever spoken to her to expect this sort of thing in several rooms in the hotel. After the first week of work, his steely disposition and his expectancy of her own longevity in the field clicked into place. But she had proven him wrong.
In these months, she had seen flashes of utter horror, and collected in herself a commendable willpower she hadn’t thought possible.
Gathering her cleaning items, Margaret politely smiled at Eva, “I understand, Miss Waggoner.”
At least, she considered, it wasn’t the carpet this time.
Eva’s face, sullen and near gray, brightened again and she flashed a terrific smile – Harlow—before returning to her quiet singing and primping.
Knowing she was on a time table, perhaps Margaret wasn’t as meticulous as she could have been; she was better at the beds anyway. But knowing she needed to at least get most of the blood off the tiles even if it made them a subtle shade of brown as she mopped the towels in circles, she persisted. The laundress in her shuddered at the now useless cloth as she dumped them in her cart’s secondary compartment.
Wiping clean the tub’s rim, the splotches came up rather easily; she must have arrived just in time. The steam from the water as she flushed out the majority of the muck, filled the room and to distract herself, Margaret envisioned one of those fancy spas the ladies go to on Sundays.
She turned off the faucet and let the remaining steam aide in her sponging off the sink, and mirror. She gave a quiet prayer, and returned to the sleeping quarters. She dusted and patted down the overstuffed chair, refilled the pencil holder and paper for the desk, and looked around for any further concerns.
Eva Waggoner was now dressed. She stood tall in a smart two piece Maisonette; black and aqua with exquisite detailing. “Maggie, are you all set? I’m meeting Joe in a few minutes.” She was bent slightly, examining her seams in her stockings; a passable Marilyn.
Joe, this time, Margaret thought. She deserved a happy Christmas Eve, so she was glad.
“Yes, Miss Waggoner. You have a lovely evening. I’ll be seeing you.”
Eva laughed, “Unless this one sweeps me off my feet and takes me to Charleston with him—or Chicago, maybe!”
“You never can tell, Miss Waggoner.”
“Can you see them?” Eva said, distracted by her own visage in the mirror, her voice full of hope. She twisted her bare arms towards Margaret. Repulsive gashes up and down her wrists marred Eva’s exqusiite skin. She had clearly attempted to cover them in the makeup and powder, but the lascerations were far too deep. They were, after all, what had killed her.
Maragret exhaled, and collected her senses in time for Eva’s eyes to catch hers. She smiled gently. “You look marvelous, Miss Waggoner. No one will know.”
Eva squealed, her beautiful face tightening in schoolgirl joy, an emotion one might feel reserved for someone a good twenty years younger. “Thank you, Maggie.” Eva pressed her hands into Maragret’s, and squeezed. “This is for you.”
“Oh, Miss. Waggoner, I can’t,” sighed Margaret, regretfully now clutching the ruby pendant Eva had chosen against for the night.
Eva was already back the vanity, fluffing her hair. “It’s all settled,” she said casually, “It’s my gift to you.” She turned again, her eyes full of promise and her body movement near triumphant. “Merry Christmas, Maggie.” For once, Margaret couldn’t place the actress.
Margaret shyly tucked the pendant in her handbag, well aware of what was to be. She gathered herself and manuevered her cart to the door. “Merry Christmas, Miss Eva Waggoner.”
Eva turned and posed in the mirror still humming, “Rings and things and buttons and bows…” as the door closed behind Margaret.
Margaret began down the corridor, the cart gently bruxing. The towels inside had by now lost their spotting. The flecks of gore Margaret could not have avoided in her cleaning, flicked away, leaving no trace. She felt for her bag, already knowing the pendant was no longer there.
A man in front of her–well dressed and with a Clark Gable mustache– smiled slightly as he made room in the hallway for her to pass by, and return towards the lobby. A few feet beyond him, Margaret heard the key in the door, room 101.
“Merry Christmas, Miss Eva Waggoner.”
- Music used in the recording:
“Menilmontant” – Latch Swing; via Free Music Archive
“1940’s Slow Dance” – Doug Maxwell; Media Right Productions
“Hawaiian Blues” – Johnny Dunn’s Original Jazz Hounds via 78 Project