Seven Nights At The Hotel Flamingo (Tuesday Morning, the Deadeye Dave, Deer and Ballerina Problem)
It is 515. The digits click. The alarm whines for thirty seconds and the radio kicks in. Today a deer has been found dead in someone’s back garden. It is the fifth dead deer this week. Someone is poisoning them. Or they have developed some highly contagious disease.
“If you see a deer. Do not approach it. Call the police.”
You are so caught up in this story, you particularly enjoy stories about animals and you have not yet forgotten your desire and go and live amongst the bison of Holland, that when there is a tapping at the door you immediately think it is one of these sick deer.
You do not care.
You will invite it in, you will give it your bed, you will go to the library and you will research deer diseases and you will find a cure.
At last you will have found a purpose in life. You will appear at international conferences about deer. You will be seen as a saviour. You will always wear a deerstalker hat so you will be instantly recognisable to your fans.
You will have many fans.
You will sleep with some of them, the pretty ones who are not fussy in their sexual tendencies.
You will be loved.
When there is another scraping at the door, antlers surely, gently caressing, the soft whoosh of autumnal deer breath, you leap from your bed like a young gazelle on its way to its surrogate deer mother, do you have milk for me?, the young gazelle will say, Yes I do, the deer will say, suck away, and pull the door open.
Standing there, his one eye shining, is not a deer but Deadeye Dave, bag at his feet.
“There’s been a bit of a problem,” he says, “and I need somewhere to crash.”
He moves his arms expansively, and his arms not being too long and the expanse you are in not being too large, he indicates a place not too far away from where you are both standing.
Although you do not want to hear it, because hearing it means you will somehow be involved, Deadeye Dave tells you the story. It is the kind of tale they might tell at a Buddhist retreat. There are ten thousand blows a man can suffer in a day, this number is less than the beat of a fly’s wings in a second. But a second, you know only too well, is more than enough time for a soul to be crushed.
After travelling for sixteen hours in the Weetabix truck Dave, believing he was now miles and miles from Hotel Flamingo, the scene of his disgrace, the place where he had taken a shit in front of everyone down a broken waste disposal unit, had, having a certain feeling that he put down to fate, requested that he be dropped off right now, right here.
For once in his life he was adamant.
But it was only as he watched the lorry disappearing into the distance, the Weetabix logo becoming first something that might have been a Weetabix or a tiny bale of hay and then becoming a dot and then not even a dot but a memory of a dot, that Dave realised he was right back where he had started.
On the road outside the Hotel Flamingo.
“Then it came to me. How the driver had talked about a round trip. It didn’t click at the time. He was quite a boring bloke. You know? I kind’ve switched off. Some people get you like that.”
You nod your head.
You are some people.
For once you belong and you do not like it.
The life of the working man is to look through a telescope backwards. You would think the world was only this space, this time, and you are just this dot, barely breathing.
As you step out of your room and turn back to close the door it is not a fantasy. There is Deadeye Dave, lying almost naked on your bed, I’ll keep my socks on for decency, head upon your pillow, mouth open as he snores, arse, somehow, in the air.
“So you got lucky last night. Good on you mate.”
Eusavio, arms glistening with sweat and vested like a man who might be appearing in an advert for Trojans, the thinking man’s condom, peers past you over your shoulder and into the bordello of your room.
He fake jabs you in the stomach and bellows a laugh to the morning.
“I always knew it,” he says. “You like the fellas.”
But not this.
Today is the day you won’t be this person.
Today you will be you.
You follow Eusavio down the walkway and into the laundry room. Two older men are there. They have their hands around coffee cups like they are praying to them.
“Did you see?” one of them says. “A whole bus full of black guys, arriving in the night.”
Eusavio takes off his vest, puts it in one of the washers. He sets it going and then he walks right up to you with his chest out and tattooed around one nipple he has the word Peace and around the other Love.
Before your mother died she said she hoped you would find peace and love. And this is the thing. If you were gay you would be with a man like Eusavio. He would take you to his hometown in Spain to marry you. He would arrive at the church on a donkey. You would be wearing a rubber cock ring to make your cock both bigger and harder for your wedding night. There would be a piñata. Inside it would be filled with tiny replicas of everybody’s favourite gay icons, Boy George, George Michael, Elton John, Michael Cashman, the actor from Eastenders and Barack Obama who, although he was not gay, he was seen as something as a gay icon because he let gays in the American military. And he was pretty hot.
“Didn’t I see you outside?” says Eusavio.
“I wanted to tell you about Dave,” you say. “It’s not like that. We’re not lovers. We don’t love each other.”
And you try to imagine your life with Dave and you can see it and you see that it would be like your life now.
You and Dave are the same. His hopes are your hopes. His dreams are your dreams. You see that even his bum is like your bum. You could put his bum on your head and wear it as a hat and no one would even see it was there.
That is how alike you are.
Meanwhile Eusavio has moved even closer. Peace and Love might be constellations in the night sky. They hover before you on the galaxy of his chest. You are on a rocket travelling towards them at the speed of light. Faster even than that.
“Are you staring at my nipples, gay boy?” says Eusavio.
You walk backwards out of the laundry. Behind you the sun is coming up. In the distance there is a blimp, some writing on the side you cannot read. Maybe later it will come closer, reveal all. Or it is just as likely it will go the other way. Remain a mystery, like childbirth, God, the meaning of life.
Angela, the kitchen manager, nibbles at her lips with her small yellow teeth and shouts at Amer, the tall Algerian who used to put out the bins but who has now been promoted and has replaced Deadeye Dave at the station next to yours. You have already christened him Mersault after the hero of Camus’ novel The Outsider because of the Algerian connection although every time you hiss, ‘hey Mersault!’ he gives you every appearance of ignoring you.
This annoys you because you have five years of experience and he has only one and you vow to get revenge on him and the next time he turns to the sink you accidentally splash water over the front of his trousers so he looks like he has wet himself. Then you remember that once at a party you had heard that Amer had once sold someone a gun. This gun had then been used in a raid and a little kid had lost an eye.
That wasn’t even half of it.
When Amer ran into the guy he had sold the gun to, quick as a flash, with one of his thumbs he had gouged out one of the guy’s eyes, his left one, and yelling at him that you don’t shoot kids, ever, he had made the guy eat his own eyeball. Everyone that had been there had said it was quite a thing, seeing someone eat their own eyeball. He really had to chew it because an eyeball in the flesh is bigger than you imagine.
Grabbing a dishcloth you get down on your knees and, patting at Amer’s groin, you tell him you are sorry. The water thing was just a mistake.
A stupid mistake.
You are an idiot.
At 1015 you go out for a cigarette with Russian Sue. You do not like Russian Sue but you are scared to go out to the smoking area on your own because you believe it is haunted.
You do not believe in spirits of the undead, not in general, but the smoking area seems to you a particularly cursed place and this is because the previous Christmas you had been confronted there by not one but three ghosts. All of these were versions of your mother.
“Why didn’t you save me?” one of the ghosts says.
“The pain,” says the second of the ghosts, “you think after you die it would leave you.”
“Are you eating well?” says the third.
And it is this last sentence which haunts you. That your mother is worrying all these years later that you are eating well.
You are not.
You do not eat well.
Russian Sue is in her mid-forties and lives alone in a bedsit. One thing is that she is always asking other staff if they have any 50p pieces. She is famous for it and when she is not being called Russian Sue she is being called 50p Sue.
One day when you are looking for an unusual place to pee, you do this regularly to take revenge on the management team, you find her sobbing in the cupboard where the chip oil is stored. “What’s up?” you ask, thinking it will be about her Russian sailor who sends her the erotic letters and you think she will tell you that he has lost both legs in a shipboard accident and that he now lives as a beggar in St Petersburg and has to push himself around on a little cart unable to buy even the steady stream of stamps for the letters he wants to write to her but that if could still write he would write that he still yearns for her and that, God willing, he would take her like a stallion with legs or not, but she tells you, gasping for air, eyes bulging, that because she has run out of 50ps she doesn’t have any gas or electricity in her tiny bedsit. Her meters accepts only these coins and without them she can’t cook, eat, or sit up long into the night pouring over her Russian grammar.
And this breaks your heart.
It is near to Christmas and when the annual staff Secret Santa lottery is organised you use all your wiles to make sure that it is you who has to buy a gift for Russian Sue. The limit is £5 but thinking what the hell you take a £10 note to the post office and ask for this to be changed for twenty shiny new fifty pence pieces.
At the staff Christmas party after all the Secret Santa gifts have been given out, quite drunk, you ask Russian Sue if now she will be warm in bed at night.
You mean because of the fifty pence coins but she either mishears you or misunderstands and tells you you will never be keeping her warm in bed.
She tells you you disgust her.
She calls you ‘some drunk with a little dick’.
Her words, in their honesty, hurt you.
You vow to get your revenge.
But today Russian Sue has a story.
At 1 a.m the Hyatt had suffered a power cut. At 2 a.m., all efforts to start their back up generator having failed, a decision was made that all the guests had to be moved.
It was, according to Russian Sue, like the Berlin airlift. Staff were mobilised, several old bellboys were brought reluctantly out of retirement, transportation options were mooted and at 3 a.m. a dozen touring Russian ballerinas and a dozen and a half American basketballers turned up on coaches at Hotel Flamingo.
“It’s the saddest tale ever told.”
“What is?” you say.
Russian Sue takes one of your cigarettes. She lights it with her Zippo which is embossed with the image of Joseph Stalin, Former General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
“I heard it from Vietnamese Denise in Housekeeping.”
In their rush to leave one of the ballerinas had fallen under the coach. Or she might have jumped. It was touch and go whether she would live. And as for dancing, performing pirouettes, pas de chats…
Russian Sue doesn’t need to say any more. You can see it all. Five years old this ballerina was at a party. She danced and this guy, he has it all, a Rolls Royce, an expense account, spots her, stops everyone, makes her do the dance again.
She is just like the ballerina from his dear dead mother’s jewellery box.
He has fallen in love.
The rich man visits the girl’s parents, is persuasive in the way that money is persuasive, and the girl goes to St Petersburg with him, lives in his house, goes to ballet school. Then one day she confides to her mother that she’s not happy.
“But this is your chance,” her mother says, her voice as cold and hard as a Russian winter.
The years go by. The girl is still with the rich guy, dreads his fingers upon her each day, but now she meets another guy whose fingers she doesn’t mind so much.
She doesn’t know what to do. She is torn apart.
If she runs off with the guy whose fingers she doesn’t mind so much the rich guy will find him and pull off his fingers one by one.
One day she goes to a gun shop and steals a gun.
“Shoot me,” she says to a passing stranger in the night. The stranger thinks she is joking but she is not joking and she goes to shoot herself but she misses and kills a dog. There is something of a scandal and she is sent off to England to dance.
She writes a note.
“I do not want to dance. And besides I am a lousy dog killer. That mutt, he could’ve been someone. Maybe he was the next Lassie. Now we’ll never know.”
She goes down to the basement of the Hyatt where the electricity boxes are. She wraps the wires around her like one of the suicide bombers she has seen in many tv programmes.
“Now I blow up.”
She does not blow up. She has made two mistakes. She does not have Semtex. She does not have an ignition button. She stays there many hours. Her eyes become heavy and she falls asleep and it is the weight of her body as she falls asleep that pulls out the wires, cutting off all the power.
“What a stupid dancer,” I am she mutters under her breath and when the coach comes she sees it as her final chance.
She flings herself with abandon.
She imagines the audience applauding. Flowers thrown.
It will go down as her most famous performance.