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Hotel Woman

Bradford Gyori


The sofa is a velvet ocean threatening to drown them. Daisy, the shy one, serves cookies with flies on them that turn out to be raisins (even worse). Her three little grandnieces sit and squirm, pretending to eat, awaiting the entrance of the witch.


When the witch appears the smallest girl, the redhead, wants to hide behind the grand piano crammed into the tiny dining room. All the furniture is much too large, a reminder of the big city where she used to live and the big dreams she had, which also seem so ridiculous and outsized squeezed into this little house.


The witch is wearing all black including a black eyepatch. No one knows how she lost the eye. They do know she was married once but only for a week. The grownups whisper. They say how her husband almost killed her on their wedding night. No one is sure what that means. No one dares to ask. They do know her ex is still alive, so she isn’t mourning him with all this black. She’s mourning herself, the girl she used to be. Judge’s daughter, smart, mouthy, pretty enough. Enrolled in Stanford’s first class of female students. Graduated with honors then off to Chicago in the teens and twenties. Wide open city. Nearly big enough for her vast ambitions. Newspaper reporter in the years of Capone and speakeasies. High culture to gangland killings, she covered it all. Hotel woman. Unattached. Took lovers. Got took. Made mistakes but they were hers. No one else could claim them. Or her.


Then came the thirties. The crash. Layoffs. Shutdowns. No more work. U-turn back to this little-nothing-desert-town. The Judge was dead by then. Only her spinster sister left. Found work on the local paper. Bisbee Daily Review. Dreams withered. One eye went blind. The furniture brought back from her grand adventure crowded out visitors who almost never came. Still the years kept coming as she grew older and meaner lamenting all that promise cut short until one day crossing a street she looked the wrong way and then—a bus.


That night her nephew stood in his backyard burning the bloody clothes she’d been wearing when it hit. The redhaired girl watched him do this from the upstairs window seeing the final remnants of the witch go up in smoke.

Fifty years later, the girl inherits a box of her Aunt Frances’ things, some diaries, and unfinished manuscripts and a picture of a young woman in a flapper costume. Looking at this, she sees the person before the witch, so smart and strong and full of promise, serious as a sermon but with none of the reverence. That’s who she still wants to be, remarkable and brave, eager to set the world on fire and Charleston on its ashes, right before the match shouts orange and sets that bloody dress aflame.

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Frances McCollum (1874–1947)
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