4.5 STARS ON YELP
BY EDDIE GENEROUS
Apartment Living Room:
Gloria Dean, forty, skinny, wrinkled, once a pretty teenager with a life ahead of her, sits on a second-hand, floral-patterned sofa, her body creating a V of the lone cushion. She is depressed.
Not long ago she lived with a man named Peter.
Steam rises from a coffee mug to her right, positioned within reach on a brown thrift-store coffee table. The mug is black, porcelain.
She wears an ivory bra and beige underwear. Her hair is dirty blonde running grey, in a ponytail, a maroon cotton-covered elastic holds it that way. She’s taken less care of her appearance since Peter left.
A man in a khaki UPS outfit, shorts and short sleeve button-up shirt, pens in breast pocket, three large cartons on a trolley, leans against the doorframe. His black socks rise four inches above his short, steel-toed books, also black. He knocks and then stretches back, taking the moment to exercise a one-handed vertical push-up. He wears his hair in a close, almost-militaristic crop.
The door opens and the UPS man lowers his gaze. The woman in only her undergarments makes him uncomfortable. Her nipples are dark through the thinned silk of her bra. Pubic hair climbs from around the edges of her underwear.
Eyes on a charcoal readout, he offers news of his task verbally and then hands over an electronic receiver device. He’s already scanned the boxes. They are lighter than they look, but not loose inside. This is a mystery he’s learned not to ponder.
Gloria Dean signs her name and cracks the first smile she’s worn in more than a month.
Serious expression, Gloria Dean dons her uniform, a grey polyester blouse with a white collar and matching slacks, no accent. It will be a difficult day. Every day is difficult, but today is different.
She sits on the bed to tie sensible Asics sneakers, dark blue and smoky grey, with off-white laces. Her spine cracks.
Peter used to massage her back, telling her sweet nothings while working out her kinks.
Green 1999 Ford Taurus:
Gloria Dean is on the highway, window down, radio on, something by U2. She recalls the chorus, but not the title. She is not in the mood to sing along.
In the backseat are the three brown cartons as well as her pack lunch and a secondary duffel bag loaded with the tools for advised use when dealing with certain highly volatile elements: gloves, tongs, a mask–even a heavy breath pointed the wrong direction is too much at times, and as miserable as she is, she isn’t that miserable.
Three cars and a truck pass her before she taps her right indicator to life and crosses into the exit lane. The off-ramp is empty. Afternoon traffic into the city is always less than out of the city.
It is three kilometers from the exit to her place of employment. The job sucked long before Peter left.
Best Western 22 Lemming Road:
Gloria Dean has clocked in and begins her route. There are nineteen dirty rooms to clean before four o’clock. There used to be three women cleaning rooms. That was before. Travellers are fewer lately. Much fewer. She is the only full-time room cleaner. Seniority saved her job. That and the filthiness of guests.
Guests is not the correct word. Gloria would call them something else: necessary annoyances, careless visitors, slovenly assholes.
Soon they’ll have another name: victim.
Just like her, she is a victim of cruel nature.
She hates her job. She hates every weary traveller. It is why she ordered the tight-packed cartons online and why the guests will become victims. The news will call them that. Maybe.
Hours pass and she gets to every room needing service in no time. She can stay for three additional paid hours if she likes, but does not like and clocks out at four minutes after two in the afternoon.
She does not leave. Instead, she prints a vague list of the coming night’s guests, many of whom probably chose the hotel based on its Yelp rating. Social standards have saved them when so many others closed down.
Past visitors remarked over cleanliness and fresh scents. Gloria feels no pride in this, wishes they’d all stay away forever and Peter would come back.
Rear Receiving Door:
Gloria Dean works quickly, unloads cartons, parks the green 1999 Ford Taurus on the street. She races back through the slate grey, reinforced steel receiving door with her duffel bag strap hanging over her shoulder. There are no eyes to witness this odd behavior.
The crows high on the hydro line do not care, so they do not count as eyes.
Gloria wheels a luggage cart laden with cartons to the first room on the list. Room 122, two adult guests, king bed, non-smoking. She wonders if it’s a man and a woman, maybe a Gloria and a Peter. Maybe it’s two insurance salesmen. Maybe they’re happy.
She enters the room with her card, unnoticed. The unnamed guests are hours from check-in so she has time to be duly careful. She dons the plastic gloves, the white paper mask, takes a heavy Rocky Mountain air-freshened breath of the atmosphere trapped behind the paper cover, and opens the first carton. The dry ice is semi-gaseous within the bags, ballooning them to half-mast. Exhaling, her mask balloons somewhat too. Inhale, the mask bunches against her pale lips.
Gloria Dean uses the steel tongs to remove the first unstable bundle. Carefully, with carbon dioxide held in lungs because you never know what might set things into irreversible motion, she places the first parcel within the pillowcase, on the underside. She repeats this on the second pillow.
Those done, she carries a sense of ability, a modicum of confidence while dealing with the foreign element.
In Room 124, a family of five has two queen beds and a cot. They would likely arrive earlier than most, but not all, and not early enough to prevent Gloria Dean her revenge on an unfair universe. And that is what matters, righting wrongs.
Gloria Dean is careful, but getting more efficient with every loaded pillow. It will be hours until the packages thaw, hopefully. The hope is that a head is on every pillow when the damage occurs. The hope is that these people never know what truly hit them until it’s too late.
In Room 213, an old woman has already checked in, taken a bath. The woman is sneering in her robe where she sits on the end of the bed, television off, reflection of the sparse furnishings offering walleye seconds, but reversed. Gloria Dean apologizes for disturbing her, mumbling that she hadn’t expected a guest, but also that she must have the wrong room. She backs away, into the quiet hall. Her heart pounds and she glances at the cartons, wondering what would happen if a guest was afternoon drunk and stumbled, falling on the boxes, setting off a reaction.
There are six other rooms on the floor needing attention. There is a conference starting in the city: Reclaiming Oneness After Giving Birth. Gloria read a flyer on a snack break three days prior. A desk clerk explained that some had made reservations with special requests. New mothers loved making special requests.
Gloria Dean imagines often what it would’ve been like to give birth to Peter’s child, Peter’s children.
The babies will sleep on the beds with their mothers, Gloria Dean assumes, and that’s why there are extra pillows. The additional pillows will hold packages, too.
Gloria wonders what kind of rating they’d score if they could possibly have cribs to put in the rooms. There are cots, but no cribs. Miniature guests of the Best Western at 22 Lemming Road are not the target market.
The last four rooms booked for the night receive the same pillow-loading treatment. Cases are white over white pillows. The bedding is maroon and blue waves. This helps conceal blood spillage and genital and anal seepage. The white sheets beneath are easily bleached. Everybody is happy if they can’t see the past.
In the middle of the night, hopefully, the colors, designs, and expelled bodily fluids will cease to matter.
Gloria Dean is suddenly terrified, a pang of guilt stings in her chest, she considers taking it back, withdrawing all the gifted packages. She looks at her knees and they remind her of Peter because everything reminds her of Peter.
A family of four, the Watsons, road weary, father with a headache, mother with cramps, children riding sugar highs, stand at the check-in desk.
Driving past, glancing through the driver’s side window and the glass lobby doors, Gloria Dean wonders if these people had a reservation, wonders if they will be victims of one of the hidden surprises. If so, these are people who will learn what it means to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Green 1999 Ford Taurus:
There is one package remaining within a brown carton and Gloria Dean decides to place it—label removed—in a dumpster outside a Tim Hortons. Some Tim Hortons are good, but not the one located at 1661 Trenton Street. They make disappointing coffee. Often Tim Hortons’ coffee is burnt, but at 1661 Trenton, it is always burnt. She does not hate them as she hates the patrons of the Best Western at 22 Lemming Road, but she does not like burnt coffee and it’s not as if she could take the package home for later.
Up the highway for six more minutes and back off the highway into the suburbs. The green 1999 Ford Taurus pulls into the parking lot behind the apartment building where Gloria Dean lives. It is a vanilla tower rammed into a blue skyline. Peter used to say home reminded him of a wafer cookie. They would laugh and then go out to buy wafer cookies. A train track separates her side of the street and the industrial area of the city.
It is not late, but she wishes for a long sleep as she rides the elevator up.
Apartment Living Room:
There is no air conditioning and Gloria Dean is in her bra and underwear watching TV, the Blue Jays are substandard this year. Peter was probably furious, wherever he was. The Jays had had two great years in a row, but it appears to be all a memory now. Still, the game manages to steal her attention.
During the eighth inning, Gloria Dean steps to her kitchen and retrieves the remainder of the freezer pizza she cooked the night prior but could eat only half of before covering with cellophane and placing it in the refrigerator. It is pepperoni and cheese, Plain Jane. The refrigerator is yellowy-white, the bulb within is garish blue, modern product, environmentally friendly. The clock on the boxy Sanyo microwave states that it is six minutes to eight. It would be an hour yet, at the earliest. Probably more. The heat from lain heads will speed up the thawing, however.
She eats the pizza cold.
Peter loved cold pizza.
The game ends with a fly out and the Jays are only nine behind .500, in need of a long streak to imagine playoffs. Gloria Dean flips channels, the time stamp on the corner holds her eyes more than the content.
From the cabinet Gloria Dean retrieves a box of ZzzQuil. She pops two purple pills from the aluminum wrapper, pops a third. Her head jumps hoops of potential happenings.
Leaned forward, she sips from the running tap to wash the sticky gel capsules down. At any second, something will happen. But maybe it will be hours.
She straightens and stretches her spine. The reflection in the mirror is a woman pushed to her breaking spot and then a yard beyond, but she doesn’t bother to look because there’s nobody next to that face anymore.
Gloria Dean fluffs her pillow. She has touched twenty-seven pillows since her shift ended.
There are no spiders in her pillow.
One pillow of the twenty-seven that she has touched since the end of her shift has no clammy, flash-frozen huntsman spider egg sacs warming toward wakefulness and freedom hidden within. She knows this, but still checks, as if by karma, or by mistake, she’s loaded her pillow as well.
There are no spiders in her pillow and she closes her eyes. Sleep comes.
A sound breaks her half-dream, in and out, drowsing, slipping, snapping awake, rolling, drowsing, slipping, snapping awake. She reaches for her phone, sees the time: 12:41. The spiders will be hatched by now.
She reads the messages nine times.
Gloria I’m at your work I wanted to surprise you I booked room last week I wanted somewhere romantic but work only pays for Best Westerns
I love you
Where are you?
Are you getting these????
I guess call me in the morning I’m going to bed
I love you
She whispers “Peter,” as if saying his name will unpack pillows and un-hatch huntsman spider eggs.
Eddie Generous is the author of the novel Radio Run (from Severed Press), the collection Dead is Dead, but Not Always (from Hellbound Books), and the novel Camp Summit (coming 2019 from DBP). He is the founder/editor/publisher/artist of Unnerving and Unnerving Magazine, and the host of the Unnerving Podcast. He lives on the Pacific Coast of Canada with his wife and their cat overlords. www.jiffypopandhorror.com
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Published October 13th, 2018