‘The Last Hotel: A Novel in Suites’: Suite 36
Editor’s Note: The Last Hotel: A Novel in Suites by Sonia Pilcer. This is the 19th installment of her tales of the Upper West Side in the 1970s. Look for it every Friday. To read the 18th installment, with links to previous ones, click here.
Pincus was sitting down to a humble repast of Campbell’s chicken soup with rice when he heard a soft knock on his door. Who could it be? Faye was in Baltimore. He stood up.
“Who is it?” he asked through the door.
“A neighbor,” a feminine voice answered.
He opened the door to discover a woman he recognized from the building. Rachel was beaming at him. He looked down at a pair of red over-sized oven mitts holding a steaming pot.
He looked confused. “Can I help you with something?”
“You could tell me where I should put this,” Rachel said. “I made a cholent. There’s too much for one person…” Her voice trailed off. “Cholent?” Pincus pronounced the word with pleasure. “I haven’t seen a cholent in such a long time.”
“I’m Rachel from Suite 42. May I come in?”
He hesitated for a moment, then said, “Vy not? Ve’re neighbors.”
“Do you have a kitchen?” she asked.
He pointed to the hotplate on the table. Using her red oven mitts, which looked like boxing gloves, she put the pot down. “Have a smell,” she said, lifting the lid.
The steam escaped in a billowing puff of onions, garlic, beef and kidney beans. Pincus inhaled the scent, his nostril hairs curling in delight.
“I don’t make it often,” she told him. “But yesterday, I don’t know, I suddenly felt in the mood.”
“Ach!” Pincus exhaled ecstatically. “You know what the German poet Heine said about cholent? ‘The heavenly food that our dear Lord God himself once taught Moses to cook at Mt. Sinai.’ ”
Rachel laughed, first noticing the huge painting of a young woman with watchful green eyes. Pincus saw her looking.
“That’s Sylvie,” he introduced her. “My wife.”
“Nice to meet you,” Rachel hailed her. “So should we sit down and eat a little? Before it gets cold.” She looked around the room. “Do you have another chair?”
“I’m not prepared for company,” Pincus said, shrugging. “I have nothing here except books.”
“From the building?” Rachel asked as she dragged over a turquoise leatherette armchair, with one arm missing.
“It used to be in the lobby,” he said. “Saul gave it to me.”
“I figured. It matches the couch downstairs.”
Rachel sat down, crossing her legs. Her short dress rode up her thighs, revealing lovely legs in black silk stockings.
Pincus looked away modestly.
“Speaking of which, Saul told me something about the hotel being bought by someone.”
“I didn’t get the whole story, but Saul said we should keep our ears open.”
Pincus shook his head. “I don’t like the sound of it.”
“I’ll see what I can find out from my contacts in real estate. You know that’s what I do? Sell real estate.”
As she recrossed her legs, her dress slid up her thighs. She pulled it down.
“Did Faye send you?” Pincus asked, sitting down across from her. “So I von’t go hungry.”
“No, of course not.”
“All these years I’ve lived by myself since Sylvie died, and Faye vorries about my eating.” He smiled indulgently.
“Actually, it was my idea,” Rachel said softly, leaning toward him. “I just thought, why not? You’re alone tonight.I’m alone. It’s Shabbes. I thought it might be nice to get to know each other. And we’re neighbors too.”
“Yes,” Pincus said, not looking up, his passion in his plate. “Cholent,” he said rapturously. “I haven’t tasted it in such a long time. Such soft potatoes.”
For a guy who was skin and bones, he ate with gusto. “You’re probably healthier not eating cholent too often.”
“Danks Got,” he said .“For an old man, I feel okay.”
Rachel looked at him frankly. “I don’t think you’re an old man.”
She leaned further over to him. He could see her cleavage. “You don’t seem that old,” she said, running her tongue over her teeth.
He shrugged, continuing to eat. “But I am.”
“Where are your glasses?” she asked, interrupting his reverie.
“My reading glasses?”
“No, silly! To drink.” She giggled wickedly. “I brought something.”
He pointed to the cabinet.
She took out two jelly jar glasses. “And your salt?”
“There’s kosher salt in the same cabinet.”
From her small pocketbook, she removed a bottle, a saltshaker, and a lemon.
“Vot’s this?” he asked.
“Something delicious,” she answered. “Have you ever had tequila?”
He shook his head.
“It’s a Mexican drink,” she said as she poured the clear liquid into the glasses, humming. “Da da da da da da da – “ Then suddenly she sang out, “Tequila!”
“I don’t drink except on Shabbes, of course.”
Rachel sliced the lemon.“ Never mind that. Here’s how you do it.” She poured a little salt on Pincus’ hand.“Lick the salt on your hand, drink the tequila, and then take a bite of the lemon,” she instructed. “Watch me.”
Rachel licked the salt on her hand, gulped the tequila down, and bit into the lemon. “Go on,” she urged.
“Okey-dokey,” he assented helplessly. His pink tongue lapped the salt, then he took a sip of the tequila, swallowed, and began to cough.
“Oy!” he gasped. “My mouth’s on fire!”
“Bite on the lemon!” Rachel urged.
He licked the salt again, tried another smaller sip, and bit into the lemon. Then he smacked his lips. “Not bad ven you get used to it.”
He tittered. “First, cholent, then tequila.” He took another sip and toasted Rachel. “L’chaim.To the Last Hotel, vere such nice people live in the building like you.”
“Yes,” she beamed. “How long have you lived here.”
“Seven years,” he said. “And you?”
“Since Harvey died. Five years ago.”
He nodded, continuing to sip.
“You like?” Rachel asked.
“Very delicious,” he affirmed, licking his lips.
Rachel poured tequila into two glasses. As Pincus was about to drink, she stopped him. “We have to lick the salt first,” she said.
She poured a small mound on Pincus’ hand. As he bent down to lick the salt, she reached over and held his hand. Then she licked the salt from his hand as well, looking into his eyes meaningfully.
He dropped his eyes.
“Prost!” Rachel clinked his glass.
When he hesitated, she encouraged. “Down the hatch!”
Pincus gulped his tequila.
“Here.” She fed him the lemon slice, then bit the other side.
They both giggled.
“Oy! The vorld is turning a little,” he said.
“Are you all right?” Rachel asked, reaching over to stroke his arm.
“I think so.” He shook his head back and forth. “If I keep this up, I’ll become a shikker. A drunk.”
“As long as you don’t become a shiksa,” Rachel joked.
They both laughed. “You’re a funny voman,” Pincus said.
Rachel smiled, licking her scarlet lips.
Suddenly, Pincus felt something under the table. Was something slipping over his leg? Rachel was stroking him! Before Pincus knew what was happening, he popped up into her hand.
“Like a young boy,” Rachel purred in his ear, beginning to unzip his fly. Her eyes closed, her lips on his. “Such a big boy!”
He couldn’t help smiling to himself. Just when he thought that his days on this planet were numbered, he’d become a ladies man. Oh Sylvie! Are you playing tricks on me? Can the dead perform magic?
“No, no,” he cried out. “I can’t.It’s not right—“
“Ssssh,” she whispered. “We’re the only ones who will ever know.”
To be a Lothario at this age? A Don Juan? He didn’t even know how it happened. One minute, they were eating cholent, the next thing he knew, she was unzipping his pants. Pincus was in shock!
Vixen! Batsheba! Pincus separated himself from Rachel. “Your cholent is – uh – very -delicious,” he said, pushing her hand away from him.
She smiled. “My grandmother Sadie’s recipe.”
“Thank you very much,” he said.
She leaned towards him again. “We could get to know each other better.”S he took his hand, pulling it under her dress, up her leg.
“Veys mir!” he cried out when he felt the hair between her legs.
“Shhhh,” she tried to still him.
He pushed his chair away from the table.“Vot do you think?I ’m a gigolo? Your friend is my –” He didn’t know what to call what they were. Not his girlfriend. She was over fifty. But not just his lover. “You know.”
“Faye’s not my friend.”
“She lies.” Rachel was inspired.
“Vot?” he demanded.
“You really think she has a daughter in Baltimore?”
“Of course,” he answered.“Vy vould she lie?”
“I’m sure she has her reasons.” She reached out for Pincus again. “None of it matters. We have each other tonight,” she purred.
This time he removed her hand firmly. “You must go now.” He hesitated, seeing a blush spread across her face and neck. “I’m sorry, but this I can’t do.”
“You don’t know what you’re missing,” Rachel said, sitting up.
“Have you no shame?”
“Heaven on earth.”
Pincus stood up. “Don’t vorry. I von’t say anything to Faye.”
“What’s to say?” Rachel stood up, straightening her dress. “You liked my cholent, right?”
“Yes,” he admitted. “I did.”
Rachel took her bottle of tequila and salt shaker, dropping them into her pocketbook. “Keep the lemon,” she said.
Grabbing her red oven mitts, she picked up her iron cholent pot. Without a backward glance, she stepped out, shutting the door behind her. Instead of the elevator, she took the back EXIT door and walked up the two flights. The neighbors didn’t have to know.
“Damn,” she muttered. “That bitch Faye has a good man!”