“Have you seen my wife?” says Mr. Blakeney, his hand coming down on the slate tile counter with a thump.
“Ah, hello, sir. We’ve been expecting you,” replies the neatly dressed concierge, his dark red uniform smartly pressed, metallic buttons glinting in the light from the old-fashioned brass desk lamp.
“My wife isn’t here?” says Mr. Blakeney.
“No sir,” says the concierge.
“She was here, right here, just a moment ago!”
“I don’t think so, sir.”
“Well, no… we were on the beach, and then we were here.”
“Okay, sir,” says the concierge, rolling his eyes almost imperceptibly.
“Actually, maybe she’s still at the beach,” says Mr. Blakeney, looking over his shoulder towards the lobby doors. “If she comes here, tell her not to go anywhere and that I was looking for her.”
“Of course, sir.”
Mr. Blakeney turns and walks the black marble floor towards the double-sized bronze doors at the entrance to the lobby. He tugs at his collar, sweat starting to bead on his chin. It’s so hot here! Don’t they have air conditioning for God’s sake!? He pushes on the door. Even the door is hot to the touch. It swings open into darkness. He blinks, trying to get his eyes used to the dim light.
A stream of black cabs drive into the circle at the end of the hotel’s long driveway. A valet helps a newly arrived couple with their oversized baggage, while giving them a talk on the hotel.
“Can I help you, sir?” another valet asks Mr. Blakeney. He shares the same shadowed eyes as the concierge. All the natives look alike here.
“I wanted to go to the beach and look for my wife, but… it’s so dark out…” he says peering down the driveway trying to discern something, even a tree, but all he sees is darkness. Don’t they have bloody electricity here? I knew we should have gone skiing.
“It’s too late for the beach, sir,” says the valet.
“Yes, I suppose it is,” says Mr. Blakeney looking at his watch. “It’s already nearly midnight.”
“Best to get settled, sir,” says the valet.
“Right, yes…” Mr. Blakeney starts back inside the door.
Walking across the high-ceilinged lobby, Mr. Blakeney pulls at his tie and takes it off, unbuttoning the top of his shirt.
“Hello again, sir,” says the concierge, his gloved hands resting neatly on the counter.
“I’m not sure where my wife is. Confound her. She knows not to wander off…”
“Well, we’d have loved to have seen her here, but it seems that she wandered a little too far off.”
“I don’t understand. What the hell is going on? Is my wife in on this? Stop this nonsense at once, Gertrude or you’ll be sorry!” he shouts across the lobby.
“She is sorry, sir. That, unfortunately, is why she’s not here.”
“What!? Where is she?”
“She is still at the beach, sir. You were both there together and you were asked a question there I believe?”
Mr. Blakeney slumps onto the counter, sweat now dripping off his chin. What is this bloody man on about?
“Do you not have air conditioning here?” he demands.
“Alas, sir, it is… broken.”
“Hmph, what were you saying?”
“The question, sir?”
Something like recognition flashes in Mr. Blakeney’s eyes.
“Yes, I suppose a man did ask us a question. He asked us about our life, what we’d done and that sort of thing. He tried to insinuate that being a being a vastly successful (and wealthy, I’ll have you know), businessman wasn’t an important achievement. There is someone who never went to school, I’m sure! He probably sits on his bum all day, trying to find fault in others while waiting for a government handout. Bloody lay-abouts. They’re everywhere these days—even here,” he says, eyeing the concierge, “and I thought this place was exclusive!”
“Oh, we are, sir! We only accept a certain sort of person here, and your wife I’m afraid is not our sort of person. But we are delighted to have you.”
“How can she not be your sort of person? We both have money, career, connections. I demand that you allow her to stay here!”
“Unfortunately, sir, it’s out of our control. You see the entry requirements are very strict and she falls far short of our high standards.”
“But I don’t… why is she excluded and not me?”
“Because when she was shown her life, sir, and asked the question, she fell on her knees right there in the sand. She asked for her heart to be changed. Whereas you sir, you stood at her side and decried her weakness. You aren’t sorry. You’re glad you lived the way you did and you wouldn’t change a thing, would you sir?”
“Well, no…, but, I’m not sure where all this is going. And…” he looks around, “this hotel doesn’t look like the pictures online.”
“Oh sir,” the concierge laughs politely. “We do not advertise! I admit, this isn’t where you intended to end up, and yet it’s exactly where you planned to be. Shall I refresh your memory? You and your wife were on the way to Tahiti when your plane had an unfortunate accident. You were taken to the beach, as everyone is, and given a choice. And here you are with us and a room that has been prepared just for you.”
“Woodworm,” calls the concierge across the lobby. “Mr. Blakeney is ready to see his room.”
A bell boy in a neat red suit pushes a cart full of charcoal grey luggage and gestures Mr. Blakeney to the elevator.
“What the hell!?” says Mr. Blakeney, as another two bell boys appear from behind him and take him by the arms.
“Take him down to floor 253-057, room 82-88B. What the hell indeed, sir…” The concierge begins to organize papers on his desk, flashing a gleaming, graphite toothed smile.
Rebecca Houghton (she/her) is a writer of memoir and fiction, dog mom, and passionate advocate of women’s rights. Born in England, she holds a BA in English from the University of East Anglia and emigrated to the United States in 2003. She’s published work on food, feminism, and family with Bitch Media, Role Reboot and Family Story. She is now based in Seattle with her spouse and their Golden Retriever, Gaby, who is also the main character of Rebecca’s first children’s picture book, Gaby and the Big Red Firedog, coming this fall. When she’s not walking Gaby or writing, Rebecca speaks and testifies, sharing her story as a domestic violence survivor, in support of other survivors and to progress gender equity. She/her.