Easter morning once

A new dress, even if it had been my sister’s.

Fresh perms and white cotton gloves.

Boring knee socks and yearning to wear stockings like my older sisters.

My wee brother at my side in his clip on bowtie and tartan vest and pressed trousers.

We four positioned, solemnly,

on the stone steps before Mass for the obligatory photo-taking

in the harsh sunlight of the still chilly April morning.

Our secret smiles as we huddled together

counting  the days until summer, warmth

and freedom.

And in the end all that is really left is a feeling

This combines – sumptuously – the work of two of my favourite poets, Dana Gioia and Jena Strong.  With Strong responding compellingly to Gioia’s melancholic wise poem, “The Letter.”

 

The Letter

by Dana Gioia

And in the end, all that is really left Is a feeling—strong and unavoidable— That somehow we deserved something better. That somewhere along the line things Got fouled up. And that letter from whoever’s In charge, which certainly would have set Everything straight between us and the world, Never reached us. Got lost somewhere. Possibly mislaid in some provincial station. Or sent by mistake to an old address Whose new tenant put it on her dresser With the curlers and the hairspray forgetting To give it to the landlord to forward. And we still wait like children who have sent two weeks’ allowance far away To answer an enticing advertisement From a crumbling, yellow magazine, Watching through years as long as a childhood summer, Checking the post box with impatient faith Even on days when mail is never brought.

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And here, Jena Strong’s “Response:”

No, Dana. In the end, we will have received every letter, opened some neatly, along the crease of the envelope, using the letter opener we found that time at the five and dime when we were little kids with coins in our lint-lined pockets, that somehow we kept through all the loves and all the moves, all the well days and all the hand-wringing goodbye moments, tucked away and taken out to open letters announcing: I love you, you are loved.

Others, we will have been not so careful with, tearing them open with overeager hands or our front teeth like rabid animals, hungry not for news but for something to chew on and digest, to fuel us through one hard winter after another.

Yes, we sent messages out to the world, in bottles, in songs, in pleas and prayers, in exultation and in desperation, asking for so much and stopping one day and then another, no longer wondering if we deserved answers, deserved return receipt, deserved reciprocity.

We deserved it, deserved it all in the end, got what our starving hearts feared wouldn’t come. We arrived, at the end, here, to this place where open and honest learned to lie together, lion and lamb, storm and stasis, breath and gifts from an abyss of longing unwrapped, a party in our mouths of words and of kisses and of running to the mailbox after work to lift the lid from the tin mailbox– It came! It came! Mama!

All things in good time and all good things in time after so long waiting, Dana. This, I believe. This, I refuse to give up for another minute, not wasting a single morsel of the mail, the inbox– the sender and the receiver, the writer and the reader are one, and the same.

Gary Cooper resized

The Oscars, Scorcese-slamming, and Raspberry Squares.

Movie acting is about covering the machinery. Stage acting is about exposing the machinery. In cinema, you should think the actor is playing himself, if he’s that good. It looks very easy. It should. But it’s not, I assure you.
– Michael Caine

I love the Oscars. But I hate the cringeworthy “In Memoriam” segment. So incredibly awkward when certain photos evoke total silence from the audience.

Sorry, Ernest Borgnine. Ya reap what ya sow.

Counting the hours ‘til the curtain: Do not judge me! ‘Tis my Super Bowl!

I come by my passion honestly. When I was growing up we had a ball watching them, myself and my mother and my sisters all together. Mom would let us stay up right to the end, as long as we didn’t make a fuss getting up for school the next morning. We were quite happy with that trade off. Mom would make these insanely good jam squares of hers and we’d have pot after pot of tea. I provided colour commentary throughout, more knowledgeably as the years progressed… Who was squiring who (whom?) What were their movies? When were they last nominated? Who was wearing who? (Just try and stop me.) My kingdom for a Photoplay!

Lovely memories… I can still taste the piquant raspberry in my mouth …

The next morning I replayed the whole thing in a montage for my classmates. The early-to-bed brigade who didn’t have nearly as cool a mother as I did.

On to this year’s contenders…

I not so humbly offer the following: actively avoid “The Wolf of Wall Street,” if it’s not too late.

Soul-depleting.

For me it was entirely derivative, shamelessly so. Scorsese disappointed me, and this is from a huge fan. (Raging Bull and Casino are in my top ranks.) It was Good Fellas unabashedly revisited, but across the river and with higher rents: the ongoing self-satisfied narrative, the occasional conspiratorial glance at the camera by Di Caprio, the ever-tracking frenetic camera, the overheads,  the omnipresent feeling of someone out of breath; a train at top speed without brakes, like that ridiculously entertaining movie I may have watched three, ok, four times.

The strange thing is that I became nauseated by all the excess, like when you eat the caramels out of the pot instead of waiting to coat the apples.  Inured to the debauchery as ‘twere. And it sank to parody I felt; The palsied Di Caprio crawling to the car. (And who amongst us, kind sir, has not?) That said, he was wonderful in the part of Belfort. (I see Belfort actually did 22 months for money laundering, which I did not know.)

I watched 12 Years A Slave, a very difficult film, and I agree with current opinion circulating that it’s unadulterated torture porn. Can’t imagine any redeeming value there. There may be ways to elucidate when it comes to racism and slavery but a film like this I feel is not one.

Thought Matthew McConaghey could not possibly top his turn in HBO’s “True Detective.” He is transcendent in the lead role. Wrong. He does just that, in Dallas Buyers Club.  I’m for him for the win on Monday. Although Christian Bale in American Hustle was sensational. That opening five minute scene where he painstakingly configures his hairpiece in front of the mirror is a master class in itself.

The whole Woody Allen thing could be hard to watch, if in fact he shows up. (Rumor has it he’ll be a no-show.) The whole art vs. artist debate is a thorny one, is it not? If we held artists’ morality up to the light we may never want to look at a piece of art again. Consider Picasso alone, that raging misogynist. Vermeer. Rodin. And of course  Carrot Top. Don’t even get me started on Gallagher.

Stay tuned.

 

 

office

Two new poems published.

My poems “Hallmark” and “Funeral Sandwiches” are featured here http://apheleiabp.org/home.html at Apheleia Broadside Publisher.

Theirs is an intriguing wonderfully creative concept for promoting the reading of poetry. On their website they publish individual poets that capture their interest and then they print the work and distribute it around New York City on flyers.

Here’s their romantic mission in their own words:

What used to be sold cheaply so that the art of many poets could reach as many people as possible, we are distributing completely free.  A book is often expensive and intimidating.  A single page is simple and quick. If you are in New York City, find one of our broadsides floating around. When you finish it, recycle it by passing it to a friend that you think may enjoy it as much as we hope you did.”

I just love this, the idea of my work being discovered randomly by someone on a New York subway who reaches down to pick up a piece of paper that blew underfoot and finds my words.

Go visit! http://apheleiabp.org/home.html

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Stealth

 

I awake in the early light

to the smack of water between the hulls.

Something draws me to the tiny porthole by my berth,

not a sound really, more a sensation.

And there on the horizon through the glass

looms an ocean liner of such size

it appears mythic.

 

All glinting steel and glass,

a beacon under the new sun,

this monolith of turbines and chrome

cutting a swath a football field wide

yet so far away

that neither the bellowing of her engines

nor the roar of her wake reach me,

rendering her, eerily, lifeless,

a paint-by-number colossus,

frozen in a dead calm sea.

 

Too far away to decipher details

so I settle for only imagining

the early morning risers

now assembling on her decks,

settling into chairs with their first coffees,

breathing in the panorama before them.

Conversation would be hushed, expectant,

Another idyllic day at sea ahead.

 

Do they see me?

My tiny sailboat moored off a small island,

Might they conjure me too,

Whether I am awake yet,

Where I sail to? From?

What name is painted across my bow.

 

Will some raise their binoculars to learn more

And watch as my sails fade away behind them,

Before they turn back to their morning.

(Gorda Sound, British Virgin Islands.)

sun sand 1.75 MB Double Bay resized 840x400

While Swimming

While Swimming.

 

Do our spines remember

gills, our bellies

the cool ocean floor?

 

Can we conjure ourselves in

the cavernous deep,

amid the ocean’s unknowable chambers,

resurrect what it was we carried,

intact,

as we slithered ashore?

 

Swimming,

I try summoning

my watery DNA that surely lurks

somewhere.

 

When my arms tire,

and all too soon,

I imagine myself armless,

sleek again, fins as my rudder.

designed for just this.

 

Forced to the surface for air,

is my resentment simply

the helix,

rebelling from memories of diving

deeper and deeper,

skimming the vast reefs, skirting beaches,

circling islands,

until the light finally left the surface

and expectantly, resolutely,

I dive deeper

again.

 

 

 

Tricia McCallum

Eleuthera

February 2014.

birds-heart-shape2

Cupid’s Call.

 

Trust your heart if the seas catch fire, live by love though the stars walk backward.
―     E.E. Cummings

 

Young love shall rest with us,

And we will give old Time

his silken wings.

– from A Love Song by Canadian poet W.F. Hawley.

 

To mark Valentine’s Day I’ve gathered together some of my own poems about love to share with you along with a wide assortment by other authors, wonderful poems that I wish I had written myself. From Shakespeare and Bronte to Hirshfield and Cummings.. Interspersed with favourite quotes, and all on the subject of love. Good love, bad love, and everything in between.

Let’s begin with Jane Hirshfield’s “The Promise.”

Stay, I said

to the cut flowers.

They bowed

their heads lower.

 

Stay, I said to the spider,

who fled.

 

Stay, leaf.

It reddened,

embarrassed for me and itself.

 

Stay, I said to my body.

It sat as a dog does,

obedient for a moment,

soon starting to tremble.

 

Stay, to the earth

of riverine valley meadows,

of fossiled escarpments,

of limestone and sandstone.

It looked back

with a changing expression, in silence.

 

Stay, I said to my loves.

Each answered,

Always.

 

This piece is by the transcendent E.E. Cummings. There’s an intensity, a relentlessness to this, among all his poems, that makes it particularly powerful.

i carry your heart

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)

i fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

 

Here’s one from American poet Jena Strong. I am a great fan of her work. You should follow her: She is an amazing writer. www.jenastrong.com

Throwdown

give me the drag queens, dolled up and delicious
the two moms bickering over the dishes
the orphans, adopted, the chosen, the trannies
the witches, the protestors, tattooed laughing grannies
the boys wearing tutus and …all the shirtless
daughters of the revolution playing basketball
on the broken courts of lost fathers
the failures, the forgotten, the throwdown, the freak show
the hurts and the heartbreaks, the hassles and headaches
the beggar, the baron, the shelter, the clambake
trade in the cynical, the stubborn, the splintering showdown
because it’s time to unite now, yes it’s time to ignite now
it’s time to pick up the phone to say, It’s me and I love you

 

From A Love Poem by Garrison Keillor:

I believe in impulse, in all that is green,

Believe in the foolish vision that comes true,

Believe that all that is essential is unseen,

And for this lifetime I believe in you.

 

No treatise on love is complete without an entry from Pablo Neruda.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close.

 

Here’s one of mine, a poem called “The Gift of Donovan” that I wrote about a gift from a boyfriend in high school.

 

The Gift of Donovan

A frigid November day in Barrie, Ontario, 1967.

Wednesday, I remember;

We had just come from Novena Devotions.

Mark led me downtown to the town’s one record store,

“For a surprise,” he said.

The proprietor was in on this, I soon realized,

watching him head to the stacks of wooden slots on the wall

and retrieve a disc in its sturdy paper sleeve.

He held it up to show Mark, who nodded his approval.

On went my new record to the turntable and then came

Donovan’s innocent, accented voice,

Wafting through the shop,

Colour sky havana lake
Colour sky rose carmethene
Alizarian crimson… 

The bewitching refrain,

Lord, kiss me once more
Fill me with song
Allah, kiss me once more
That I may, that I may…

Wear my love like heaven…

Colours, worlds I had not yet heard of,

at the age of 15.

Yet, I sensed the magic of which Donovan sang.

Sensed these were things I would one day know.

 

I went on to my life, Mark to his.

Not long after, he died, still a young man,

never giving me a proper chance to thank him for his gifts that day,

to thank him for seeing me in a way I had never seen myself,

as a girl worthy of such an elaborate staging,

to thank him for giving me,

in that tiny frozen town,

an impossibly beautiful song.


 

Excerpt from

To Love Another by Rainer Maria Rilke

For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has ever been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation.

 

Song of the Open Road

by Walt Whitman

 

I give you my hand.

I give you my heart for safe keeping

I give you myself before preaching or law;

Will you give me yourself?

Will you come travel with me?

Shall we always be best friends?

Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?

 

This is “Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms” an Irish song written by the poet Thomas Moore in 1808.

How the piece came into being is an affecting story. It is said that after Moore’s wife contracted smallpox, she refused to let herself be seen by anyone, even her husband, due to the disfiguring effects of the disease to the skin on her body, and because she believed he could not love her after her face had been so badly scarred. Despairing at her confinement, Moore composed the lyrics of this song to reassure her that he would always love her regardless of her appearance. He wrote later that after hearing him sing to her from outside her bedroom door, she finally allowed him inside and fell into his arms, her confidence restored.

I found it when I went searching for a verse to read at a friend’s wedding a few years ago. He was a lifelong friend of mine, marrying for the first time, and asked if I would speak at the reception about what marriage meant to me. I’d never been married at that time and was surprised he asked, but honoured he did.

I hunted for a long time for exactly the right piece to read and found this, which I feel expresses so poignantly the kind of love that abides through time and illness and the many vagaries of our lives. This is a love that is very rare indeed and seems to me the only love worth having.

The reception was held in a garden of a lovely home in southern California, with a quartet of musicians softly playing standards in the background. It was just before sunset when I was called to read and the light had taken on that ethereally beautiful violet hue. The bride and groom were watching from a balcony above. The setting was beyond romantic: I hope my reading did justice to the occasion.

Here then is Moore’s eloquent ode to his beloved:

Believe me, if all those endearing young charms,

Which I gaze on so fondly today,

Were to change by tomorrow and fleet in my arms,

Like fairy gifts fading away,

Thou wouldst still be adored, as this moment thou art,

Let thy loveliness fade as it will;

And around the dear ruin each wish of my heart

Would entwine itself verdantly still.

It is not while beauty and youth are thine own,

And thy cheeks unprofaned by a tear,

That the fervor and faith of a soul can be known,

To which time will but make thee more dear.

No, the heart that has truly loved never forgets,

But as truly loves on to the close

As the sunflower turns on her god when he sets

The same look that she turned when he rose.

 

***

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength; loving someone deeply gives you courage.

At the touch of love everyone becomes a poet.

The supreme happiness in life is the conviction that we are loved.
 

***

Here’s one of the very first poems I ever wrote:

 

You Were Like…

 

You were like a good stretch after sleeping

An apartment done all in blue.

And Sunday breakfasts

 

Like helpless laughter

Forty-five miles to the gallon

And a table lighter that really works

 

Like lovely soulful hands

Melancholy sunsets

And hopeless romantics like me.

 

 

I simply had to include another by E.E. Cummings. The idea, the image here, of the rain having “small hands” is brilliance itself.

somewhere i have never travelled

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

 

 

This is a poem from my first book about the deep love my parents shared.                                                   

 

Till Death Us Do Part

 

In the afternoons, after the nurse has left and his errands are run,

he perches at the foot of her bed pretending to read,

staring at his book, alert for her movement.

There he sits most days until the light leaves the bedroom windows,     

rising only for essentials.

 

No matter how stealthily he moves, so as not to disturb her,

my mother stirs, calling his name.

“It’s alright, Cathy.” comes his usual, whispered response.

 

“Just so I know you’re there, James,” she says, momentarily comforted,

before succumbing again to her ravaged, fitful sleep.

 

They said vows once,

nearly 50 years ago now.

For richer, for poorer….

Took them to heart

this man, this woman,

and these are two

who actually lived them

and will

in turn

die by them.

 

A Marriage by Michael Blumenthal

You are holding up a ceiling

With both arms. It is very heavy,

But you must hold it up, or else

It will fall down on you. Your arms

Are tired, terribly tired,

And, as the day goes on, it feels

As if either your arms or the ceiling

Will soon collapse.

But then,

Unexpectedly,

Something wonderful happens.

Someone,

A man or a woman,

Walks into the room

And holds their arms up

To the ceiling beside you.

So you finally get

To take down your arms.

You feel the relief of respite,

The blood flowing back

To your fingers and arms.

And when your partner’s arms tire,

You hold up your own again

To relieve him again.

And this can go on like this for many years

Without the house falling.

 

After Love by Maxine Kumin

Afterwards, the compromise.

Bodies resume their boundaries.

These legs, for instance, mine.

Your arms take you back in.

Spoons of our fingers, lips

Admit their ownership.

The nodding yawns, a door

Blows aimlessly ajar

And overhead, a plane

Singsongs coming down.

Nothing is changed, except

There was a moment when

The wolf, the mongering wolf

Who stands outside the self

Lay lightly down, and slept.

 

From Hamlet (written to Ophelia) by William Shakespeare:

Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love

 

The Confirmation by Edwin Muir

Yes, yours, my love, is the right human face.

I, in my mind, had waited for this long,

Seeing the false and searching for the true,

Then found you as a traveler finds a place

Of welcome suddenly amid the wrong

Valleys and rocks and twisting roads.

 

From Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte:


I have for the first time found what I can truly love – I have found you. You are my sympathy – my better self—my good angel—I am bound to you with a strong attachment. I think you good, gifted, lovely: a fervent, a solemn passion is conceived in my heart; it leans to you, draws you to my center and spring of life, wraps my existence about you—and, kindling in pure, powerful flame, fuses you and me in one.

 

This is another of my poems:

 

Smoke Signals

 

How can you not think of me

in winter

when afternoons dwindle on

in grayness

remembering our summers

spent wrapped together.

 

Not miss me late at night

in the absolute stillness

when nothing stands between you

and your memories of me.

 

Don’t you have moments

when the pain is too much

when you get tired of saying onwards

when you get tired of alone.

 

Don’t you yearn

to etch my name

onto frosted windows

carve it

into the bark of trees

trail it

in smoke across skies

shout it at will.

 

As if by doing so

I will magically come again

having been beckoned

with such longing.

 

 

A Love Song by Canadian poet W.F. Hawley

Yes, I will love you when the sun

Throws first light upon a thousand new flowers;

When winter’s biting breath is gone,

And spring brings on the happier hours.

And I will call you beautiful –

More beautiful than May’s brightest signs,

Though all the air be filled with sweetness

And every bird his song again finds.

 

I’ll love you when the autumn winds

Sweep across our window pane;

When the last flower finds its cold bed

And birds are far away again:

When the last pale and withered leaf

Along the swollen stream floats on –

One thought of you shall give relief,

Though bright and lovely things are gone.

 

And I will shield you when the breath

Of winter beats upon the earth;

And we will laugh at nature’s death.

 

Young love shall rest with us,

And we will give old Time

his silken wings.

 

When asked for the source of his greatest creative inspiration, American singer songwriter Bob Dylan selected Scots poet Robbie Burns’ 1794 song A Red, Red Rose as the lyrics that have had the biggest effect on his life.

 

O my love is like a red, red rose,

That’s newly sprung in June;

O my love’s like the melody

That’s sweetly played in tune.

 

As fair thou art, my bonnie lass,

So deep in love am I,

And I will love thee still, my dear

Till a’ the seas gang dry.

 

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,

And the rocks melt wi’ the sun,

I will love thee still, my dear,

while the sands of life shall run.

 

And fare thee well, my only love,

And fare thee well a while,

And I will come again my love ,

Though it were ten thousand mile.


 

sun-sand-Double-Bay

The Motel Lady

I live in Seaside Jew Jersey. Our claim to fame is that we’re only an hour from Atlantic City. I run a motel right across the street from the ocean. “By the Wayside Motel,” the brochure reads: “42 Suites, All with Ocean View. C’mon. Get Happy.”

I didn’t write the copy. The brochures were left by the previous manager. “Suite” is pushing it. The rooms are standard-issue coastal motel, but it sounds good. The graphics exaggerate too. The wide-angle photograph on the cover makes the swimming pool look gigantic, when actually more than three people in it at once can create a tide.

I don’t know where the name “By the Wayside” came from. The man I bought the place from wasn’t the original owner. Hard by the water like it is, the name doesn’t exactly fit. All the other hotels and motels up and down the beach have predictable names like Coral Rest, Ocean Spray, and Neptune’s Inn.

I spotted it right away when I first came here. It stood out because of a life-size statue of Peter Pan on the front lawn. Apparently the owner was a diehard fan of the character and had commissioned a sculpture so he could look at him every day. Although I had barely enough money for the down payment on the place and had to mortgage it to the hilt, Peter Pan was what sold me: I desperately needed some whimsy in my life, a reminder of fairy tales and stories with happy endings.

The rooms are full right through the summer, families from New York and Philadelphia mostly, who come for two week holidays with their kids. When I took it on, five years ago now, I had no idea how much work it would mean. I’ve learned that people who have only two weeks a year of complete freedom expect a lot. June to September, I barely have time to breathe. I’m called on to be a concierge, tour director, chamber maid, and confidante, name it. I get asked for the weirdest things, like the mother who wanted baby aspirin at three in the morning, or the couple in Room 34 last year wondering where they could rent a video with a title I wouldn’t repeat out loud. Days run into one another with a constant stream of people in the front office, checking in or out, looking for beach towels, asking where they serve the best steamers.

Come fall, the mass exodus begins and we have Seaside to ourselves again. About half the rooms are closed during the winter to save on heat. Business dribbles in though, salespeople traveling up and down the coast who check in late and leave early, and the odd straggler on his way home from Atlantic City, hung over and broke from a gambling spree. Josh was the only permanent resident here when I arrived: Hazel, Max and Seymour have all come since, my “year-rounds” as I call them. The reason they all ended up here was because I have the cheapest off-season rates in town. It certainly isn’t because of the decor, which is vintage 1950, complete with lime green leatherette couches in the lounge and arborite headboards on all the beds. The balconies are flanked with sheet metal cut out in diamond shapes of orange, red and blue, trying desperately to look like stained glass. My first day on the job was in the middle of a bitter January, with the wind coming straight off the ocean. The motel was almost empty. I was in the front office behind the desk trying to figure out a disorganized set of books and losing patience, wondering why a housewife from Minneapolis ever imagined she could manage a motel. Josh appeared at my desk and handed me a large bottle of gift-wrapped perfume. “Welcome. I’m Josh,” he said, extending his hand gallantly. “I hope you don’t think me too presumptuous. But from afar with that wild hair of yours and those Nordic features, you just screamed “White Shoulders.” I told him it was a fragrance I’d always loved, that its smell reminded me of things that happened long ago. When I told him my name was Moira, he rolled his eyes dramatically. “Of course. It’s perfect.”

We sat behind the desk for the next two hours drinking hot chocolate. Josh couldn’t have been more than 40 but he was completely bald. I learned he envied anyone who had more hair than he had. Before coming to Seaside, he’d been a successful actor in New York until his hair started to fall out mysteriously and he lost what he called “the edge to his performance.” He said he’d find clumps of blond hair on his pillow in the morning and his shower drain finally stopped up altogether. He’d made the rounds of specialists and clinics but no one could come up with any answers. “When a playwright wants to portray a loser, she makes him bald,” he tells me wistfully.

Josh bartends nights at the “Fork N’Cork,” a restaurant down the beach where he says he’d never be caught dead under normal circumstances. But desperate times call for desperate measures, Josh says. Fish nets, dyed red, festoon the walls. Hanging from the netting are giant plastic lobster claws and clam shells painted with maniacally happy faces.

Josh lives in hope of hair. Packages are always arriving in the mail for him, potions and ointments he’s ordered from tv ads which promise hair regrowth. He comes down to the office in the mornings, fresh from the shower, his head in a turban, awaiting each new miracle. I’d seen his scrapbooks of theatre flyers and newspaper clippings and in one photo there is Josh with a full head of platinum blond hair, on the stage of the Bleaker Street Theatre, playing the part of the gentleman caller in a production of “The Glass Menagerie.” Max asked him once why didn’t he try a toupee. Max was a Czech, with a dense, wavy mop of black hair. Josh glared at him.

“This from a man whose hairline starts just slightly above his eyebrows,” he sniffed. “Anyway, toupees always look like fresh road kill pasted on the scalp.”

“What thees mean, thees road keel?” Max asked him, perplexed. Max lives in 4B, the only two-bedroom I have. He sleeps in one: the other is filled with his equipment — plastic bowling pins, stilts, card tables, clown costumes. In summers, he’s a roving entertainer on the boardwalk. Nights, he performs in a revue in Seaside’s bandshell. He came to the States in 1968 as a refugee, striking out alone from Bratislava following his people’s revolt. Max does magic tricks and acrobatics but is most famous for his juggling, which he learned as a small boy from his grandfather, a celebrated performer with the Prague Circus. He can juggle just about anything — cocktail shakers, seashells, rubber boots — and he’s always practicing. I see him from my office window walking back and forth along his balcony, his neck craned upwards, tossing objects into the air as he moves. He has an act where he juggles three apples and takes a bite out of one as it flies past his mouth until only its core is left. Before beginning, Max brandishes an apple in front of his audience, announcing that he will leave only the “meedle.” He’s been here for 20 years but still struggles with English. We tried correcting him for a while but eventually gave up. We all manage to get Max’s drift anyway. He’s teaching me how to juggle and I’m up to three oranges. According to Max, I’m a natural. “Honkie dory,” is how he rates my progress. Next, he says we’ll move on to things that are braidable. He means breakable but I let it go.

***

“Some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic…” It’s Hazel’s voice coming from the laundry room. She’s wearing headphones and singing along with Jimmy Buffett. She loves country and western, claiming it’s the only music that speaks to her. Hazel moved here from Memphis after her divorce. She told me she left her husband flat the day she found one of his notes on the kitchen table signed with both his first and last name. They’d been married 22 years at the time. She swears that one thing tore it.

“He was altogether too tight-assed,” she said. “That kind of thing can rub off.” She works at “Sunshine’s,” the fruit market at the Seaside Mall. Its slogan, written on the side of its trucks and on the clerks’ aprons, is: “If it’s fresher, it’s still growing.”

Even though a large sign in the front office reads: “No Pets in Rooms,” I make an exception for Hazel. Her little Scottish terrier Angus was the only thing she’d asked for in the divorce settlement so I let her keep him. It causes a lot of complaints from summer guests who call up the front office when they hear Angus barking. “If I had known you took dogs,” they’d whine, “I’d have brought my Scruffy, or Mr. Jingles.” Since her divorce she’s heavily into self-improvement and is enrolled in a six-week workshop for divorced women at the local college called “Taking Back Your Life.” She says she’s in better shape than most of her classmates.

“One woman told us most afternoons she sits in her car outside the apartment building where her ex lives. Hour after hour she just sits.”

“Did she tell you why, Hazel?” I ask.

“She says she can’t let go.”

Hazel and her husband were together 40 years. He left her for a woman who is three years older than their daughter. Sometimes late at night Hazel appears at my desk with her basket of nail polishes and cosmetics. “How ’bout a facial, sweets?” she asks brightly. She thinks I should spruce up my look, get with the times, and leaves pictures from fashion magazines where I’ll see them, with handwritten notes attached. “This would be darling on you,” or “Just think about it,” they read. I’d rather stick with what I know, I tell her. There is little enough about me I still recognize, I tell myself.

***

It’s the second week in November. Freezing rain lashes the deserted boardwalk. We’re all in the lounge chatting and drinking, bundled up in sweats and wool socks. We’re comfortable together, the five of us. There seems to be a bond created among those who stay when everyone else has moved on. Seymour is holding court, a book on his lap as always. This one is called “The Inner Child Workbook: What To Do With Your Past When It Just Won’t Go Away.” Seymour is a retired psychotherapist who came here to work on a book after closing his practice in Pittsburgh. He specialized in treating phobias but his fascination with human behavior is far reaching. Most of his days are spent reading psychiatric journals and one of the walls in his bedroom is stacked knee-deep with textbooks and magazines detailing personality disorders none of us has ever heard of. Last week he told us about a case of obsessive-compulsive disorder he’d just read about. We’d all heard of cases of OCD from Seymour, about people who washed their hands fifty times a day or couldn’t stop themselves from checking over and over again to see if their front door was locked.

“This, ladies and gents, is a particularly unusual example,” he says solemnly. “The patient was a Japanese man from San Francisco who had a compulsion to check envelopes before sealing them to make sure his daughter wasn’t inside.” Seymour pauses for dramatic effect, removing his glasses. “He lived in constant terror that he would mail her away forever.” We all think about this for a minute.

“The poor soul,” says Hazel, who has taken off her headphones to listen to Seymour’s latest discovery. We all make time to listen to Seymour.

“Can’t anything be done for him?” asks Josh, who has turned the sound down on “One Life to Live.”

“Is a doggie dog world,” says Max, looking slightly bewildered. We contemplate this in silence. Max is known for adding things to a conversation no one else can.

“The mind is its own place and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven,” says Seymour, quoting Milton, his favourite author. Seymour is one of those rare individuals able to see the bigger picture and he is at work on a book which as he describes “details how the work of 19th century scientists advanced human thought. I’d walk on the beach with Seymour and seemingly we’d be looking at the same things – the waves, or boats on the horizon. Suddenly Seymour would crouch down on his knees, grab a handful of pebbles and scrutinize their formations and colors. Then he’d come out with a treatise on the last ice age or something equally baffling.

Josh turns back to the tv and flicks the channel to “The Price is Right.” The contestants are lined up behind a console. One woman who’s just been picked from the audience is weeping hysterically. In a patronizing tone, the emcee asks her to get hold of herself. Josh moans like he is in pain. He’d done a stint hosting the gameshow “Tic Tac Dough” in the seventies and feels the business has gone downhill in the days since.

“I used to treat guests on my show like they were friends in my living room,” he announces indignantly. “These jerks practically use cattle prods.”

In his prime Josh had appeared in several shows on and off-Broadway, and landed bit parts in a few Movies-of-the-Week. Hazel tells him she remembers seeing him in a role as a handyman in some ABC film about a house possessed with demons.

Josh groans, taking a deep drag on his cigarillo. “Why do people always remember your least distinguished effort?” He says he knew he was destined to be a performer from the first time he drew breath and is forever quoting lines from productions he had appeared in. On summer afternoons he does recitations on the upper deck for anyone who cares to listen, wearing a Yankees cap to protect his bald pate from the sun. My favourite is a speech he does from Hamlet, which he’d performed in summer stock in Maine years before.

“A painfully under-budgeted production, ladies and gents, but stirring nonetheless,” he tells listeners.

“… For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so… ,” Josh would bellow above the roar of the ocean, his audience looking up at him warily from poolside, slathered in coconut oil, dazed by the sun.

***

It is a brilliant Tuesday morning in March. I am sending out notes to my past customers on motel stationery, reminding them of what a great time they had here last summer. The paper is imprinted with an unfortunate looking logo, another legacy of the owner. He put it on anything he could find: matchbooks, ashtrays, even the bathtub mats in all the rooms. It’s a line drawing of a crazed-looking sailor with bad teeth standing astride a dinghy, hands on his hips. For starters, the scale is all wrong: he practically dwarfs the boat. And as Max says, “Never to be standing up in a roadboat!”

The tv is on, tuned to the Today show as usual. Elton John is on raving about his recent hair weave. I buzz Josh’ room but I know he won’t answer. It’s before noon so there is no chance he’s up. Josh hates mornings: it’s almost a religion with him. I throw a sweater on and run up to his room. “Elton John’s got hair, Josh!” I shout through the door. “He had it done in France. God, it looks good. I would never have known.”

I hear him snort as he moves to the door. He opens it slowly and winces at the daylight. His head is wrapped in cellophane, held in place with the blue metal hair clips Hazel gave him for Christmas. I can smell the Hair Now ointment he’s been slathering on his head nightly for two weeks. The smell reminds me of the licorice pipes they used to sell in candy stores with the pink speckles on the ends.

“Did he say how much it cost?” he asks groggily. I was afraid he’d ask that.

“Oh, 10,000 bucks or so,” I say lightly. “But, Josh, I’m sure he had the uber-weave.”

“Yeh, like either are an option, Moira,” he says, shivering from the breeze off the ocean. “The way they tip on the Shore, I might be able to afford one by the next millennium.”

Late that night Hazel appears at my desk in her nightgown. I’m still working on my mailing. She sets down two glasses and a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black. “Never get married, Moira,” she says out of the blue. If I’d been ready, at that particular moment, I might have told her that once, in what now seemed like someone else’s life, I had been married, had even been a mother once.

“Hazel,” I’d have said, measuring my delivery, “your advice has come to late.” I’d have told her it is why I never look into the faces of small children. I stand above them, noticing their outfits and the colour of their shoes but never kneel down and look into their little faces.

“No chance, Hazel,” I say, looking up at her casually from my stack of envelopes. “I prefer to travel light.” Although I know Hazel would be solicitous – after all, she is a mother herself – I am not ready to tell my story out loud. She pats my hand and pours us each a scotch. “In last week’s class, our teacher told us divorce was like the death of someone close to us, that we had to go through all the same stages of grieving. And did you know tears of grief have a different chemical composition from all others? Scientists have discovered that,” Hazel says. She looks mystified. I didn’t know that. I only know that grief has its way with you, Hazel, propelling you on a journey all its own.

I had taken Emma shopping that morning. I lifted her out of her car seat and put her down on the pavement beside me. I noticed one of her shoelaces was undone and bent down to tie it. She was wearing her favourites: black patent with red ties, her tap shoes I called them. I tightened both laces and patted each shoe in turn. “All set,” I said, pressing my nose up against hers. She kept glancing down at her feet, conscious of herself the way all toddlers are when wearing something they’re proud of.

“Tap thoose,” she said beaming, pointing down at them. The time on the parking meter had expired and I began rummaging through my purse for the correct change. Frustrated, I ended up dumping the contents of my bag upside down on the hood of my car.

“I need quarters, Emm, got any on you?” I joked, turning toward her.

That’s when I heard the noise, a noise that won’t let go of me. Her scream. And then the silence. Something must have drawn her to the road, a dog in a car window maybe or the laughter of other children. I will never know. I’d replayed the scene countless times since, asking myself all the what if’s but the feeling I cannot escape is that I wasn’t careful enough: I did not take proper care. John my husband never consciously blamed me, never spoke the words, but he didn’t have to. He said it in the set of his shoulders at the table and in the detached way he spoke my name. He said it every time he refused to talk with me about Emma. I finally realized it could never, simply, be the same. So I walked away from that life to this, where summers are a blur and where in winter it is easy to disappear.

***

Hazel is thinking of moving on. Her son has been asking her to move down to Miami with him and last winter I heard her complaining of the cold for the first time. I tell her she should go, to think of it as her next adventure. “You could set up a little business: Think of all those blue-haired ladies needing their faces exfoliated.” “I’ll go if you come too,” Hazel protests. But she knows I won’t. Seaside fits me for now. Come spring, there are rooms to be aired out, repairs to be tended to following winter’s damage, and always someone needing something. * The pain is in the details, the small things. It’s in the smell of baby aspirin and in watching a mother stoop down to painstakingly wipe her child’s dirty face. It’s remembering the sound of Emma’s voice thick with sleep, calling for me after a bad dream, and in seeing a line of tiny baby clothes hanging out to dry. Things I cannot always avoid.

For a long time after the accident, my dreams were of things uncompleted, being stuck somewhere with no clothes on, or rushing to board a plane and the gate closing in my face. The only dream I’ve ever had of Emma was one which began this way: I am waking from sleep in my canopied bed back in Minneapolis. From the quality of light in room, it seems to be close to daybreak. I turn on my side and find Emma in a deep slumber beside me. She’s kicked her covers off and is curled in a ball halfway down the bed. I reach down, gently pull her up beside me, and cover us both with the quilt. She stirs, wraps one little arm around my neck and snuggles in.

This winter I’ve taken to bundling up and heading out for long strolls along the boardwalk. Lately I go alone: Seymour is off to Boston for six weeks, taking part in a study on agoraphobia. Max has gone home to Hungary to be with his mother who is ill, and Josh practically lives at the restaurant these days, working double shifts and saving for some radical new hair transplant that Seymour heard about from a dermatologist. I just got a postcard from Hazel. She says Miami is a dream and that she’s just signed up for a course in conversational Russian. “If you get to missing me too much there is a room here waiting for you,” she writes. It’s signed, “Forever, Hazel.”

The midway is closed down until spring, the fronts of all the game booths covered tight with tarpaulin. Seats on the ferris wheel creek as they rock in the wind overhead. In the arcade “Madame Fortunato the Mystic” sits frozen behind a pane of glass, patiently awaiting a coin that will bring her back to life. A few hardy vendors sell snacks and hot drinks from their carts, but business is scarce. By this time I know them all by name, where they came from and how old their children are. They know me simply as Moira, the motel lady.

Shivering, we stand together sipping coffee, looking out to sea, silently counting the days until spring.

This story is based on my poem called “By the Wayside”

Polly-Chandler-Carries-House

An Act of Hope.

Here’s a short story I wrote called “An Act of Hope” based on my vivid memory of a gifted high school teacher I was lucky to have. She was a nun in the order, Sisters of St. Joseph. Her name was Sister Clara. It’s never been published, one of those pieces I just wrote and forgot about. I’ve dusted it off and here it is.

Sister Clara gave me my love of English even though I could have nearly died that day in ninth grade when she announced to the class that I had turned in a perfect exam on Shakespeare’s Henry IV. She stood behind her desk clapping gleefully while I skulked up to receive my paper, my classmate’s groans and jeers resounding at my back.

“Never be ashamed of excellence, Anne,” she whispered to me as she handed me my paper. I felt there was something in what she said even though I viewed everything the nuns told us as suspect. What did they know of real life, sealed up in their house on the hill, window shades drawn day and night. I used to walk by the convent at night looking for signs of life, hoping to catch a peek of them in thick flannel nightgowns skirting the floor, waltzing with each other, or sipping sherry. I never did though. It seemed nothing moved inside, as if once behind those doors the nuns evaporated, only to magically reappear in a flock each morning on their way down the hill to mass, their voluminous habits flapping wildly in the wind like great shrouds.

All of us at St. Joe’s, especially the girls, revelled in the nuns’ mystery. They weren’t like our lay teachers who kept pictures of their families on their desks and shared with us little details of their lives, like what they did on weekends and their favourite TV programs. Because the nuns were unconnected to life as we knew it they remained unapproachable, even ominous.

Sister Clara was the exception. The rumor was that she had been a businesswoman in Toronto before entering the convent and her worldly style convinced me it was true. She was taller and leaner than the rest. Devoid of makeup and creams she had a face of impossible beauty with razor-sharp cheekbones. The other nuns smelled of chalk and starch but Sister Clara gave off the scent of jasmine, which I assumed was bar soap, an affectation from her previous life. The other sisters generally kept their hands modestly tucked inside the folds of their habits, but Sister Clara had soulful hands with long delicate fingers that she used freely to punctuate her speech.

Her classes were like a reprieve. She often strayed from the curriculum, considered iron-clad by the other sisters, and passed around books on painting and sculpture. She brought in an ancient phonograph and we listened to the music of Tchaikovsky, Benny Goodman, and Nelson Riddle. We learned about the personal lives of authors, how F. Scott Fitzgerald died a broken man, and of Emily Dickinson’s years as a hermit. “You must understand, class,” she’d announce dramatically, “great artistry exacts a certain price.” Once she spent an entire class talking about the Bronte sisters like she’d known them personally. “All three of them sought to hide their feminine identity from editors by using pseudonyms,” she explained, walking up and down the aisles. “Charlotte, of course, was Emily’s greatest fan …”

Every Monday morning we’d come in to find another of her observations written on the corner of the blackboard in her delicate script. I can still remember many of them. One was: “A reader finds little in a book save what he puts there. But in a great book he finds space to put many things.” Another read: “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” Under this one was written the author’s name, Emily Dickinson. I figured loneliness was something Sister Clara knew about since she was so unlike the other sisters. She had witnessed their unpredictable behavior as we all had, like the morning when Sister Rosalind, our principal, bounded in to our classroom unannounced and sailed over to where Dennis Gray was sitting. Our class was divided into two groups, 10A and 10B, according to academic performance, a witless setup that struck me as a self-fulfilling prophecy. My friend Dennis was slouched over his desk, as usual. He hated school and didn’t try to hide the fact. Sister Rosalind shoved his hands out of the way, threw open the lid of his desk and began tossing his books out onto the floor. “We’ve decided it would be best for everybody if you were to move in to the 10B class. Collect your things and come with me.” Everyone knew about Rosalind’s manic whims – Rosie the Riveter we called her. Dennis reluctantly followed her but not before making a hilarious face to the rest of us behind her back. As he walked past her desk, Sister Redempta called out to him, “You show remarkable grace under pressure, Mr. Gray.” Rosalind pretended she didn’t hear her.

Sister Clara taught me English Lit all through high school. After my mother died when I was five my father kept us in Catholic school even though he was protestant. He told us sternly it was what she had wanted. Every Sunday morning without fail he dropped me and my four brothers off at mass and waited smoking in the car until we came out. I guess that’s why Sister Redempta took a personal interest in me. We never discussed it but she obviously knew: it was a very small town. She loaned me one book after another to read, by authors I had never heard of. I devoured them as quickly as she produced them. “It’s important to get different points of view,” she’d explain. “Invaluable to a writer, Anne.” I stood in the freezing cold on Saturday mornings waiting for her to join me at school. I lived for those private sessions, for her singular attention when we’d discuss what I’d read the previous week. When I asked her why she chose a particular book for me, she’d say simply, “We learn the most from what is good.” There wasn’t much reading at my house, only my brother’s comics and my father’s Reader’s Digests, but they seemed insultingly simple and bland. In Sister Clara’s stories, endings were not tidy, things didn’t always come out right. If I prodded her, she’d occasionally read passages aloud to me. That was my favourite part. I sat transfixed in a front row desk of the empty classroom, learning of independent thinkers and dreamers, and of a wider world I couldn’t wait to enter. I showed her my own poems and stories from time to time and they’d come back to me with her comments neatly penciled in the margins, things like: “Get to the point here,” “Too flowery,” or “Beautifully said, Anne.” My father worried I was taking too much of her free time but when I told her so, she said firmly, “Nonsense, Anne. It is my absolute pleasure.” One of the poems I showed her was about my mother. In it I described my favourite photograph of her, which was stuck in the corner of my bedroom mirror. The picture is taken in summer at a party in our backyard. A group of women are posing for the camera. They are all laughing, their arms linked, wearing small hats, flowered dresses and gloves. My mother is standing off to the side in a lovely white sheath, her hair hanging loosely over her shoulders. There is a tiny baby girl in her arms, also dressed in white. “I try to piece my memories of her together but memories are not enough,” my poem read in part. I called it “Alone Together.” Sister Clara wrote only one comment in the margin. It said: “Be proud of this one, Anne.”

I was desperate to know about Sister Clara’s life before she entered the convent but knew it was futile. Once I asked her what colour her hair was under her veil and she admonished me to get back to work. Had she ever loved a man, I wondered? Hadn’t she wanted children of her own? I yearned to know her secrets but the gulf between us seemed impassable. One Saturday morning as I was packing up my books to leave, I asked her if she’d ever written anything herself, half hoping she’d reach within the depths of her habit and hand me a brilliant novel in progress. With her command of the language, I felt sure she’d be a marvellous writer. “Not for many years, Anne,” she said quietly. “My efforts are toward God’s work now.”

One night I stayed late to study in the library and heard music coming faintly from her classroom. I crept up to the door and through the glass window saw Sister Clara dancing with herself around the room. The song, Beautiful Dreamer, was playing on the phonograph. She’d played it for us once in class and said it had always been one of her favourites. Her eyes were closed, her arms wrapped around her body as she swayed to the music. Then she picked up the skirts of her habit and turned in one circle after another in perfect time with the music. She looked deliriously happy.

I lost touch with her after high school but had heard she’d left the convent and was working with a food bank in the city. The occasional letters and Christmas cards I’d written to her care of the mother house had never been answered. It was nearly 20 years before I saw her again. I was travelling up Bathurst on the streetcar and at first didn’t recognize her in her street clothes. She was wearing a simple beige suit and sturdy-looking laced oxfords. Her features had sharpened, but she still had a patrician look all her own. Her hair was deep brown, shot with strands of grey, and tied in a knot at the back. So it was dark after all, I thought. I made my way to where she had sat down and sat down in the seat across from her. After a few minutes I gathered my courage and slid into the empty seat beside her. She was staring intently out the window in a world of her own. I leaned close to her. “Never be ashamed of excellence,” I whispered in her ear.

She turned warily toward me and I reached for her hand. I knew by her expression she had no idea who I was. The scrawny girl with cat’s eye glasses was now a grown woman with a different face. I introduced myself. “You taught me at St. Anthony’s. I’m so delighted to see you again.” The words seemed wooden, impoverished.

She looked into my face and smiled. “An absolute pleasure to see you again. You’re thriving, I see.” I mentioned my work as a freelance writer and she nodded, saying she’d read one of my poems in a magazine once. I asked about her work with the food bank, hoping she’d share with me her decision to leave the convent. She talked briefly about her job as administrator and how she pitched in at the food bank wherever she was needed. I pictured her lugging cartons of food around warehouses, even driving the delivery trucks when she had to. “It seems this is where I can do the most good now,” she said matter-of-factly. The crisp way she answered, I realized further questions would have seemed like prying. I groped for something brilliant to say. “They’re very lucky to have you, Sister.”

She announced her stop was coming up and gathered up her parcels. “Keep up your writing. Remember – writing is an act of hope.” I recognized it as one of the maxims she’d written on the blackboard years before.

The streetcar lurched off. I turned and watched her walk away, a woman no longer shrouded in black and larger than life. At that moment Sister Clara seemed just like all the other middle-aged women on the street that day, rushing home from work, steeped in their own thoughts. But of course she wasn’t.

She wasn’t like anyone else.

abandoned

Abandoned Places.

There is a powerful lure for me in places that are past their heyday, when the world is finished with them and they stand alone, unfrequented, undisturbed. After they’ve served their usefulness and been unceremoniously left behind.

A few years ago I rented a house in County Kerry in Ireland, on a small rise near the ocean. In a visit to the local town a shopkeeper asked if I’d discovered the derelict hotel just down the shore from where I was staying. Naturally, I sought it out that very day. There it stood, a monolith, perhaps 300 yards from the beach. It was an incongruous sight, and not a soul anywhere to be seen. Calla lilies, native to Ireland, with decadent blooms the size of cornets, grew everywhere. Most of the roof had given way and the concrete walls wore deep cracks and scars from the salt of the sea. Across the entire frontage of the property a flying buttress stood cracked neatly down the middle as if by a stupendous lightning bolt. Or was it a rogue wave, I wondered later?

It was down at heel now but was easy to see this place had been one of grandeur. In my mind’s eye I pictured the well-heeled patrons sipping tea on that wide sweeping deck facing the sea, and a host of fashionably dressed ladies leaning over the balustrade trying to pick up what was being said at the tables below.

I carefully picked my way across the front deck, through the minefield of debris and chunks of mortar, to the main door, lying unhinged across the opening. There was ample space for me to enter; many had been here before me.

Here was the lobby, once obviously grand, now graffiti-bombed and piled with debris. It had seen its share of squatters over the years, as judged by the sodden mattresses and cigarette butts and styrofoam cups lying about. Even a hot plate. (It didn’t work; I tried.) To the side of the room stood the remnants of a grand staircase that now ended abruptly after the fifth step as if someone had taken a gigantic power saw to it.

Anything of value was long gone. If it was movable, or removable, it had been pilfered. One standing wall housed several rows of wooden pigeonholes, strangely still intact, where once the room keys had been safely stored.

In a public washroom off the lobby the ornate porcelain sinks stood in a row along one wall coated thickly in bright green algae. Weeds grew belligerently out of each sink drain. Out of one drain sprouted a daisy-like flower in full bloom.

I wandered back through the lobby and stood out front. I pictured the coming and goings of the patrons so many years before across this battered entryway, the women with their parasols, their courtly companions asking deferentially, on a late summer afternoon by the sea:

“Shall we have a spot of tea, my dear?’

(Photo courtesy of Jill Enfield.)