The Dame of Del Ray

With it’s massive crumbling and weathered façade, the grand old Del Ray Hotel had managed to retain a captivating and regal quality. Once inside, gilded details glimmered from behind layers of faded peeling paint, providing a glimpse into the glamorous past of this fading beauty. Precariously positioned on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the vast Atlantic Ocean, the structure stood strong. A relic, with a once glorious past. The grounds around the massive property now overgrown and wild, had at one time been well-manicured gardens, thick with flora and fauna. An enormous empty swimming pool full of dried leaves, revealed patches of intricate mosaic tile work. Mossy cracked statues of cherubs stood guard. Long ago, this oasis had sparkled, surrounded by alabaster Italian fountains spouting arched streams into the crystal blue water. Remnants of a small stage stood at the far end of the pool. This was where bands would play and guests would dance, often until the break of dawn.

Built in the late 1800s, the Del Ray had been designed to be a mecca for the rich and famous. It hosted brokers, movie stars, as well as royalty from around the world. Of course, entourages and wannabes soon followed, looking to piggyback on the excesses of the times. The infamous hotel was notorious for its glamorous and wild parties. Rumors were kept quiet, but it was common knowledge that people of a certain caliber were allowed to get away with everything and anything. Liquor ran freely, and alongside gambling and various forms of entertainment, practically anything else imaginable could be requested for a price. It was said that if you could dream it, it could happen at the Del Ray. This heady mix of money, alcohol and cocaine, alongside an “anything goes” attitude, allowed for many scenarios to unfold. Countless payoffs and favors had been done to keep most of the stories hushed. However, quite a few scandals of debauchery and bad behaviour frequently slipped out into the city papers, which the masses ate up like cake.

The Del Ray’s golden years came to a screeching halt with the crash of the stock market in 1929. Party time was over, and the guests suddenly stopped coming. The hotel, like so many of its breed, chose to accommodate long-term tenants in order to maintain the expenses of running the place. Initially, quite a few units were rented, and the hotel managed to maintain a skeleton staff along with groundskeepers. The tenants enjoyed a comfortable life at the Del Ray, with full service at their disposal. Gradually, as the economy worsened, most of the staff was let go, other than some maintenance workers who lived on the premises. The gardens were left unkempt, and the pool evaporated and drained. Finally, most of the tenants moved out, leaving only a handful of very elderly ladies and a few eccentrics.

As the years passed, the hotel continued to become more dilapidated. A series of severe storms wrecked the façade, the briny ocean air destroyed the statuary, and the gardens became unrecognizable. Ivy grew over some of the shuttered windows, and the place was rumored to be haunted. Finally, of the 200 rooms, only 4 were rented. One to a wealthy TB patient on her deathbed, quarantined to the far quarters with her 24 hour nurses, and three other suites, which belonged to a tenant named Darlene, who resided at the opposite end of the property. Twice a month, an order of basic food and supplies was delivered. Other than that, the residents were left in isolation. The maintenance staff had long gone, and if anything was broken, well, it just stayed that way.

At night, from afar, the place stood desolate, appearing vacant, except for the occasional glow of light on one end or the other.The darkened halls of the hotel creaked. Floorboards had absorbed years of humidity from the ocean air. The atmosphere was stagnant and musty, carpets mildewed and dank. The TB patient never left her room, and the only activity on that end of the hotel property was that of nurses quietly trading shifts.

On the other end of the hotel, however, it was another story altogether. The Cabana Suites consisted of the entire southeast corner of the hotel, which perched cliff side with ocean views. Back in the day, this had been the most luxurious section, reserved for only the most elite of guests. It had a private entrance, windows with balconies facing the Atlantic, and a courtyard view from the bedroom. Albeit, now the view was of defunct fountains, overgrown weeds, and scattered debris.

The interior of the suite, however, was immaculate. The only light which ever seemed to be on was a peach tinted lantern in the bedroom. This was where Darlene spent most of her time.

In her room, she had a giant pink lace canopy bed, with silk satin sheets and scalloped shams. A white mink fur throw finished the look.

The vanity was well stocked and she would sit there for hours, carefully applying her makeup, eyelashes, and lastly selecting a wig for the occasion. There was a “forever” calendar on the table, with a special event inked in for each day. There were the typical holidays, along with a lot of invented ones. In fact, for Darlene, every day was a holiday. Today was the special “Cruiseship Day”. She was immaculately decked out in an all white ruffled top with flared high-waisted pants. Small gold buttons ran up each side of the sailor styled trousers, and they had a front crease as well as a large cuff at the hem. As she stood in front of the full-length mirror, Darlene squinted to see her reflection. She adjusted the blouse to fall off of one shoulder, and tied a scarf over her long blonde wig. Quickly, she picked up a pair of wire rimmed, rose tinted sunglasses, and put them on as well. After applying bright red lipstick, she pursed her lips together into a coy pout, and leaned in, blowing a kiss at her reflection.

Smoothing the hair down, she turned, and began a conversation with an invisible man. “Darling, I do think we should have brought more champagne. Don’t you?” “What is it?” “Oh, my love, you shouldn’t have.” Giggling with delight, Darlene reached down to pick up a diamond bracelet off of the dresser, and gently put it on over her white glove on the left arm. “It’s absolutely spectacular, my darling! How on earth did you know?”

“I shall wear it to my performance this evening! But I must change because the bracelet deserves my sequins gown! Tonite is our night my love!”

Darlene walked to the massive walnut armoire, dramatically opening the double doors to reveal a cache of gowns, sparkling in the low light. It looked as though every color of the rainbow was inside. She extended a white-gloved hand, selecting an opaline crystal encrusted gown, which weighed so much, she needed to use both arms to carry it. Carefully laying it out on the shiny pink bed, she smiled. “Ah yes, this is the one. The most exquisite of all. It is our special occasion, and only the very best will do.” With that, she removed the bracelet, then her gloves, and gently laid them on the bed next to the gown. Unbuttoning the sailor pants, she let them slide to the floor, carefully stepping out of them onto the Persian carpet. She unbuttoned the blouse and threw it over a slipper chair in the corner. Now naked, she covered her breasts, and turned with a shy smile, whispering, “please my love, you must not look.” She leaned towards the heavy gown, lifting it to maneuver the heavy beaded fabric over her head. Catching the armhole, she slipped into it quite gracefully, and managed to zip it up along the side. It fit like a glove. She turned to look in the mirror. Adjusting the wig, she looked around the room. “Oh, there it is, my love.” She walked over and picked up a long veil from a small table. Back at the full-length mirror, she placed the veil on her head, smoothing the blonde waves down to one side. She put the long white gloves back on and smiled. “I’m ready, my pet, you can look now.” She shyly tipped her chin, and looked down at the ground.

As she slowly raised her head, she caught another glimpse of herself in the mirror under a bright beam of light. Her eyes widened, as she gasped at the sight. The delusion momentarily broken, she shrieked in horror. What she saw was an old woman with missing teeth, long strands of grey hair to her waist and a body that was bony and weathered, dressed in a moth-eaten gown. Her heart beat faster, and her breathing got heavier. Panic set in. She needed air. Fresh air. Darlene headed for the door, and using all of her might, pushed it open against the powerful wet wind. Hurling herself outside, she fell on the ground. The icy rain pelted her face, and her dampened veil clung to her skin. She crawled towards the cliffside, her nails digging in the frozen earth. The violence of the ocean below called her name. She ripped the veil from her eyes and threw it over the ledge. Somehow, Darlene gathered the strength to sit up. She unzipped the gown, pulling it over her head. It fell over in a large heavy heap next to her shivering body. She pushed the dress away from her towards the Atlantic. The wind howled, and a sudden gust tugged at it repeatedly. Finally the white wedding gown was lifted up into the misty air, where it momentarily paused as if begging for a second chance. It lingered there forming itself into an elegant feminine silhouette, until a powerful gust tore it away, and it vanished into the abyss below.

Darlene lay there naked, yet she felt reborn. Somehow she managed to get up and make her way back to the cozy bedroom. Gathering the huge mink throw about her, she used a tissue to wipe the lipstick away. She put on a long cashmere robe and ran herself a bath. As the tub filled with warm water, Lena laid out her clothes for the next day. A modest skirt and sweater, along with a hat, gloves, and a wool  coat. It was time. Time to move on.

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