Authors: Pres Maxson
Bender at the
By Pres Maxson
© 2015 Pres Maxson
by Jennifer Maxson and Lauren Lastowka
design by Jennifer Law and Griffen Tull
Mollie and Cece
About the Author
I was overthinking
the architecture. One of the ceiling corners of our small, antique-white hotel
room included no right angles. Either the floor above us was tilting, or the
walls were folding toward each other. I blinked, trying to force my eyes to
focus on it. It was early, and Janie was still asleep.
car door slammed six stories below on the Rue de l’Échelle. We had left the window
open overnight. The first hues of light were creating subtle shadows in our room.
morning was too young to host city sounds. No telltale two-toned sirens or
other traffic disturbed us. Any noises at that hour were isolated and sporadic,
keeping me on the edges of sleep.
lay still and small beside me. We had been married for two years, and I still thought
she was classically cute. She had a playful spirit and somehow looked
mischievous even when she slept.
I gingerly swung my feet off the bed, something pulled me toward the window. My
body lifted itself. The carpet was thin and cool, the air slightly biting. Delicately
dizzy, I still felt the few bottles of wine we split at dinner the evening
window was large enough to be a doorway. Beyond our small wrought iron window dressing,
the Paris morning was still a sunless, glowing, phosphorescent grey. I could
make out images below, but without my glasses, the street in the low light looked
like a charcoal drawing, vague and dark.
took a deep breath and inhaled the spirit of the city. Soon the morning fog
would loosen its grip around the steel skeleton of the Eiffel Tower. Its exit
from the city would resemble a slow march, ghosts leaving the grand avenues
crisp and clear.
with white linens had yet to be set out in front of cafés. Still ponds in empty
parks had yet to reflect Parisians on their morning walks to work. Shop fronts
remained dark save the occasional boulangerie, baking the morning’s bread under
soft yellow lights.
exhaled. Rooftops across the way were about even with our window. Beyond them,
more roofs crested as if they were approaching in waves. Black windows with
flower boxes lined up like photographs in an album. The intersection below displayed
flashing lights for no one.
scanned the sidewalk directly opposite our hotel. My eyes had begun to regain
their focus power, and I could identify the figure of a man standing in an
archway off the sidewalk below. Trying to get over the assumption that he was
imagined was difficult.
struggling to keep a clear head, I didn’t think too much of the stranger at
first. The city still slept, and all seemed normal. There wasn’t another person
in view, no café owner sweeping their storefront entrance, no moving vehicles.
there he stood, his eyes apparently fixed on a spot somewhere beneath me, on
our side of the street. Was something happening in front of our hotel? If it were,
I couldn’t hear it, and he wasn’t reacting. He stood expressionless, silent,
man didn’t shift his stance once. His suit was smart and casual, but distance
and darkness obscured details about his face or age. Was he waiting for
someone? No coffee. No cigarette. No paper.
I sure that I wasn’t dreaming him? Finally, as if sensing my unease his head turned
slowly upwards. Our eyes met.
Pete,” Janie whispered sweetly from the bed behind me.
broke my trance. I turned to look at her. She was propped up on one elbow,
wearing one of my undershirts, and gently brushing her straight brown hair out
of her face.
baby,” I answered.
are you doing?”
voice sounded beautiful even when groggy.
was just looking down at the street,” I stammered, as I turned back to the
window. The man was gone. Below me, there sat only empty grey sidewalk. I
tilted my head like a dog staring at an inchworm. I swear I’d barely taken my
eyes away for a second. “Huh,” I grunted.
is it?” Janie asked.
I answered. “Just saw a guy down there.”
I did at least.”
he bringing us coffee?” she laughed, slumping back to her pillow.
I answered with a tired smile.
we sleep in a little longer?” Janie asked as she rolled over. Her hair spread
out on the pillow, floating as if underwater.
you coming back to bed?”
I said still without moving, focusing again on the archway below. Maybe the man
hadn’t been there at all. Perhaps he was just a distant image from a lost memory,
superimposed on the scene by my exhausted mind.
there was that brief, arresting moment of eye contact. It felt as if no
distance had existed between us. The effect would have been the same had we
been standing opposite each other in a doorway, unsure which one of us should
step aside to allow the other to pass.
tried to forget about him. I went back to the bed but didn’t fall asleep. Janie
woke up for good soon after. She put on a short denim skirt over black leggings.
I accidentally skipped a buttonhole on the first try with my favorite blue
head cleared and mind focused, making me once again question the ghost standing
beneath the archway on the sidewalk earlier. I also reexamined the corner of
our small, antique-white hotel room. This time, the floor and ceiling appeared
to be perfectly parallel.
* * *
met in college, Janie and I hit it off as a bartender-waitress pair in a dusty
college-town bar. She was now a grad student in poetry and often wore colors
that clashed, whereas I busied myself trying to be professional as a junior
staff writer for the
. We’d saved for more than a year
hair, tied back and looking like tail feathers, bounced in front of me as we
walked down the winding stone staircase to the lobby. The Hôtel des Bretons was
reminiscent of a rundown museum. Original rich reds in the artwork and interior
design had faded to maroons. Distant doors echoed as they open and shut,
augmenting the silence. We hadn’t seen any other guests though, nor did we care
if there were any.
the pleasant salt-and-pepper-haired concierge normally greeted us with a smile
and a nod, but he wasn’t at his post. It must have been too early. A young
clerk with dark eye makeup read her book behind the front desk and didn’t look
up as we walked passed. Our steps echoed in the high-ceilinged entryway.
caught my eye. A red curtain swayed across a doorway off the lobby. I’d only
caught a fleeting glimpse of him, but I was almost sure that I’d just seen the
man from the sidewalk dart through it. There wasn’t enough time for a double
take. Janie heard me gasp.
don’t know,” I said as we walked. A ‘closed’ sign stood in front of the curtain.
I hadn’t noticed this doorway before in our comings and goings. “I swear I just
saw that guy from the street this morning.”
one I told you about.”
I barely remember that,” she answered.
had to look in.
you sure you just saw someone?” she continued. “I mean, I didn’t hear anything
or see anybody.”
don’t know,” I mumbled.
the concierge there to stop me, I crept passed the sign and peered between the doorjamb
and curtain. Quiet and magnificent, what lay inside was instantly intriguing.
is it?” Janie asked.
I didn’t know this hotel had a bar.”
neither,” I muttered.
here two days, you’d think somehow we’d have seen that,” Janie remarked,
pushing herself under my arm. My chin rested on the top of her head.
could see the entire inside of the room from the doorway. Hanging glassware
shimmered. Dark, worn woods made the room smell like the inside of a drawer.
Lines of liquor bottles stood in perfect rows, light passing through each
magnificently. Knickknacks peppered the shelving among the bottles, almost
giving the wall the look of an antique store. An eclectic and crooked mix of decorative
hangings and artwork covered every inch of wall space. The bar fit just five or
six stools, but many tables filled out the rest of the room all the way to the
front windows, facing the street corner. An exterior exit across the room was
presumably locked. The stranger from the archway was nowhere to be found.
really is a ghost,” I mused under my breath. Janie didn’t hear me.
place is perfect,” she said. “What a good little dive.”
immaculate,” I said.
don’t see anyone.”
thought for a moment. “Let’s try this out tonight when it’s open.”
good.” Turning back to the clerk in the lobby, I asked, “Excuse me. Have you
seen anyone else down here this morning?”
You are the first guests up,” dark eyes responded, looking up from her book for
the first time.
Janie said, turning away from the curtain. “Ready?”
I need a coffee. I think I’m seeing things.”
left the Hôtel des Bretons and disappeared into the soft morning light, bound
for a café.
* * *
afternoon, I’d intended to relax and read at the hotel. I must not have lasted
more than a few paragraphs, because I woke up just before dinnertime with the
book resting on my chest. It was open to the same page on which I’d started.
don’t need to take the elevator this time,” Janie said, as we walked the narrow
hallway to the stairs. It was the size of a phone booth and sounded like
grinding teeth. I rubbed my eyes and yawned.
need to wake up. Lots of night left,” she said.
be fine,” I grunted, looking forward to food and drink.
step on the staircase felt well trodden, the stone gently worn down from
decades of soles. When we arrived in the lobby, the concierge sat on a tall
chair at his post.
evening,” he greeted us pleasantly with a nod.
Good evening!” I answered before the curtained doorway caught my eye again. The
‘closed’ sign was still up.
this be open tonight?” I asked him, motioning toward the bar. I was already
Bon Parisien? No, I’m sorry sir. We do not have a bartender right now.”
might explain why we haven’t noticed it. It hasn’t been open,” Janie wondered
could have sworn I saw someone go in there this morning,” I continued to Paul.
he answered. “The exterior entrance has been locked for a few weeks, but it
could have been a hotel staff member.”
I answered, doubting it.
and I continued with a step toward the exit, but something stopped me. Visions flourished
of treating my wife to pre-dinner drinks in our own private Parisian bar.
may I have the job tonight?!” I blurted out.
concierge laughed. “Very good,
I’m serious,” I gently persisted. “Maybe one drink before dinner?”
it was an unlikely request from a guest, but I could tell he was thinking.
have experience as a bartender, so I wouldn’t make a mess. I did it in college,”
tried not to smile at my poor pronunciation.
course, we’ll pay for it,” I insisted.
began to lift his hand to wave us out to the sidewalk. Guests were probably not
allowed in areas meant for employees, let alone areas that are shut down or not
under supervision. He started to shake his head.
make you one too,” I tried with a smile.
with denial on the tip of his tongue, he then glanced toward the front desk
clerk. It wasn’t Dark Eyes. This man stood smiling under his bowl haircut.
couldn’t tell if they were humoring or silently laughing at me. The clerk didn’t
say anything, but he nodded slightly.
ahead,” Paul said with sigh. “We’ve had a gate up all week until a day or so
ago, and it’ll be nice to see someone using the bar again.”
I’ll get you a beer!” I blurted out, suddenly ecstatic.
don’t need a drink, but I’ll be right in behind you shortly,” he kindly