The Spiders’ Rendezvous ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
The fans close to the ceiling whir lazily, shifting the warm air from one place to another. He pulls back the fly-specked curtain and looks down into the street. Two cars and an old truck are parked at the curb. A fat woman in a flowered dress leads two children who don’t want to be led. An old man in overalls totters on the sidewalk, nearly falls, rights himself and spits. A dog trots across the street and urinates against a tree on the other aside. Everything here has gone to hell, he tells himself, and lets the curtain fall back into place.
He calls down to room service. “Send up a bottle of champagne in a bucket of ice,” he says.
“Who is this?” a voice asks, and he recognizes it as the ignorant desk clerk.
“Mr. Gilchrist in room four twenty-five.”
“We don’t have no champagne, sir,” the clerk says.
“Well, what do you have?”
“Hold on a minute.”
He hears the low murmur of voices as the clerk confers with others and in a minute he comes back on the line.
“Is beer okay?”
“As long as it’s cold.”
“Send up six bottles. And I don’t want it unless it’s cold.”
He opens the suitcase on the bed and a couple of minutes later is annoyed by a knock at the door.
“Who is it?” he says loudly.
When he opens the door he sees standing there a woman past the first blush of youth but still not old. She brings the tray bearing six bottles of beer into the room and sets it on the desk.
“Will there be anything else?” she asks in a half-hearted, disinterested way.
He looks closely at her and smiles. “You’re much prettier than the usual bellboy,” he says.
“We don’t have no bellboy anymore,” she says. “He quit.”
“What is your function in the establishment, then, if I may be so bold?”
“If you’re not the usual bellboy, what do you do?”
“Well, I mostly help in the kitchen. Some days I clean rooms and sometimes I have to take things to people because there’s nobody else to do it.”
“Well, I can’t tip you because I don’t have any money but I’ll take care of you before I check out.”
“Oh, that’s all right, sir. Nobody ever tips me.”
“What’s your name?”
“That’s a euphonious name. It trips lightly off the tongue.”
“Never mind. Won’t you stay and have a drink with me?”
“Oh, no, sir. I can’t. I’m expected back in the kitchen.”
“They don’t let you take rest breaks in the kitchen?”
“Well, I guess it’ll be all right for a minute or two.”
She comes inside. He closes the door, uncaps one of the beers and hands it to her.
“I shouldn’t drink while I’m working,” she says.
“I won’t tell anybody if you don’t,” he says.
She sits on the settee and he takes one of the beers for himself and sits down beside her. She looks warily at him and takes a drink of the beer.
“You’re not trying to get me drunk, are you?” she asks.
“No, I’m not trying to get you drunk, Stella. It would avail me nothing if I did.”
“I don’t understand half of what you say,” she says and shakes her head.
“How old are you, Stella?”
“I think you’re at least ten years older than that, but we won’t quibble.”
She giggles and blushes. “What does it matter? It’s just a number, anyway.”
“How old do you think I am?” he asks.
“I don’t know. About forty, I guess.”
“Not even close,” he says, “but thank you for lying.”
“The beer sure tastes good,” she says. “I haven’t had a beer in a long time.”
“It seems that beer is all they have in this establishment. It used to be that they would have anything you would ever ask for, and if they didn’t have it, they’d get it.”
“When was that?”
“A long time ago, probably before you were even born. I had the best time I ever had in my life right here in this hotel.”
“You spent your honeymoon here with your wife?”
“No. That was in Niagara. I had a far better time right here, though.”
“Where is your wife now?”
“Long ago departed.”
“What do you mean? Did she die?”
“As far as I’m concerned she did.”
“But she’s still alive somewhere?”
“I guess so. I haven’t thought to inquire.”
“So the fun you had here was not with your wife?”
“No. My wife and I never had any fun.”
“What did you do here that was so much fun?”
“A long time ago, right after I graduated from college, a group of my friends and I spent a part of every summer here.”
“Oh.” She seems disappointed.
“It was a very fine hotel then. The service was impeccable. The food was the best anywhere. They had a beer garden and a dance floor out back.”
“There’s nothing back there now.”
“Yes, there was a flood and the river swept all that away and after it was gone nobody bothered to bring it back.”
“I don’t remember a flood like that,” she said.
“There were five and sometimes six or more of us,” he says. “There were no better or closer friends in the world. We swam and hiked during the day and rode horses. At night we caroused and played cards and drank until two in the morning or sometimes later. Then we didn’t get up until noon the next day and when we did we had a huge meal and rested up for that night.”
“You didn’t have to work?”
“Not a care in the world.”
“And what happened to your friends?”
“They’re all dead now. One of them’s in jail.”
“And you’re the only one left?”
“Gone to seed, just like the hotel.”
She finishes her beer and hands him the bottle. “I have to get back to work,” she says. “They’ll come looking for me.”
“I wish you could stay and have another one,” he says.
“I guess it doesn’t make much difference,” she says. “I’m going to be out of a job soon, anyway.”
“Why is that?”
“They’re shutting down the hotel. Nobody wants to come here anymore.”
“You probably can’t believe it now,” he says, “but it used to be a very fine hotel.”
He hands her another beer and she drinks half of it in one gulp as if she has a tremendous thirst. “What do you suppose happened?” she asks, wiping the back of her hand across her mouth.
“Time,” he says. “Time is what happened.”
She rests her head on his shoulder and belches. “I should probably get back downstairs,” she says.
Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp