Sequence: The Watcher Watched (part three)
Any of the other women Rose knew, would have cared only for the menu, the clothes, the guests. They would have assumed good works were done, if they were told so. Rose, with her newspaper, the novel she read, lunch, and then dinner, cultivated passive time-fillers. She took on nothing now, and wanted to meet no one.
But the hotel bedroom was chilly. It was cluttered. It was, in fact—having just been tidied—immaculate. Cluttered in pattern and ornamentation. And Rose herself clashed. This was what troubled her about the dress. Its colors, the conscious modernity; in contrast, the black and gold floral fatness and perfection of outline, the Jacobean print of the bedspread, on which she sat. She’d said goodbye to Joe, come back and perched here, falling into the usual inertia. Rose felt nearly galvanized by the discordancy of her dress against the spread. She wondered if there were any room in the Armstrong where she could read in serenity.
She had packed a knit jacket, the green of a medicinal salve. She saw, resolute in adjusting her beret on the level—not cocked—that with these additions, she had become definitely unstylish. Rose liked herself better.
The floor in the Armstrong’s lobby was tile, two window arrays fronting, respectively, on Landis Avenue and Wiedner, lighting the interior, silvery daylight falling over the backs of the gold sofas. The carpet was gold, with a center medallion, a black letter “A” in script that pointed like an arrow, the guest to the elevators. This, Rose thought, was not a cacophonous jumble of design—nearly everything here was either gold, or black. But still, phones rang at the desk; the three clerks seemed in constant shift, relaying requests and orders from one end to the other.
Between the elevators and the passage leading to the restaurant, was a bank of four telephone booths. One patron slumped on his bench, listening to someone talk, his elbow propped on the shelf, his foot extended through the open door. No one was using the other booths. Rose, with a natural instinct for distance, took the one on the elevator side. It was a small space to keep track of. She could read here, in privacy and quiet. The sign said only, “For the Convenience of Our Guests”.
Unfastening her clutch, tugging wider the brass mouth, Rose popped loose a pocket-sized, leather-bound Bullfinch. She was reading this for no reason other than that she owned the book, and had never looked at it. Something humorous in the idea of a volume of myths, ready to hand—as though, seeking guidance, a madwoman might consult the House of Atreus, in the way the pious consulted the Psalms―appealed to her cynicism.
A couple entered the lobby. Rose, self-conscious, peered over the wood panels of the folding door, through the glass. They were a couple, as Rose judged from the taller man’s eyes, fixed on his companion, and his arm that hovered above the younger man’s shoulder, the hand unrelaxed. She knew him. But, her memory corrected…rather, she knew who he was. The other, she did not know. This one seemed to Rose—with his impeccable tailoring, and slickly combed hair; the way he frowned, looking under his eyelashes at all there was to be taken in, in the Armstrong lobby—to be one of Gamotte’s people. His friend was Curtis Boardman.
The Watcher Watched
(2016, Stephanie Foster)