Sep 30, 2010

Mary Goes Down At The York Hotel

This room is cold tonight. It has been a long time since I’ve seen the sun. I light a cigarette, inhale, let the smoke burn my lungs. I catch my reflection in the mirror, ghostly pale. From this room on the third floor of what used to be the York Hotel, I feel the shock of the bass drum pounding its way up through the floorboards, a not-unwelcome intruder. I spend most of my time in this room. The furnishings are sparse, blanketed in an ageless layer of dust. The carpet, threadbare even before my time, has long since been removed, and the wallpaper, once a vibrant pattern of ivy weaving its way up the walls, now lies curled in faded brittle strips in the corners. But I don’t need much anymore. A window to look out, a place to sleep. A cigarette. Sometimes I wander these mostly empty hallways, when the nightmares keep sleep from me. I dream that I’m falling, but wake up before I hit the ground.

I have grown shy over the years, preferring the company of my memories and my nightmares, but sometimes, when I am dying for some company, or maybe just for a pack of cigarettes, I make my way downstairs to the bar on the first floor.

The walls of the bar are exposed brick lined with band photographs and plastered with concert posters. Brass footrails run along the bases of the two bars, and mirrors behind the bars reflect bottles of whiskey, gin, vodka, rum. It is a lively place, particularly on weekends, when the crowds come to hear the bands. I like the music: The Dead Boys, Forgotten Rebels, The Damned. Something about their outsider aesthetic and their ripped jeans appeals to me, their energy and anger and sex.

On those nights when I venture downstairs, I slip largely unnoticed through the crowds of raving drunk people. They unnerve me. I feel disconnected. Lonely. I quit drinking a long time ago. But every once in awhile, I’ll catch someone’s attention, feel their eyes upon me, feel that shiver run down my spine, making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up: the thrill of recognition. It both exhilarates and terrifies me, and I wonder if these strangers feel the same.

I turn away from the mirror, take another deep burning drag of my cigarette and look out the window. The weather reflects my mood tonight; icy winter rain beats down from sodden grey clouds. I think back to when I was young and as carefree as a girl of ill-repute could be. Even now, tonight, I would fuck you if you paid me. Not that you would want to. Or even could. Not anymore. But there was a time when I was young, and alive, and beautiful.

A panicked flutter in the pit of my stomach on the nights when he would come to my room. This room. I would wait and watch for him, smoking cigarette after cigarette, listening for his footsteps up the three flights of stairs, my lungs (among other things) on fire. And he would come to me, different from the rest, and, like the rest, he would pay to be with me while icy winter rain beat against the windowpane, or while moist summer heat bore its way into the room, making the edges of the ivy wallpaper curl. After, we would share a cigarette, a glass of whiskey, a kiss, and if I dreamed about something more, something other than just this, well, you can’t blame a girl for dreaming.

I wonder what band is playing tonight. It sounds primitive, electric, masculine. Shrieking guitars, a relentless beat. I wonder what day it is. Hell, I wonder what year it is. Not that it matters. I am restless.

I was restless then, too, and wild, living on cigarettes and bottomless glasses of whiskey. Sleeping until dusk and working until dawn. Or, if the weather was bad and the night slow, dancing, by myself or with some of the other girls, passing a bottle back and forth, passing the time. And, always, waiting for him to come.

I go over what happened again and again in my nightmares, trying to piece it all together, but I am left with only disjointed emotions and fragments of memory. They scratch and bite and claw, wild things, trying to get out of my head. They are trapped there, of course, as surely as I am trapped here, in this room, in this building, in this ceaseless nightmare existence. If there was a way to get them out, to get myself out, surely I would have figured it out by now. God knows I’ve had the time.

Smell of whiskey and, faintly, urine. Tobacco smoke. Stale breath hot in my face. Screaming explosion of pain in my jaw as bottle meets bone. His voice low, menacing, even as I scream and twist and scratch and bite and claw. Betrayal like a fist in my guts, pounding pounding pounding. My insides ripped open. Fraying curtains twitching in the slight breeze from the open window. Dead weight as he collapses upon me. Smell of sweat. Blood. Semen. My sudden fury and a burst of pain as bone meets bone and somewhere someone shrieking and now I’m falling, falling through the open window, falling, falling endlessly...

The beat from below is primal, distracting, and the thought of spending another night alone in this haunted room is unbearable. I light another cigarette, catch my reflection, pale and ghostly, in the mirror, and I go down.

Strange, but also, not strange at all.

Strange for the four of us to be here. And also, somehow, not strange at all. Strange because you don't look like you anymore. Skin stretches across bone, making hollows for shadows to hide in. Your hair is lank and oily; I want to wash it for you, take your bony head in my hands and gently lather and rinse. Two feverish spots of pink adorn your cheeks. They look pretty there but I know you are flushed from pain, from the stifling heat of the room. (From guilt?) The incision that runs vertically up your abdomen seems impossibly long and that piece of you that is normally tucked away inside seems impossibly dark. When I touch it and ask if it hurts, you reply in the negative and I wonder how this can be so. I avoid looking at the bag, not because I am repulsed by it, but because it seems somehow indecent to do so.

Strange for the four of us to be here, yes, but, also, somehow, not strange at all. Because the four of us are here, as we have been and will be. But it has been a long time, and so we remind each other of who we are: I offer to pick your scab for you, he makes jokes about sodomy, she is grossed out by this sudden inversion of bodily functions. We are angry at you, and we are disappointed in ourselves, and we are, all four of us, afraid, but we laugh together. We laugh together in this tiny room while in the room next door a woman dies of cancer.

Snapshot Bio

This is the first picture of me. You can just see me there, in the curve of my mother's belly. It is her wedding day and she is wearing a knee-length empire-waisted white dress. Her hair is long and pale blonde and she is wearing glasses. Beside her, my father, in a dark brown suit, Brylcreem-ed hair blowing back in the wind. Soon-to-be-grandparents smile into the camera and behind everyone, a magnolia tree bursting with pink and white flowers.

I spent the first few days of my life in an incubator. This is me, tiny and pink, wrapped up snug as a premature bug in a hospital-issue blanket, tucked into something that looks like a carseat. The incubator is the colour of brown in 1973, the colour of kitchen appliances and floral couches and VW vans with teardrop windows. There is a string of pink beads around my ankle spelling out my last name, but you can't see it here.