The Blind Daffodil (Part IV)

Miss Severalls led Katherine through the labyrinth that was the hidden, working side of the hotel, past the kitchen and the laundry room, which filled the corridor with a cloying mix of steam and smells, and into what was grandly referred to as The Exchange.

‘You will be paid weekly,’ Miss Severalls said, showing Katherine to your seat, ‘and you will become friends with Maeve, with whom you’ll be sharing your room. Lunch is at twelve, dinner at six. After eight, the evening is yours.’ She gave a wide, toothy smile, and gestured to the girl on the right. ‘Maeve will show you everything you need to know.’

Within the first day, Katherine knew all of the connexions by touch; the rest was merely speech. I could do this blindfolded, she thought, then her mind clouded over as she wondered how long it would be before her sight would go altogether anyway.

‘You look miserable,’ Maeve said, taking off her headset. She leaned into Katherine. ‘The job isn’t all that bad, you know. Why, think of all the things people get up to between rooms.’

Katherine gaped. ‘You mean to say you listen in?’

Maeve smirked. ‘I don’t need to listen in. When Mr Jones in Room 40 wanted to be put through to young Miss Alice in Room 12, well – you can guess what he’s got on his mind.’

Katherine giggled. ‘She could be his secretary.’

Precisely.’

Katherine quickly became enamoured of Maeve, who had a loud, half-broken voice that Mrs Sayers would have disapproved of. She negotiated a second helping of pudding at the hotel’s restaurant that evening, and on Friday night she took her to the ballroom to dance into the drab.

‘But I can’t dance.’

‘Nonsense, Katherine. All you need to dance is a drink.’

‘Quite right,’ she said, remembering that she had come to The Paragon, among other things, for Geoffrey, and she followed Maeve over to the bar.

‘I think,’ Maeve said, discarding the olive from her glass, ‘that Geoffrey here brought you to the hotel under false pretences.’

‘Maeve–,’ Geoffrey murmured, not looking at Katherine.

‘I thought he was charming, too, but I soon got the picture.’

‘I don’t care what he brought me here for,’ Katherine said, already tipsy, ‘whatever this is it’s delicious.’ She danced haphazardly with Maeve, glancing over to Geoffrey every now and then. Geoffrey never glanced back, and she started into one if, now that she was here, he was embarrassed of her.

She saw nothing of him for the next week, and began a steady descent into heartbreak. Then, one evening, as she and Maeve pair stepped out in front of the hotel’s cinema screen during the intermission, she saw Geoffrey emerge from the back row. She waved to him; he said something to his companion, and they scowled. Geoffrey waded through the rows of chairs toward her, his expression flat and sad.

Maeve unlinked herself from Katherine’s arm, and she felt rudderless. ‘I’ll see you outside.’

‘No, I–.’

‘Forgive me for being so rotten and distant. You see, I’ve been rather distracted.’ He glanced up at the back row, and gestured a glass.

‘I see,’ Katherine said, watching his companion leave the auditorium; a faint figure, an outline of a person.

‘Yes, I–. I’ve been meaning to tell you since the day you joined – I’m so glad you did. From what you told me, well–.’ He looked up at the screen, and she watched the glimmers of an advertisement for cigarettes play across his face.

‘I’ve never felt more alive,’ she said with a nervous laugh.

‘Well.’ He gulped. ‘I’m the superstitious sort. I always think it bad luck to go on about good news before you’ve got everything up-square.’ He gazed into the depths of her good eye. ‘They’re opening a new hotel in Oberstdorf.’

Katherine furrowed her brow.

‘It’s in The Alps.’ He glanced at her bad eye, her uncovered eye, and closed his. ‘Skiing is so popular nowadays,’ he said, and gulped again.

‘Quite,’ she said, having no knowledge of the sport or its level of popularity. She could feel her hands tingling as though they wanted to tense into a fist; the sort of feeling she would get at the sound of Mrs Sayers’ heels as she marched about the house.

‘They’re simply desperate for staff; none of the locals will work for them, and, somehow, I think I’ll be happier there.’ He took Katherine’s hand. ‘But you’re happy here, aren’t you?’

She stared at his hand clasping hers, and asked herself why she had ever dared imagine that someone could be in love with her. “Gourd” she thought. “Gourd luck.” She gave a rueful chuckle and said – ‘Yes, Geoffrey. Well done. Good luck. And all that.’

‘Oh don’t be maudlin, Katherine. Come to mine for the Jubilee, won’t you? They’re letting us all take the day off, so everyone’s coming to mine. And, after that, well–.’ He paused. ‘You could always come and visit.’

Katherine had never dreamed of going abroad; it was enough to have made it into town. “A world half seen is a life half-lived.” She was about to cry when she caught sight of Geoffrey’s companion returning with their drinks. Maeve had also returned, and was clambering ungainly back to her chair. The lights went back down and Geoffrey let go her hands, and walked up the steps. In the dim light she realised just how bad her vision had become. Geoffrey disappeared into a void.

*

Katherine scanned the bodies of revellers that littered Geoffrey’s floor. He was in a drunken stupor on his settee; his companion sprawled across his chest. She retreated, and made her way to her own room, carefully circumnavigating the bottles and bow ties and blouses that her colleagues had lost on their way to and from Geoffrey’s party. As she lay down on her bed, she surprised herself with a longing to be home. She got up and put on her coat.

As she walked she resolved to settle things between them but she would not, she told herself, be coaxed into returning. Independence, she thought, is worth more than love. She reached the house at the first of dawn, and she felt across the wall for the bell-rope. The sound of Maeve warbling along to Smoke Gets In Your Eyes played in her mind, and she stepped to and fro to keep herself warm. When she reached the end of the song, she pulled the bell-rope again. She listened for the shoes, but Mrs Sayers did not come. Perhaps she is still in bed. Perhaps, she thought, with a darkening feeling, she has not forgiven me. She walked to the back of the house, and let herself in through the kitchen door. Strange, she thought; how unlike her to leave it unlocked. The room smelled of stale cigarette smoke and food past its prime. In the low light, she could just make out a plate on the breakfast table. Whatever was on it appeared to have gone mouldy. Katherine’s stomach clouded over. How very much like her, she told herself, to leave dishes lying dirty until they were needed again.

Katherine moved to the hallway, the darkest part of the house. Her good eye, her increasingly worse eye, flickered and ached as she tried to place the scene. How quickly, she thought, the house had become unfamiliar. She felt for the wall, and slid her hand across the wainscot as she sought the bottom of stairs. She called out for Mrs Sayers, but received no reply. But then, she thought, she had always been a deep sleeper. She sidled along the frayed wallpaper until she reached the end of the wall where the staircase opened up. There, her foot hit upon something. She reached down to pick it up, and pressed it with her fingers. Cold, smooth, flat. Dipped in the middle. A bowl? She squinted. The sole of a shoe? She grew hot with fear, and imagined Mrs Sayers in one of her rages – throwing all of her broken shoes over the balustrade. The smell seemed stronger then; rising further beyond the stench of tobacco that always filled the house. She hastened as she climbed the stairs, pressed against the wall, her shoulder rising with the curve. She walked unsteadily across the landing toward Mrs Sayers’ bedroom, and tripped a little on a broken floorboard. She cursed herself for forgetting it; it had been that way for years. A man’s job, Mrs Sayers had always said. Katherine was about to knock at her door when she thought better of it. She was immensely tired and Mrs Sayers hated to be woken, but then she thought she head something move behind her, and she cried – ‘Mother?’ Her voice echoed across the landing. She stood for a few moments, and listened. To the sweet sounds of the birds settling outside for dusk. To the urgent, unforgiving march of Mrs Sayers’ heels as she ascended the staircase. She peered across the landing, but could make out nothing in the gloom. She could not see that the balustrade was broken, nor that the strap of a handbag had caught on a snapped spindle, nor the tube of lipstick that had rolled onto the first step. And the letter, addressed to Katherine – care of The Paragon Hotel – which had slipped through the gap in the floorboards.

*

Katherine woke up, instantly disorientated. The room was still dark, and she could not tell how long she had slept for. Her hand fluttered up to her hair, and as she scratched at her head her fingers knotted in the tangles. She sighed, and went over to the light-switch.

The meter had run out.

She lit a candle on her dressing table, and sat down to brush her hair through; a hundred times, just as Mrs Sayers said. The gilt frame of the hand mirror glinted. She wondered what Geoffrey had seen when he looked at her and closed his eyes.

“You better hope that somebody falls in love with you”.

Overcome by a willingness to punish herself, she turned the mirror over. She lifted it to toward her, eyes closed. And when she opened them, she saw that in her place was the image of Mrs Sayers; her face split in half by the crack in the glass.

Read Part I.

Read Part II.

Read Part III.

Beren Reid | Mar 2017/Sept 2018

Photo by Beren Reid, April 2022

3 thoughts on “The Blind Daffodil (Part IV)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s