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Sad Drama American

Anne had requested a room on a lower floor. When she entered her suite to find a floor-to-ceiling window confronting her with a view of lower Manhattan, she nearly fainted on the spot. Her acrophobia had begun later in life, somewhere in her 40’s, and thirty years later she still couldn’t shake it. Carefully--and with half-closed eyes--she found the switch for the automated curtains and watched as the city disappeared behind a wall of beige.

Her trips to New York were something of a reverse exit from hibernation. Whereas her friends on the Cape only ever saw her in the summer, she wouldn’t step foot in Midtown or anywhere else in its vicinity until after the temperature had dipped down into the low 70’s. Lately, that was taking longer and longer. When she first began her pilgrimage to her favorite hotel on 38th Street, she could visit as early as the first week of September. Then, September had become an extension of summer. Anne had to wait until Mid-October before she could return, and even then, one of the days on her trip would feature a high of 82. She was thankful that she was in the later years of her life. Heat was second behind heights on her list of displeasures, and she had no desire to watch the planet turn into a convection oven.

Once she had steadied herself from the shock of the vista, she set about unpacking her bag. Anne traveled light these days, and what used to be a two-week trip had shriveled into a five-day affair. While the cold was welcome after Florida’s sopping heat, Anne could only bear it for shorter periods now that she’d lost so much weight. The doctors were concerned, but she assured them her diet hadn’t changed at all, and that she could still inhale an entire pot of spaghetti in one night without thinking twice about it. Her body had simply decided that it should take up less space, and Anne couldn’t argue with that. These days, so much room was taken up by the loud and loathsome, she could hardly believe there was even a small corner left for someone like her. Downstairs in the lobby, as she was checking in, a woman was yelling at the young man working at the front desk, because she had requested a room with a tub and there was only a shower. Imagine yelling about something like that. Anne would never. Even being placed in a room twenty-eight floors up when she had asked for something lower to the ground wouldn’t cause her to file a complaint. Not even an anonymous one online. Being inconvenienced was an opportunity to sturdy yourself. The pioneers had dealt with frostbite and dysentery. That awful woman downstairs wouldn’t die from having to take a shower instead of a bath.

Now, Mom, she heard her daughter Vicky’s voice in her head, For all you know, that woman has to take a bath. Maybe she has some kind of disability. You should show her the same compassion you’re showing the man she’s yelling at.

Anne couldn’t argue with that. Luckily, she didn’t need to. Vicky wasn’t there, and there was no time for an internal conflict. She had to steam her blue dress and wedge her feet into a pair of high heels her doctor would kill her for putting on. All of this fell under the heading of “special occasion,” which meant all would be forgiven by parties unaware that forgiveness was needed. When the dress was steamed and draped onto her ever-shrinking body, and her feet were stuffed into the heels, Anne took a look at herself in the bathroom mirror. Hotel lighting had a way of being both flattering and brutal all at the same time. It lit up every inch of you, and as long as every inch was on point, that was a dream come true. Lately, however, Anne found that certain inches gave away the damage done by isolation. Her mother used to say that being alone showed up most clearly around the corners of the mouth, the bridge of the nose, and the middle of the neck. There was no science to that. It was all based on her mother’s opinion of her aunt, who had lost a husband at twenty and never remarried. She rarely left the house, and whenever they would visit, she always looked as though she couldn’t possibly be more tired despite having only a part-time job and living off the insurance money.

How had her uncle died again? Oh yes, a car accident.

Just like the one--

Knock, knock.

Anne went to the door and opened it. It must be somebody from the hotel coming to apologize for placing her in the wrong room. She would be gracious, and even leave a nice comment about the experience online.

When she opened the door, however, there was nobody there. She looked up and down the hallway, but didn’t see any children running away after having played a prank, or some gentleman trying another door after realizing he’d had the wrong one. She went back into her room, and sat on the edge of the bed. She didn’t want to wrinkle her dress, but it was still too early to head to the club.

She’d wait a minute.

Then perhaps another minute.

Then, perhaps, another.

A few hours later, she was still sitting on the edge of the bed, when she looked over at the clock and saw that it was past nine. Relieved that it was time to go, but unnerved that so much time had passed without her noticing, she stumbled a bit standing up and nearly twisted her ankle.

Careful, Vicky’s voice rang out around her left ear, careful.

It was only five blocks to the club. When she approached, the man taking names at the door squinted at her as though she were a mirage in the desert. Bouncers used to hang around for years back when Anne first started coming here. Now, every visit there was a new one. She smiled at the man, but it did no good. He was still halfway through turning her away before she was even in earshot.

“Sorry, ma’am,” he said, “The club’s at capacity for--”

“For the performance,” Anne replied, “Yes, I know. I’m the performer.”

 The bouncer looked at her as though she had just declared herself to be Eleanor Roosevelt. She searched for a poster somewhere, and sure enough, there it was by the door. She motioned with her chin to the advertisement, and when the bouncer turned around and saw it, he quickly glanced back at her, and his demeanor softened.

“I’m so sorry, Mrs, uh--”

“Miss.”

“Miss Graham,” he said, “For some reason I thought you’d already be inside. You--You look so different with--”

“I know,” she said, “Put on a big winter coat, a scarf, and a hat, and you could probably disguise just about anybody, couldn’t you?”

She was trying to calm him down, and it seemed to work. He laughed to himself, and then stepped aside so she could enter. As she passed by him, she started to hear him say something about how sorry he was for her loss. At least, that’s what she thought she heard. She might have been making that up, or it might have been the wind. It whipped through the tall buildings so quickly. It could sound like just about anything.

The performance that night went off without a hitch. She sang most of her hits along with some covers. The place was sold out, but it was a small venue. Back when she was in her prime, she used to sell out arenas. She once sold out the Garden, although that was a double tour with another singer who she subsequently married for about ten months. Now, she was selling out jazz clubs within spitting distance of Times Square. It was better than assisted living, but from the looks of the crowd, you’d think she was headlining Bingo night at the church hall.

A few shows like this a year allowed her to stay out of sight for the remainder of her time. She knew how to stretch a dollar, and Vicky had become her manager after he last one passed away at the age of eighty-three.

You should have fired him long before that, Vicky said as Anne took her final bow after a second encore, Nobody’s agent should be in their eighties.

This was ageist, but Vicky wasn’t wrong. Anne could have potentially had a bigger career for longer had she switched up representation and record companies more often, but that just wasn’t her style. She was happy with the life she had. A house on the Cape. Another place just outside of Boston. A few trips to New York where she stayed in a nice hotel and never complained about anything. It was a perfectly good life.

In fact, it was downright perfect until--

“That was something else,” the bouncer said as Anne made her way out the door. She no longer had to worry about fans swarming her as she made her exit after the show. They were as eager to get to bed as she was.

“Thank you,” she said, still trying to arrange her scarf in a way that didn’t asphyxiate her right there on forty-fifth street, “I’ll see you next year.”

Back at the hotel, Anne shed her dress by the door and didn’t even bother to hang it up. No matter how demure her shows were these days, they still exhausted her. It wasn’t just the singing or the banter between songs between her and the piano player. It was all those eyes on her. Moving their lips along with her. Summoning memories right in front of her. Happy memories. Ones they weighed down in their own private oceans only to see them float up again at the sound of Anne’s voice. She felt sorry for them, in a way. She knew she was meant to mean something, and it never felt as though she measured up.

Not lately, anyway.

Can I have a quick look, Vicky whispered, I know you’re scared, but it’s not as bad at night, is it? One little look won’t hurt.

She could never say “No” to her daughter.

The curtains made a soft whirring noise as they parted. Vicky was right. The distance down didn’t seem as daunting in the dark. The buildings were all welcoming her vision with their resplendent lights. From below, she could hear car horns and the infrequent shouting. Amazing to her that people could make their voices be heard even with so much there to cushion the sound. Of course, it might also have been the gusts of cold air finding their way from one window to another. From a neon sign to the top of a taxi and all the way up to the twenty-eighth floor where Anne found herself humming a song she’d been singing earlier.

Now the words seemed lost, but she knew they’d come back to her someday.

They almost always found their way back.

December 02, 2023 00:38

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13 comments

E. B. Bullet
16:30 Dec 09, 2023

So many little things said between each paragraph, without actually ever saying them-- so fun! A very engaging read with a melancholic character ,though not in a sappy woe is me everything is awful way, which I think is hard to pull off sometimes. I hope she finds something to give her a bit of spark again Thanks for sharing!

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Story Time
20:03 Dec 09, 2023

Thank you so much. It was fun discovering her as I was writing. I had no idea she had such a great career until she ventured out of the hotel.

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A. Y. R
00:32 Dec 09, 2023

I love how your writing is really effective in setting a nostalgic theme, and it maintained that throughout the entirety of the story. It's also really reflected well in the character's dialogue and thoughts

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Story Time
20:04 Dec 09, 2023

Thank you so much. It felt like my version of a holiday story.

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Laurel Hanson
19:07 Dec 08, 2023

Beautiful. This is so engaging, surprising at every turn and just so evocative of a complex and unusual life.

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Story Time
22:00 Dec 08, 2023

Thank you so much, Laurel.

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Rachel Kroninger
03:01 Dec 14, 2023

Absolutely enthralling. I found myself re-reading paragraphs to ensure I didn't miss any details. The way you depicted a mood and expressed Anne and her daughter was exceptional. I look forward to reading more of your work!

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Story Time
07:47 Dec 14, 2023

Thank you so much, Rachel. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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Danie Holland
16:45 Dec 12, 2023

Great voice Kevin. I think it gave a very hollow and nostalgic feel that can only come with growing older. The wise eyes that know everything is temporary, waning, shrinking, as we get ready to leave it all behind. I think this was captured really well with the ending, and her looking down on the city. What I especially liked about this character is how she was satisfied with the choices she made. I hope one day when I look back, I am satisfied with the actions I took like she is. Thank you for the story!

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Story Time
20:13 Dec 12, 2023

Thank you so much, Danie. I'm glad you felt I captured the right tone.

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Mary Bendickson
14:39 Dec 03, 2023

Is Anne Graham a famous name I should recognize? Nice nostalgia type story.

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Story Time
21:37 Dec 03, 2023

No, you wouldn't recognize the name, because she's fictional. She was made up for the purpose of the story.

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Mary Bendickson
02:25 Dec 04, 2023

O good. My memory wasn't at fault for once. Nice job on the story building.

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