Dame of Delray

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.

Kept

Joey had been living his life as a kept man, and a gigolo on the side. It’s not something he planned on. It just sort of happened. Well, it happened the day he met Delores. She was a bawdy customer at the bar where he worked the closing shift. One night, like so many others, Delores had had one too many martinis, and, while pressing her sweating breasts over the edge of the wooden bar, she beckoned Joey over with a long red laquered talon. “Hey hon, ya think you wanna give me a ride tonite?” Joey, being the consummate professional, assumed she meant that she was too drunk to drive home the few blocks across the flat industrial town. He asked her to wait 10 minutes until the end of his shift.

Exiting the buiding, she held his strong arm, teetering on her stilettos through the parking lot. She pressed a car key into his hand, and he opened the door to her dilapidtated Cadillac. The scent of stale perfume and cigarettes permeated the interior. She told him to get into the drivers seat and take her home. As he fastened his seatbelt, she reached over and grabbed at his crotch. Joey was only 23, and Delores, well, she was definitely older than his mom, and perhaps even his gran.

The first time it happened in that Cadi, they just leant the seats back. Her excitement, triggered his ego, and he was addicted immediately. The scent of well-worn whole grain leather, White Diamonds,  Benson & Hedges and Aquanet intoxicated him. This moment would remain with him for life.

Joey continued seeing Delores, initially in exchange for food, and meager trinkets. Later on he was given a watch, numerous shirts, socks, underwear, and once, an incredible pair of alligator boots. She lavished him with attention and occasionally, he would find a 100 dollar bill tucked into his wallet. He had a key to her house, and he came and went as he pleased. Delores was always available, except for Wednesday nights, for those were her “service” nights. He started to notice odd items around her home. There was an alter at the entryway, filled with embers and small metallic bones. In addition, she had a few strands of ancient looking beads, and unusual amulets strewn about on doorways, and hanging in corners. Now and then, she would burn something, which left a sour note lingering in the air.

One night, as they shared the giant bathtub, full of bubbles and red rose petals, she closed her eyes, leaned her head back. Slowly she opened her eyes to meet his. Staring for a few moments, she said “ It’s time.”…”Time for what?” Joey was confused. “You’re ready. “ Delores mesmerized him with her stare, as she caressed his strong arms. He really didn’t think much of it, because he always went along with her whims. She told him to keep next Wednesday open, and have an all black outfit ready. In fact, she said, she would get him something to wear.

A few days later, he got to her house to find a pair of black pants and black button down silk shirt laid out on the bed, along with shoes to match. He dressed in the outfit, and walked downstairs to the living room where Delores sat in an extravagant black velvet gown. She smiled with approval. “Come here, come baby.” He sat next to her, inhaling the scent of her potent fragrance. She stubbed out her cigarette in the overflowing ashtray. After offering him a drink, she took his hand in hers. Delores had beautiful hands. Long fingers, decorated with cocktail rings, which sparkled in the low light. She looked him in the eyes, “listen baby, this means everything to me, and I want you to know I’m doing it for you.” He smiled a weak smile, not sure what to make of her cryptic message.

The clock in the hallway struck 7 pm, and Delores startled. “Let’s go!” she told him. “We need to be there by 7:30.” He dutifully followed, feeling a bit numb from the drink she had given him.

Somehow they arrived at the service, and shuffled in behind a line of people all dressed in black. Upon closer observation, he realized that all of the people were women! He turned to ask Delores why, but she only stared straight ahead, expressionless. He thought he heard music playing. Either it was muffled, or he was drunk. As they reached the alter, he saw a cloaked priest or priestess, holding up a flask containing a deep red liquid. Further in the distance, he noticed a platform, with a sort of ditch around it, in which there appeared to be dark water flowing. Delores pressed him forward as his body resisted. He felt all eyes on him, and the humming began ever so subtly…a soft hum which gradually became an unbearable crecendo…hands were now touching his body, and massaging his arms and back, he was being pushed forward to the alter. The women swarmed and pressed inward….

Velvet Toast

The gold foil tipped cigarette, stained with lipstick, smoldered in an overflowing ashtray. Soft blonde waves of hair cascaded across her face as she softly fell back into the burgundy velour sofa, which swiftly enveloped her small frame. Slender stocking encased legs shimmered in the candle light. One metallic sandal lay discarded on the persian rug, while the other remained partially strapped to her delicate foot. The floor vibrated with bass music from the club below, mixed with din of a crowded room, occasional loud shouts, and the intermittent sound of breaking glass. With a quiet click, a door was opened. A man slipped into the room, wearing a tuxedo, dark hair slicked into a pompadour. Cat like, he moved across the room, towards the woman on sofa. As his eyes adjusted to the candlelight, he could see that there was nobody else here. Had he locked the door? He swiftly doubled back to be sure. Carefully trying the handle, he found it secure. Taking out a pack of cigarettes and a tarnished lighter from his pocket, he lit up a smoke. The flame briefly illuminated a scowling expression on his face, and the sparkle of his green eyes flashed in the dark. Taking a long pull, he dramatically exhaled towards the ceiling. Tiny beads of sweat were starting to emerge across his tanned forehead and upper lip.

Crossing the room, he reached the sofa and stopped. He stood over the blonde who was passed out cold. Her cigarette now just a faint fading ember in the ashtray. The pale blue sequined gown had slipped off of her shoulder to reveal creamy skin glowing in the low light. He reached his hand slowly towards her, running his fingertip over her bare shoulder and up the side of her neck. She stirred. He swiftly pulled his hand away, and stood there watching her. She continued to doze. Obviously she had over indulged. It didn’t help that the heroin was back in fashion, and she had been dipping into it again on occasion. He was pretty sure she was nodding off, and not just simply drunk. He sighed to himself, shaking his head. He looked at his watch and sat down in the chair across from her. As he jabbed out the cigarette in the tray, it overflowed, ash and a few butts scattering accross the mahogany table. A few minutes passed and he checked his watch again. The sound from below started to fade and within the next hour, it became quiet. Silence came over the room, other than the soft breathing of the woman.

Now, he stood up and walked towards the sofa again. He took a look down at her with pity, gently running his hand over her soft locks, pushing the hair out of her face to expose the delicate alabaster features, dark lashes and crimson lips. He let go, and her platinum waves fell once again covering her face. He took a step back, paused to look at his watch once more, and then leaned down to the corner of the velvet sofa. He took out his lighter and held it to the loosely fraying edge by the floor. The flame started small, and eased its way up the seam, as it reached the arm of the sofa it began to smolder, but suddenly a larger flame burst forward, and then another, until it suddenly burst into an angry fire swiftly devouring the sofa…he blinked as he watched for a few moments, then turned and quickly walked towards the door, making a stealth escape. Taking a back stairwell to exit the building, he stepped out into a dark alley. It was quiet and damp outside. A gentle rain was falling. He looked up at the building to see a window flickering with firelight. Taking his cigarettes out, he lit one, taking a long pull. He exhaled. He muttered one word. Bitch. With that, he turned on his heels and headed down the dank alley into the distance until he was just another shadow in the dark.

Little Genie

Paris, 1921. After midnight. An icy bone chilling rain fell relentlessly. Her soaked satin dress clung to her skin as she ran as fast as she could. Tearing around a corner, down a dark slippery alley, her heel got caught in a cobblestone twisting her ankle. She had taken the turn too fast. Sliding down to the ground against the dank wall, she cried out. Tears blended with the rainwater streaming down her face. She could hear them getting closer. She pressed her hand against the drenched stone, and tried to leverage herself up, but it was no use. She was too weak now. There was more shouting as they got closer. She looked up at the strip of sky above the alley, as the rain came straight downward. She closed her eyes tight. They were near now. Suddenly, a dark shadow came over her, and she felt the grip on her shoulder. Looking up, there stood a man and a woman. They were soaked as well, but they were protected with coats, hats, and boots. The woman commanded her to get up. She begged the couple not to kill her. She told them she would do anything they wished for.

The woman leaned down and shook her shoulders violently. Looking into her eyes, she told her in a harsh voice that there was only one way she could be freed. Then she reached down into a satchel, retrieving a stone. Just an ordinary looking small rough stone. Holding it into the girls face, she told her that if she could turn the stone into a precious gem, then, and only then would she be freed.

The girl held out her muddy hand, and watched as the stone was placed in her palm. She closed her hand around the stone and shut her eyes. The man and woman stood over her ominously. She squeezed the stone and released it. It was still a stone. Then she placed the stone between her thumb and forefinger and pressed it. She was pressing so hard that her entire being seemed to be focused on the stone. Suddenly, her face relaxed and she opened her eyes. She released her fingers, and a perfectly faceted diamond appeared. It glowed in the dark night. The couple gasped, and the woman grabbed the diamond out of the girls hand. She held it up, looking at it against the night sky above. The rain began to taper off. The woman smiled at the man as she placed the diamond in her satchel. She told the girl that she was free to go, and they turned to walk away.

It was by now, the cusp of dawn. The rain had tapered to a fine mist. The girl shivered on the ground. She took a deep breath and managed to pull herself up this time. She headed down the other end of the alley to where a small light had just gone on. As she got closer, she saw that it was the back exit of a bakery. A man appeared at the door and saw her tragic figure. He offered her to come in and warm herself. She entered the kitchen, savoring the warmth and inhaling the intoxicating aroma of freshly baked bread. He motioned her to have a seat on a large burlap sack of flour. The man brought her coffee and a large fresh roll, which she immediately tore apart and devoured. He brought her another one before he left the kitchen to go into the bakery. As she sipped her coffee, she smiled. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a small glittering ruby and placed it on the empty plate.