(I had such fun with Rebecca's flash fiction contest that I scooted back over to Laini Taylor's Sunday Scribblings for another topic. This week's topic is "view". Anyone can post - writing, a photograph, whatever the topic inspires in you! If you haven't stopped over there, it's great for flexing those writing muscles!)
"A room with a view," I commanded to the woman behind the desk as I rifled through my carry-on. Two larger pieces of luggage waited behind me. I was tired from a long flight and I just wanted to get into my room, soak in the tub for a while, and collapse into the deep sleep necessary to clear my mind for the next day's presentations. Established clients, my first time pitching to them - it was clearly a test, and I was determined to pass with flying colors.
The receptionist slid a set of card keys across the counter in a small cardstock envelope, her eyes still trained on her computer. "Room 215. Up Elevator B and to your right, the room is on the left." Her French manicure gestured in the direction of the elevator. I nodded, thanking her, and in that moment it occurred to me that with her navy blazer lined in red piping and neat bun at the nape of her neck, she could easily have been one of the flight attendants who had herded me cross country on the red eye last night. I considered the logic behind the "service personnel look", and assumed that the reasoning was that she was there to attend to my needs, not draw my unneeded attention. The thought was lost a moment later as I pulled my luggage toward the elevator, the carry-on bumping uncomfortably into the small of my back. I was relieved that no one tried to join me for the short ride and no pimply teenage bellboys clamored for my tip.
The card key slid in easily and I propped the door open with one foot as I rolled my bags inside. The heavy door swung to a quiet close on its own, and I smiled. I appreciate small details - well oiled hinges, muffled fixtures - the types of things that are supposed to go unnoticed but make one's stay calmer. I am willing to pay extra to stay in places like this. This attention to detail that serves me so well in advertising - noticing things purposely meant to go unnoticed but that still tweak an experience - is, unfortunately, not something I can turn off outside the office. Loud hallways and dripping faucets are dealbreakers for me.
I stepped into the bathroom to the right and flicked on the light. Everything seemed to be in order. I turned off the light and moved into the larger room, admiring the thoughtful touch of fresh irises in a marbled glass vase on the nightstand. The room was done in neutral colors, so as not to grow dated too quickly, and it maintained an equally professional and comfortable tone. The ivory curtains were drawn across large, commanding windows, and I moved through the room to open them before even removing my shoes. As my fingers pulled the chain and the curtains parted smoothly, I breathed in, as though inhaling the view of the Capitol Building that the online travel broker had promised.
Instantly, my breath caught in my throat. The large white dome I expected was nowhere to be seen, and instead I had a breathtaking view of an alley and the entrance to the parking garage of another hotel.
"Oh, no." My head shook with distaste and my eyes scanned the room for the phone. "No, no, no." I dialed '0' for the front desk and half perched on the window ledge while the ethereal hold music pleaded with my frayed nerves. Thankfully, my bags were still fully packed and at the door, but the very idea of more time coming between me and a pillow irritated me. I recognized the stewardess/receptionist's lilting voice and wondered for a moment if she had been trained to talk that way or if it were her natural cadence. In a split second, I imagined her peeling off this light condescention with her uniform and collapsing onto a worn couch next to her husband, leaving this persona behind the desk.
I glanced out the window again and my eyes were drawn to some movement in a rusted green dumpster that sat at an unflattering angle to the hotel across the alley, resembling bad modern art. "Yes, this is Karen Madsen, Room 215." My voice remained even, commanding. I, too, had a voice reserved for my profession, one that refused to rise at the end of sentences, thereby turning them into unintended questions.
"Yes, Ms. Madsen. What can I do for you?" I imagined this was tiresome for her, the phone call as soon as a guest enters his or her room, her brain flipping through the rolodex of possible issues - not enough towels, an allergy to irises, a favorite drink missing from the mini bar.
"I requested a room with a view. A view of the Capitol. Not of another hotel's valets sneaking a smoke by the garage." I hadn't actually seen that, but I have learned that the more specific a complaint made, the more quickly it gets rectified. After a slight pause and the quiet clicking of computer keys, the receptionist responded,
"Certainly, Ms. Madsen. There must have been an error in the reservation. I've made a note. Please remain in the room and I shall send a bellhop to escort you to your new room momentarily. Is there anything else I can help you with?"
My brain said, yes, please also make a note that it is improper to end a sentence with a preposition, but my mouth said, "No, that will be much appreciated. Thank you."
I settled the phone into its cradle, noting that it must be theft and guest incompetence that prevents hotels from updating to cordless phones. Settling back onto the window ledge, I scanned the alley once again for movement. A bird startled out of the dumpster as I caught a shadow behind it. A small frame, not large enough to be an adult, skittered around to the front of the dumpster, looked both ways and up toward the windows of the hotel across the alley. Small hands beckoned a larger figure, who next appeared from the shadows.
The smaller figure lifted its arms and the larger figure, its shape defining it as a man, gently held the child at the waist and hoisted it into the open dumpster. I could feel frown lines form between my eyes as I watched the child disappear. Soon I watched the child's hand appear up through the open dumpster holding what looked like discarded bedsheets. The man took them from the child's hand and stuffed them into a bag. Several minutes later, the small hand appeared again, though I couldn't make out what type of object it transferred to the man before he stuffed that into the bag, too.
My eyes closed and I pressed my fingertips into my eyelids to relieve the ache that had begun to form with my frown lines. The pressure brought back the stress of the flight, the room change, tomorrow's presentation. Moments later, a knock sounded at the door. "Ma'am, bellhop here."
"One moment," I responded, my eyes readjusting to the light as they opened on the alley scene once more. The man was lifting the child out of the dumpster carefully, a smile on his face. After a high five, he hugged the child and raised and lowered the bulky bag that held more than it had a moment ago as though he were lifting weights, clearly miming a job well done by the child. The child slipped its hand into the man's and they began to move down the alley, a team, the bag flung over the man's shoulder.
"Ma'am?" Again, this time shaking me back to the moment. This room. The error in my reservation, quickly redeemed by the quality service of the hotel. I walked to the door and opened it, nodding briskly at the young man in a navy blazer with red piping that matched that of the receptionist. Noting the brassy luggage rack in the hallway slightly behind him, I responded, "One moment."
I turned from him and fumbled through my purse for a tip, which I handed to him, bringing a slightly baffled look to his face. He was not a career hotel employee who had learned to mask judgment. I smiled.
"Thank you. Very much. I won't be needing a room change after all. The view is quite..." He quirked an eyebrow, and I wondered if he knew the rooms well enough to know what I could see outside my window.
"Thank you. This room will do." He smiled and tipped his hat as I closed the door, forgetting tomorrow's presentation altogether, at least for a while, as I planned instead a shopping trip and a quiet evening walk through the alley to drop a bag into a dumpster.