The Randolph Hotel
by Vincent Chabany Douarre
My assumption when someone calls is that something has gone horribly wrong. I have visions of hedgehogs flattened on the highway. A coffee pot's shards sticking out of a child's blistered arm. An electric crackle running up the wall.
That, and I did not particularly know Gregory. We were Facebook friends.
“Hello?” He paused, searching for words
“Hey. You, uh... You need to come see Blake.”
There was a windswept silence. Oxford's late autumn air is a vehicle for fresher's flu. A woman walked past me, her shoulders draped by a heavy scarf. I must've said something to the effect of what or why, I don't remember.
“He's in the hospital. He's fine,” he added hurriedly, stammering, “something.... Frankie, uh... There's some- something happened.”
And so I was right.
I was standing on Beaumont road, in front of the Randolph Hotel. I could see antique wooden ceilings through the tall Gothic windows. Three large Union Jacks drooped like orchids above the art deco steel and glass porch roof.
This all presupposed a sense of history. A fiction. As did the thick oil portraits. And the white gloves pouring bottles of Saumur.
The Randolph Hotel burned down two years ago.
This narrative is false.
Blake did not say much when I got there. I did not say much when I got there. I think I mentioned Greg calling, and that was enough. Blake did not know I was in Oxford for the weekend.
I had not told him.
He hugged me. I sat down with my knees together.
Blake and Frankie were childhood friends. They both went to Eton. Blake often told me about the things Frankie would never do. He'd never wear a pocket-square, even if his girlfriend Emily bought him one (too nouveau). He'd never put sugar in his coffee (too infantile). He'd never turn down a Corona (too haughty to do so).
Attempting suicide did not make the list.
I did not ask for details. Instead, I stroked Blake's large crouched back. Instead, I offered him a hospital coffee that smelled like water. Instead, I stayed silent. There was talk around us of stitches, of tubes and stomachs. Medication? Dunno. History? Signs? No. Yes.
I pretended not to notice.
Blake's hands were clasped. He straightened his back. I could stroke it no more.
So I clutched the edge of the plastic marigold chair instead.
Frankie's family came. His mother had spiky silver hair. His sister had been crying. His father was carrying her Moschino purse. They assumed I was one of Frankie's friends.
I did not say anything.
I did not know Frankie.
I only knew Blake.
I knew Blake.
I did not know Blake.
Blake had broken up with me and I had realized, in the times when I needed to make sense of him the most, when I needed to comprehend the precise workings of his mind, like the golden arcs flights draw from an airport to another, that I could not.
I did not know Blake.
I did not know Frankie.
So I said nothing. Instead, I asked Blake if he wanted to get something to eat. He did not answer but stood up.
“Who's going to feed the dog?” asked Frankie's sister.
And then his father started crying.
In the taxi, I determined that we could not go to Pierre Victoire, on Little Clarendon Street. Pierre Victoire was where we used to eat after we handed in big papers. Where he ordered off the menu in French to make me laugh. Where we split a slice of plum pie.
I realized I had never been in a car with Blake. There are many things we never did. We never saw the ocean. Or watched the latest season of Drag Race.
We had never been to the hospital.
He had never cried. Not in front of me.
He was not crying in the taxi.
The windows were dusty.
I kept wondering who was going to feed the dog. That is always the point. What remains, and responsibility.
Blake fiddled with the wick of a red candle.
“You don't have to stay with me if you don't want to.”
“That's fine,” I answered, pouring him a large glass of Sancerres.
He asked me about my life since we broke up.
I told him about the new apartment he never got to see. The large, wooden white doors of my wardrobe he would never shut. The oblong mirror on the wall he would never reflect in. I did not tell him about that bottom drawer and all its neatly organized letters I never sent. They always failed me. Paper does not carry screams. I am too proper to do that face to face anyway. And so that failed me too.
I had no idea if he would've cared or understood. If our past existed for me only.
As I said, we had not seen each other in months.
As I said, I did not know Blake.
He did not eat much. Many report an intense sensation of hunger when in close contact with death. My grandfather died, and my mother, standing in the formaldehyde-scented hallway, gestured at her Empire-waisted dress. The pattern was floral.
I can't see my father die dressed like this.
And yet she did.
Over the wooden table, I reached for Blake's hand. He did not pull it away.
That is the instinct, physically hold on.
That was my one regret.
I kept thinking back to the late nights or mornings spent in his bed. How the room was tinted blue by the curtains that were always drawn. How he brewed weaker coffee than I liked.
How I should've clung on to him tighter.
That would, I was sure, change the whole deal.
If I were better equipped, I would see that this contains no logic.
Blake's hand was still familiar.
Consider, then, the fact that Blake and I never went dancing. The occasion simply never came up.
Consider me dancing yesterday at Saint Anthony's Halloween party. Consider me smiling at a girl in a clean white wig. Wondering if this would be different if Blake were here. Kissing me.
Consider the gin I drank.
Consider his last text: emojis. Boy, heart, kiss, boy.
Consider what was lost.
Consider the hand I now touch.
After Blake took care of the check, we walked back to his place. He still lived in the same room. Long indigo curtains filtered the street lights. On the walls, like celluloid, there were photos in the Merzouga dunes, photos in Puerto Vallarta's Andales, photos in Hong-Kong's botanical gardens. Grinning. Frankie's hand, or face, or part of his knee.
I stretched out of bed. Blake was sleeping. His large back seemed heavier. Grief is said to make people shrink. I needed a glass of water. The kitchen was downstairs, and I groped my way through the dark and turned on the tap.
We had had our first kiss on Beaumont road, in front of the Randolph Hotel.
I did not want to see the Randolph.
But I was at a neighboring Tesco, buying a red velvet cake because it was on offer.
And there it was. Seeing it felt like a physical pressure behind my eyes.
As if coins had been slipped behind them.
And then Gregory called. And something went wrong.
I did not want to accept that this bit of sidewalk still existed. That the narrative ran beyond me.
Consider the absence of hands.
I thought of the right saints to pray to. Lost causes, mental illness, swift recoveries. Gamblers. Travelers. Academics. Amnesiacs. Lovers. The right clothes to wear. The right food to eat.
The right body there.
I put the glass of water down and wondered if we should've offered to feed the dog.
Except there was no 'we'. Just spaces.
The light here is too blue to last.
Vincent Chabany Douarre is a student at La Sorbonne, Paris. His work has been featured in The Belleville Park Pages; The Bastille; The Birds We Piled Loosely; Gravel; 45th Parallel; Thrice Fiction Magazine; the podcast No Extra Words, Glassworks Magazine, Cecile Writer's Magazine; and will be featured in Junto Magazine..