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Authors: Ron Carlson

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The Hotel Eden: Stories

BOOK: The Hotel Eden: Stories
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The Hotel Eden: Stories
Ron Carlson
USA
(1997)
Prepare to be amused, moved, disturbed. These dozen stories by a master
of idiosyncrasy visit a world where wit has heft, charm has shadow,
and human beings act out all the complicated nuances of love.
In the title story a young man waiting in the Hotel Eden
discovers, as others have, that Eden is not a permanent domicile. 
In
"Zanduce at Second," a baseball player turned killer-by-accident
undergoes a surprising transformation. 
We root for escaped felon Ray
("A Note on the Type") as he carves his name on a culvert wall. 
We
drive the sweltering summer streets of Phoenix as a nineteen-year-old
narrator goes through an unsettling sexual awakening ("Oxygen"). 
In
these and other stories, whether his characters are getting sabotaged
by nightcaps or encountering nudists on a rafting trip, Carlson takes
us to a generous array of places in a new way. 
Finally, in "The
Chromium Hook," he takes us to a lovers' lane where he solves an
ancient mystery.
THE HOTEL EDEN

ALSO BY RON CARLSON

Betrayed by F. Scott Fitzgerald

A Novel

Truants

A Novel

The News of the World

Stories

Plan B for the Middle Class

Stories

for Walter DeMelle

CONTENTS

I

THE HOTEL EDEN

KEITH

THE PRISONER OF BLUESTONE

ZANDUCE AT SECOND

THE HOUSE GOES UP

II

WHAT WE WANTED TO DO

THE CHROMIUM HOOK

A NOTE ON THE TYPE

III

NIGHTCAP

DR. SLIME

DOWN THE GREEN RIVER

OXYGEN

COPYRIGHT PAGE

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

S
OME OF THE
stories in this collection appeared, sometimes in slightly different form, in the following publications:
Double-Take
: “Nightcap”;
Esquire
: “The Hotel Eden”;
Harper’s
: “Zanduce at Second,” “A Note on the Type,” “What We Wanted to Do,” “The Chromium Hook”;
Gentlemen’s Quarterly
: “The Prisoner of Bluestone”;
Salt Lake City Magazine:
“Nightcap”;
The Southern Review
: “Down the Green River”;
Tell
: “Keith”;
Western Humanities Review
: “Dr. Slime”;
Witness
: “What We Wanted to Do,” “Oxygen.”

Special thanks to the editors of these publications, particularly Colin Harrison, Ben Metcalf, Tom Mallon, and Dave Smith.

“Keith” also appeared in the anthology
Success Stories of the Nineties
; and “A Note on the Type” was published as a letter-press book from Mile Wide Press (Penland, North Carolina) in an edition of one hundred copies, each with a cover of galvanized roof flashing and type hand-set by the determined Eileen Wallace, 1996. “A Note on the Type” also appeared in
The Writing Path
2, edited by Michael Pettit, University of Iowa Press, 1996.

I would also like to express my gratitude to Gail Hochman for constant and everlasting faith; Marianne Merola for her encouragement; to Ed Dee for the Jack Frost line; to Bill Mai for kindnesses in the Old World; to Christopher Merrill for his enthusiasms; to David Kranes for friendship and astute reading; to Michael Phillips for help in the snow; to Carol Houck Smith for tenacity and grace; to Ashley Barnes for her smart efforts on my behalf; and to Elaine and Nick and Colin for all these delicious years and those to come.

THE HOTEL EDEN

T
HAT YEAR THE
place we would go after hours was the Hotel Eden. It had a cozy little bar in the parlor with three tiny tables and four stools at the counter. You had to walk sideways to get around, and it had a low ceiling and thick old carpets, but it had a roomy feeling and it became absolutely grand when Porter was there. Over the course of the spring he told us a hundred stories in the Eden and changed things for us.

The barman was a young Scot named Norris who seemed neither glad nor annoyed when we’d come in around midnight after closing down one of the pubs, the Black Swan or the Lamb and Flag or the forty others we saw that cold spring. Pub hours then were eleven o’clock last call, and drink up by eleven-fifteen. Porter would set his empty pint glass on the whatever bar and say to Allison and me, “The Eden then?” He’d bike over, regardless of where we were, out on the Isle of Dogs or up in Hampstead, and Allison would get us a cab.

Norris would have the little curtain pulled down above the bar, a translucent yellow sheet that said, “Residents Only.” He drew it down every night at eleven; hotels could serve late to their guests. Porter had done some favor for the manager of the Hotel Eden when he’d come to London years before, and he had privileges. They became in a sense our privileges too, though—as you shall see—I was only in the Eden alone on one occasion. The curtain just touched your forehead if you sat at the bar.

We often arrived ahead of Porter, and Norris would set us up with pints of lager, saying always, “Hello, miss,” when he placed Allison’s glass. The Eden didn’t have bitter. I remember the room as always being empty when we’d arrive, and it was a bit of a mystery at first as to why Norris was still even open. But there were times when there was a guest or two, a man or a man and a woman, having a brandy at one of the tables. We were quiet too, talking about Allison’s research at the museum—she had a year in London to work on her doctorate in Art History. But it was all airy, because we were really just waiting for Porter. It was as if we weren’t substantial enough to hold down our stools, and then Porter would come in, packing his riding gloves into his helmet, running a hand through his thick black hair, saying, “Right enough, Norris, let’s commence then, you gloomy Northlander,” and gravity would be restored. His magnetism was tangible, and we’d wait for him to speak. When he had the pint of lager in his hand, he’d turn to Allison and say something that would start the rest of the night.

One night, he lifted his glass and said, “Found a body today.” Then he drank.

Allison leaned in: “A dead man?”

“Dead as Keats and naked as Byron.” We waited for him to go on. His was the voice of experience, the world, the things that year that I wanted so much.

“Where?” I asked.

“Under the terrace at the Pilot.”

“The place on the river?” Allison asked. He’d taken us walking through the Isle of Dogs after we’d first met and we’d stopped at half a dozen pubs which backed onto the Thames.

“Right, lady. Spoiled my lunch, he did, floating under there like that.”

Allison was lit by this news. We both were. And there it was: the night kicked in at any hour, no matter how late. When Porter arrived, things
commenced
. We both leaned closer. Porter, though he’d just sucked the top off his pint, called Norris for another, and the evening was launched.

We always stayed until Porter leaned back and said, “It’s a night then.” He didn’t have an accent to us, being American, but he had the idiom and he had the way of putting his whole hand around a glass and of speaking over the top of a pint with the smallest line of froth of his upper lip, something manly really, something you’d never correct or try to touch off him, that was something to us I can only describe as being
real
. He’d been at Hilman College years before Allison and me, and he knew Professor Mills and all the old staff and he’d even been there the night of the Lake Dorm Fire, the most famous thing about Hilman really, next to Professor Mills, I suppose. I spent a hundred hours with him in the Eden that spring, like Allison, twelve inches across that little round table or huddled as we were at the bar, and I memorized Porter really, his face, the smooth tan of red veins running up under his eyes, as if he’d stood too close to some special fire, and his white teeth, which he showed you it seemed for a purpose. His nose had been broken years ago. We played did you know so-and-so until Allison, who was still a member of Lake Sorority, brought up the fire.

“Oh yes,” he said. “I was there. What’s the legend grown to now? A hundred ghosts?”

“Six,” Allison laughed. “There’s always been six.”

“Always,” he protested. “You make it sound ancient. Hey, I was there. February.” Then he added with authority and precision: “Fifteen years ago.”

“Someone had stopped the doors with something; the six girls couldn’t get out.”

Porter drew on his beer and looked at me. “Hockey sticks. It was a bundle of hockey sticks through the door handles.”

“That’s right.”

“Oh.” He looked from me to Allison. “It was awful. A cold night at Hilman, and you know, it could get cold, ten degrees, old snow on the ground hard as plastic, and the colossal inferno. From the quad you could see the trapped figures bumping into the glass doors. A group of us came up from town, the Villager had just closed, you ever drink there?”

“It’s now a cappuccino place,” Allison said. “The Blue Dish.”

“Ah, the old Villager was a capital dive. That bar could tell some tales. It’s where I met our Professor Mills. Anyway, they closed at one, and when I stepped out into the winter night, there was this ethereal light pulsing from the campus like a heartbeat, and you had to go. There was no choice. I knew right away it was Lake, fully engaged, as they say, a fire like no other, trying to tear a hole in the world.” Allison and I were mesmerized, and he finished: “It singed the sycamores back to Dobbs Street, and that’s where a group of us stood. It hurt to look. In the explosive light, I could see figures come to the glass, they looked like fish.”

When he’d finish talking like that, telling this story or that—he’d found a downed ultralight plane in the Cotswolds once on a walking tour and had had to secure the pilot’s compound leg fracture—Allison and I would be unable to move. It was a spell. It’s that simple. You see, we were graduate students and we weren’t used to this type of thing. I’d tell you what we were used to but it all seems to drop out of memory like the bottom of a wet cardboard box. We were used to nothing: to weeks at the library at Hilman in Wisconsin and then some vacation road trips with nothing but forced high jinx and a beach. There was always one of our friends, my roommate or Allison’s roommate, who would either read Dylan Thomas aloud all the way to Florida and then refuse to leave the car or get absolutely drunk for a week and try to show everyone his or her genitals as part of a discussion of our place in the universe. We were Americans and we knew it. I was twenty-three and Allison was twenty-four. We hadn’t done anything, we were scholars. I’d finished my master’s degree in meteorology at Northern near Hilman and was doing what—nothing. Allison got her grant. Going to England was a big deal for us. She was going to do her research at the British Museum. I was going to cool out and do London. Then we met Porter.

BOOK: The Hotel Eden: Stories
6.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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