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The lonely hearts hotel, p.35
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       The Lonely Hearts Hotel, p.35

           Heather O'Neill

  She turned her head around. “Yes! Do it! Do it! Do it!” she cried.

  He went deep into Coco. A mortar seemed to erupt inside him. And when he rolled off, it was as though he had tumbled into a mass grave.

  Afterward he sat on the edge of the bed, inhaling a cigarette, no longer a married man. She turned off the light next to the bed and closed the curtain. She was sure that the detective had gotten enough of a show and she would get paid properly. She lit a candle next to the bed.

  “Let’s get high,” she said.

  “Sure thing, baby,” Pierrot answered.

  “We could do it after the stew. But we should probably do it before the stew. Right? Because stew takes a while. And a lot of the time you are just standing around, waiting for things to boil.”

  She sat on the edge of the bed next to Pierrot. She opened up the drawer on the tiny spindly-legged night table. Inside was a small pewter baby spoon. On the handle was a round image of a baby. Its eyes were squeezed shut, and its mouth was open wide in a scream. She didn’t even bother putting any clothes on before she started preparing to cook up the dope.

  There was a teapot on top of a bureau. She grabbed it and poured some water into the spoon. She shook a tiny bit of dope into the liquid, stirred it up with the tip of the needle and then heated it over a candle. She took a tie out of her pocket and wrapped it around Pierrot’s arm. She injected the heroin, and he waited for the old sensations to come.

  As he and Coco lay next to each other on the bed, the onions rolled out of the bag and off the counter. They landed on the floor like asteroids falling to the earth.



  Rose couldn’t bring herself to leave her room. The chorus girl Colombe said she could replace the star. Even though she wasn’t as charismatic as Rose, they figured she would do. They tried to hire another pianist. A line of them arrived in the morning at the New Amsterdam Theater. Pierrot had never written down his score. The girls hummed and whistled their interpretations of Pierrot’s tune. It was always lacking when someone else played it. When ticket holders heard that the stars of the show would not be appearing in that night’s performance, they began to demand that their tickets be refunded. The remaining Snowflake Icicle Extravaganza dates were canceled. And the dates were given to a troupe of twelve-year-old ballerinas who had just emigrated from Poland and were called the Flying Mice.

  • • •

  FABIO HAD THE MOON DELIVERED to Jimmy and his men. It was tied to the back of a delivery truck as all the neighborhood children stood on the sidewalk watching and laughing. It was driven out to a rendezvous point down a rural road half an hour outside the city. It was a spot where they usually whacked people. A deer stepped out onto the road, making wide, slow steps, as if it were sneaking up behind a friend.

  After the moon was unloaded from the truck, the driver climbed back in the vehicle and drove off down the bumpy road. The gangsters walked around the moon, assessing the best way to open it.

  “Is there a trick to this?” Jimmy asked Caspar.

  “I don’t think they thought that far ahead.”

  “Let’s shoot the fucking thing,” a gangster suggested.

  Another gangster brought an ax out and started to strike it. The moon began to crack, as though it were an enormous egg. They waited to see. There was the feeling that just about anything could happen. A dinosaur might suddenly appear and unfurl its claws. White dust and plaster spilled everywhere when the shell cracked, but there it was: a trunk of heroin, freshly imported from the East into Montreal, meant for immediate distribution in the streets of New York City. The gangsters laughed at the absurdity of it all.

  They carried the shell of the moon to the nearby lake and pushed it in. It bobbled about in the water before sinking. It looked like a reflection of the real moon.

  Jimmy went back to the hotel feeling miserable. Rose hadn’t come with the moon. He hadn’t seen her in days. In the evenings there were usually gangsters in Jimmy’s room. There was a huge ballroom downstairs, but people always liked to be wherever Jimmy was. They would crowd into his tiny room. There would be six or seven gangsters sitting on the side of the bed. There would be one sitting in the cushion of the armchair and one on the arm of the chair. There would be a gangster leaning up against the bureau and one checking himself out in the bathroom mirror. But in this case, he wanted to be all alone. His white carnation boutonniere looked like a crumpled-up love poem.

  • • •

  OVER AT THE HONEYMOON HOTEL, Fabio was sitting in his room, shirtless and hunched, like bread dough that had yet to be beaten into shape. The show had closed and the moon had been delivered. McMahon would be waiting for word of Rose’s execution. If McMahon didn’t hear that Rose was dead, and soon, he would be sending his men down to start a war. Or Jimmy might change his mind and kill her himself.

  So for days Fabio had been trying to get Rose to pack up the troupe and head back on the train to Montreal.

  But Rose never looked as though she had any intention of leaving. Every time he went to her room, he could see that her clothes were sprawled everywhere—over couches and chairs. She had a half-eaten cupcake on her boudoir table, as she hadn’t even bothered to let one of the maids come in to clean up the mess.

  She didn’t appear to have bathed either. She sat in a dirty slip, her hair greasy and sticking up. She had been afflicted by guilt. She was going to give up the entire project just so that she could devote her life to sitting in a hotel room, feeling guilty about having chased Pierrot away.

  That morning, just to be dutiful, Fabio had checked in on Rose. He had opened the door and saw that she was sitting on the edge of the bed with her back to him, looking toward the window.

  “Any word from Pierrot?” he had asked.

  Rose hadn’t had to turn to know it was Fabio who had poked his head into her room. She knew his cigar-scarred voice.

  “Maybe he doesn’t know we’re leaving,” Rose had answered faintly. “He might not have heard that the show was canceled. I’m sure he went to the zoo.”

  “Are you out of your mind? Nobody goes to the zoo for five days. I’ve had people go there looking for him. He isn’t there.”


  “Well, what do you believe happened to him? Do you imagine that he got eaten alive by a polar bear?”

  “Get out of here!” Rose had screamed.

  She’d stood up, spinning around, and picked up an ashtray and flung it at his head. He’d slammed the door just in time.

  • • •

  FABIO PUT ON A SHIRT when he heard a knock at the door. He hoped it was Rose, coming to apologize for her behavior. He opened it to instead discover a timid-looking maid with extraordinarily plump pink lips, dressed in a black uniform.

  “I have an envelope that I’m supposed to deliver to Rose’s room.”

  “Well, this isn’t Rose’s room, is it?”

  “It’s because, sir, well, last time I went to Mrs. Rose’s room, she threw a cupcake right at my head, you see.”

  Fabio held out his hand. The maid handed him the brown kraft envelope and then darted off, clearly relieved to be free of it.

  Fabio was nervous about the mysterious envelope. He didn’t know who it was from. He felt ill at ease as he shuffled down the corridor to Rose’s room to deliver the letter. He stood bent over, catching his breath at the elevator.

  Fabio knocked on Rose’s door and opened it. He slipped in like a cat and discovered Rose lying on the bed, reading a paperback book. She looked up from it. “You’re back,” Rose said. “What can you want now?”

  “I’ve this for you. Should I open it myself?”

  “No, let me see what it is.”

  Using a five-dollar bill as a bookmark, Rose gently put the book aside. She got up off the bed and took the envelope. The flap was tied with a
piece of string, so she only had to pull at it to open the envelope. She walked over to the window as she pulled out the contents, a stack of large, glossy photographs. She whipped through them maniacally, then shoved them back in the envelope, holding it up against her chest. She went into the bathroom and slammed the door behind her, only to step out a few seconds later looking deranged.

  “He’s been with another woman. He cheated on me. He wants to break me so that I won’t be able to work. He wants me to go and find him and beg him to come back. It’s not going to happen. Because I don’t care about him. I don’t give a shit about Pierrot. I wish that skinny fucker was dead. I really do!”

  She walked to her dressing table, picked up her powder compact and hurled it at the wall. It exploded upon impact and powder flew everywhere, creating a white mist in the room. Rose disappeared for a moment. But then she stepped out of the cloud, her finger pointed right at Fabio.

  “You know, it’s because he’s onstage that this type of girl is attracted to him. That’s what happens when you’re an entertainer. Stupid, fucking shit. This isn’t real life. It’s not my cup of tea. I was forced to dance in front of rich people when I was a little girl. But let me tell you, I’m not going to do it anymore.”

  “Well, you’ve already expressed your desire to no longer be a performer.”

  “You don’t roam around sleeping with random women, do you?”

  Rose just looked at him, desperate for some sort of answer that he could give her to stop the emotions that were coming.

  “I haven’t had a hard-on in two years.”

  Rose stopped short for a second, having no idea how to respond to that statement. Then she flung her arms toward him violently, as though she were trying to throw her hands away.

  “Well, we’re leaving New York without Pierrot.”

  “Of course. I’m ready to go. We’ve all been ready to go. If we had left as soon as we handed over the moon, we might have avoided this scenario altogether.”

  Rose just grabbed her hair in two fists and screamed, “Ahhhh!”

  She threw the envelope at Fabio and then collapsed on the bed.

  Fabio reached down to the ground to retrieve the fallen envelope. He couldn’t help himself, and he opened it to peek at the amorous photos inside. His sigh was so loud it was almost a cry. Pierrot looked so lost in the photographs. He knew Pierrot didn’t have the stomach for where the plan was going. He knew this was Pierrot’s way of cutting them all loose. He had always known that Pierrot was altruistic. Pierrot had had so much patience with everybody. There were tears in Fabio’s eyes because of Pierrot’s sacrifice. Because Fabio believed in love again.

  • • •

  THE MAID FROM the Honeymoon Hotel was standing in front of Jimmy’s desk. The state she was in—out of breath and with the buttons of her coat in the wrong holes—indicated that she had rushed over. Jimmy listened to the maid telling him that Pierrot had betrayed Rose. She had opened the envelope and had seen the photos herself. Pierrot had also disappeared, not bothering to take anything with him. According to the girl, Rose was presently in a state of hysteria.

  Jimmy had a sudden urge to have the maid killed. It wasn’t her knowing what she knew that bothered him. It was that she knew how much he wanted to hear this news. She had hurried over to tell him before anyone else had the chance, because it was exciting to her to be part of this big moment in his life.

  But Jimmy was inscrutable when he wanted to be inscrutable, which was most of the time. He stared at the maid blankly, not letting on how the news affected him. He reached into his drawer and pulled out a ten-dollar bill and handed it to her.

  “Good. Continue to bring me interesting information.”

  She walked out, tucking the money into her pocket and looking mildly disappointed. When she was gone, Jimmy looked over at Caspar, who was sitting in an armchair by the door.

  “How do you think this affects things?”

  “Not at all. She’s the brains behind the operation.”

  “I meant . . . never mind.”

  What in the world was he supposed to do now? Go over to her hotel room with a white rose and ask her out to dinner? He hadn’t a clue how long it took someone to get over heartache, as he himself had never really been heartbroken. He was frightened, for the first time ever, that he might be rejected by a girl.



  Rose hadn’t left her hotel room since learning about Pierrot. She had had trouble sleeping. She dozed off in the late afternoon. She dreamed that she was in a pair of black boots and her underwear. She was up in front of an audience. A strange man came up onto the stage. He made her get down on her hands and knees. He unbuckled his pants—the audience broke into applause. She woke up and walked to the bathroom. It was only nine o’clock.

  She couldn’t be alone in her room anymore. She threw on her coat and wandered out of the room and down to the small bar next to the lobby. Everybody else was already down at the bar, drinking to the end of a successful run and the abrupt ending of their show. The bartender lined up a row of shot glasses. He poured the brandy in right up to the lip of a glass. She swallowed it. And it burned. It lit up her heart as if it were a candlewick. She just needed to let the candle burn down through the night.

  She threw off her coat. She was only wearing a black satin slip, as she hadn’t bothered to get dressed. She drank longer than anybody else. For a couple of seconds, the booze lifted her up. It made her feel as though everything was as it should be in the world—that everything was fine.

  She stood up. She held her glass up in the air. It wavered back and forth. Little drops of alcohol dripped onto her, like splashes of holy water.

  “This is to Pierrot! My husband!”

  “Hear, hear!” everyone yelled.

  Someone put some music on the jukebox. She wandered into the middle of the floor to dance. A gangster, taking pity on her, or overcome by desire, or just being plain stupid, moved to the middle of the floor to put his arms around her and dance too. She clung to him. They moved wonderfully together. Every man danced so well when he danced with Rose.

  Then her expression changed. Her face seized up as if she were going to be sick. She shoved the man so hard that he fell to the ground. Then she just danced by herself, her arms out around no one. It was so upsetting that a lot of the men left. They went to their own rooms and sat on the ends of their beds and stared at the walls, not understanding what the point of anything was. She was hoping the imaginary bear would comfort her, but tonight she just felt as though she had her arms wrapped around emptiness.

  Rose hunched over as if she had been kicked in the stomach and let out a yell. She didn’t think she could stand it. She slipped for a second as though her shoe heel had broken. There were about seven or eight men around her to catch her.

  Her arms were up in the air. She looked at the cheap wedding ring on her finger. She would always wear it. It was like a small snowflake that had landed on a mitten—and it was so beautiful. It was always just about to melt. If anyone were to try to touch it, or to breathe on it, or speak too close to it, it would turn into a bead of water and would deny that it had ever been the most beautiful thing on earth. She had loved Pierrot.

  She propped herself on a stool like a rag doll. She straightened her back. She felt a desire to go down the street to the Romeo Hotel. She found herself thinking about Jimmy. His hair was dark, dark brown, like chocolate. It was the color of chocolate syrup on sundaes. She knew that Jimmy was picturing himself down on his knees, kissing her pussy, right at that second.

  She wanted to feel desired. She wanted to feel sexy. She wanted to break the spell that Pierrot had over her. Oh, however fucking irrational it was, she wanted to feel that he didn’t matter and that any man could replace him. She went back up to her room and, with meticulous care, got dressed for the first time in a wee
k, and she headed off down the street to the Romeo Hotel.

  She entered through the large doors, she strutted across the lobby and she went up the stairs. The man with the scars in his cheeks let her go. She opened the door to Jimmy’s room. He was sitting on the window frame smoking a cigarette when she walked in. She closed the door behind her and Jimmy chucked his cigarette out the window.

  She took off her white fur hat. She took off her gloves and her scarf, and she tucked them into her hat. She placed the hat on the little nightstand by the door. She unbuttoned her black coat and let it drop off her shoulders. She pulled her dress off over her head. She stood there in her thin lace lingerie. It looked like frost had formed on her body.

  He didn’t know what to say for a moment. Because he was doubting what he was seeing, it took a short moment for his reason to catch up with the situation.

  When he came toward her quickly and violently, she put her skinny arms out with desperation and they hugged each other so hard that their hearts beat against each other. He tossed her onto the bed. And she felt as if she weighed as much as a bagful of feathers. As if she weighed no more than her slip. As if she weighed no more than a single snowflake coming down from the great, great blackness.

  They curled up in each other’s arms afterward. She felt so unlike herself that she didn’t even really feel like a person anymore. She felt like a skinny white cat stretching out its graceful limbs.

  One of Jimmy’s men went up later to see what was going on and what was holding Jimmy up. He looked in and was surprised to see him in his room with a girl. And under all the nakedness was Rose herself.

  He had never seen either of them look so peaceful. It was the first time they had ever slept so deeply. That’s the way you got to sleep before you were born.

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