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The lonely hearts hotel, p.29
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       The Lonely Hearts Hotel, p.29

           Heather O'Neill

  Her reflections were interrupted when she saw Pierrot standing at the foot of the bed, watching her. “What?” she asked.

  “You read that whole book in two hours. You were enraptured. Just enraptured.”

  “You know I like books.”

  “I rather think it has something to do with the subject matter.”

  “We are meeting him in a week.”

  “I think it’s incredibly risky to have any dealings with Jimmy Bonaventura. He’s a psychopath, a murderer, a drug dealer and a pimp, with a flair for torture and a notoriously short fuse.”

  “And he’s handsome.”

  She started to laugh. Pierrot crawled onto the bed, moving toward her slowly on all fours. Rose squealed with laughter, and Pierrot pounced on her. The combination of danger and money was making her giddy.

  • • •

  JIMMY BONAVENTURA WAS SITTING in his kitchen, reading the newspaper, when he saw an advertisement for the show from Montreal, which would be arriving in several weeks. There was a picture of a clown standing under an umbrella in a snowstorm. Jimmy cut it out and put it on his fridge. But upon second thought he crumpled it up and tossed it into the garbage. He hadn’t been pleased when McMahon told him about the plan.

  A few days later he heard an advertisement for the show on the radio. The radio was on in the kitchen, and Jimmy was sitting in the bathtub, with the bathroom door open. He was anxious for the show to arrive. He was worried about the streets going dry. He needed to get those drugs out to the junkies—before they began to find other ways, or got new addictions, or some other dealer moved into town.

  “Hurry up and get your goddamn choo-choo train here,” he yelled like an impatient child. Then he held up his foot to scrub between his toes with a bar of soap. His attractive head leaned against the edge of the bathtub for balance.

  • • •

  IN THEIR HOTEL ROOM, Rose and Pierrot sat on either side of the kitchen table. There was a mouse on the counter, looking at different crumbs like a woman selecting fruit at a market, but they couldn’t be bothered to pay it any mind. Rose took out the piece of paper and stub of a pencil that she kept in her pocket. And in a simple diagram no more or less complicated than a spider’s web, they constructed the order of the acts in the Snowflake Icicle Extravaganza.

  “What is reserved for this last act?” Pierrot asked. “Why don’t you have anyone’s name written down here?”

  “That’s always the most important slot, isn’t it?”

  “Indeed. I was wondering what you intended to put there.”

  They smiled at each other.



  His whole life, McMahon had been consumed with pride. He never let his guard down. He had always considered his actions carefully. Even when he was a little boy, he acted in a way that nobody could mock. McMahon sat leaning against the leather seat of his car. He couldn’t believe what he was doing. McMahon hated himself for following her around. But the minute Rose appeared, he forgot himself entirely and stared. Rose and Pierrot held hands and walked down the street.

  Pierrot was an altogether different person when he was with Rose. He was wide awake and so alive. He swung his hands all over the place as he spoke. And he made her laugh uproariously. She looked at him with an unmistakable admiration. They whisked happily into the doorway of the Valentine Hotel and disappeared from sight.

  McMahon sometimes felt that alcohol and drugs actually revealed the true personality of people. Rose hadn’t seen Pierrot stoned. That was a whole different man. That was who he truly was. Drugs scratched off people’s veneer. It made them abandon manners. Then you could see what was left of them, which was not much.

  He couldn’t believe that she liked sex with Pierrot as much as she had with him. In fact, he couldn’t really bring himself to believe they were having sex at all. He didn’t want to get out of the car, but that’s what he found himself doing. He walked into the lobby of the Valentine Hotel and rented a room from the decrepit concierge. He gave her a two-dollar bill and she gave him the key to the room right next to Rose’s.

  When he walked into the room, he felt like a giant. The room was exceptionally tiny. He felt as if he were trapped in the dollhouse in his daughter’s room. The wallpaper was green, with tiny brown birds. The bed frame was carved out of burgundy wood and had tiny roses on the back of it. The mattress was thin, and the bedspread had brown and pink flowers. He couldn’t imagine fucking on that bed. The weight of his body would break it.

  He didn’t want to sit on a bed that so many people had had sex on. Instead he sat in the armchair, whose back was shaped like a shell. The legs of which were so thin, they were like those of very tall birds. He wondered how it held him up. Things that he had previously judged weak were now proving strong—to have no trouble supporting themselves and others. He was in an alternate universe, where skinny was fat, weak was strong, small was large.

  There was a glass tumbler on the side of the sink. McMahon picked it up and put its mouth against the wall. He put his ear to its bottom, listening carefully to the movements in the other room. He wondered what colors the wallpaper was in Rose’s room. He wondered whether it was the same as that on his side. It was actually green and pink, but he could not know this.

  Suddenly there were voices in the glass, swimming around like two fancy goldfish.

  What he heard was the longest-running one-act play of all time, mounted in cities all over the world, interpreted by different directors, starring different actors but always sold out.

  McMahon dropped the glass to the ground in horror. The words scurried around the floor like spiders. He threw on his coat. He opened the door and headed down the narrow, carpeted corridor of the Valentine Hotel, and didn’t breathe again until he was across the street.

  He would have his revenge. He would end this love affair. He didn’t want to just kill Pierrot. That would be too easy. Then Pierrot would certainly be the love of Rose’s life. In his experience, dead men were the ones who fared the best in the opinions of women. Instead he wanted to break them up. He wanted Rose to be disgusted by love the way he was disgusted by love. He wanted her to look back on everything Pierrot had said and judge it to be a lie.



  McMahon sent a girl named Lily to seduce Pierrot. He would have been sleeping with her himself if his rage for Rose hadn’t rendered him impotent.

  Lily was the opposite of Rose. She was pale. She had blond hair that she wore in a great bun heaped on her head. The bun always looked so messy, just on the verge of collapsing. It never did. Her green eyes were the color of marbles that any boy would go crazy trying to win. But she squinted. She’d had trouble with her eyesight when she was little but didn’t get glasses. Now her face was sort of permanently squinted up. She had the look of a Persian cat sitting in the sun.

  Her legs were so long she made any dress she had on seem indecent. She always seemed naked. Businessmen paid ludicrous sums to have sex with her. They only slept with her because the price was so high. They could be sure that no poor man was able to afford her. They would be sticking their penises only where the best penises had gone.

  Pierrot was on his way home from the hardware store. His pocket was filled with screws for a pulley mechanism being built to hoist up a two-hundred-pound clown into the air. Lily took Pierrot’s arm as he passed by. “Please, come upstairs with me. I need some help. Quick, it’s an emergency.” She scrunched up her face a little—like a rabbit sensing danger—and tried to convey her distress.

  Pierrot followed her. It made him nervous. He was generally very nervous when women called on him to help them. They usually asked him for something he couldn’t provide. He hoped she didn’t want him to lift anything heavy, or to fight off some terrible brute she had become involved with. Pierrot wasn’t good at that sort of thing.
  To his surprise, she sat down on the edge of the bed in her room and spread her legs. On the mattress next to her was a tea tray with cups and a vase with wilty-looking mauve flowers in it. Poised on the corner of the tray were a spoon and a syringe atop a tiny bit of newspaper with last week’s headlines.

  “Will you shoot this dope into my thigh? I can’t have anyone see marks on my arms.”

  He was so surprised. He was in the room with heroin itself. It was as though heroin had taken on the form of a girl. He found the heroin was much more seductive than the beautiful woman. He hadn’t expected to confront it like this. Imagine answering the door and finding your ex-lover standing there, saying she had changed her mind and wanted to come back. How could you resist? What would it hurt to spend a moment more in the room and help this girl out? He liked the ritual of cooking dope. It made him feel important, like someone with an actual profession—a doctor, say. He took a stocking of hers from off the bedpost and tied it around her thigh. The instant he injected her, Pierrot felt high by proxy. They were curiously upside down. The bed was on the ceiling. The rug too was on the ceiling. The table, with its teacups and lamp, wasn’t crashing to the ground. Clever girl! What a way to decorate a home. She looked at him with her eyes closed and laughed.

  Then abruptly Pierrot came to his senses and the room righted itself. He had to get out at once or he would succumb to the drug and live on ceilings, floating over life like a ghost, for the rest of his life.

  When he flung open the door, a man stood there with a camera. It was the detective with the checkered hat, the one he couldn’t afford. Pierrot nodded to him, but the detective pretended not to notice and moved on.

  • • •

  HE ENCOUNTERED another odd woman a few weeks later when he stopped to look in a bakery window. Montrealers gathered around bakery windows as if the cupcakes on display made a sort of comic opera. You would look at them like you were looking at a Hollywood musical but it was even more marvelous, as it was right there at your fingertips. How could any Hollywood starlet compare to a vanilla cupcake topped with red candies in the shape of tiny stars?

  In the window, he saw the reflection of a woman coming up behind him. It was as if she were a submerged body rising up in the water. She wore a man’s black wool coat and had on a sailor’s cap. She came up next to Pierrot and whispered into his ear.

  “Tu me reconnais?”

  “What’s your name?”

  “I like to change my name every week. Once my name was Marguerite, but all I did when my name was Marguerite was get into trouble. I was such a bad girl when my name was Marguerite that I changed it to Natalie.”

  Pierrot looked at the girl, his mouth hanging open, not sure what to say.

  “We can call ourselves Lucille and Ludovic. We can do whatever we want. And then change our names to something else.”

  “My name is Pierrot. I’m quite happy being called that.”

  “T’aimes fumer? Do you like to smoke?”

  “I like it more than anything.”

  She opened her coat to reveal her completely naked body underneath. He wasn’t expecting that. The stretched lining of the coat made her look so skinny, a streak of lightning in a big black sky. She let her coat close and reached into her pocket for a long pipe with a glass bowl.

  She lit up her pipe. Pierrot looked around. It was odd to light a glass pipe like that out in the open. The smoke swirled around, not like a dragon, as the drug was fancifully called on the street, but more like a tiny newt.

  A light flashed at the corner of Pierrot’s eye. A man across the street with a camera was taking photos of them. He recognized the checkered rain hat. It was the same private investigator he had tried to pay to find Rose. Here he was again: he was following Pierrot! He popped up right after these lovely ladies tried to have sex with him. It was a setup! Brilliant! He realized that, of course, McMahon had hired him. He was the only person they knew who had money to afford this type of absurd luxury.

  “Who do you work for?” Pierrot asked, wanting to make sure.

  “Why do you think I work for anybody? I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m flabbergasted. Est-ce que c’est le bon mot?”

  “Can I ask one question?”

  “Oui, mais . . . just one.”

  “Is he, like, a really powerful black-haired mafia guy who runs the Roxy downtown?”

  “Yes. But I won’t say anything else.”

  As Pierrot walked home, reviewing what had just happened, he decided not to tell Rose. She lost her temper so easily these days, especially with the pressure of putting the show together. And since McMahon had visited, she seemed ready to kill someone at the drop of a hat.

  As Pierrot was walking up the stairs he heard Rose yelling, “I’ll wring your neck, you lousy bastard! I’ll teach you to come up against a woman!”

  He flung open the door to find her in the kitchen, struggling with a jar of jam. No, he would not upset Rose further.

  • • •

  MCMAHON HIRED a girl named Colombe to seduce Pierrot. She was the girl who worked in the brothels and most resembled Rose. She had the same build and the same short, dark hair. But the thing that most distinguished Colombe from Rose was the expression on her face. She always looked disgusted. She pouted and complained about everything. Her main topic of conversation was how she couldn’t stand other women. She thought she was better at making love than any of the other whores.

  McMahon had the madam smack Colombe across the face so that she looked like a victim and Rose would take her in. She showed up at the door of the theater wearing a raggedy old blue dress, holding a suitcase.

  When Pierrot went to the bathroom, Colombe was standing there, wearing black-and-white-striped stockings and black high heels. She had on black lingerie that ended above her crotch. He could see her tuft of pubic hair and the bottom of her ass cheeks underneath it.

  “Take me like a beast, mister. Degrade me. You teach me how I want it, daddy.”

  Pierrot sighed and walked out of the bathroom. Pierrot had by now became accustomed to women showing up out of the blue and propositioning him. He knew McMahon was sending them. They didn’t want to be taken for a hamburger or a movie, or to meet any of his friends. They just wanted to go straight to bed. When he was a boy, he had often fantasized about such a scenario, where he lived in a city filled with nymphomaniacs who ran around on the street wearing coats with nothing underneath and offering him money or whole chickens if he would just have sex with them and end their misery. But he realized now that the fantasy was a depressing reality.

  As he was walking away Pierrot turned around and called back to Colombe, “Hey, you wouldn’t be able to carry a tune, per chance?”

  He was desperate to find singers. Colombe ended up having a pretty singing voice, and Pierrot offered her a solo.

  “What do you want from me?” Colombe asked McMahon. “Those two are in love. He’s in love with Rose. He thinks she’s perfect. She sort of is too. I’m going to New York City with them. I’m done here.”



  McMahon came to see Rose before she left for New York City. He inspected the papier-mâché moon in the corner of the warehouse. “Well, you pulled the moon right out of the sky. You didn’t think the rest of us wanted to look at it?” McMahon smiled, seemingly trying to make peace. She didn’t laugh, however. She stared at him. McMahon abruptly took the friendly look off his face.

  “Jimmy is going to come closing night,” McMahon continued. “They are going to take the moon in a truck down to the riverbank, where they can open it. Go with them to oversee. I’ve never liked the guy. He’s always had this arrogant way about him. Like, the minute you walk out the door, he starts laughing at you. He doesn’t like Quebecers. He thinks we’re beneath him.”

  Rose shrugged. She had been given so
many reasons to look down on herself that she couldn’t be bothered considering any more. Being a Quebecer was the least of her worries.

  “When do I get the money?” she asked.

  “They won’t be giving you the money. I’m making a trade. Jimmy Bonaventura has a bunch of buildings he bought to launder money in the red-light district. He never wanted to sell. But when the price is right, anything’s for sale. When you come back, even your hotel will be owned by me. It’s the biggest real estate grab I’ve ever made. Too bad, it could have been yours. All those cabarets. But you prefer to fall in love with junkies.”

  McMahon watched Rose’s face carefully to see if she would flinch or reveal even a tiny flicker of remorse for having left him. He saw nothing.

  “Even if they don’t understand this show you’re putting on, don’t feel badly. This is the first thing you’ve put together. You’re young. You’re an amateur.”

  He thought he saw the color in her cheeks darken. He decided to immediately continue the condescension.

  “Are you excited to meet someone like Jimmy Bonaventura? What an adventure that will be for a nothing girl like you. You can tell me all about it when you get back.”

  “I don’t think so. I think I would prefer never to see your face again.”

  “It’s because I broke your heart.”

  “I never loved you. I was with you because I didn’t have a choice. I threw myself at you because I was terrified of poverty.”

  She looked into McMahon’s eyes. She was watching his reaction carefully. People gave away secrets when they were angry. You could read their emotions when they were enraged. She knew that McMahon had arranged to have her killed. He turned without saying anything and walked away.

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