In Transit: Hotel Albert

Edward McWhinney

I sat in the Hotel Albert, Barcelona, in transit, in every sense of the word, having breakfast, staring at a fire hydrant, when the Englishman I'd shared a few drinks with the night before joined me saying mind if I join you and joined me. He made a comment about the thin slices of bacon, looks awful, tastes bloody good and proceeded to tell me that he had gone totally grey since his first visit to the Hotel Albert over fourteen years ago. Gone totally grey, noticed it in the mirror in the room which took me back those fourteen years. A terrible man for the fairer sex then too. Eat your sausage, I said. It's bloody good, he said. He cut his sausage and placed a lump of it in his mouth. Totally grey, he muttered. Then he added, his mouth full of sausage as if I'd asked him to elaborate, I went out onto the balcony of the room there before I came down, a fine expansive balcony, and I looked down at the traffic on the Ronda de Dalt and I thought, fourteen years, have you heard about Timothy Leary, wanted his head cut off in the hope that at some future time it could be resuscitated on another body, cybernetically or somehow. I'd heard about Timothy Leary alright, but was he talking about the same Timothy Leary I was thinking of? From the tone of his anecdote it sounded like the same one and not Timothy Leary the milkman I knew back in Cork. This Englishman was of that type that lounged around behind the fence with the philosophers trying to comprehend their theories with his head swimming in beer and testosterone and who put much store in age, mentioned at every turn like it's the formula for all things, behaviour depends on it, achievements, ambitions, all activities. I'm nearly fifty-five, he said, my wife says I'm not a young man anymore, I should cop myself on. Here, do you believe that Utopia is achievable through technology, he said?

I didn't think so because I didn't think that the portable DVD player that he treasured so much was better than a book, but not wanting to start up the conversation again I excused myself and left him. I hadn't slept very well in the Hotel Albert, all night turning over the reasons for my flight from Ireland and I kept seeing the rain that swept across the land the day I took my black heart out of it, black heart howling like an injured dog, howling through Time and the Fragments that tie it all together till the aorta is burned like the sky roasted by the sun, the liver steeped in black beer and the mind into which I never cease to jump, every morning and afternoon, oh, morning noon and night until Truth shut me out in the rain. I kept thinking that it could all have been so different, never mind what all the bums write in the papers I thought, this love is going to last. I remember all the letters I wrote to you when you lived in London, passion then at its most intense, fuelled by absence, in short by the quantity of water in the Irish Sea and the land mass between Swansea and Highgate. Sometimes I wrote two letters a day, posted one at lunch-time and one in the evening. I recall how you'd say how much you looked forward to reading them. You'd read while walking to work. I formed an image of you walking along The Strand, your shoulders hunched against the cold, your rabbit skin coat, long curly hair flowing in the breeze, how maddening that depth of water in the Irish Sea, your beautiful face, high forehead, long loose skirt, stopping at a shop to buy something to eat, perhaps, continuing on towards the office where you worked on Fleet Street, reading the long sprawling letters, scribbled onto rough copy-book paper, loose leaves torn out, outpouring of mad, rambling passion, desire as deep as the sea, as flighty as the line between Venus and Mars, a young man desperately in love and tormented by longing, cursing the distance that separated us until your eventual return and I recall hearing you walking up the path, ringing the front door bell. In bare feet I hobbled down the stairs, out the hall, turned the key in the Chubb lock and as I did so glanced at you through the glass. I let love in and never mind the bums who write for the papers I said, this love is going to last. And it almost did.

I came upon a group of laughing girls in the Lounge of the Hotel Albert, off the foyer, sunbeam girls, all shiny hair and make-up and style, all poise and pose and affectation. It made me think of you and I felt a sudden cold airflow coursing through me like a wave, what had I done? The last time I spoke to you near the constantly purring fax machine, saying all the wrong things, mildly hungover from the night before at the bar counter in Foley's, amber light of dusk in the window, a row of sliced pans incongruously lined upon a shelf over the ham slicer, a line of thirty or so bottles of Jameson over that, leaning towards you, drawn magnetically by your aura, how beautiful, how mysterious, but what nonsense came out of my mouth, and what was your final impression of me after all we'd been through? On both of those final occasions all I wanted to say was do you know what you really mean to me and that this is not the end but a beginning?  Flies, blood, rats, fleas, sunbeam girls laughing, plagues and viruses. I wanted to be able to sit down and discuss things and think about the future, to be able to reconcile all the darkness in the world with all the brightness. I was on the run, yes, Andy was running away though your face was suggested to me everywhere, on the streets, on the bus, in the pub, on the escalator, on the walls of the galleries, in the metro, in the most unexpected places, your face, everywhere. As I walk along the street I see something about a girl that reminds me of you and I stop. Your hair falling down onto the rabbit skin, your dark eyes burning a hole in my head. Everywhere I go I look for you only to be always disappointed, a feature of yours from the distance turning into a deception once I get up close?

There are so many time and space dimensions possible and they're all around us. I thought of what my brother Dean would say if he saw me paying my bill in The Hotel Albert, four stars, hey Andy I have a crow to pluck with you boy, aren’t you the one who once said that you'd rather sleep in a cardboard box in the Raval than in a fancy hotel. Things change Dean and anyway the circumstances with which I got to stay here are very complicated, another story. Now all I can think about is how I  let it slip away, my ninety-nine dollar jacket hanging from my arm reminds me as does the smell of turpentine, decorators were at work in the foyer.  Why the jacket, why the turpentine? I had a jacket like this back then too, a little lighter, not so dark and they had just painted the place that night. Its funny what can trigger off a memory of something, it will last for years after the event, even certain Saturday night loudmouths out on the road as I tried to sleep reminded me of that particular night, Foley's Bar, I know you'll laugh, probably get cross, you've heard this story once too often. Car lights racing up the window pane, the sound of a door slamming and there it is like deja-vu, that feeling of panic, what have I done, have I really made such a mess of things?

I paid my bill. The smell of turpentine followed me through the revolving doors of the four star hotel. I put my bags in the car. I went over to a store on the corner they call a Bazaar, the kind of shop that sells everything and there I bought a transistor radio with a long wave receiver and a pellet gun with a box of yellow pellets and a target.

The rain swept across Ireland the day I took my black heart out of it, up into the air with all the foolishness that can exist only in a living mind for what can be inside a dead mind? I stepped into the room in the country house, two days before my departure where they were waking the corpse of a man who had died from cancer. I looked at the waxy awfulness of his face, says I to myself, what suffering he's been through, that awful face with the yellow pallor of grimmest death, speaks of horrendous suffering. Has he a mind? Where is his mind? I don't think he has any mind. It's not the kind of thing you could open a discussion on given the circumstances. His daughter was by the bedside, holding the cold, vanilla-coloured hand of her father's corpse, and it was not appropriate to ask her opinion concerning his mind. A big bluebottle wandered in and I left. I wasn't too far from you then, a matter of miles. Two days later I left, the rain sweeping across the land as the plane rose up into the clouds, taking my black heart up and away, into weeks of silence where I will try once more for the primordial muteness, where I will hear the words of Beckett echoing in my ear; "I am not intelligent. Otherwise I'd be dead."

I put my suitcase in the car and drove out of the city in search of the A7 North. .

Edward McWhinney

Edward lives in Cork in the South of Ireland. Some of his stories have been published in Cyphers, Open Wide, The Dublin Quarterly, and other literary magazines on the web and in print.  "In Transit: Hotel Albert" is part of a short story series.  The preceding story can be read in the Spring issue of Contrary Magazine