After the flower girl vanished I moved out of the hostel and took a room in a boarding house, Hotel Julian, close to the Port, and a daily rhythm I succumbed to, as if I too were a retired seaman. The Julian was a respectable flop house still resisting gentrification, furnished rooms, and some not so furnished, rented out by the hour, day, week, or month. The rooms were on the upper floors, above a ground level row of retail shops: a corner grocery and liquor store; a one chair barber shop; a narrow tavern, no tables, just a long bar opposite a sandy table shuffleboard, a couple of dart boards against the back wall; a used book store; another shop or office space, its door padlocked and its windows butcher paper covered. The double doors and stairs leading up to the hotel opened off the sidewalk between the tavern and the book shop. At the top of the stairs was a landing with doors left and right. The door left led to the rooms, the door right to the lobby and hotel office. The lobby flaunted two overstuffed couches very hard to climb out of for most of the aged and afflicted in one way or another seamen who primarily made up the boarding house tenants. A card table with four chairs. An overturned whiskey barrel on which was painted a chess board, the pieces housed in a baleen basket, two stools inviting a game. A book and magazine rack, a couple of tourist maps. A corner self help coffee stand, open 24 hours. A sign: No Smoking, No Alcohol, No Food, No Cussing in the Lobby. The front desk and counter, cubbies for keys and notes and mail. The walls paneled in dark mahogany sheets. A few framed black and white photos from the old Port days, the ships and boats and wharfs and the men and women strolling in hats and duds now long out of style. Thick strip clear fir flooring. An absurdly ornate and elaborate chandelier a tall man would have to duck to cross under. Bay windows overlooking the street. I checked in for the week, found my room, threw my duffle bag onto my bed, and walked down to the docks to find some coffee and a plate of bacon and eggs. Thusly my new rhythm began at Hotel Julian.
“Hotel Julian” is episode 20 of Ball Lightning a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads. (Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)
The difference between accident and mistake is agency. I caught a glimpse of myself in the one-way mirror window. I knew they were watching me. Sylvie also. I looked pretty none too natty having slept the night in my new black and white camel hair jacket, the to the hilt popping blue diamond tie with bright orange accent circles now loose and wrinkled and hanging as low as my attitude. Feeling none too benevolent about myself, not at all, as I stared at my reflection in the glass. As soon as I got this god anger management problem under control, I was going to start in on my self image, I really was. But they had asked me to handle the transaction for them. These transactions are especially complicated. The stars must align pin point right, the players all set up. And there’s risk. I was by the skin of my teeth their agent. They were on the transaction, watching every move. They knew the risk, gave the authority. I didn’t sit at a computer and do all this. All I did was get the players to the table. Relationship bits and bobs. Trust. But how would the transaction disappear like that? Somebody broke into the stream and stole the file. Simple as that. Could be some kid from some small town in Kentucky for all we know. Some high school hacker, not even sure of what he’s got, no way to cash in on the instruments. The file could still be in cyberspace, and we’ve lost the tools necessary to pull the transaction up. Like something lost in real space, the file will continue to travel like the unraveling of pi. Unless the file was destroyed by a random noise issue, randomness, maybe an agent with a randomizer. A supercomputer. Behind a one way mirror. I drive the rig. I’m the race car driver, not the builder, not the mechanic, not the sponsor, and certainly not the owner. I don’t bother lifting the hood to see if the car’s propelled by an internal combustion engine or a nuclear reactor. Makes no difference to how I need to execute. Sylvie notes that’s a mistake. Who knows, who knows what they think. Very few comments, though the comment light was on. Walter is a fairly secluded and elite group of owners. Nothing in common with one another that I can figure out. These transactions are like poker games with them. And I’m on the carpet. The board room table is even covered with green felt. You dig that? I’m trying to figure out what’s meaningful here, and I have to tell you nothing too obvious at this point. I stood on the corner of Pike and 1st, above Pike’s Market, watching a Vashon ferry come across a disturbed bay. The air bit cold into my skin cut deep and found bone. The wind was blowing in circles, rain pouring down and around, puddles, running gutters. Rain now with sleet and snow flurries blowing in my face. I seemed to be the only person on the street. I hustled down to Pike’s to grab some breakfast at the Athenian. I wanted to talk to Molly. I needed some help. I needed a friend. I was about to make a trip, and I didn’t know if I was coming back. It was probably all a mistake. Or it might have been an accident. I was trying to discover any kind of reciprocal relationship.
“Behind the One-way Mirror” is episode 11 of Ball Lightning a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads. (Click link for continuous view of all episodes.)
“Cat Settings” is another text in the series of The Adventures of Scamble and Cramble, two cats who live with a poet and spend most of their time puzzling over the writer’s habits. Click on the cover to begin reading.