intermediary place

When she woke up, or came to, or something that followed blankness. She found herself on a road glittering with octagonal settings, warm to the touch, clear of the snow that banked on both sides and up a short escarpment. She was wearing a favourite lightweight  black ribbed knit pull-over with a high neck and long sleeves. Her overdress was also of black wool, knitted and falling  in an a-line smocked style away from her body. The wool was luminescently black, absorbing light with a sheen. Her boots, to the knee were on a flat moulded sole, and made of black shearling. Warm to the knee, where a small lip opened and there was a long seamed detailing along the backs. She wore fine woven leggings, also black.Her loose coat, with fur lapels,  was black shearling, lined also with fur, and with a fur-lined detachable hood. She wore cashmere lined gloves the length of gauntlets. She noted they had fingers. I guess my hands are alright after all she thought. She carried a duffle bag with the long strap across her body, that contained a change of clothes, some journey food, some loose coins, a wallet, several small soft figured animal replicas – love tokens she remembered, a notebook and a pen. A small bottle of water. Around her neck on a long gold chain, she wore two delicate rings, one with a clear topaz stone and the other with three small rough cut diamonds in a row.  There was also a small medallion, enamelled orange on silver. A peace sign. On the back was the name Lola. Not her name. On her left wrist was her favourite  turquoise strapped watch. Her scarf was long, knit of multiple wools, asymmetric, gold and black. With gold fringes. My mother made me this, she remembered.

The wind was freezing and she sank as far as she could into her soft coat and hood. Just across from where she stood there was an enormous,symmetrically wide, many storied building made of what looked like white stone, inset with six paned double fronted windows in casements that each ran floor to ceiling in height, with wrought  iron decorative juliette balcony styled  grilles across the front, rising a third of the way up. It was difficult to discern in the cold grey pearlised fog how high the building was.  It had wide stairs leading up, grainy with what must be salt, against the icy cold. There was a grand covered portico, and stylised great double doors of wrought iron covered over with glass. a single pane both exterior and interior. There was a number fixed — 45. Maybe the doors were a French style? It was hard to remember. As she moved toward it she began to see the subtle veining of rose and silver and gold in the white stone. Some kind of marble.

It seemed like a public building, a hotel, she thought. A way station, it came to her. From where?  She made her way to the doors, and entered to a great foyer, vaulted ceiling hung with glittering chandeliers. The expanse was furnished with clustered sets of deep sofas and comfortable chairs, beautiful matching ottomans, alongside glass coffee and end tables. Some of the sofas and chairs were upholstered in velvet, some in a thick tapestry style. None close to her were occupied, though there seemed to be people dotted here and there toward the other end of the grand reception. They seemed to be reading. Or sipping from steaming  cups. Some were grouped or in pairs speaking quietly. One held up a paper map, regarding it with some intensity. There were plush rugs laid out to divide the space, covering a marble inlaid floor. There were columns, also marble. Onyx and rose, gold inlays, framing the reception desk. The floor gleamed like pearl, with the inlaid designs at the borders. Thassos marble, the name came back.

She went to the desk and the older man behind it, beautifully suited, offered her a key without comment. She was surprised, but not alarmed though she did not think she had been here before. She stood in place looking at the key, and its attached tag — also 45. Your room is ready and just through that hallway, he said after a moment, pointing. How long did I book for she asked? As long as you want he said. There was a pause. We laid out food. We weren’t sure what you might like. Enjoy, he said and smiled.

She looked at him, not really being able to make out his features. But then she had always had problems with facial recognition. Ok, she said. She walked across reception to a wide, plushly appointed hallway, Marble, gold inlaid mirrors. Creamy white walls. Along the hallway, by each door, there dotted frosted white glass up-lights.  There were occasional tables with glass bowls and vases. Apples in one bowl, foxglove sprays in a clear glass vase, sunflowers. And orchids. There were framed prints – Miro, she recognised, Lichtenstein, De Lempica.

She came to her room — 45, inserted the key and went inside. Next to the door was a closet for coats, a tray for boots and shoes. She removed her boots and put on the bootee slippers she found. She hung up her coat. Put her bag on the shelf along with her gloves and the scarf..  It was a suite styled room. The living room was at the centre. There was a deep anthracite velvet sofa in a partial chaise style so you could stretch your legs out facing  two easy chairs in a contrasting cream crushed velvet. The ottoman was a great square, upholstered in a zebra pattern. There were plush cream decorative pillows and a warm cream wool throw. A set of coffee tables flanked the sofa and a narrow console table at the back held a tiffany lamp, a box of tissues in a lacquered cover, a set of three belleek ornaments, a latticed bowl, a small vase, a place card holder. The floors throughout, like the reception hall, were pearlised marble, layered with a large plush cream rug  defining  the living room. She knelt down. The tiles were warm.

Just off the living area, at one end, there was a small beautifully appointed black gloss kitchenette. With a two burner gas hob, a small oven. small cupboards holding pots and pans, bakeware. with drawers for silverware and spices below the worktop, open shelving above. The worktop was cream in some semiprecious stone, she recalled from a photograph she had saved,  and seemed lit from within  in a quiet, gold translucent glow. There was a Dualitt kettle and toaster on the worktop. The open black onyx shelves held several blue pottery mugs, a small set of white dishes and bowls, clear glasses, a set of nested glass mixing bowls, a small silver caffetiere next to a vacuum lipped blue porcelain coffee urn. There was a cream Kitchenmaid mixer.Various sized spatulas for cooking, and baking were standing upright, next to the hob, in porcelain containers, that may originally have been meant for something else at one time. There was a small beech knife block including a chef’s knife, a paring knife and a slim all purpose knife as well as a set of kitchen scissors. There was a stainless steel sink, with a detachable tap, a small dishwasher and refrigerator set as drawers within the cupboards, another stainless steel drawer that turned out to be a freezer. There was a  further tall, white doored cupboard at one end which, on opening contained a washer/dryer unit,  a flower patterned  broom and dustpan,  red bucket and red handled mop, a lightweight rechargeable vacuum attached to a small charging station on the cupboard’s back wall. At the other end, framing the kitchenette, and abutting the worktop there was a further tall and narrow cupboard which turned out to  be a pantry, meticulously organised with canned goods, glass jars with raw ingredients, grains, raisins and what looked like cereal,  sauces and mixes, boxed goods, bags of pasta, bread bin, and a few small appliances. At the far end of the kitchenette was a small tulip styled black glass dining table with two upholstered dining chairs tucked in. There were two further delicate folding chairs leaning on the wall.  The kitchen contained a small black floor mat in front of the sink, and just to the side of the dining table, another mat, with a small stainless steel water bowl, next to a two empty,  licked shiny glass bowls. Everything was spotlessly clean. Next to the second mat, a glass double glazed door led out onto a balcony. The furniture there was covered for the winter. At both ends and along its length, low raised beds were strewn with bark chip and small shrubs. There was no snow as it was protected by an awning above. But it looked too cold to go out. In the door itself was an inset small pet flap. The beds on the balcony, she figured might be for toiletting and then dashing quickly back in again to get warm. Get fed.

One wall of the living area, behind the sofa had floor to ceiling book shelves in glossy white, filled with books. A cursory glance revealed their organisation into categories. She could see the science fiction next to the crime novels. The titles were mostly familiar. Across on the other wall from the sofa, on a low console unit flanked  by further glass fronted shelving, this time filled with decorative items in silver and coloured glass, was a large black screen.

The other half of the suite contained a large bedroom, with a dressing area, a desk area facing a widow, with a comfortable high backed desk chair. On the desk was a wide screen and translucent keyboard, a phone. Next to the office area was a small well appointed bathroom, complete with a glass mosaic tiled shower and a granite  worktop over a white cupboard that held the under-mounted sink. The granite was oro stupendo. She knew the design. She had picked it out. The floor tiles were smoke black semi glossed slate. There was a large rectangular deco styled mirror over the sink and a small medicine and toiletries cabinet inset to one wall of the shower. There was also, behind a soft black velvet drapery, a set of black framed french doors in the crittal style, that opened on to the other end of the balcony.

The bed was tidy and invitingly made, with an upholstered ash-rose crushed velvet upholstered headboard mounted to the wall. It was king sized and fitted out with white cotton sheeting on the mattress, a white linen cover on what looked to be a down duvet. There were plain white cotton pillowcases on the pillows. A low ottoman at the end was upholstered in a familiar rose and dark red velvet tapestry pattern. Its lid lifted to contain a second set of sheets and a spare cover. A warm knit throw in cream with black fringes and black patterned detail. The rug was a deep plush pearl colour, wider than the bed. The mattress was soft, but held its shape well when she briefly sat on it.

A knock at the door. She answered to find another, younger man pushing a small cart. We weren’t sure what you’d like, he said, but hopefully this array will do. Just dial 9 on the desk  phone if you’d like to order something else. When you’re done, you can push the cart into the hall and just let us know to pick it up. The gym at the basement level  is open from 5 to midnight. And there is a small coffee bar in reception, as well as a shop for odds and ends if you’d like. It’s also open from 5 to midnight. She went to her bag to get a tip for him, but he told her not to worry, she could take care of all that at the end of her stay.

After he left, she realised that again she had not properly seen his features, nor had gotten his name. There was a small pad of paper in the desk drawer and a pen. She took them out noted the transaction – first day, and his service, so she wouldn’t forget later. Who he was could be reconstructed from the context. She wheeled the cart to the kitchen table and lifted various covered dishes. Too much food. One was a bowl from which there was a chicken-y smell. A clear broth with several soft dumplings. She took a spoon from the drawer and ate the soup. She poured herself soda water from a bottle she found in the refrigerator drawer.  It was like what she remembered, though remembered from where? When she was done, she rinsed the bowl and laid it back on the cart and put the spoon and glass into the dishwasher. She pushed the cart back into the hall as the man had asked and then dialled 9 to let them know. She hoped the other leftover food would not go to waste and said as much. Perhaps it  could be wrapped up and I’ll finish it another time, she said.

Suddenly she was assailed with fatigue. She had thought she might pick out a book or watch a movie. But now she just wanted to sleep. She went into the dressing room and found it kitted out with the spare clothes she had brought with her, including a rose knitted long tunic which went over a deep midnight blue  knit pull-over, spare leggings. Long knee sox in the stretch nylon and cotton mix that she preferred. But there were other clothes hanging there, and also folded neatly on the open shelves, that she hadn’t brought with her. There was a narrow shoe closet. She was too tired to look through them now. There was an armoire which contained pyjamas in just a style she liked to wear. Soft, stretchy knit grey shorts and a light, white, one size too large, sleeveless t-shirt. She quickly changed. On the back of the bathroom door she found a plush terrycloth three quarter length robe in light grey. It looked like the one from home, though this one had a hood. She made a mental note of it and left it on the hook, heading straight to bed. She would see to her teeth and hair tomorrow. Meanwhile her hair, in a long plait, seemed tidy enough to last through the night.

Once she got under the covers and was luxuriating in the soft comfort of it, she realised that her knees were straight and her hips like they used to be. Of course they must have been. How else could she have walked here? As she lay trying to remember, she heard a plaintive little whine from the floor next to her. A small brown dog with melting eyes and silky fur looked up to her with begging intent. Come up, she said patting the bed. The dog leapt up in a graceful arc and dived under the covers, laying itself against her back and sinking quickly into soft dog snores.

Another whine and this time a small fluffy white dog looked up at her. You too, she said. Come up. And she patted the bed. The white dog curled into the crook of her leg and torso. A small contented circle. She didn’t think to wonder where they had come from. It was right that they were here. She settled in and for the first time for a long time, she went into a dreamless, deep sleep. It didn’t matter where she or they came from. They were all here now.

It was a good place to wait. She didn’t have a plan or a where next. The food was good. The room was warm and expansive. She apparently had resources. She was tired. And now she had these small companions. There was no hurry to leave. A voice in her head told her that many people decided to stay for such reasons. She could do that too. Or leave. Or leave and then come back.

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