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A Hotel in California

rediscovering hope

By Jorja GracePublished 7 months ago 8 min read
A Hotel in California
Photo by Timothy Meinberg on Unsplash

My reflection in the golden service bell was warped and tiny.

Ring …

The wall behind the concierge desk was a vibrant red thirty years ago, but now the red was a musty brown of rust, and the yellow floral designs were faded peach.

Ring …

I tapped the bell again. In my reflection, my tiny head trembled with the bell.

The fish tank gurgled against the left wall and I watched lazy bubbles float to the surface. There were no fish, but the skull decoration atop pink aquarium rocks was cheery.

Ring …

Footsteps above my head; the glass chandelier rattled and the tear-drop shaped crystals shook dust into my hair.


A door hidden in the peeling wallpaper opened. The concierge was a short man, wiry, with bushy eyebrows and a crown bald spot.

“Checking in.” I slid my credit card across the desk, over the cigarette burns in the dark wood.

“Hm.” His bushy eyebrows rose and fell. “Adams?”


I resisted the urge to tap my fingers. I didn’t want to seem rude or rushed, but it had been a long journey and my body ached for warm blankets. “I think I requested top floor with ocean view.”

He handed me a towel, rough tan cloth and loose strings dangling from the fringe.

“Third floor, corner room.” He slid a key over the desk. “31.”

I nodded and slipped my credit card back in my pocket.

The concierge never took it, or even looked at it, but he pointed upstairs. His bushy eyebrows raised in expectation, as if I was to say something, or more likely, leave. Large brown eyes did not blink; in fact, I hadn’t seen him blink at all.

“Goodnight, then,” I said with a smile.

He merely nodded.

The stairs were coated in thick burgundy carpet that enveloped my shoes. I sunk into the carpet with each step, which was a blessing, because I might have hit my head on the ceiling if the carpet didn’t pull me into its mouth. I was not particularly tall, but the stairwell seemed to get smaller the farther up; my claustrophobia made my head spin and the walls closed around me as if they were breathing.

The stairwell mouth opened to the third floor, and I sucked in heavy breaths of dull air. A faint scent coated the carpet, the walls, the air, like old French perfume, like lilacs in the last few days of life or damp roses on a grave.

The door to room 30 was open; I saw nobody, but heard the faint shuffling of a neighbor, their feet dragging along the carpet, shoes intertwining with the long burgundy tongues.

Room 31 was a door like any other, chestnut brown with a golden door knob. The carpet was thinner inside the room with tiny fabric knots in a sandy tan. I dragged the gray curtains back to find a cliff on the other side of the window. Past the grassy edge, the ocean opened into night.

The stars were hidden by a dense blanket of dark clouds, but the white crests of the ocean waves carried the beauty I had missed for so long.

The steady rush of waves sang in the back of my head as I unpacked my small suitcase, laying a bag of sleeping pills, a bottle of Jack Daniels, and a heavy parcel on the bed, in case contents A and B did not do the trick.

The bathroom sink was beige and layered in grime around the drain. The water came out murky, and I sighed, shoving my water bottle back under my arm.

My room keys jangled between my fingers as I locked the door and stepped back into the plush burgundy carpet of the hallway. A neon snack machine beckoned me at the other end of the hall. It was the only thing in the hotel that did not linger from my childhood memories of this place.

“Hello,” I said, tapping the buttons for water. The snack machine beeped in response, asking for my credit card. “Of course,” I slung the card and the machine burped, shooting a bottle of water against the glass and into the waiting bin. The glass rattled and my reflection smiled.

“Thank you,” I bowed my head and brushed the cold dust at the bottom of the bin as I grabbed my water.

The door was closed to room 30 now, and a twinge of regret knotted my stomach. I should’ve said hello to my neighbor.

“No,” I thought, “You would have been a bother.”

I shook my head, indecisive, as I stretched my keys to the door. But the door was already cracked open and yawned when I moved closer as if a gentle breeze coaxed it.

“Strange,” I said aloud. I thought I closed the door. “Hello?”

Inside the gray curtains waited for me, still, with the ocean stretching far beyond. The bed was untouched, its baby blue comforter unwrinkled, and two pillows propped against the headboard.

The cabinets lining the wall were closed and unsuspicious, but I checked each one anyway. Empty … Empty … an ironing board with no iron … empty.

An electric coffee pot sat on the simple four-legged table, as if waiting, but there was no outlet to plug it in.

“Oh well,” I told the coffee pot. “My mind is elsewhere.”

I moved my things onto the table beside the coffee pot and set my alarm for 5:45 in the morning.

Sunrise was my favorite part of the day, and it was absolutely crucial that I watched the sun rise over the ocean one last time.

“Goodnight,” I told the coffee pot. No response—just as well.

I pulled back the baby blue comforter, relishing the soft touch of cotton and frowned at the white sheets.

A coarse trail of brown crumbs marred the sheets in clumps and lines. I scooped a small pile and brushed my thumb over the rough surface.

Dirt? No—too hard. Coffee? I lifted the pile to my nose. No smell.

Crushed cookies? I didn’t dare taste it.

I dumped the pile into the empty rubbish bin and called the front desk on a land phone from the sixties.

Ring … Ring … Ring … Ring … Ring … Ring … Ring …

With a sigh I clapped the phone back onto the receiver.

I stripped the bed and left the comforter and sheets in a tangled blue-and-white pile on the floor.

The crumbs started under the pillow and ran the full length of the bed, sometimes in small clumps and sometimes in thin straight lines. Clicking my tongue, I brushed them into the tan carpet until there wasn’t a speck left on the mattress.

I made the bed before I turned off the light and climbed in. The ceiling stared back into my open eyes, and strange twisted faces appeared in the popcorn texture. Much like watching clouds or counting sheep, I counted the faces spying on me while I waited patiently for sleep.

Sleep came eventually, but did not last long. In the late hours of the night my upstairs neighbor paced, their feet like anchors crashing against the floor.

Banging, dragging, tearing their feet. I couldn’t be that bothersome if I tried.

Tossing, I pressed my pillow against my ears. Turning, I hummed to myself to block the noise and my eyes fell to the cabinet with an ironing table and no iron. The cabinet was cracked open and cracked open a little more as I watched.


The cabinet crawled open, until the door was parallel with the cavern inside.

The ironing board plummeted to the ground with a thud.

“This place is a little more rickety than I remember,” I thought, unraveling my feet from the blankets. My toes caught black crumbs as I walked towards the closet, and I hastily brushed my feet across the carpet.

I bent for the iron, groaning (it was heavier than it appeared) when the closet door skimmed past my nose on its way to slam shut. I yelped, leaping backwards as the other two empty closets slammed open and pelted me with a rush of air.

The ironing board cracked against the ridge of my foot and I howled, stumbling, until my backside crashed against the simple four-legged table.

The silent coffee pot and my unfinished Jack Daniels smashed into the carpet as I steadied myself against the cold glass of the window.

I didn’t notice the Jack Daniels sprayed across my night shirt, across the wall and the carpet, or the gentle sunrise turning the world pink.

All I could see was the shape of a girl in front of the open closet doors.

A paint brush poked out of her tiny hand, dipped in yellow. Her head was tilted over her shoulder, looking at me.

In the soft pink light, her cheeks were round and flushed. Her nose was straight, like my father’s, and her hair was my mother’s dark curls. Her almond eyes, large under dark lashes …

Those eyes were mine, and they were looking at me.

My phone vibrated on the table, a chaos of bells chiming for sunrise, and the girl at the closet was gone.

I stood there for some time, the sunrise cool on my back and my toes dug into the carpet, and listened to the alarm ring throughout the room. The closet door still hung open, waiting for someone to return.

I missed my peaceful sunrise, but as I put the room back into order, I was content. There would always be a sunrise tomorrow.

Short Story

About the Creator

Jorja Grace

Climate science journalist and short story author. I love using magic realism to capture a candid glimpse of the world

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