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The lonely hearts hotel, p.21
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       The Lonely Hearts Hotel, p.21

           Heather O'Neill

  There was a girl who was found beside the fairground. She’d had a good time there, as she had a stick of cotton candy lying next to her, and a stuffed black panther with a red bow tie around its neck. It was something she had won, tossing balls into baskets and rings around the necks of bottles. She was wearing black tights. Those black tights reminded him so much of Rose. He liked when she would sit in her tights on the side of the bed with her legs dangling over the side. They reminded him of a little girl, but a little girl he could fuck.

  He loved Rose so much, he needed her dead. It was a man’s right to kill the woman he loved. McMahon closed the portfolio and went to find Rose. The smoke ring from his cigar hung in the dark like an eclipsed moon.



  Pierrot was feeling lonely. He looked up at a building whose windows were all lit up at night. They each looked like a luminous oil painting hanging on a wall. There was a girl with a big fat ass trying to get a knot out of her hair with a brush. It looked like a Rubens painting. There was a skinny girl with her hair pulled back reading a recipe book. It was a Giacometti! The girl with the strawberry-blond hair—with her arms folded over her large breasts and sticking her toe in the bath—was a masterpiece by Botticelli.

  He didn’t have the will or drive or courage to make love to anyone ever again.

  Pierrot made friends with an usher who worked at the Savoy with him. They were walking home in the same direction along Saint Catherine Street one night after closing up. Pierrot was staying at a men’s hotel on Saint Dominique called the Conquistador. The usher lived with his mother on Saint Christophe.

  They passed a noisy proscenium that had the word Arcade written in tiny red lightbulbs across the top. There were blue and green tiles leading into the arched glass doorway. The usher grabbed Pierrot’s wrist and dragged him down to the front of the establishment. “Let me show you the greatest footage ever recorded by mankind. I’m going to show you a wonderful film. I mean, this is going to change the way you think about everything. This is real moviemaking.”

  “You didn’t like the film tonight?”

  “Not my cup of tea. I hate singing and dancing. And I despise sailors. If I didn’t live in Montreal, I might feel differently about American sailors. But I do happen to live here, and I hate their guts. Come on! I’m going to give you culture!”

  He led Pierrot into the arcade. They passed rows of colorful new devices called pinball machines. They were dinging and whistling and making a racket. The noises reminded him of the nursery at the orphanage, the babies shaking their rattles and the bars of their cribs. The noisy babies were the ones who lived. The silent ones slipped away into the great eternal quiet they so clearly preferred.

  He passed by a miniature racing track with wooden horses making their way across. They were black and white and dappled. The jockeys riding them had their backs hunched and their heads down, imploring the horses to advance. It made him think of the horse-drawn carts at the orphanage at Christmastime. He didn’t know why everything was reminding him of the orphanage and his childhood.

  The usher gestured toward the back of the arcade. There, up against the wall, was a row of three light blue machines screwed to a heavy wooden table. A sign on the wall above them had the words Peep Show written in red letters. Written on the machines themselves in red glittering letters were the words Beautiful Ladies. Underneath, the fine print swore that for a penny you could have all your earthly desires met.

  Pierrot had so little money. Naturally, he didn’t like to waste it. He didn’t even want to part with a penny. But he was enticed and frightened by the machine. He instinctively knew that it was more than it seemed. You could look through a keyhole and have everything you knew about people transformed by what you saw on the other side. It reminded him of Sister Eloïse having him peek under her habit.

  And he wasn’t quite sure what he felt: terror or desire. He was unused to desire because he was a junkie. And when he felt it, he got it confused with all kinds of other things. Nonetheless, he dropped his penny in. He had the feeling that he had dropped it down a well. It was irretrievable now. He lowered his head. He pressed his eyes against the telescope that looked down and not up.

  There was a girl with a black mask flittering on the screen. She had on a black corset and black panties. She had leather high-heeled boots that went up to her thighs. She was carrying a long riding whip in her hand. She tiptoed quietly and cautiously around the room. She seemed to dance about on her toes as she looked about, searching for a victim who was apparently eluding her.

  He didn’t have any trouble recognizing her with a blindfold. They had often played hide-and-seek when they were at the orphanage. In so many of his memories of Rose, she happened to have a blindfold on. Because children who couldn’t hold in their laughter were usually discovered, Rose was often it.

  In the film, she was tiptoeing back from the closet when she noticed a pair of men’s shoes sticking out from beneath the bed.

  You might think he was upset by what he saw. But Pierrot felt the opposite. He didn’t judge Rose for this. He had also had sex with people he hadn’t loved. Rose was silent up on the screen. He thought she was like a fairy trapped inside a bottle. He had never wanted to make love to someone so badly in his life.

  This meant that she wasn’t married. It was a lie. Eloïse had lied. She was by no means leading a conventional life. By no means! And Poppy had been incorrect. She was no protected gangster’s moll. She was free to do as she pleased. She belonged to no man. He could find her. Rose lifted up the bedspread and bent down to peek under the bed.

  “Oh, come catch me! Catch me!” Pierrot found himself saying. The screen went black, as if a guillotine blade had dropped.

  • • •

  PIERROT DECIDED to go through withdrawal. For the first time since he had become an addict, he had a reason to get clean. He wanted to have an enormous hard-on when he found his Rose again.

  He was sweaty all night. He reached for a teacup. The teacup shivered and shook as though it were a tiny boat on a terribly tempestuous sea. Everything he touched he seemed to electrocute. It was as if his finger were a lightning bolt. He picked up his jacket and it shook like a man being hanged and jerking around trying to stay alive.

  He was too cold and too hot all at once. He didn’t know whether or not he was suffering. His body was restless no matter what he was doing. When he was sitting down, he wanted to be standing, and when he got up, he wanted to be lying down. He sat on a chair as he crossed and uncrossed his legs. There were bugs all over him. There were ants in his pockets. He had ants going up his sleeves. They were all around his neck. They were stuck to the sweat.

  He puked into a bucket. There was nothing but a little bit of bile. But he knew he had exorcised the demon inside him. How mundane demons were, he thought as he flushed it down the toilet and then washed out the bucket. Our trials always seemed so tiny and insignificant in retrospect, once they faded away into the distance.

  He thought of the enormous erection he would have when it was all over. He thought of the look that would be on Rose’s face when he penetrated her the way no man had ever penetrated her before. But most of all, he wanted to do something he had never done before.

  He wanted to have sex with someone he was in love with.



  One night Rose went out drinking with the other girls after a long day of shooting. They sat on the row of stools at the bar together.

  “Isn’t it an obvious fact that the pursuit of happiness always makes a person miserable?” Rose said ponderously after two beers. “So do you think that if we went out of our way to look for things that made us miserable, we would find ourselves perfectly content in the end?”

  “Oh, ne commence pas avec tes idées folles, Rose,” said a girl named Georgette. “Anytime you sta
rt thinking and drinking at the same time, you end up going a little bit cuckoo.”

  “Don’t worry, my pretty darling. All of you are worried about me steering the night into melancholic waters, but don’t be! I’m in a fantastic mood tonight.”

  A man asked her to dance, but she waved him off. She didn’t like following the same steps that everybody else was following. She took a flower from the vase on the bar, stuck it behind her ear and stood.

  “Ladies, have you met my beau? Don’t judge him because he’s a bear.”

  She put her arms around her imaginary bear and they waltzed around the dance floor. People stopped to look. At first they thought they were looking because it was so incredibly odd. But then they started looking because they wanted to watch the expression on Rose’s face as she waltzed. It was a look of rapture, as if she were having the most wonderful dream. They wondered whether they would be able to find love like that in their own lives. They all wanted to hurry home and jump in their beds and have the same dreams she was having.

  • • •

  OF ALL THE GIRLS, Mimi was her favorite, because they could carry on such interesting conversations. On a Friday, Rose and Mimi tried to figure out what they would do with their Saturday.

  “There’s a movie theater where a really great piano player works,” said Mimi. “Let’s go there.”

  “I’m not a fan of movies,” said Rose. “I prefer live performances. But anyway, let’s go somewhere where we can talk.”

  • • •

  ROSE AND MIMI MET UP outside the Valentine Hotel the next day so they could go see the Picasso exhibit together. It was fall. The curled-up brown leaves fell from the trees like sea horses.

  “It’s going to be wonderful,” Rose exclaimed. “All these paintings where he sticks a nose on a cheek and an eyeball on a forehead. He captures the modern condition. All our thoughts are fractured. Everything is a dead end. You have to look at something from all angles at once to see it from the inside out. Not just be obsessed with the obvious, stereotypical way of looking at something, you know? To make things appear as they really are.”

  • • •

  THE MUSEUM WAS a distinguished-looking building with columns, in the middle of downtown. They had to climb up a flight of rather large marble stairs. Rose quite liked the feeling because it made her feel as though she were a little child again. The building had a huge echo inside it. All the noises were amplified. It was like you were on a stage, speaking into a microphone.

  • • •

  ON THE WAY TO THE EXHIBIT, they passed through a display of the wildlife that lived around Montreal in the woods, that never dared to venture into the city limits. If you were a creature afraid of fire, you could only imagine the sight of marquee electric lights. A taxidermied wolf stared at them, its giant teeth bared and one of its paws raised, though it really wasn’t frightening in the least. It just seemed odd out of context.

  “All fear is dependent on context,” Rose said.

  • • •

  THEY STOOD LOOKING AT the portrait of Gertrude Stein together. The subject was so serious and intelligent-looking. Rose had read her poetry and had admired it. It had made her feel better about herself and her sex. Everything written by any woman was written by all women, because they all benefited from it. If one woman was a genius, it was proof that it was possible for the rest of them. They were not frivolous. They were all Gertrude Stein. Rose looked at the portrait of herself as a poet.

  “Isn’t she the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen?” Rose asked. “If someone made a portrait of me, I would want to look exactly like her.”

  “Oh look, Rose!” Mimi exclaimed. “Let’s go into this room. It’s called the Rose Period. It’s been named after you.”

  Rose looked around the room at the paintings. They were all of circus performers. They were colored the pink of a sunset. She stopped in front of a painting of a slender clown in a leotard and a two-cornered hat seated on a red couch. Mimi came and stood next to Rose, looking at the painting.

  “This painting! It looks so much like Pierrot. He was my first love. He abandoned me because I wouldn’t put out, I think. Or actually, I don’t even know why he left me or what he thinks of me or why he fell out of love with me.

  “It’s so wonderful looking at him now. It makes me remember how I used to feel about him, or that you could feel like that with a man. Just like companions and not like competitors. I stopped worrying about things. It was like I was in a boat and the boat stopped rocking. He made me feel safe so I could have all these dangerous thoughts. I think that might be what love is.”

  “I don’t know if I necessarily agree with you. I think you’re just describing one of the eight thousand ways to feel horny. But I do think you should go find him. Just to see what he’s all about, so you can stop mooning over him.”

  “I’ve always wanted to. But I never knew what had become of him or where I could find him. But now I see it perfectly. Of course, Pierrot is a clown!”

  Then there was a swoosh as water came out from between Rose’s legs and splattered on the floor.

  “Oh my God, I’m going to have another baby.”

  • • •

  ROSE AND MIMI HURRIED BACK to the Valentine Hotel. Rose was trembling as she went into the cupboard and pulled out an old blanket. It had been on the shelf when she moved in. It was old, and the colors were unattractive, and the padding inside was not cushy at all. That was probably why it had been left behind. There were strange purple mushrooms on it. She spread it on the bed. She felt as if the blanket had been put there especially for that purpose. She lay down on the strange field.

  “Did you know you were pregnant?”


  “I thought you had a paunch. How far along do you think you are?”

  “No idea.”

  Mimi knelt next to the bed and took her hand. Rose felt like she had done forty shots of whiskey in a row and now couldn’t throw up. Then she felt as though a great fist were punching her in the stomach, over and over again. It was just like at the orphanage all over again. The girls were always punished worse than the boys.

  The pain was terrible. Why didn’t you hear women wailing in pain all the time? She tried to stop herself from screaming out loud. But she couldn’t help it. She yelled and yelled.

  “Push, push, push,” Mimi begged.

  “Why?” she cried.

  “Push, push, push, and it will soon be over.”

  She didn’t know if she was pushing. She kept wanting to pass out but then not being able to. Her clothes were wet with sweat. Her knees were bent and her legs were spread. Mimi was looking between her legs. She had never felt so naked. How many people in this world had seen her cunt? How many people had looked at her cunt for answers? As if it were the sort of place where miracles happened.

  Mimi swore she could see the baby. She knew more about the baby than Rose did. Mimi had proof that it was a mortal, that it wasn’t just an imaginary pain in her stomach. Mimi promised her that the baby was practically out of her body. So she kept pushing until Mimi, all at once, stopped saying anything at all. She went all quiet, as though she had decided to say a prayer. Rose waited for the baby to make some sort of noise.

  Rose wished that she had the energy to sit up and look at the baby. But she didn’t. She couldn’t do anything at all. She couldn’t will her head to tilt forward, and her eyes wouldn’t stay open, and she couldn’t even move her lips so that she could ask whether the baby was a boy or a girl. These were all things that could be figured out in good time.

  Mimi would take care of her, she thought. She imagined Mimi standing next to her with a little black mask over her eyes and a whip in her hand—protecting her like the angel that protects the Garden of Eden.

  • • •

  ITS SKIN WAS THIN and delicate as the petals of a flower.
It was shocking to look at. Its skin was the color of a galaxy, of a tiny cluster of stars. It kept changing different shades of pink and purple and blue, like an aurora borealis.

  You could see that it was animated. It had been touched by the magic wand that was life. You could see its heart beating in its chest. You could see goose pimples on its skin. You could see the little eyeballs moving behind the little eyelids. You could see the tiny fingers move, almost opening, as if reacting to a thought. It was a girl.

  There was nothing anyone could do to keep a baby that small alive, and soon its heart stopped beating. Rose washed it off in a bowl of warm water. When it was underwater, it almost seemed to move its arms and legs of its own accord, as though it were a sea creature.

  She had never wanted to be pregnant. She had never wanted the baby. But now she was devastated that it was gone. She stared at it like she was a little girl looking at a doll and expecting some sort of reaction from it. She wondered why it had insisted on growing and living inside her. But now that it was out of her body, it would no longer admit that it had been alive.

  She, of course, knew the origin of the baby. It was either the child of the man with the donkey mask or of the bear she had danced with at the nightclub.

  • • •

  SHE HEARD MCMAHON’S VOICE in her head: “So you prostitute yourself with a third-rate actor just to be able to afford soup and to live in a fleabag hotel. Wonderful. So that’s why you left me.”

  Later that night she informed Mimi that she was no longer going to work at the movie studio. “I’m starting my own touring company. Watch this, please.”

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