Prompt: should be Competition, but isn’t.
Cassandra and I were late, we knew it, but she had a kind of wardrobe malfunction when the lace on her wedding gown got caught on the long back zipper, so frail and delicately sewn that it detached from the dress when I tried to fix it. My maid of honour duties were filled erratically that day.
To be fair (to me) Cassie only unzipped her etherial lacy gown because she said she needed an unholy back scratch, so perhaps it was more her fault than mine. She told me, as we rushed through the hotel towards the Enchanted Villa, that all the stress about the gown was worth the conquering of the itch in her back, which was located precisely in the middle spot between her shoulder blades, entirely unreachable by her, and satisfied fairly orgasmically by my sharp and newly manicured lacquered fingernails.
The Enchanted Villa was reached through a set of nondescript doors at the end of a long, wide hotel corridor, which opened into a double height entryway to a massive stone, or faux stone, facade representing the entrance to a castle of sorts, but a castle festooned with coloured lights which sparkled and, well, enchanted all visitors to the dimly lit foyer. Inside the Enchanted Villa we were to find the rest of the celebratory wedding party: the groom, four other bridesmaids, and five groomsmen. All of us were primed for the flutes of champagne and expensive nibbles on the terrace while we watched fireworks burst garishly over the water in the twilight and stole french kisses behind potted plants and generally revelled in our youth and privilege free from parents and tediously obligatory wedding guests.
But the arched doorway to the Enchanted Villa was locked.
“Are we that late?” asked Cassie. We both thought we could hear fireworks, somewhere. Had the group carried on without the bride? I did the compulsory rattling of the door and pounded a few times, before I suggested we contact a suitable member of the hotel staff.
Our liaison, Mr Carmichael, was no longer on the premises, a young man at the reception desk informed us; nor could he be reached even to cope with dire wedding mishaps.
Cassandra had adopted the helpless attitude of a bride without her groom (even though I knew she was far from helpless), looked at me like a Bambi and was, I’m sure, about to bleat, so I fortified my backbone and told the reception desk person that this was UNACCEPTABLE. Not only that, I said, but the bride and I had not eaten since the early morning and were weak with hunger and had counted on the delicacies promised at the Enchanted Villa to stave off fainting spells.
He seemed startled, as if he had never in his twenty years ever been confronted or criticized, which was entirely possible, and retreated behind a door marked “Manager”. When he returned he had a large smirk and a glossy box the size of a cat kennel.
“For the bride,” he said, placing it on the counter and opening the lid. Cassie and I were already half drooling and expected a box of chocolate delights, maybe some shortbread biscuits, or perhaps the ultimate jackpot, a few slabs of exotic cheeses and chunks of charcuterie.
What we saw was soap. Beautifully wrapped soap adorned with red plastic berries and polyester poinsettias, an apparent survivor of the long past Christmas season. When the young man lifted off the first soap layer of the surprise package, he revealed a second, similarly shrink-wrapped trove of lotions and potions and a tub of perfumed bath salts. Normally the sweet aroma of these would wash over you like an attack of vertigo, but there was no smell at all. Age had dimmed the Christmas spirit.
Cassie and I looked at each other. “These are made in India, very rare,” said the young man, lying.
Cassie took each of the the contents of the box out and stuffed them into what I thought was a tiny silk purse but turned out to be an expandable silk tote in lace that matched her gown.
“OK,” I said to the twenty-something. “After the Enchanted Villa reception, we were all supposed to sail, together, to Paradise Island for the night. The rest of our party might be there. How do we get to the island?”
Paradise Island was a compact 10-room condo development on a tiny offshore man-made island belonging to the hotel, a leisurely five minute journey by boat. It was Paradise because the hotel did not underestimate the idyllic ambience that strings of white fairy lights bestowed on the exterior of a building, and because each room boasted a jacuzzi tub and a mini fridge stocked with mini bottles of sparkling wine, vodka, and fruit juices, included in the tariff.
“It’s finished,” said the older gentleman in the ticket booth, once Cassie and I had trekked the length of the hotel to reach the boat launch, which was in the same wing as the Seafood and Eat It cafe.
“Last sailing was half an hour ago,” he said. “Good night.”
“Wait,” I said, and physically stopped him from slamming the booth shutter down. “Look at me. I don’t normally wear green velvet. I hate green, I hate velvet. Then look at my dear friend, the bride, Cassandra, in her lace wedding gown, separated from the man she just married, heartbroken, lost…”
Cassie was concentrating on trying to scratch her back with a tube of Indian body scrub.
“Send out an SOS,” I pleaded. The man stared at me as if I was a two-headed fish. “We need food, first. We can’t think. We are hungry. We are owed food and need food and want a hot meal now.”
After five minutes, Mr Leo appeared. I turned to thank the boat launch booth man, but the booth was shuttered and he was gone.
“Ladies, allow me to apologize for the mixup regarding the sailing to the most luxurious and exotic Paradise Island,” said Mr Leo.
“The Enchanted Villa was also closed,” I reminded him. “And the wedding party is missing. No one knows where they are. Doesn’t the hotel have phones?”
“We pride ourselves on a uniquely romantic wedding experience,” said Mr Leo.
“Huh?” said Cassie, as she moisturized her hands.
Mr Leo continued. “Our associate informed me of your request and of course we can accommodate your dining needs, even at this late hour. Can I interest you in a grilled steak? We are home to a fine red meat establishment.”
I noticed there were no clocks in the hotel. I wasn’t wearing one. I guess it was late, but had no idea at all of the time. By this stage, time had no meaning or relevance.
“Follow me,” said Mr Leo, and he led us down down down into what seemed the bowels of the hotel resort, perhaps as a way to expedite our journey? We travelled through tunnels with an insufficient number of flickering wall-mounted lamps, emerging into what looked like a food court of the kind you would find at a mall, but abandoned, and we breezed past the empty taco and pizza and Chinese platter joints and then almost past what looked like the hotel’s main grill restaurant, an expansive mahoganyish clad set of rooms with tablecloth-less tables surrounding a central hub, occupied by a lone woman with a headset.
Cassandra was lagging behind the energetic Mr Leo, who was no doubt well-fed and rested and not alienated from his newly wed spouse. I took her silk purse and slung it over my shoulder, as it was both a burden and a distraction to Cassie, who had completely abandoned any sense of independence and relied entirely on me, as if I was her platoon sergeant in a war jungle.
Mr Leo approached the woman with the headphones and said, “Hello my dear, um, do you still, you know, honour the you know what, for hotel guests, if you get my meaning.”
I was astonished at his deference. She however, was not. “We are closed, and anyway need a voucher,” she said. I heard for the first time the clatter of dishes— somewhere nearby was a working kitchen. I started to salivate. I mentally urged Mr Leo to advocate for us more aggressively.
“We can eat here at this table right here,” I said helpfully, indicating the table at which Cassie had just seated herself and was rubbing her feet.
“Sorry,” said the woman. “We are not serving.”
Mr Leo looked forlorn, so I said, “I hear people in the kitchen. Just bring us whatever they are making, please, as soon as possible, right Mr Leo?”
“Come on,” said Mr Leo, “I’m sure that voucher thing can be arranged, you know, if necessary.”
The woman frowned. She turned her back on Mr Leo and said something unintelligible into her headset. Then she swung around again and said, “We can do room service.”
Cassie said, “Oh fuck” as if she had been following the conversation so far, which she hadn’t.
“Right,” said Mr Leo briskly, let’s just get you to a room!”
“I think my luggage is on Paradise Island,” Cassie said. Mr Leo didn’t hear her, as he was barrelling down the tunnel in the direction from which we had come, at marathon speed.
We crossed the main lobby of the hotel, for possibly the sixth time that day, and there was a newly parked gold Cadillac convertible in the area between the reception desk and the broad bank of windows onto the street, as part of a promotion. In it, at this apparently late hour, a porter was stretched out in the back seat, snoring. How I envied him. Cassie paused to stare, and I had to drag her away so we could catch up to Mr Leo, who was waiting impatiently by the elevators.
By this time Cassie was carrying her white sandals which so perfectly matched her wedding dress, and proclaimed to me that her feet were dead and she was too tired to go on, which I relayed to Mr Leo, who was standing right there anyway. He got a chrome luggage rack and invited Cassandra to sit on the inside platform and be transported, no problem.
We took the elevator up with Cassie perched in the luggage rack, but when we exited and tried to navigate the carpeted hallway, Cassie’s dress was too wide and long to travel without getting trampled by the wheels of the rack, so she leaned back, spread her knees, and tucked the dress between her legs. There was still enough of the stiff fabric to make a whooshing sound against the walls and room doors as we made our way down the hallway, Mr Leo seemingly telepathic about which rooms might be available, since he paused at a few, and used a key on one, much to the consternation of the occupants, a blonde man and woman who swore at him in a language I’d never heard before.
“There’s nothing!” Mr Leo finally cried when, after an interminably long time, we reached the end of yet another hallway. “I don’t know! I give up!”
“You can’t give up, Mr Leo,” I said. Cassandra’s head had dropped between her knees. She was, I assume, asleep.
My stomach had stopped growling. My feet were numb. I was so tired I couldn’t blink, lest my eyes close forever more. I stared at Mr Leo, who said he was going down to the basement to lament his failures— that there was nothing for us there. He said Cassandra made a beautiful bride, and wished the unconscious lady a happy married life. He said there were comment cards on the reception counter, and to be kind as he had tried his best.
I wheeled Cassie to the main reception area. The porter still dozed in the Cadillac convertible. The smirky young man who’d given Cassie the box of Indian toiletries was nowhere to be seen, but there was a neat box of comment cards. I took two, one each for Cassie and I, and put them in my pocket.
The front door to the street was locked, and I could see no taxis waiting at the stand in any case, so I awakened Cassie, who seemed somewhat refreshed after her nap. She put on her shoes and at my request, hot-wired the Cadillac, even though she had no driver’s licence. I took the wheel with Cassie riding shotgun and the porter napping in the back seat. I drove straight through the paned glass windows of the hotel facade and onto a nearly empty street. If there were alarm bells, I didn’t hear them.
The fresh night air was glorious, and we met no traffic nor impediments of any kind, and the porter did not wake up.
- This story was based on an anxiety dream I had last night! I have no idea of its interpretation, and know it is not necessarily a good read, but I had to write it down just to get it out of my head.