The Hotel Key
Mount Barker, South Australia
Picture It Competition Entry – Picture C
I looked down wistfully at the ancient, tarnished hotel key, with its heavy brass room number and thick brown tassel. My “souvenir” of our honeymoon in Paris, and it had been old even then. Eddie had been scandalised that I’d kept it, but how could I return something so full of beautiful memories? Now, thirty years later, we were going away on what was to be our “second honeymoon”. Not Paris this time, but exciting just the same.
How we’d both changed in all those years. When I first met Eddie I thought he looked like Robert Redford, while he told me I was the image of a young Audrey Hepburn. Ha! Now look at us. His blonde hair receded so far it didn’t even have time to grey before disappearing altogether. His waistline increased, and he grew a couple of extra chins. He never lost that enchanting smile, though. He was still my Eddie. As for me, I’d been colouring my dark hair since forever, letting it lighten a bit over the years. I also no longer had my svelte figure, and my pixie face sagged a bit, but he still sees me as beautiful.
‘We’ll be staying at the Venice Albertina,’ I boasted to my friends at the office. It was my last day at work and they’d bought me cake to wish me bon voyage.
‘Oh, wow! That’s a gorgeous place. Bill and I stayed there during our month in Italy last year. It’s on the Lido in Venice. The views! The history! The character!’ gushed Wendy the tea lady, while I struggled to imagine how the pair could have scraped together enough funds for such a holiday.
‘Well our hotel is in Venice, Florida, I’m afraid,’ I said.
‘Lucky you, Alice’ said a colleague, ‘what do you have planned while you’re there?’
‘Oh, all sorts of things, you know—the beach and stuff,’ I said, though I hadn’t really thought about it.
‘Well, I’m sure you’ll have a marvelous time. Don’t forget to send a postcard.’
I said my farewells and gathered my things to head for home. The taxi was expected in two hours’ time and I still had to clean out the fridge. I’d not contributed much to this holiday as it was all organised by my husband Eddie, so I didn’t quite know what to expect.
Back home, my daughter bundled me out of the kitchen with a freshly brewed cup of tea.
‘Don’t fuss, Mum,’ she said, ‘I’ll take the perishables home with me, and I’ll drop in now and then to check on the place and water the plants.’
Then before I knew it, I was speeding off to the airport. I looked across at Eddie, loving the barely concealed excitement in his expression. He was squeezing my hand.
‘This is it, darl. We’re finally off. You’ll love it, you’ll see.’ he said.
I hoped so. This was our first holiday without the kids, and Eddie had put a lot of effort and research into the destination. I would force myself to have a good time, whatever happened, for his sake.
It was a long flight, but we enjoyed the drinks and the cardboard meals, watching interminable movies on the tiny screens on the seat in front. At JFK we had time to stretch our legs before joining another flight to Sarasota in Florida. We looked around in wonder at the lightly dressed people and tuned into to the American accents surrounding us. Eddie steered our luggage out to the taxi rank and finally we were heading for the hotel.
The cab pulled up outside a multi-storey building that had seen better days, the driver expecting a large tip before he hauled the cases out of the “trunk”. Eddie was frowning. ‘It didn’t look like this in the brochure,’ he mumbled. The reception hall was dark and gloomy with an air of bygone days and a smell of brass polish and musty carpets. Eddie marched up to the abandoned desk and rang the bell. Eventually an elderly man in an ill-fitting uniform shuffled over to us.
‘Are you checking in or out?’ he croaked.
‘We’ve just arrived. We have a booking in the name of Robinson,’ said Eddie.
‘Eh? Speak up young man, I can’t understand you,’
Eddie repeated himself, more slowly. The man checked the register, nodded to himself, got Eddie to write his details in the book, took our passports and reached for our key. It was as much a relic as the elderly receptionist. I gasped when I saw the room number: 472, the same number as our honeymoon suite in Paris. Was this an omen? It was on the fourth floor, and we were directed to a tiny lift. Eddie had to tip the old man and then wave away another uniformed character who wanted to take our luggage.
Even the lift, sorry “elevator”, looked like something out of a Hitchcock movie, with large numbered buttons for each floor, a distorting mirror at the back and a loud bell that rang with every stop. We wheeled our bags out into the dark, narrow, fourth floor corridor. We eventually found no.472 and went inside. Once again, Eddie was muttering under his breath. Apparently the brochure had shown bright, modern suites with stunning views and facilities. Our room was dark and poky, with a tiny ageing bathroom and a sagging double bed. Eddie flung open the curtains and opened the French doors to our balcony. We had a view, all right, it was of a brick wall.
I put the door key on the ancient, flaky radiator attached to the wall. It was supposed to be a warm climate here, so I hoped we wouldn’t need to use the heater. Then I noticed an air-conditioner over the door and tried it out, but it sounded like a low flying jet-engine, so I quickly turned it off.
‘Let’s go and explore,’ I said in a bright voice, to cheer Eddie up. So we went downstairs again, got a free map at the front desk before setting off on foot to see what there was to see. Luckily, the beach was not too far away, so we went that way. It was late afternoon and the sun was getting low in the sky, yet it was still warm enough for short sleeves. We sat and watched some surfers do their thing. Eddie had booked us a boat trip for tomorrow, so we just relaxed until sundown, then headed back to our hotel to dress for dinner.
I only realised we were being followed when I heard the revving of a motorcycle alongside me, and felt a tug on my shoulder bag. Someone was trying to rob me! I reacted quickly and pulled back sharply on the bag. The thief lost his balance and there was an almighty crash. Eddie and I went over to see if he was okay, which was not a wise move in these parts, apparently. The young man was furious and looked like he was reaching for a weapon, so I swung my bag at his head and he fell like a tree.
‘Bloody hell, Alice love! What’ve you got in that bag?’ asked Eddie. I showed him the heavy hotel key from Paris.
‘I brought it with me for luck. Just as well, eh?’
When we got back to the hotel, and arrived at the door of 472 we realised we’d left the door key on the radiator inside. Back we went to the reception desk. This time, Eddie had to ring the bell several times and even shout before the old man showed himself.
‘Are you checking in or out?’ he said again.
‘We already checked in a couple of hours ago. Room 472, remember?’ said Eddie. The old man just blinked at him.
‘We accidentally left our key in our room so we’re locked out. Can you let us in, please?’ I added. The old man’s eyes widened and the silence lengthened. We were about to try again when he said:
‘How do you know we’ve got a room 472? Eh? Never seen either of you before in my life! What are you up to? I’m calling 911.’
‘Look, we’re in your register,’ said Eddie, trying to keep calm, ‘and you’ve still got our passports. Why don’t you check the photos, you’ll see it’s us.’
The old man was still muttering and glaring at us in suspicion, when a younger man arrived in the same uniform.
‘What’s the problem, pops?’ he said.
‘These two are trying to trick me! Just because my memory isn’t what it used to be they’re trying to pretend they’re guests here. Where’d you put my gun?’
Eddie and I backed away in alarm. We’d heard all sorts of stories about Americans and their guns. The younger man calmed the other and told “pops” to go home. It was his shift now and he’d take care of us.
‘Now, what can I help you folks with?’
Eddie explained once more, offering to show where he’d signed the register and asking the man to check our passport photos, if he wanted proof of who we were.
‘Well, now, I can see there’s been a slight misunderstanding here. Hope you’re the forgiving sort?’ said the man, ‘Pops has a problem with short-term memory. It’s probably about time he retired, but what can I do? He keeps coming to work.’
We both agreed to forgive Pops and were grateful to get back inside our room and retrieve that damn key off the radiator. We’d both lost our appetites now, so we sat on the saggy bed and drank duty-free whiskey before settling down to an amorous night. A second honeymoon? Something like that. We remembered our key after that, and kept well clear of Pops, in case he found his gun.
Bio: This story features two hotel keys, both of which play their part in events. An alternative story title could be: A Second Honeymoon?