Behind a crumbling façade, the grand old hotel still retained a regal quality. Gilded details glimmered through the faded layers of peeling paint, providing a glimpse into the glamorous past of this faded 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 late into the night.
Built in the late 1800s, in its early years, the Delray had been 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 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. The liquor ran freely during prohibition, and alongside gambling, there were plenty of beautiful girls brought in for the single men, and practically anything else imaginable could be requested for a price. It was said that if you could dream it, you could have it at the Delmar. The 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 golden years came to a screeching halt with the crash of the stock market in 1929. Party time was over, and the guests 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 Delray, 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 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, 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 Lena, 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, it 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 trading shifts.
On the other end of the hotel, however, it was another story. The Cabana suites consisted of the entire southwest corner of the hotel, which was cliff side with ocean views. Back in the day, this had been the most luxurious section, and was reserved for only the most elite of guests. It had a private entrance, windows facing the Atlantic, and a courtyard view from the bedroom. Albeit, now the view was of defunct fountains, overgrown weeds, and 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 Lena spent most of her time, other than the delivery days, when she would meet the truck at the door and allow them to bring her orders into the kitchen.
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 calendar on the table, with a special event inked in for each day. Obvious holidays and a lot of invented ones. In fact for Lena, each day was a holiday. Today was the special “Cruiseship Day”, and she dressed in an all white ruffled top with flared high-waisted pants. As she stood in front of the full-length mirror, Lena squinted to see her reflection. She scowled at herself and tied a scarf over her long blonde wig. Quickly, she picked up a pair of sunglasses and put them on as well. Reapplying her bright red lipstick, she smiled. Smiling revealed her missing tooth, so she pursed her lips together in a pout.
Smoothing the hair down, she turned in the mirror, 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.” Lena 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 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!”
With this, Lena walked to the massive walnut armoire, 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 her white-gloved hand, selecting a white crystal encrusted gown, which weighed so much, she needed to use both arms to carry it. Laying it on the shiny pink bed, she smiled. “Ah yes, this is the one. The most exquisite of all. It is our special occasion, isn’t it!” With that, she removed her gloves, laying 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, with a coy smile “please my love, you must not look.”, as 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, smiling. 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 looked down at the ground. As she raised her head, she caught another glimpse of herself in the mirror under a brighter beam of light. She gasped at the sight. The delusion momentarily broken, she shrieked in horror. What she saw was an old woman, missing a tooth, bony and weathered. Her heart beat faster, and her breathing got heavier. Panic set in. She needed air. Fresh air. Lena headed for the door, and pushed it open against the powerful wind. Hurling herself outside, she fell on the ground. The rain pelted her face and her dampened veil clung to her skin. She crawled towards the cliffside. The violence of the ocean below called her name. She ripped the veil from her eyes and threw it over the ledge. Somehow, Lena gathered the strength to sit up. She unzipped the gown, pulling it over her head. It fell over in a heap next to her shivering body. She pushed the dress away from her towards the Atlantic. A sudden gust took it away. The white wedding gown flew up into the misty night air, momentarily pausing as if begging for a second chance, before vanishing into the abyss below.
Lena lay there naked, yet she felt reborn. She managed to get up and make her way back to the 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.