written, edited, and produced by Viktor Devonne for 2 Night Stay
performed by Sarah Storm
engineered and recorded by Matt Storm
Yet again, the master had cut himself shaving. Streaks of his blood needed to be mopped away from the counter. Marla was careful to not use the hotel towels, as she had her own. She didn’t need the fussy staff to ask questions they needn’t answers for.
At this rate, Marla had given up on the so-called safety razors of today. Clearly they weren’t foolproof as her own employer managed to nearly behead himself twice a week. She looked patronizingly at the set of razors, far from the familiarity of those long handled straight razors she recalled in her childhood household.
Twenty years his attendee, Marla had kept the nature of his condition private for the last seven. She was the sixth person told, but thanks to swinging doors in his home in Hartford, she was the second person to know. It had a German name; his illness coupled with his bullish attitude, he had been given fewer than ten years to live, and much of the last several were to dedicate finalizing his affairs.
This scene, not unlike some sordid alley during the Eastern Rising, was as usual as tea served at 2.
She picked up her skirts, and ducked down, peering under the countertop and basin, and found the remaining ruddy droplets. Folding the now gruesome linen, to be washed upon their return, Marla came back to the main room, and tucked them into her accumulating laundry.
While she rummaged, she spoke to the shadow of a figure in the bed behind her,”Mister Grantson, are you interested in going out this afternoon?”
A slight wheeze followed, with a long enough pause to send for a doctor, but then a cough and a murmur, “Eloise?”
“Mister Grantson, it’s Marla Macwell,” she said, now facing him, a wearied but concerned look on her face, and an accusatory hand on her hip. “You know it’s me, don’t let’s make pretending that you’ve lost your marbles.”
“You know, Marla, I would’ve married you after Eloise died if you hadn’t been such a mule.” Mr Grantson shifted in his bed, gently lifting what he could of his body with the strength of one shoulder.
“I know, Mr. Grantson,” Marla smiled, getting closer to fluff his pillow, “but I couldn’t have afforded the reduction in pay.” Now next to him, she could smell a waft of antiseptic, a post-bath face routine for her employer.
“The doctor?” Mr. Grantson trailed off.
“Dr. Sparrman will be at 3,” Marla said, sitting in the chair by the bed. “He will give your examination and let us know if you’re well enough to travel tomorrow morning.”
Mr. Grantson snorted. He had long favored his previous doctor, but he was dismayed to have outlived yet another. In seventy-eight years, he had seen them all go.
“Now, Mr Grantson, would you be liking your tea now?”
“Is it as weak as yesterday’s?” Mr. Grantson muttered.
Marla was undeterred. “Mr. Grantson, you know you cannot be taking your tea with as much sugar as you once did. You’re not a young man any more. We have to save your caloric intake.”
“What’s worth saving? Give me the damn tea.”
Marla sighed. The ox was stubborn as usual, but it was superior to the weeks of delusion and fits of unrest he suffered during his last treatment.
Marla fixed the tea as Mr. Grantson desired, and served it to his hand, steadying it by holding his wrist, and tucking a tray beneath it. She set the kettle aside, prepared for a second cup should he desire it, or if she had the opportunity to nip some while he rested.
“There was the noise again,” Mr. Grantson said between sickly sips.
“The noise,” muttered Marla, “Sir, it’s a busy street, we’re going to have noise. You want the racket of chickens like at home?”
“Not chickens… banging. Banging on the wall.”
“That was me, ” smiled Marla, “I was trying to make sure you didn’t have too good a night sleep so you’d nap early this evening.”
Mr. Grantson stared ahead. Marla checked her tone, as it was a familiar one but was concerned it was too sarcastic for the circumstances. She and Mr. Grantson had enjoyed several years of playful back and forth in their conversation; indeed, something of a teasing daughter of only eight or nine to her youthful, funny father.
“Mr. Grantson, perhaps we should tell the doctor what you’ve been hearing? Perhaps your body giving yourself a knocking and you’re mistaking it for out of doors.”
“I’m not giving myself a knocking,” Mr. Grantson said more loudly than he had been in days. “There’s something here. There’s always something here.”
“I have told the staff and they assure us there aren’t rats.”
“Every hotel has rats,” Mr. Grantson sighed. “But that’s not what I’m hearing. You’d hear it too if you ever stopped talking long enough.”
Marla steadied her tongue and the room was momentarily silent. She reached for the cloth around Mr. Grantson’s neck. He shuddered, but relented.
“I’m sorry, Marla.” He said quietly.
“Oh, Mr. Grantson, you haven’t said the worst I could take in these twenty years.” Marla studied the bloodstains on the cloth. It seemed to be taking longer to stop every time. She went to tuck the fabric into her laundry items.
“The noise has been going for the full week we’ve been here.” Mr. Grantson, not to be ignored, continued. “I hear it at night. I hear the quiet of the out doors when you leave the window open, and I hear the bustle of morning when the staff turns down the rooms. I hear the guests leave their rooms for dinner. And I know what I hear at night is different. I hear a banging in this hotel, the ghosts of who’ve gone, saying it’s time for me.”
“Oh, Mr. Grantson,” Marla sighed.
“Doctor Sparrman… he says I’m dying.” Mr. Grantson said directly.
“Doctor Whalen was your last physician, Mr. Grantson. You haven’t met Doctor Sparrman yet, and he hasn’t told you any such thing.” Marla began folding his handkerchiefs, as she had always done for her parents when she was little.
“He says I’m dying,” Mr. Grantson continued, “and he’ll say it today. Dr. Whalen knew me better than to leave me off with some thumper who won’t tell me what I need to know.”
Marla, for once in a long while, attempted to keep her mouth shut. Her willpower lasted nearly whole seconds.
“Mr. Grantson, the doctor will tell you what he will tell you and we will prepare for it as always.” She allowed herself a softer tone than even was necessary.
“Is Stephen coming?” Mr. Grantson coughed.
“Your son is at the house, Mr. Grantson. He is meeting us there when you’re well enough to return.”
Marla closed her eyes, begging her god for no follow-up questions. Stephen had long not been her favorite of Mr. Grantson’s sons. His piggish behavior had increased once his father’s illness was made public. She half expected to see him with a measuring tape in each room, determining what the ad would say upon the estate sale date of Mr. Grantson’s death.
“Damn,” muttered Mr. Grantson, and Marla peered over her shoulder to see he had spilled the rest of his tea cup over his chest. Immediately registering the steps to improve the situation, Marla had a new shirt in her hand to redress him. She assured him there were no burns, and that the tea was in fact quite cold after all.
His energy had all but given out upon her cleanup; then he settled his head against the pillow and headboard, and nodded in a quiet succumbence of rest.
As the clock ticks grew further and further away in sound, Mr. Grantson was asleep, as Marla stood there, bringing the soiled shirt to the basin.
The room was quiet as she stood there, barring that of the cool water pouring from the faucet. As it approached a warmer touch, Marla ran her weathered fingers under the tap. She had seen her own father go, years earlier, and was doing all she could to not allow the memories to subject her to foregone conclusions of her employer.
The steam rose from the basin, and Marla dunked the shirt under. Her eyes trailed away, awash with concern and predisposed loss for Thomas James Grantson. As she looked on, a spot came in focus. The resulting splatter of Mr. Grantson’s emboldened attempts to shave himself in the morning, continued to carry into the afternoon, it seemed.
Leaving the shirt immersed in the water, Marla stared down at the spot. The color suggested it was older but it looked otherwise fresh. The spot, marring the otherwise lovely daffodil-colored tiles, just to the left of the dish of bar soap dimmed in the light. Marla shook her head, somewhat dizzy, and looked again. Seeing nothing but the subtle wash of yellow color on the wall, she stepped back uneasily, confused. She glanced at the sink and let out a yelp. Her master’s white collared shirt was now drenched in a deep, thick scarlet bath. She puffed and stumbled back towards the wall of the bathroom, nearly falling into the tub, causing her view to catch the floor to steady herself.
She looked back at the sink. The shirt bobbed slightly in the clear water. She gasped but did not want to wake her employer up, so she stifled her sound with her fingers, nearly biting into them with fear. A drubbing against the wall shook her into place, as she stood, far enough from the sound to ensure she had not been the one to make it.
The yellow wall tile shone in the light of the room, gently reflecting just the closest of objects. Marla studied the tile, seeing how each was separated by a thin strip of hardened white goo. She let her gaze follow several pieces until she stopped dead.
Marla slowly moved closer to the splotch of crimson that marred the otherwise cheerful hue. This mark was larger, unmistakable, and slowly, purposefully dripped in thin lines to the floor.
“No…” Marla held her head. She rushed her palm to the mark, praying it would vanish upon contact, but instead leaving an ugly smear. She gagged at the sight.
Her eyes filling with wells of tears, she sank her hand into the still water of the basin, the water immediately a deepening, wretched pink. With her other hand, she turned the faucet, cupping handfuls of water and bringing them to her face.
Convinced she was suddenly going mad, she squeezed her eyes tight and commanded her senses to return. When she opened them, a wash of blood across the basin, counter, and floor pushed her deeper into a state of shock and fear. Her shoes, as she pulled them backwards, left a sickening residue on the floor. Her head pounded, and she slammed her fists on the sink, cracking it. The faucet continued to pour clean water on to the fresh stains of blood, and trickled through the crack and onto the floor. She let out a hearty bellow, her mind flooding with as many terrible visions as she could scarcely breathe during.
Crashing her fists against the walls, she screamed as each blow left a splattered bloodstain not her own. “Stop it! Stop it!” she howled, “I’ll never get it clean. I’ll never… ” she slumped on the floor, feeling the ooze beneath her knees and thighs. “I’ll never…”
She continued to dwindle; her body further slinking into the horrific slush, never ending and smelling of wounded, severed flesh, and revolting rusted metal. Her strength at a near end, she pounded against the sticky floor, banging and sobbing.
“Marla?” a cough came from the other room.
For entire minutes, it felt like all the air went out, the silence of a ear gone numb, the sting of nonvolume, a near hum of agony. She opened her eyes again.
Yet again, the master had cut himself shaving. Streaks of his blood needed to be mopped away from the counter. Emma was careful to not use the hotel towels, as she had her own. She didn’t need the fussy staff to ask questions they needn’t answers for.
The scene, not unlike some sordid alley in Herzegovina she heard of growing up, was as usual as tea served at 2.
Emma returned to the main room, and tucked them into her accumulating laundry.
While she rummaged, she spoke to the shadow of a figure in the bed behind her,”Mister Grantson, will you be going out this afternoon?”
They sat in the dim light; “Marla?”
“Mister Grantson,” she said firmly but warmly, “It’s Emma Kovacs. You know it’s me, don’t let’s make pretending that you’ve lost your marbles.”