city Christmas story

In the City, part 2

Continued from In the City, part 1

Relieved to finally begin feeling as if they belonged, Joe gave the man his name and waited while he looked up their reservation. He grew just a little bit worried as the clerk punched in code after code in an attempt to call up the Davidsons’ records. He wondered if everything was going to be alright.

It wasn’t. “Sorry, sir,” the clerk cleared his throat. He had finally exhausted all possibilities of finding Joe and Mary a room. “There is simply nothing available. Are you sure you have the right hotel?”

“Yes, of course,” returned Joe, who was beginning to feel a little hot in the face. “You said yourself this is where the convention is.”

“Well,” said the clerk, “they must have underestimated the number of people coming. All the rooms are taken. I’m sorry, but there is really nothing I can do.”

Joe turned to look helplessly at Mary for some kind of direction or reassurance, but he found that she was somewhat preoccupied with her own problems. She was very pale, and she seemed to be on the verge of tears. Joe reached for her hand and felt it tremble as he held it. Gently he led his wife to one of the lobby chairs and tried to make her comfortable.

When he returned to the desk, he addressed the clerk again. “Look,” he tried to explain, noticing that his voice seemed higher than he wanted it to, “my wife is pregnant, and we’ve just taken the bus all the way from Princeton, Iowa. You need to find a room for us—we don’t have anywhere else to go.”

The clerk seemed unaffected by Joe’s problems. “I can’t give you a room if I don’t have a room,” he said, annoyed, and he was about to dismiss Joe or have him removed by hotel security when he caught a glimpse of Mary, who was in obvious pain but was trying not to draw attention to herself. The scared look on her pale face—and the way she was biting her lip to keep from crying—caught the man off guard, and suddenly he was little ashamed of himself. “I’m sorry, Mr. Davidson,” he said softly. “Let me talk to the manager and see what we can do.”

Joe sighed and nodded, then returned to his wife while the young clerk searched for the hotel manager. He knelt next to Mary’s chair and held her hand, gently talking to her and shielding her from the streams of people swirling through the lobby.

The last place Mary wanted to be, in her condition, was in a posh lobby, surrounded by strangers who seemed to recoil when they noticed either the size of her belly or the pallor of her face. “Joe,” she begged, “let’s get out of here. We don’t belong here.”

“But,” he began to reply, “where—?” And he could see in her eyes that it didn’t matter where. Just somewhere away from the crowds.

Never before had Joe been so angry and so helpless. Here he worked for one of the largest companies in the world—in fact, he had worked there most of his life—and, after forcing him to come to this ridiculous convention, they had screwed up the reservations, leaving him and his pregnant wife homeless in Chicago! Joe was now near tears himself.

Never having been out of Iowa before, he felt unprepared to face the overwhelming Chicago streets they had just come in from. And given the unsatisfactory nature of the relationship he had with the clerk, he was not ready to put any more hope in him. So when he saw a man in a greasy mechanic’s uniform step into a freight elevator on the far side of the lobby, he grabbed Mary’s hand and their single suitcase, and headed in that direction.

city Christmas story
Original artwork by Sharon Ruane, copyright 2010. Artist note: “The waves on the wall echo Mary’s bulging abdomen, as well as the nausea, fuming frustration, and exasperation of the situation. Looming larger than the others is the man ‘in charge,’ who is supposed to have answers—yet his face wears a blank stare that gives no encouragement to those who need assistance. The crowd pressing in creates a tight, uncomfortable feeling, which makes the freight elevator behind Mary look like an inviting respite.”

Continued next week…

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