A Small Hotel
A Novel Excerptby Robert Olen Butler
On the afternoon of the day when she fails to show up in a judge’s chambers in Pensacola to finalize her divorce, Kelly Hays swerves her basic-black Mercedes into the valet spot and thumps hard into the curb and pops the gearshift into park, and then she feels a silence rush through her chest and limbs and mind that should terrify her. But she yields herself to it. She brings her face forward and lays her forehead gently against the steering wheel. She sits in front of the Olivier House on Toulouse Street in the New Orleans French Quarter, a hotel she knows quite well. Like this present silence overcoming the welter in her, before she stepped from her house in Pensacola a little over three hours ago she yanked her hair back into a ponytail and simply stroked a hasty touch of lipstick onto her lips but she then was moved to put on her favorite little black dress, a sleeveless sheath, a prêt-à-porter Chanel she’d had for years, put it on slowly in the muffled silence of her walk-in closet, listening to the Chanel’s faint rustle going over her, letting the silk lick her down the thighs. She turned forty-nine years old two months ago on her deck, alone with a single-malt, looking out at the Bayou Texar going dark in the twilight. She wore makeup that night, for herself, prompted by the Scotch, and she wore her hair in a French twist, and she knew, in spite of everything, that she looked thirty-something, even early-thirty-something. And she knows now that she looks all of forty-nine. All and more as the door to her car opens and she lifts her face to a gaunt, long-jawed, middle-aged man, a man she recognizes.