The hidden room, while abandoned, was hardly a secret. Everyone at Hotel Julian knew about it. As I had guessed, it was built during the hotel reconstruction phase in the late 1940’s. Designed to function as a nuclear fallout shelter, the room was built by Minerva’s late husband, who had died not from fallout, but from fall in. Climbing out one night after a bout in his room with a bottle of rum, he slipped and fell to the bottom of the well shaft, where he perished from the fall, from drowning, from hypothermia – or all of the above. He had gone missing for over a week before Minerva woke up one morning with a start, the noir thought of what probably happened to him suddenly dawning on her. I had been very nervous about Zoeasta making it back to her kittens, in spite of Minerva’s expressed confidence in the cat, and, initially, anyway, a bit ruffled at her criticisms of my current, what to call it, walk of life, and also suspicious of just how she came to know so much about me, I excused myself with the rational reason I wanted to be sure Zoeasta was back safe with her litter. Sylvie, for one, would never forgive me if she were to read that something awkward had befallen the kittens. Put another way, she’d shove a ball lightning up my butt if she found I was responsible for anything bad happening to any of the cats. Minerva insisted though I return to finish our conversation, she called it that, though I had said little, apparently my deeds speaking volumes to her already. Minerva’s house sat on the corner lot opposite the grocery of Hotel Julian. It took me less than a minute to run across the street and around the back of the hotel to the basement entrance, skip down the stairs, and check on Zoeasta, who I found licking her kittens, all five of them, I made certain, while they pummeled and sucked at her teats, all in a new padded and carpet lined box that sat just outside Eve’s door, and there stood Eve and Dawn glowering at me. We know where you’ve been, Eve said. You shouldn’t have taken Zoeasta with you. We were already planning on moving the litter closer to us and to her litter box and her food and water. I must have looked pathetic, and Dawn absolved me by saying the kittens were already about a week old and Zoeasta wasn’t away over an hour, and everybody seemed happy in their places. Are you going back to finish your conversation with Minerva, Eve asked. Minerva owns the hotel, you know. She keeps tabs on everything. Julian is her son. She makes decisions, Dawn added. And she’s decided she likes you, Eve said. Is that a good thing, I wondered, but kept the question to myself.
“Fallout and Fall In” is episode 33 of Inventories
a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)
Note: With episode 30, the title of the novel was changed
from the original working title of “Ball Lightning” to Inventories.