The Lonely Hearts Hotel, p.1Heather O'Neill
ALSO BY HEATHER O’NEILL
Daydreams of Angels
The Girl Who Was Saturday Night
Lullabies for Little Criminals
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Copyright © 2017 by Heather O’Neill
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Ebook ISBN: 9780735213753
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: O’Neill, Heather, author.
Title: The Lonely Hearts Hotel : a novel / Heather O’Neill.
Description: New York : Riverhead Books, 2017.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016036295 | ISBN 9780735213739 (hardcover)
Subjects: LCSH: First loves—Fiction. | BISAC: FICTION / Historical. | FICTION / Literary. | GSAFD: Love stories.
Classification: LCC PR9199.4.O64 L66 2017 | DDC 813/.6—dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016036295
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Also by Heather O’Neill
1 | THE BIRTH OF A BOY NAMED PIERROT
2 | THE MELANCHOLIC BEGINNINGS OF A GIRL NAMED ROSE
3 | A HISTORY OF INNOCENCE
4 | THE EARLY YEARS OF A BRILLIANT IDIOT
5 | NOTES ON A YOUNG PROVOCATRICE
6 | PORTRAIT OF BOY WITH UMBRELLA
7 | IN WHICH THE SNOW IS CUED FROM BELOW
8 | THE SNOWFLAKE ICICLE EXTRAVAGANZA
9 | IN WHICH PIERROT IS MISTAKEN FOR A GENIUS
10 | IN WHICH ROSE IS INSTRUCTED OF HER NEW FATE
11 | PIERROT’S REVERSAL OF FORTUNE
12 | MR. BEAUTY AND MISS BEAST
13 | PORTRAIT OF PIERROT AS A YOUNG ARISTOCRAT
14 | PORTRAIT OF LADY AT ODDS WITH THE WORLD
15 | PIERROT’S SAD CAREER AS CASANOVA
16 | ROSE SMOKES CIGARS
17 | PIERROT AND THE APPLE
18 | ROSE AND THE APPLE
19 | A SPOONFUL OF DREAMS
20 | IN WHICH MRS. MCMAHON HAS AN IDEA
21 | SKETCH OF MAN WITH MONKEY
22 | THE TEN PLAGUES
23 | OF MICE AND WOMEN
24 | POPPY SINGS A LOVE SONG
25 | THE CAT THIEF IN THE NURSERY
26 | THE GIRL WHO CRIED “MARCO POLO”
27 | TWO MEN
28 | IN WHICH A GIRL IN CHEAP STOCKINGS SINGS THE BLUES
29 | IN WHICH ICARUS LANDS ON SAINT DENIS STREET
30 | STUDY FOR BROKEN FINGERS
31 | PORTRAIT OF LADY AS ALLEY CAT
32 | PORTRAIT OF LADY WITH WHIP AND DONKEY
33 | STILL LIFE OF MURDERS
34 | TINKER BELL’S REAL NAME
35 | ROSE IS A ROSE IS A ROSE IS A ROSE
36 | THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY
37 | ON THE FIRST DAY
38 | ON THE SECOND DAY
39 | ON THE THIRD DAY
40 | ON THE FOURTH DAY
41 | ON THE FIFTH DAY
42 | ON THE SIXTH DAY
43 | ON THE SEVENTH DAY
44 | THE MOON IN C MINOR
45 | NOCTURNE IN PINK AND GOLD
46 | THE HEARTBEAT OF A RABBIT
47 | A CHURCH BELL RINGING
48 | SELF-PORTRAIT ON TRAIN
49 | THE COMPLETE MAN
50 | THE TOWER OF BABEL
51 | THE WORKING-GIRL REVOLUTION
52 | DETAIL OF WALLPAPER
53 | STUDY OF GIRL IN A SAILOR HAT
54 | THE ARRIVAL OF A TRAIN
55 | THE BIG APPLE
56 | THE SNOWFLAKE ICICLE EXTRAVAGANZA
57 | JIMMY’S ONE-POINT PERSPECTIVE
58 | THE HONEYMOON HOTEL
59 | THE HERO OF ANOTHER NOVEL
60 | CONEY ISLAND BABY
61 | THE CHILDREN’S WAR
62 | NAPOLEON, MON AMOUR
63 | LADY OF THE POND
64 | THE HEART IS A TRUMPET SOLO
65 | THE TITANIC SAILS AT NOON
66 | PRIMER FOR A REVOLUTION
67 | POSTCARDS OF THE HANGING
68 | BALLAD FOR THE MOON IN C MINOR
69 | UNKNOWN HEROIN ADDICT, NEW YORK CITY
70 | THE FUNERAL PARADE
71 | FINAL CHAPTER
About the Author
THE BIRTH OF A BOY NAMED PIERROT
On that day in 1914, a young girl banged on the door of the Hôpital de la Miséricorde in Montreal. She was pudgy and had round apple cheeks and blond ringlets. She was only twelve years old.
Her older cousin, Thomas, had gone overseas to France to fight. She had been crazy about him since she was a tiny thing. He was wild and did handstands and took her to see bands in the park on Sundays. He was brave and always told her that he would like to be a soldier someday. He had come over to her home one afternoon the previous winter and had said that he would give her a medical exam to see if she was fit for active duty, the way that boys had to do. She had really wanted to know whether she could have been a soldier too if she were a boy. He’d said he had to stick his penis inside her to test her internal temperature. When he was done, satisfied with her perfect health, he had handed her a little red ribbon that had come off a cake box. Then he pinned it to her jacket as a badge of honor for the consummation of her grand service to her country. When the Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated, Thomas prayed for months that Canada would declare war, to get away from his pregnant cousin.
Her parents sent her to the Hôpital de la Miséricorde. Every day there were young pregnant girls lining up outside the hospital, with their big bellies that they could no longer hide from their families. They had been thrown out of their houses. Some had had time to pack their suitcases first. Others had just been pulled by their hair and tossed out the door. The girls showed up with handprints from their fathers on their faces, bruises they tried to hide beneath their pretty blond curls or straight dark hair. They looked like porcelain dolls that had fallen out of favor with their children.
These girls had thrown their whole lives away just to have five lovely minutes on a back staircase. Now, with strangers living in their bellies, they had been sent into hiding by their parents, while the young fathers went about their business, riding bicycles and whistling in the bathtub. That’s what this building had been established for. Out of a great kindness for these miserable wenches.
The nuns gave the girls aliases when they came in through the big doors of the Hôpital de la Miséricorde. They said that the names were for the girls’ own protection, but they obviously had the added role of humiliating the girls and reminding them of their new scorned and sinful status.
The apple-cheeked girl was christened Ignorance by the nuns. She became known as Iggy. She had no regard for the fact that she had a potbelly with the most precious package in the world inside it. She wrestled a cat one day. Another day she leaped from one bed to the other as though they were ice floes. She did cartwheels down the hall. The nuns tried their very best to stop her. They had occasion to wonder whether she could be so remarkably naive or if she was trying to have a miscarriage, thinking somewhat irrationally that she would get out of there early.
When her baby boy was born blue, it didn’t surprise anyone. He looked like a stillborn baby. The doctor checked the pulse. There was not a sound coming from the boy’s heart. The doctor put his hand in front of the mouth to check for breath, but there was nothing.
They left the baby on the table, its arms at its sides. Its bow legs fell open. The priest didn’t know what happened to these babies in limbo. He waved his rosary over him—did his funeral rites. He turned away from him. He would take the baby away in his large handbag that he kept especially for such occasions. He would have him buried behind the church in a bread box. You didn’t have to have fancy coffins for this kind of death.
Then strangely and surreally, the boy’s penis began to rise straight up. And then the baby coughed out a cry, color began to appear in his skin and his limbs twitched. The erection had brought him back from the dead. The priest wasn’t sure whether he was witnessing a miracle. Was this the work of God, or was it the work of the devil?
When the nun from the Hôpital de la Miséricorde brought Iggy’s baby to the orphanage to spend the rest of his childhood, she told the nuns there to watch out for him. His mother had been trouble, and even though he was nothing but a baby, they were sure there was something not quite right about the boy. A black cat was at the nun’s feet and followed them in. All the male babies at the orphanage were named Joseph. It was thus also an imperative to come up with nicknames for them. The nuns at the orphanage called this baby Pierrot because he was so pale and he always had a rather stupid grin on his face.
THE MELANCHOLIC BEGINNINGS OF A GIRL NAMED ROSE
Rose was born to an eighteen-year-old girl who didn’t know she was pregnant until she was six months along. Rose’s mother hadn’t particularly liked Rose’s father. The boy waited for her on the corner of her street every day. He would always beg her to come into the alley with him and let him have a peek at her breasts. She decided to give in one afternoon. Somehow she thought that if she made love to him, he would go away and leave her alone. Which, actually, proved to be the case.
When she realized she was pregnant, the girl hid it under baggy clothes the whole time. She gave birth to a tiny baby girl at home in the bathtub. It had purple lids over its eyes. It looked like it might be thinking about a poem. The girl’s sisters all stared at the little baby in shock, not knowing what to do. They forgot to put their hands over the baby’s mouth and it let out a cry that summoned everyone in the house.
With tears streaming out of two black eyes that she’d gotten from her father, the girl wrapped the baby up in a little blanket. She put on her black coat and boots. She was supposed to go straight to the church. Babies were abandoned on the church steps all the time. The baby’s fists opened and closed like a pensive sea anemone. But before the girl left, she got on her hands and knees and secretly begged her mother for fifty dollars. Her mother, with a mixture of disgust and compassion, handed her daughter the bills. The girl whispered “Thank you” and hurried out the door.
She passed the church and walked another mile and knocked on a door at the end of a lane. There was a woman who lived there who would take your baby off you for fifty dollars. For the fee, the woman promised, the baby would not be put in an orphanage.
A woman with gray hair the color of gunpowder and wearing a coat opened the door for Rose’s mother. In the kitchen, she said she would make sure that the girl was given to a rich family in Westmount. She would be dressed in beautiful white outfits with elaborate little collars, which would make her look like a flower. She would have a governess and an Irish wolfhound. She would be read to all the time from great fat books. For a small fee. For a small fee. For a small fee she could secure a home and good fortune for her daughter.
What a foolish imagination Rose’s mother had to have had to buy what this woman was selling. It was no good to have an imagination if you were a girl and living in Montreal at the beginning of the twentieth century. Intelligence was what she needed. But she never listened to anyone.
• • •
A MAN, taking a shortcut home from the factory, found Rose wrapped in her blanket in the snow beneath a tree in Mount Royal Park. She was frozen and had two little round spots like blue roses on her cheeks. The man put his ear up to the girl’s face and felt that her cheeks were as cold as stones, but he heard a tiny, tiny exhale. He tucked her deep into the folds of his coat and ran with her to the hospital. At the hospital, they put her in a bucket of warm water. When her eyes flittered open, it was a miracle of sorts.
The police went to the park and found other babies in the snow, each having turned into a stone angel. The terrible merchant’s identity was uncovered and she was arrested. As she was being dragged into court, all the people threw snowballs with rocks embedded in them at her. The woman was sentenced to be hanged. Although everyone was indignant and outraged about the fate of Rose, nobody came forward to adopt her. All anyone could afford was indignation.
When the policemen brought the baby to the orphanage, they said, “Watch out for this one. Nothing good was ever meant to happen to her.” All the girls at the orphanage were named Marie, and so was this baby girl. But her nickname, which she would always be known by, was Rose, because the two bright spots on her cheeks had turned from blue to red, then took two more weeks to disappear.
A HISTORY OF INNOCENCE
The orphanage was on the northern boundary of the city. If you went to where the city ended and then walked two thousand paces, you would come upon the orphanage, although it isn’t there now. It was an enormous place. It was not the type of building that you would want to bother making a pen-and-ink sketch of because you would surely get incredibly bored drawing all those identical square windows. It would require no artistry on your part and, therefore, you might find your time more creatively spent illustrating a running horse.
Before the orphanage had been built, orphans were housed in the nuns’ motherhouse downtown. And that had been too much temptation for the orphans. They did not sufficiently understand their otherness. They believed that they too were a part of city life. They were meant to be servile. It was better here in isolation.
The building was teeming with abandoned and orphaned children. Although many actually had parents, they were taught to consider themselves, for all intents and purposes, orphans as well. There were two separate dormitories, one on either side of the building, one for boys and one for girls. There were identical beds in the dormitories. The children lay tucked up in their blankets like rows of dumplings on a plate. There was a small wooden trunk at the foot of each bed in which each orphan was to keep their personal effects. These trunks usually contained a nightgown or pajamas and a toothbrush and a comb. There was sometimes a special rock hidden inside too. There was a pillbox with a broken butterfly in one.
There was an extensive garden behind the orphanage that the children tended. There was a chicken coop where little round eggs appeared as if by magic every morning. Tiny fragile moons that were necessary for survival. The children reached into the nests ever so carefully to retrieve the eggs without breaking their shells. With the sleeves of their sweaters pulled over their hands, their arms were like the trunks of elephants swallowing up peanuts.
There were two cows that had to be milked every morning. The task of milking a cow always required two orphans. On
• • •
THE CHILDREN were all quite pale. They never had enough to eat. Sometimes they would find themselves just fantasizing about eating. While they were sitting in class, sometimes they would look down and tell their bellies to hush—as though there were a dog underneath the table begging for scraps.
They never had enough clothes in the winter either and were cold for months. The tips of their fingers went numb when they shoveled the path to the chicken coop. They would hold their hands up to their faces and breathe against them to generate just a handful of heat. They would tap-dance about to keep their toes warm. They would never completely thaw out under the thin blankets at night. They would pull the blankets over their head and wrap their arms around their legs, trying to hug themselves, trying to make themselves into little warm bundles.
They were never quite certain when a blow might fall, but they were struck by the nuns for virtually anything. It was the nature of such a system of beatings that a child could never really determine when he was going to be hit—they could not predict or control it completely. In the wisdom of the nuns, the children were wicked just by virtue of existing. So it followed, really, that all their actions were wicked. And they could be punished for actions that, if committed by other children, would be considered benign.
Herein is recorded a brief summary of certain infractions that were the cause of corporal punishments, meted out to children from January to July 1914.
From The Book of Minor Infractions:
A boy raised his legs up in the air and made a bicycle motion with them.
A small girl looked at a chipmunk and made clucking noises in an attempt to communicate with it.
A boy was standing on one foot while holding his refectory tray.
A little boy was staring too quizzically at his reflection in a spoon.
A little girl was humming “La Marseillaise.”
A boy was stomping the snow off his boots in an overly aggressive fashion.
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