Ball Break Hotel
As they rose to shake hands with their first interviewee of the morning, Stan felt yesterday’s sock drop from the seat of his trousers to the space behind the knee. He sat down quickly to stop it dropping further. Pete, suave and confident, made the introductions as Stan twisted and crossed his legs. He silently cursed his colleague’s insistence that the interview be conducted in an informal triangle.
‘A desk is like a barrier, Stan, it makes people uncomfortable.’ Maybe so, but it would have been a convenient screen to allow a person who had dressed in a hurry to make some final adjustments. There was nothing else for it; he would have to remain seated when the interview was over, no matter how odd that may seem.
Stan had a buzzing ache behind his eyes. A combination of sleep deprivation, a hangover and the breathing of other people’s air. Travelodge syndrome. He was also starting to regret his third visit to the breakfast buffet. The scooping of more congealed eggs and sticky, rectangular bacon onto the ridiculously small plate.
‘God, Stan, why do you always choose the filth?’ Pete had asked, as he painstakingly knifed the skins off of his own selection of kiwifruit and apple. They had breakfasted in the room where Stan had got quietly drunk the previous evening. The bar had been shuttered and the tables laid with white linen, napkins and heavy, silver cutlery. He supposed that the colour scheme of shark-grey and dusty-rose was intended to be equally conducive to muted breakfast conversations as to the loose-tie, beery banter of the evening.
The girl they were interviewing smiled prettily as she answered Pete’s questions. He had been too distracted to take her in before. Her wild curly hair was strangely complimented by her austere business suit and crisp, white blouse. “Don’t stare at her tits, don’t stare at her tits”. The mantra ran through Stan’s head as he stared at her tits.
He dragged his eyes away and allowed them to wander around the utilitarian room. A washbasin and mirror in the corner indicated that it served as a bedroom as well as a meeting room. Just wheel the bed out and wheel the desk in; and, in this case, wheel the bloody desk straight back out again. In the rooms the shark-grey was combined with dusty-primrose, presumably to be equally conducive to anonymous sex as to dreary interviews. Beside the bathroom door hung the inevitable Kandinsky print. Stan wondered what old Wassily would have thought about it all. His bold, revolutionary art now de-rigueur in call-centres and business hotels around the world.
‘Have you got any questions, Stan?’ Pete prompted.
‘Err yes’ he looked at the girl’s name on her CV: Orchid. Orchid? ‘Tell me, Orchid, what do you feel you could contribute to the Justice League of Somerset and Avon?’ The stock question.
As she delivered the stock answers Stan reflected on his thirty years with the league. When he had started, a star-struck office-junior, they had still spoken of Superheroes and super-powers. Now they were “gifted” and had “talents”. In his current role as Senior Logistician H.R., most of the star-dust had blown away. There were two vacancies to be filled to bring them up to their quota of five gifted. One of these was as a result of the untimely death of Woodman. (Ironically he had suffered with erectile dysfunction for most of his life).
Woody’s talent, the ability to reanimate wooden objects, had always struck Stan as a little impractical. It was certainly spectacular to see shoots and leaves sprouting, snake-like, from items of furniture or garden tool handles, but to what end? Or, to put it in Paul-Speak, how could you leverage these competencies to align with the corporate paradigm? In the end Woodman had spent much of his time getting kittens out of trees or entrapping abusive drunks in their suddenly-fecund barstools.
His had been a grisly death. He had taken to rubbing linseed oil into his aching joints. Who would have thought that it was highly flammable, not Stan; nor Torchy, the human firebrand who, after a particularly vicious Vindaloo the previous evening, was finding it hard to contain himself. The phenomena of post-mortem telekinesis, or stiff-buzz, whereby a talent may remain active for several days after its wielder dies, had meant that the sourcing a steel coffin had been another of Stan’s recent worries.
It was the fall from grace of Patch Piper which had brought about the second vacancy. It had also plunged the department into scandal. A braying press and opportunist politicians poured scorn on, and feigned outrage at, the league’s administrators. Among the screaming headlines “When did they know?”, “Cover up” and, Stan’s favourite, “Taxpayers Pay Piedy Piper”. In hindsight it seemed obvious that Patch’s talent with his mesmerising pipes, such an effective municipal pest control method, could also be put to more nefarious uses.
Stan had never liked Patch, with his spandex tracksuits and “good works” he had been the star of the team. In private he was moody and arrogant. In fact none of the talented were very pleasant. They were all self-obsessed and either vain or cringingly self-effacing. It went with the territory, he supposed. It must be hard to be the child who starts fires, leaps buildings or grows gills. Stan had been ribbed enough at school about his National Health glasses.
Pete was starting to make “We’ll be in touch.” noises, the interview was drawing to a close. Stan felt guilty. He had not really pulled his weight on this one.
‘Orchid’ he said. ‘That’s an unusual name, where does it come from?’
‘I’ve taken my mother’s name: Orchid Ectomy. Like I said before, I’ve inherited her talent for telekinetic gelding.’
Stan felt his scrotum involuntarily tightening. How could he have missed that?
They stood to shake hands and say their goodbyes. Stan noticed a horrified look creep across Pete’s face. He followed his fascinated gaze downward. On the triangle of carpet between them the small brown bundle, that had been Stan’s sock, rolled to a stop. SLQ
©2015 Steve Startup
Ball Break Hotel by Steve Startup won Second Prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Short Story Competition February 2015