Editor’s Note: The Last Hotel: A Novel in Suites by Sonia Pilcer. This is the seventh installment of her tales of the Upper West Side in the 1970s. Look for it every Friday. To read the sixth installment, with links to earlier chapters, click here. Of this work, the author Hilma Wolitzer has observed: “‘The Last Hotel’ is a 20th Century ark filled with survivors of history and gentrification. Sonia Pilcer brings them all vividly to life with gentle wit and a generous heart.”
Monica Parker, neé Manyi Pacz, emigrated from Hungary with her brave, tight-lipped mother, Olga, in 1957. Now she was known to millions as arch villainess Emerald Lee. Often, she wished her life was like her character’s, who she would probably play until the grave unless they wrote her out, whichever came first.
The hotel was only six blocks from the studio at ABC. It was a good address. She used to live at the Barbizon when she first came to New York. A hotel for ladies. You weren’t even supposed to bring a man to your room. And then Enrico began to stalk her. She figured he’d never find her uptown. Besides, the hotel was across the street from Charivari, where she could shop her fantasies. Last week, she had bought rabbit-fur lined mules for her freshly pedicured feet. And Off-Broadway boutique, managed by a former showgirl, whose fashions looked like they came from Cher’s closet.
She ran her fingers through her blue-black tresses, fluffing the curls with her fingers. Monica had definite big hair. You couldn’t buy that kind of thickness. That’s why Proctor and Gamble loved her. On a subliminal level, her hair inspired millions of viewers to buy Extra Body conditioner.
Monica freshened up, patting her face with a moist sponge, massaging rose beige foundation into the pores of her skin. She stared into her Hollywood mirror. The five bright lights never lied. They were honest, but not kind. Her wrinkles, lifelines, as some called them, were visible in this light. Tragic cracks in her mask. Good God! A stray hair under her chin. She hastily tweezed.
She moved away from the mirror, fixing the outline of her lips. A perfect heart. None of that ‘pleating’ older women had around their lips. She added just a dab of gloss for shine, then turned off the light switch in the bathroom.
The shades were drawn, the light dim, but for the glow of scented candles. It was almost religious. If the Sisters could see her now.
She’d gone to St. Olaf’s Daughters, where the Sisters carried paddles, which they used if they caught a girl using the Lord’s name in vain. Jesus Christ! They had to wear scratchy wool skirts with stiff white shirts and blue ties. She shuddered as she thought of Sister Agnes, who had a special hatred for her, and liked to slap the back of her knees with a ruler.
A squeak sounded from the corner of the room, then a soft bark. “Where are you, Bogie!” she called. She turned on the light and found the creature nestled in her fur coat. “Come here, you!” She smothered the animal in her arms. “You, you, you, Bogie face!”
She decided to slip into something comfortable. Sexy, but not whorish. Just a wee bit transparent. No. She shook her head. She couldn’t decide, then pulled out her coral satin kimono with the golden dragon and shimmered into it. The satin felt amazing. She strolled over to the gold-leaf full-length mirror, bought for a song (and dance for the owner, a gay boy, who recognized her) in an antique shop on Columbus Avenue. Three hundred was a steal. Her mirror image stared at her.
A dream came back to Monica from several nights earlier. She was looking at herself in the mirror when suddenly she fell into the mirror. She found herself floating in space like Alice, through infinite glass images of herself. She tried to escape, but couldn’t. She was trapped in the Mirror World, surrounded by reflections of her face, her smile, her hair times a zillion. She couldn’t move. All she could do was to stare at her own image ad nauseum. Now she shrank back from the mirror.
Sitting down in an upholstered chair of burgundy velvet, she lit a clove cigarette, inhaling the sweet smoke, exultantly exhaling. How she loved the taste, the overpowering scent, the whirl of smoke around her. Her eyes wandered back to her image in the mirror across the room.
People said that she resembled Vivien Leigh. Her pale, white, never-exposed-to-the-sun skin, her dark shoulder-length hair, red lips and cheeks.
Now her hair was dyed. She wore too much makeup and lipstick. She had an image of herself as Gloria Swanson walking down the staircase in ‘Sunset Boulevard’. She understood the meaning. Sunset. The sun was setting fast. Soon it would be dark. Soon she would be old and alone.
Just then the telephone rang. Monica picked up the black phone receiver. “Hello?”
“I just finished working.” It was a male voice. “What are you doing?”
“Who is this?” Monica asked.
“Don’t you know?” The timbre was deep.
“Tell me or I’ll hang up.”
“Everyone is always in such a rush.”
She took a wild guess. “Dr. Tannenbaum from the second floor?”
“You got it.”
“You waited to call.”
“Let’s just say I had some unfinished business.”
“Did you finish your unfinished business?”
“Finished,” he replied.
They both laughed.
“I’m surprised to hear from you,” she said.
”I saw your face that day.”
“You don’t remember. We were in the elevator and something fell out of my pocket -–“
“The pipe!” Monica cried out. “Shaped like an elephant.”
“I’d appreciate if you wouldn’t publicize it.”
“I was impressed.”
“What are you doing now?”
“I’m studying my lines for Monday.”
“Could you take a break?”
“Another time then.”
”I’m not sure.”
“Well, let me know,” he offered, “We could have a drink at my place.”
“I don’t really think I should.”
“We could share the elephant.”
“What’s your suite number?” she asked.
“Just in case.”
Next week: Suite 42. Henry comes to fix Rachel’s pipes.
Sonia Pilcer is the author of six novels including The Holocaust Kid. The Last Hotel will be published in December by Heliotrope Books, available at Amazon.com. Visit Sonia Pilcer’s web site here.