I empathize with this building. It collapses into itself – built of cobwebs and dark, and held upright by the last of our hopes. I drift down the halls and am not alone. There are other figures who wander and seek. What are they looking for? An old shoe, a forgotten secret, a lost love. I do not know. I let these imagined stories of their search fill my thoughts, consciousness seeping outward like fog until the mind is inseparable from the space it inhabits. The building keeps me from drifting off completely. Its creaking and settling are like breathing, inhaling and exhaling once or twice each night. If I cannot remember who I am, it is because my identity is seeping into the floors my feet shift silently over without disturbing a carpet of dust.
There is a partly torn photograph lying by crates of moldy bedding and a curtain that used to hang across the stage. Two people; a suit and a dress. She stands tiptoe on feet that remember dancing. Terpsichoreans blur the backdrop and to the far left light glimmers off instruments belonging to the Bantam Brass Boys. It is a wonder that I know the musicians’ name and not my own.
I have wandered that room, I have stood where they stood, laughing, fresh-faced from dancing. It is in the base of this hotel. I am bound to the building and to the photograph, to the girl. I am looking at a familiar face in passing and get a feeling of deja vu. I do not look at the man’s face; that pain is for the living.
Tonight I feel a hand on my shoulder. I have forgotten how to touch, how to be touched. It is one of many, but not the most important of the things I have lost. Soft music floats around us, rich and smooth. Jazz has always sounded navy to me. One last dance, I understand.
This could all exist within my own mind, I think, but I look at him and forget. He has the eyes from the picture, gazing out with such earnestness. Lilly, he calls me, and as he says it I can see this place as it once was. The dancing couples around us are revelers in their own living. The talented musicians play over the sound of glasses of bootleg alcohol clinking. Feet I once considered light press against the gleaming wooden floor.
If I had breath to take away, I would have been left gasping by this specter of the past.
It’s almost dawn, I want to say, but the words are shadows fleeing the light. They are strangers I will never know. For a moment, I despair. I have had an unwanted excess of time, a parade of nights, and now I have too little, for who knows if this glorious fantasy will exist tomorrow.
He squeezes my hand. How can he steal the air from me? He guides me gently into a dilapidated lobby where jazz music still envelops my ears. He keeps walking toward the doors though I hesitate and my fingers slip. He is a kite spooling to the end of my reach, but after so long letting everything slide away, I hold on. We step into light that laps at us like waves.
“The Old Hotel” was previously published in Scarlet Leaf Review.