Wherein I take a band name from Scalzi’s Next Band Name list, and spend no more than 20 minutes writing the story with the band name as a title. Current one is Portland Hotel Showers and the full story archive.
"How far are you going?" I leaned over and asked the woman seated next to me on the bus. I know you're not supposed to talk to other people when riding on public transportation, buses, trains, subways. People look at you weird when you talk to them in public. I don't understand it, so I strike up conversations with people on buses and trains and subways. Of course, I'm also the person who refuses to stand facing the front of an elevator, choosing to stand facing everyone else, thereby making everyone on the elevator uncomfortable and awkward as I smile at them. It amuses me.
The woman looked tired. Bone-weary tired. Her shoulders were low, her back bent. She looked close to folding over into herself and start crying. I've been there. I understood that desire. I wondered what her story was.
She looked over at me, a puzzled look on her face. "I'm heading to the Alphabet District," she answered quietly.
"Hey, me, too!" I smiled back at her. "I'm getting off at Burnside and 23rd. It's the stop one past the steak house on the right."
She looked back at me for a few moments, then nodded. "Me, too," she said.
"That's a coincidence," I commented. "Are you going to the Portland Hotel, too?"
She nodded again. She looked down at her hands and her thin, nearly skeletal fingers. She didn't continue.
There are some people who just don't want to talk to strangers. I can respect that. If you talk to enough random people, you'll run into ones who don't want to talk with you. You'll eventually run into those do want to talk, because no one else will listen. Most people are polite, few fully engage with the normal looking person who is crazy to talk to them on the bus, though.
Her clothes were well worn, I noted. She was dressed neatly, her thin, long, blonde hair pulled back into loose ponytail. Her backpack sitting on her lap had seen better days, but the same could be said about mine, and it had been around the world three times, so I didn't think anything odd about a well-used, well-loved backpack. Her hands were thin, and gripped the backpack tightly.
I felt she didn't want to talk with me. I looked at her longer, before turning back towards the front of the bus. It was crowded at this hour, many commuters heading home. One of the things I like about Portland is how so many people embrace public transportation: even those who could afford to drive took the bus and trains. It was grey out, the rains had stopped some time before my plane had landed, so I wasn't soaking, sitting on the bus. I looked at the woman next to me. She seemed less dry than I was.
I tried again. "Are you staying at the Hotel? Going to check out the showers?"
She nodded slightly, before her face pinched and her nose turned red. I watched as she squeezed her eyes shut tightly, an obvious attempt not to cry.
"I'm sorry," I said. "Did I say something wrong?"
She shook her head quickly. "No, no," she answered. "I just don't have a reservation, and, and..." she trailed off, turning to look at me.
Her face was thinner than I thought it had been, almost gaunt. Her eyes were red from crying, with dark circles under them. She had a haunted look on her face. She took a deep breath, then continued, "I don't have a reservation, but I'm hoping to get in. I left my daughter, she's only four, with her dad back home, to come here, and I've tried everything else, and I just don't know what else to do, and I was hoping this would help, but if I can't get in, if they don't let me, if they're full, I don't know..." She trailed off again.
"How bad is it?" I asked.
She looked up, realizing I understood. "Three months, tops," she answered.
"Do you have a ticket back home?" I asked again.
"No," she whispered.
The bus stopped, and I looked out the window. We were on Burnside, a steak house, THE steak house, there was no mistaking that place with the giant green cow on the roof, on the right side of the street. People hopped off the bus, and a few more boarded. The doors shut, and the bus started moving forward again.
"The next stop is ours," I said. She nodded. I shifted to the edge of my seat, moving my legs into the aisle, indicating I was exiting at the next stop. A few other passengers standing shifted over, a couple others eyeing my seat. The woman next to me didn't move.
When the bus stopped, I stood up. She didn't.
"Come on," I said. "Let's see what they have. They might have an opening." She looked up at me, then moved to follow me off the bus. We walked next to each other, her steps slower than mine, though she looked at least a decade, if not two, younger than I did.
We walked down the block and turned right, walking down the quiet tree lined street a couple blocks. The street became quieter as the trees and vegetation along the street blocked more and more of the sounds. We turned right down a small alley, the woman obviously letting me lead. As we approached a small door at the side of a three story brick building, she hesitated.
"This is it?" she asked.
"Yep," I responded. "The Portland Hotel. The world's best kept health secret," I continued, quoting no one but myself. "Three showers a day for three days, and you're cured of anything but old age!" I threw my arms wide. She looked at me.
"Actually, very much yes," I said, "It's why I keep coming back. This will be my tenth year in remission."
Her face pinched again.
"Let's go see what they have," I said.
"But, but..." she started.
"Come on," I reached for the door and opened it. "What's the harm in asking?"
"Okay," she whispered, and walked in the door.
The lobby was a ten foot square, tan marble floored room with a front desk taking up the far end. The same potted plant sat there, as was there last year. I don't think I had ever seen that plant change. The woman behind the desk smiled as I approached.
"Good evening!" she said. "Do you have a reservation?"
"Yes," I responded. "Last name Washington."
"I have you right here, Ms. Washington. You'll be staying with us four nights?"
"And how many keys?" she asked, glancing quickly and frowning at the woman standing behind me.
"Very good," she responded, finishing up the paperwork and handing it to me. I signed all the places that needed signing, and received the room key. "Room 202."
"Thank you," I responded politely, and turned around.
I held out my key to the woman. She looked down at it, then up at me. "But, but, I can't take that."
"The showers work for only one person. If we both take showers, they won't work for either of us. I've been coming for ten years. That's ten years more than I was supposed to get. And I don't have a daughter. Take it. And take this," I handed her a wad of large bills. Assuming she lived in the US, she'd make it home with that.
"I..." she stammered. "I can't."
"Sure you can," I said. "Here," grabbed her hand, and shoved the pile into it. I closed her hand around the wad.
"I don't understand," she whispered.
I leaned close so that only she could hear. "How do you think I got my first reservation?" She looked up at me, surprised. I smiled, turned to the front desk woman and nodded. She nodded back.
I turned and walked back out of the hotel.