By: S. McManus
OPTION A WAS CHOSEN, "ignore the boots and read the letter"....
Sure enough, the boots were a perfect fit.
I lace them with a triple knot, fingers acting on muscle memory, then smooth my palms over the bristly spa robe to rest on my lap. The thickness of the letter makes the slide uneven, from where it rests in my pocket.
Slipping the envelope out, I get up and walk about the room, no socks and all, trying to emulate the air of some great detective who would ponder meticulously at all the clues presented and suddenly stop at an epiphany to exclaim: “Aha!”, but no such moment came. Not even a spark of recollection, but I must at least look about an eighth more like the man I used to be.
With a sigh, I lower the envelope from holding it up to the chandelier’s light. Shoulders hunched and back to the door, I flick the fold up and pick out the letter, crowding around the small piece of parchment as if I could protect it from anyone who would walk in.
From my employer
There it is again- the mysterious someone- curious and resourceful enough to set a private investigator on me like a hound. Flipping I over, I soon realize “letter” was a bit generous a term for what could barely pass as “threatening classroom note”.
I soon find myself holding the paper up to the light once more trying to discern the poor excuse of a square drawn at the bottom scrap.
What is this.. spelling?
Luckily, neither my eyesight nor my knowledge of abbreviations is so limited that I can’t discern the location and place of the meeting.
The spa’s sauna, at 5 o’clock, when they serve the guests at the lobby for afternoon tea.
I lower my hand just as I hear the door unlock behind me, the brunette triplet, Ava, pushing the door open as her sister follow her inside, still relentlessly chattering. They hardly pay me attention, but I’m quick to stuff the now smushed piece of paper back into my pocket.
“What’s that?” Alice asks, pausing as she peels off her gloves.
Could she have known? “A hankerch-tissue, I used earlier.”
Tinkling laughter fills the room, “She meant the boots,” Mina clarifies, smiling, “they aren’t the ones you had this morning.”
The room holds its breath.
“Well,” she presses a finger to her chin thoughtfully, “I suppose it’s about time you got some of your old stuff back,”
“Alright then, have your boots,” Ava huffs, already straightening out their three dresses for tomorrow, “but get into your room soon, it’s only tomorrow that we change the bandages, and you two,” she sent a pointed look to her pseudo-siblings, “be quick because it’s an early morning in the kitchens tomorrow.”
And just like that, the bedroom returns to normalcy. The three of them go bustling about, wiping off their makeup and unbraiding their hair, filling and opening little necessaires and pockets just like they do every night. Meanwhile, I tread over to my “room” that was actually just a rather spacious repurposed walk-in closet, leaning down to hook my fingers around the spa slippers I had left by the sofa next to the window.
It’s just big enough to fit one of those rolling beds and a few high-couture gowns, spilling down onto my covers as I crawn on wobbly hands to my pillow. In the darkness, they seem like curtains.
The girls’ yapping doesn’t cease despite what I thought would’ve been an early bedtime. It’s lulling though, in a weird way.
She slams down the window, intertwining her fingers as she always does when we get stuck in situations like this.
“Look at me!” Her eyes are hard. “The boy! You need to remember why we got here in the first-“
Pain blooms at the side of my head. I swat away the remaining crumbs of gluten-free bread from my bandages, glaring at Mina who’s clearly the one who’s just flung her sandwich. Cheeky little kid-lady. The dream from last night escapes me instantly.
“My bad, I was aiming for the uninjured side.”
I’d roll my eyes if my brain didn’t hurt so much, so I settle for,
“Just, pass me the butter, would you?”
With that, our breakfast passes uneventfully. We are, as usual, seated away from the other hotel guests. It’s a round table nestled closer to the pianist, who is still slaving away at Mozart’s Lacrymosa. It’d be understandable, if the other hotel guests didn’t want to be close to a potential murderer but it eventually became us, who had to move away from the other patrons because they’re all meddlesome grannies who can’t refrain poking their noses into other people’s business.
The triplets get up soon enough, to do their cooking thing or something (because of course they wouldn’t let me sleep in when they’re out). I’m left to mope with my half-eaten scones and luke-warm Earl Grey as the staff begin removing the cereal selections.
My eyes slip shut, head cradled by my right hand. Tinkering metal knives, the spray of alcohol on tables, a cough.
The pianist suddenly slams his hands down on the instrument, making me jump in my seat. I turn and widen the eye that’s not hindered by the bandage. It’s the sad pianist, with his greasy mop of hair and spectacles, posing his hand in the air as if still sustaining the invisible notes of the piano in the air. He’s looking down in faux-dramaticism, staring at his lap that’s overrun by the black material of a too-big turtle-neck sweater.
“They’re playing you”, he says, boredly, “like I play my keys.”
The lack of music suddenly seems a bit too haunting.
“Both of them, everyone you-“, he pinches his nose, lifting up the wide-rimmed glasses, “Look, I’ve played at this same hotel every winter for the past 4 years and have never seen hide nor hair of a Jackie Callaghan. All I know is that one day, you and that woman show up and suddenly there’s police sectioning the place off and screaming murder.”
He lays down the dust cover, stained slightly with a splot of tea. It looks vaguely familiar.
“This is a quiet town, and real things, don’t just happen like this. You’d be dafter than I thought if you’re just going to take what they’ve been feeding you and go.”
He put down the ebony lid of the piano, and locks it, standing up.
“So yeah, smarten up so you can leave already, and one last thing,”
He turns, looking me in the eye at last.
“I may not hear all that much aside from the piano, but I hear enough. The raven girl, Mina,” he grins, “she’s a darn witch.”
“All the triplets enjoy their magicky, disappearing hogwash but she’s the one you have to look out for. She just knows, but more importantly,” his eyes widen, “she sees.”
“If you actually want your memories back, you’ll need to let her inside your head.”