Editor’s Note: This is the 32nd and last chapter of Sonia Pilcer’s novel, THE LAST HOTEL, which the Edge has serialized weekly. We will be celebrating the completion of the serialization at the Lauren Clark Gallery in Great Barrington, Mass., on Sunday, June 28th from 2 to 3:30. Sonia will be reading from her novel. Please stop by.
In the meantime, to read the 31st installment, with links to previous ones, click here.
Lenny appeared buff in a cashmere sweater Esther had bought him, as he laid plastic cups and paper plates on the coffee table. China was stupid, he said. It breaks. We have to wash it. Okay, she conceded. “You’re the man,” Esther said. “Come on, boss me around.”
He grinned happily.
They had invited the usual and then some. Henry and Bess said they’d stop by. Faye had phoned Saul. Luba had politely taken the information, but they didn’t expect to come. Monica, the soap actress, and the young writer from the fifth floor, Hana, were invited. So was Amber. Even Pete and Gittel. They had tried to reach Dr. T. And Rachel, of course.
The doorbell rang. Pincus and Faye made their entrance. Pincus in a dark suit, white shirt and red silk tie. Faye wore a bare-shouldered taffeta gown in the exact hue of her hair, more fire engine than usual, fake emerald baubles.
Esther, who wore a dark silk pantsuit, looked at her old friend curiously. “Is there a bar mitzvah I don’t know about?”
“Don’t you get it?”
“What are you talking about?”
“This is the last time we’ll all be here. In the Last Hotel,” Faye said. “It’s an occasion.”
“Excusez-moi,” Esther said.
Faye handed her a bottle of Chateau Sainte Colombe Cotes de Castillon.
“From the good doctor’s stash?” Esther asked.
Faye nodded. “Seems he departed in such a rush that he left behind a few things.”
“How’d you get into his room?”
“Henry told me. He came in with me.”
She grinned. “Never mind, you. Believe me, there wasn’t much. He took most of his stuff. But –“ Esther paused dramatically. “He seems to have abandoned a king-size waterbed, not to mention the mirrored ceiling…”
“Really?” Lenny’s face lit up with interest.
“Darling,” Esther said. “Those things don’t travel on vans.”
“Not on the van,” he answered. “We could just check it out.”
“I can ask Henry,” she demurred.
“What’s this about a van?” Pincus asked.
“We’re going to get ourselves a motor home,” Lenny said. “One of those Winnebago type trailers that hog the highway.”
“What? A hippy van?” Faye asked.
“No, of course not. It’ll have all the conveniences of home.”
“Really?” Pincus looked amazed.
“So Esty, now you want to live in a trailer park?”
“We’ll travel all over the country. We’ll stop. Sometimes we’ll stay in motels. I can’t wait actually!” Esther declared.
“What are you going to do with your furniture?”
“That’s why storage was invented. I’m going to rent a unit. Store everything.” She paused, then said, “Possessions be damned!”
Faye sat down. “That’s radical.”
Esther sat down next to her. “What are you going to do?”
“I always wanted to live in the Village. Pincus likes it uptown. We’ll probably get two places with visiting rights. Two domiciles. Makes it more romantic,” she whispered.
The doorbell rang.
“Who else is coming?” Pincus asked.
Esther opened the door. Henry and Bessie stood in the doorway. Both were dressed nicely. Bessie wore a red satin hat, placed at a rakish angle. She smiled. “Happy New Year.”
“Not yet,” Faye warned. “Though I’ll welcome it. Things can’t get worse than this year.”
“What are you talking about?” Bessie asked.
“Well, there’s our new President for one thing.”
“Don’t get political now,” Esther said. “It’s great to see you! Come in, come in.”
They handed her a bottle, which she laid down on the table. “Thanks. What would you like to drink? We have wine. Rum and eggnog.”
“The eggnog sounds delicious,” Bessie said. “Can I help?”
“Lenny, could you—“
“Right this way.”
“How ya doing, Henry?” Esther asked.
He dropped his voice. “Lenny doesn’t have his pistol?”
As they approached the kitchenette, the doorbell rang again.
Rachel, in mink and black sheath, hobbled in very high heels. “Reardon said he’d try to get someone to take over for him.” She handed Esther a bottle of Champagne.
“Hi, Henry,” she said. “Don’t you look handsome? Hello, Bessie.”
The doorbell rang again. Pete and Gittel walked in at the same time. “I brought some hot tea,” Gittel said, holding out her thermos.
Pete carried his paper bag of booze. “I’m set,” he said. “How’s everybody doing?”
“Did you invite Saul and Luba?”
“Sure, but they weren’t going to come.”
“Remember how we snuck around last year?”
“And the rat?”
“And the gun?”
“I was thinking about Saul too,” Pincus said quietly.
“He’s s better off,” Pincus said. “He doesn’t need the headaches from the hotel.”
“Time for a toast,” Esther said. “Our first one anyway.” She paused. “To Saul.”
“Yes,” Lenny said. “A very good man. An honest man.”
“Who had seen worse than any of us can know, but still got up every morning and came here.”
“He gave all of us courage,” Esther said.
“He could be a pain,” Pete said, “But I liked the guy.”
“Remember how he’d inspect our checks every week.”
“Honestly, I miss his screaming at me,” Henry said.
“Mr. E was a very decent man,” Bessie added.
“May he live forever.”
They all clinked plastic glasses.
“I hear he’s going to move to Israel.”
“Yeah. Make aliyah.”
“When you go to Israel to live.”
“That makes sense in a way,” Pincus said.
“Him and his Luba.”
“What a story that is.”
“Well, he got a pretty penny for his share, I heard.”
Faye turned to Esther. “So tell me, what did they offer you for this palatial suite?”
“$1250,” she said softly. “And you?”
“A thousand. My place is smaller.”
“Sweetheart deals,” Lenny said, joining them. “What a misnamer that is. Anyway, I got $800. So did you, Pincus. Right?”
“Rachel’s the big winner.”
“Wha’d you get?”
“I shouldn’t say.” She dropped her voice. “Fifteen hundred. Hey, I’m in the business.”
“I’m getting shit since I’m on the top floor, bathroom in the hallway,” Pete said wistfully.
“To the Last Hotel where we all met,” said Rachel. “Well, you and I knew each other,” she said, looking at Faye. “And you knew Esther –“
“To the very last days of the Last Hotel,” Faye said, toasting.
“Yeah,” Lenny added.
The bell rang again. Enter Monica, who lived several doors down on the same floor. She wore a sexy stretch Danskin, but looked piqued. At that moment, Hana stepped out of the elevator. She followed Monica in.
“Hi Ladies!” Lenny called out. “Get yourselves something to drink.”
Monica turned around and first noticed Hana, who wore an embroidered Indian top and velour pants.
“Oh,” said Monica, meeting her glance. Then she turned away.
Hana poured herself the red wine. Chateau Sainte Colombe Cotes de Castillon. The label looked familiar.
Esther turned on the television. The crystal ball glowed on the top of 1 Times Square. Twenty more minutes. She switched the channel. A clip of Ronald and Nancy Reagan standing in front of their Christmas tree. Close-up: the warm smile and twinkling blue movie star eyes.
“What are you going to do, Rachel?” Esther asked.
“I’m looking into an apartment at Lincoln Towers.”
“That sounds nice.”
“They have a long waiting list, but I know someone.”
“You know someone everywhere.”
“Aren’t I lucky?” Rachel grinned. “I hope Reardon can make it tonight. He was waiting for a replacement to come in.”
“What about you?” Esther asked Hana.
“I’m going to get a room at the Chelsea Hotel,” she said.
“A perfect place for a writer,” Esther said.
“And you?” she asked Monica.
“I’m keeping my options open,” she answered.
That’s when the first explosion shook the apartment.
“What was that?”
“It sounded like something blew up!”
Henry leaped to his feet and ran out of the suite. “I’m going upstairs to see what’s what.”
“Okay, everyone,” Lenny called. “Out, out, out.” He chased them. “Go down the stairs.”
Esther followed by Rachel, who grabbed her Champagne bottle. Faye, Pincus, Gittel, Pete. Hana rushed out of the apartment, with Monica behind. They tried to avoid each other as they rushed down the stairs.
Bessie called into the stairway. “Henry, where are you?”
“What’s happened?” Esther asked.
“Don’t talk,” Lenny said. “Just get out of the building. The whole thing could blow up with us in it.”
All ran outside. Faye tried to call 911 from the phone booth on the corner, but it didn’t work. Lenny ran into the Greek diner. As they stood looking up at the flames on the sixth floor, it started to snow. But the flakes were grey. Strips of paper floated down over them. They ran around, picking up the pieces of paper.
“’And then the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears…’” Hana read aloud. “What is this?”
“Mine says,” Esther read, “’Increased knowledge of the unconscious brings a deeper experience of life and ….’
“’After her father’s death, Yentl had no reason to remain in Yanev,’” read Lenny. “What is this?”
“They’re from books!” Faye exclaimed. “That’s Isaac Bashevis Singer.”
“Look at this,” Rachel said. “’There are the so-called inert gases in the air we breathe. They bear curious names of erudite derivation which…’”
“It’s all so literary!” Hana exulted.
“Pretty weird if you ask me,” Lenny said.
Just then, Henry ran out of the building followed by Fred, whose wild hair was gray with smoke. He carried a duffel bag. Leah, knapsack strapped on to her back, was behind him. They joined the others.
“What happened?” Lenny said.
Henry shook his head. “Don’t ask.”
Fred looked around himself. “I won’t give the capitalist pigs the satisfaction. They can’t have my room!”
He turned to his neighbors. “Look I hope no one’s stuff got messed up. But they can’t just throw us out like we’re garbage.” His voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. “If anyone wants to know, you didn’t see me. Okay?”
“Me too,” Leah said breathlessly.
He grabbed her hand and both darted down the street, running across Columbus Avenue though the light was red. A yellow taxi honked at them.
Two fire trucks arrived. Noisy, red, eel-like as they twisted around the corner. Several firemen ran into the building.
Lights flashed, sirens blared around them. At that moment, Amber wrapped in a white fox coat arrived on the arm of Duc, the Samoan bouncer from Studio 54. They looked besotted with each other.
“What’s happened?” she inquired.
“Why is everyone outside?” Duc asked.
Hana pointed upstairs, where it was smoking from the sixth floor window.
A few moments later, two firemen approached them. The older one wore a hat that said CHIEF.
“It’s all right,” said the Chief. “Just a little conflagration, mostly burned itself out. A lot of smoke though. What a mess.” He shook his head. “Who lives in Suite 62?”
No one answered.
“We found these.” He held out two blackened sticks of dynamite. “Someone put these between pages of books.”
“Oh no!” Pincus gasped.
“Does anyone know who lives up there?” he repeated.
The residents looked at each other. “We don’t know who lives where,” Amber said, shrugging. Her fur coat fell open, revealing her considerable cleavage.
The chief was staring for a moment, then confronted them. “I can look it up in the register.”
Duc stepped up. “I live on the sixth floor, but I wasn’t here.”
“Actually,” Monica, who had stood silently until then, piped up. “We had this crazy shrink living in the hotel. He split. That was his room.”
“What was his name?”
“Doctor Ronald Tannenbaum.” She paused, then spelled it out. “That’s T-A-N-N-E-N—“
Hana looked at her. “I thought he was on the second floor?”
“Where is he?” asked the Chief.
“That’s what I’d like to know. I told him I was pregnant.” Monica pointed to her stomach. “I might be. And he was gone like the wind.”
“Aren’t you famous or something?” the chief asked.
“’Forgive Us Our Passions,” she declared with pride. “Emerald Lee.”
He grinned. “Would you mind autographing this? My wife would really get a kick.”
Monica took his pen and signed the back of his Chief’s report.
“You can return to your apartments. There doesn’t seem to have been any damage except for Suite 62. What a mess!” he repeated. “Whoever lived there had a lot of junk.”
He paused. “We’ll have to investigate this, of course. Everyone, let’s go!”
The firemen returned to their vehicles.
“What time is it?” Esther gasped, looking at her watch. “Three minutes!” she shrieked. “Where’s that champagne?”
Lenny grabbed the bottle. For a few moments, he wrestled with the cork. Finally, a geyser of Champagne rose up and gushed out. Lenny opened his mouth and chugged it down.
“Sorry. No fluted glasses.”
He passed the bottle to Esther, who took a delicate sip. “Delish,” she said.
“Here,” she said, passing the bottle to Rachel.
“Oooooh,” she said, rolling it on her tongue, then gave it to Faye, who took a sip, and passed it to Pincus.
“To 1981, God help us!” he said, taking a sip. “May it be better than 1980.”
“An evil year,” Faye said.
“The sale of the Last Hotel,” Pete said.
“John Lennon murdered…” Hana said, “Just down the block.”
At that moment, Reardon appeared. “What’s going on here?”
“Happy new year,” Rachel said, pulling him to her. She passed him the bottle of Champagne. “I saved you a sip.”
“Fred in Suite 62 didn’t want to move so he blew up his suite,” Lenny explained. “He put dynamite between the pages of books,”
“No.” Reardon whistled in disbelief. “Did anything happen to the other suites?”
“The firemen didn’t think so.“
“We should go inside and see.”
“It’s kind of heroic when you think about it,” Hana said, “In a demented sort of way. How he didn’t want to give in.”
“Said like a writer. Fred just didn’t know what to do with all his junk,” Lenny said.
Reardon bent over and picked up a slip of paper from the street. He began to read, “’Ask your body what it feels like having…’ What the hell is this?”
“From Fred’s books.”
“And Saul’s daughter went off with him,” Rachel said.
“He has a daughter?” Reardon asked.
“You know that woman with the hat and coat who looks like a spy.”
“In the penthouse?”
“I think her name is Leah.”
“I keep thinking about John Lennon,” Hana said. “It happened right down the block from where we’re standing. December 8th. Three weeks ago.”
“That was such a tragedy,” Esther said.
“I ran down the street as soon as I heard the announcer on the radio. ‘John Lennon’s been shot as he was entering the Dakota,’” Hana continued. “There were hundreds of people in front of the gates, holding candles, playing guitars, singing.” She began softly.
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try…’”
“John, we’re thinking about you tonight,” Amber said.
“I’m thinking of Yoko upstairs on the top floor of the Dakota.”
“And his sons Julian and Sean…” Hana continued.
Esther checked her watch. “Okay, everyone! NOW! All together — 10 – 9 – 8 – 7 – 6 – 5 -4 – 3 – 2 -1 –“
“HAPPY NEW YEAR!” They screamed, they cheered, they hugged each other.
“It’s nice for us to spend New Years together,” Esther said.
“Soon we’ll be an extinct species,” Faye said.
Rachel raised the empty bottle of Champagne. “This one is to the Last Hotel.”
They gazed at the awning with its missing chrome letter.
“Thank God, you didn’t burn down,” Esther cried.
“We’re history.” Lenny draped his arm over her shoulder.
“Imagine how Saul would have reacted!”
“Saul’s gone,” Pincus added.
“At least he made some money.”
“It’s over,” Rachel said, holding on to Reardon’s arm.
“Let’s go back inside,” Esther suggested. “I’m freezing!”
“I want to remember it,” Faye said, staring up at the hotel.
The residents slowly walked back into the building.
Faye stood still.
“Come, Faygeleh.” Pincus took her arm.
“They never fixed the sign,” her voice quavered.
“It’s cold out here.”
“Lost Hotel,” she sighed.
Hope you enjoyed it.