I was lucky to get this job.
Not because these kinds of jobs are hard to get but because this is exactly the kind of job that suits my mood.
It’s not that I don’t like people, there are one or two that I wouldn’t set fire to if I had the tools.
It’s just that people get me down.
They seem to be comfortable in this world; I’m not.
They rush around and they seem to know stuff; stuff I don’t know.
I’m not dumb, on the contrary, I have a good education bought and paid for by loving parents.
Much and all as I’d like to, I can’t blame them for my predicament; not that I’m looking for anyone to blame; just saying.
I was married, and she stuck it out way past the point where any ordinary person would have thrown in the towel; she isn’t any ordinary person, she’s amazing. I love her with all my heart and I will someday win her back. I just have to get back to being the person I used to be; I vaguely remember him, and I know I will know him when I meet him again.
The interview process for this job went a bit like this.
“Can you work any night of the week, and on short notice?”
“Yes, I can but a bit of notice would be nice.”
“What size are you?”
“I’m somewhere between a large and an extra-large, heading for largish, as long as this latest diet works.”
“You’re hired. When can you start?”
“How about tonight?
“I guess if I move a few things around I could start tonight.”
The few things that I needed to move around were mostly stuff that was on the dashboard of my car and my underwear needed adjusting; that shouldn’t take long.
Turns out that this five-star hotel belongs to a chain of five-star hotels and they have an HR department and very strict rules for the employment of new staff. A six-month trial is absolutely adhered to as is a police check and a rigorous background check including past employers and all education qualifications; none of which seemed to apply in my case.
It turns out that the front desk uniform was quite expensive and they had to supply it. I was the right size for the uniform recently vacated by a bloke named Eric who had been caught with his arm stuck in one of the vending machines.
Apparently it took a small fortune in small change before the machine would release him.
When he was told that he was dismissed he asked if he could keep the Mars Bar; they said that considering how hard he worked to get it, they would make an exception and let him keep it; which was kind and understanding on their part.
It also explained why my uniform smelled vaguely of milk chocolate and caramel.
It’s the first job I ever got simply because I was the right size.
Not that I’ve had a lot of jobs, and certainly not recently.
Six weeks working in a lottery shop just near the Casino came to an abrupt end when the psycho owner had one too many snipes at me. I’d tell you what I said when I left, but there are ladies present.
This was followed by a stint in another lottery business in one of those interesting old suburbs just a few kilometres out of Melbourne. All, ‘hipster food’ and ‘dodgy second-hand shops’ mixed with homeless people and indigenous families, and that was just on our corner.
I lost that job when I needed to be in hospital for a few days.
It was just before Christmas and my Christmas present was being told that I should not bother coming back; and could we please have our uniform back.
That job lasted nearly a year and I quite enjoyed it, even though it played on my nerves being around so many people, and all in blazing daylight as well.
The owner was a prick and I made the mistake of getting comfortable. My mistake.
Things got a wee bit worse after that even though I didn’t think that was possible at the time; isn’t it great to know that when you have gone as low as you think it is possible to go there is still another level of hell that you didn’t know about.
That bloke Dante knew a thing or two.
I’d been working here for a few weeks, just getting a handle on how things worked when I first met Joe.
His name was Mr. Hoskins, but he insisted that I call him Joe.
It was 4 o’clock in the morning and that seemed like a good time for first names.
He knew what mine was because of my name badge.
When I collected my uniform they told me they would have a name badge for me very quickly which is what happened, but for a few days I was Eric, that was the name that was pinned on the jacket when I first put it on.
I could imagine an ‘Eric’ getting his arm caught in a vending machine; possible even a Nigel or a Nick as well, but definitely an Eric.
My locker had all sorts of stuff left over from previous employees.
My favourite was a name badge with ‘Habib’ written on it.
I wondered if Habib had left to work in his uncle’s Seven Eleven store.
I seriously considered wearing that badge for a few days, but I thought that I might like this job, so better to stick with the ‘Eric’.
I love hotels, especially good hotels.
I love carpet.
I especially love carpet in good hotels; and old-time cinemas.
We didn’t have carpet when we were kids and I remember going to the cinema and sitting on the carpet and digging my fingers into the deep pile. I think that my dad thought I was a bit strange, but I could kick a football further than anyone my age so he probably preferred to dwell on that.
Joe and his young wife had checked in earlier in the day.
I didn’t know it when we first met but it was very close to an important anniversary for them and they had come into the city to spend a few days in ‘the big smoke’.
Joe was a friendly bloke and he didn’t treat me like an inferior which was likely to happen in a big hotel.
I didn’t care how people treated me; I knew then as I know now, who I am. I might be down and dusty, but I know who I am.
Joe just wanted to talk.
His young wife was asleep, which he said was unusual, so he did not want to disturb her.
“She needs her sleep. It’s been a tough year.”
A part of me wanted to ask why it had been a tough year, but a little voice told me to just listen.
“Our daughter, Emily, died almost exactly a year ago. I’ve read that losing a child often destroys a marriage. In our case it has brought us closer together.”
Joe wasn’t worried by the silence, and I certainly didn’t know how to fill it.
He just stood there, leaning on the front desk, staring into space.
He was an average looking bloke, about my height, clean-shaven, short hair and a little scar above one eye.
It was the kind of scar that probably had a good story to go with it.
I’ve got a couple of them, but you have to look hard to find them and at least one of them is in a place that only a mother or a lover is likely to notice.
Joe had good shoulders for an average sized bloke and I guessed that he had probably been a swimmer in his youth, maybe even a rower but it was hard to tell from his accent if he went to a private school and a dressing gown and slippers doesn’t tell you much about a person’s background.
After what seemed like forever Joe said, “It’s hardest on Mary. Mothers feel these things very deeply.”
Joe was putting his hurt second.
I didn’t want to even imagine what that hurt must feel like.
I’m not sure I would survive, but I guess no one knows until it’s their turn.
Another silence; and this time I felt the need to fill it.
“It must be tough Joe, I feel for you.”
It was a funny thing to say, one man to another, but I had to say something.
Joe managed a smile and said, “Yes, it’s very hard. I try to get on with things, and there is always work. Work helps, but Mary has the other kids to look after and I guess she is constantly reminded. Mothers never stop being mothers. My mum still thinks I’m twelve.”
“A couple of days away will help though, don’t you think? Who is looking after the little ones while you’re away?”
“My parents. They love having the kids come and stay. So we know they are in good hands.”
“Are you going to see the sights while you are in Melbourne?”
I was intentionally changing the subject, the way people around this bloke had done ever since his daughter had died. Modern man does not cope well with death and you can multiply that by a hundred when it comes to a dead child. It’s almost as if we feel like we might attract Death’s attention if we talk about it for too long. It gives me the shits, but I’m just as bad as the rest of them.
“We will, but mostly we are here to see Ian Holmyard.”
“Is he a friend?”
“No, he’s a Medium. A friend of ours recommended him. He’s said to be very good. Mary needs to know that Emily is okay. Neither of us have much time for all that religious mumbo jumbo but we do believe in God. Mary needs to know that Emily is safe and happy, you know, ‘over there’.”
“Do you believe in an ‘over there’?”
I bit my lip as soon as I said it.
Of course he believes in an ‘over there’, or at least his wife does. They need to believe….. you idiot…. keep your fucking mouth shut!
Joe didn’t notice my discomfort.
“I’m not sure. I guess I want to believe that Emily didn’t just disappear. I want to believe for Mary’s sake. I don’t mind if this bloke convinces me, but I’m going to need to be convinced. I’m going to need to be alert and remember what’s said because I’ve got the feeling that Mary is going to be in tears, and it’s hard to hear through tears. I know, I’ve tried.”
I’ll bet he has.
“Probably best if you record the meeting then.”
“That’s what Mr Holmyard said. Apparently you tend to forget what comes through. I don’t think I’m going to forget, but I’ll record it for Mary and if it goes well, she can play it back whenever she wants to.”
“Where do you have to go to see this Mr Holmyard?”
“He’s coming here, tomorrow night. He’s coming after he has had dinner with his family.”
“Producing a spirit is probably easier on a full stomach.”
I don’t know why I said that but Joe laughed and agreed.
It was nearly half past five and Joe decided that it was time to get a bit of sleep before Mary woke up. He thanked me for listening and all I wanted to do was burst into tears. I get like that over nothing and this certainly wasn’t nothing.
I told Joe I would keep an eye out for Mr Holmyard because I was on duty at ten, which was when he was expected.
Joe walked back toward the elevator and his gait was one of a man twice his age. I still had a couple of hours of my shift left and most of that time was taken up with hoping that Ian Holmyard was the real deal.
When the phone rang my wife took the call.
She likes answering phones and no matter how many times I tell her not to answer the phone around dinner time, she ignores me and ends up in endless conversations with people who have strange accents and want me to change my phone/water/electricity/gas/mobile phone/gym membership/ plan. And occasionally, like every day, donate to saving beached whales that don’t have enough warm clothes and have contracted some incurable disease; despite the fact that we have been funneling billions of dollars into research over the past forty years. Where does all that money go? Why haven’t we solved all the problems? We jumped on Aids/HIV by throwing obscene amounts of money at the problem so why am I worried about losing my memory/identity and becoming a vegetable. How about we let the whales have second-hand jumpers and do something about the distinct possibility that I may resemble a carrot in the not too distant future. And while we are at it, how about we do something about depression instead of throwing money at glitzy little ad’ agencies who spent their time make ads and brochures about how to get help. “Call this number if you feel like shit”.
I could hear the conversation and it didn’t sound like someone trying to sell us a book of ticket for restaurants that we will never eat at, it sounded like someone needed help.
“Oaky, so that’s 10 pm on Wednesday, Grand Hotel room 527. Ian will be there then.”
“Don’t look at me like that. This one is important. A young couple who lost their daughter about a year ago. She contracted a chest infection and died in hospital after having a severe Asthma attack. They did everything they could but they couldn’t bring her back.”
“I’ll be there.”
“I made the appointment later in the night so you could get a hot meal into you after work. They were okay with the time. They are in town for a couple of days.”
She looked right at me, the way that she sometimes does. “They came to town especially to see you.” I could sense the gravity in her voice, and also the pride.
She loves what I do even though she doesn’t understand how I do it.
Hell, I don’t understand how I do it.
My life was rolling along, as lives tend to do, and I knew I wasn’t as happy as I wanted to be.
Nothing fancy, just happy every now and then.
Something was missing and I could not put my finger on it.
My wife Loraine is a ‘giver’, I’m not.
She thinks and worries about other people; I’ve got enough to worry about.
So, by all rights it should be her with this ability, not me.
When my unhappiness got to be a bit of a problem I tried all the usual things.
I got myself twisted into strange shapes in Yoga classes.
My male friends thought it was hilarious when they found out.
They subscribe to the Aussie theory that more beer solves everything.
I tried that too.
It didn’t work, and it was eating into our budget.
I tried ‘shrinks’ and antidepressants, and let me tell you those things are murder.
I’ve never felt that bad, and when my eyesight started to give out I threw them out and went ‘cold turkey’, which was huge mistake.
I rang the poisons hot line and said that I thought I was going to die. “You aren’t mate, but you are going to wish you were dead before this is over.”
Thanks a lot!
It took ten days to get that shit out of my system.
I didn’t die; but I definitely wished I had, and when it was all over I didn’t feel any better.
Just as a bit of fun, I had a few ‘readings’ done.
They turned out to be surprisingly accurate and no one got hurt.
One lady, who read from playing-cards, told me lots of stuff that would happen and mostly she has been spot on.
I was leaving as she threw in, “Oh, and by the way, you will become a psychic medium.”
I think I said something like, “That should be fun,” and promptly forgot all about it.
That was about ten years ago.
A friend told me about a medium who lived close by so I thought I would check out the experience.
He brought through my mum and an uncle and an old girlfriend and an old high school teacher.
By the time it was over I was dizzy.
It was an amazing experience and there was no doubt that I was in touch with my relatives.
Fast forward a few years and I see an ad for a mediumship development class.
I went along and to cut a long story short, over a period of a year I found that I could make connections between spirit and people in the ‘here and now’.
I like having this ability but I’m very careful who I read for.
Honestly, most people want to know when they are going to get a boyfriend or if their lotto numbers are going to come up.
This is different; there is a child involved.
For some reason I have developed a reputation for making connection between parents and children who have died.
It can be very stressful, and I usually need a bit of time to recover from these sessions, but it seems important, so I usually don’t say no.
My wife knows that I take these readings very seriously.
I saw him arrive and at that hour there was a pretty good chance that I had the right man.
He was average height, carrying a few extra pounds and had a walk that suggested a man who knew his place in the world.
He was wearing a wedding ring and a well made suit, probably off the rack but nice none-the-less.
He was also wearing an expensive watch. Not one of those huge mens watches that scream, ‘I’ve got big balls and a bank account to match’, but more of a sophisticated understatement.
I decided that I liked him but I still hoped that he was the ‘real deal’.
“Hi, Stephen. I’m here to see the Hoskins, Mary and Joe.”
I liked the way he put the wife’s name first, he knew why he was here.
“They are expecting you Mr Holmyard. Room 527. Just take that elevator and turn to your right when you get to the fifth floor.”
“Thank you Stephen. Have a good night.”
“These are good people Mr Holmyard.”
He looked at me and smiled gently. “I know they are Stephen, I’ll look out for them.”
He didn’t have long to wait for the elevator and I watched the doors slide closed and watched the numbers above the doors light up until it reached 5.
It was nearly midnight before he came back down.
He looked very tired, which I guess was fair enough. He looked across at me before he left through the front doors, and gave me a small smile.
I knew what it meant.
I wasn’t expecting to see Joe Hoskins again that night. I figured with everything they had been through that he would sleep till morning. But, at 4 o’clock on the dot, the elevator doors opened and Joe Hoskins shuffled across the thick carpet and leaned on the front desk.
“Would you like to come around here and sit down Mr Hoskins, you look like you are out on your feet?”
“It’s Joe, and as long as I wouldn’t be getting you into trouble, I would love to sit down.”
If management had seen him I would have lost my job and I was hoping that no one went though the CCTV footage for that night.
“How did it go?” I asked.
“He was amazing. He said that Emily had been following him around all day and that he usually would not allow spirits to intrude on his ordinary life but that he had made an exception for Emily. It was a bit like ‘take your daughter to work day’ and she kept herself busy and didn’t get in the way.
She said that she was looking forward to letting us know that she was okay and that she was having fun and some older relatives had been looking after her but that she was a big girl and mostly didn’t need looking after but it was fun to have people to talk to and other kids to play with.”
“How did Mary cope?”
“I don’t think I have ever seen a woman cry that much, but she was happy. Ian told us things about Emily that only we knew. It was her all right. I’m hoping that Mary can find a way to move on now. Not forget; that’s never going to happen, but move forward.”
“I’m really pleased for you Mr Hoskins. I really wanted this bloke to be the real deal.”
“He is, and it’s Joe.”
“Sorry Joe. I’m wrapped. Could not be happier.”
“Ian said that a lot of people can do what he does but they don’t know it until someone points it out; until someone shows them how.”
Joe asked if I would meet them for coffee when they checked out in the morning. It was a bit of a wait after my shift ended but there was only an empty apartment waiting for me, so I said I would.
I waited in the hotel coffee shop and I could see the young couple at the main desk, checking out. They gathered up their bags and came in my direction.
A young girl was trailing along behind them, the way that young ones do when they are bored with grown up complications. She kept herself busy playing with the hotel cat. The cat was usually a bit stand-offish, but on this occasion the two of them seemed to hit it off.
Joe and Mary were looking forward to getting back home to the comfort of an ordinary life.
I was sure that Joe had said that all his kids were with their grandparents, but I miss stuff these days so I didn’t say anything.
The doorman came in and told Joe that his car had been brought around, and Joe offered to pay for the coffee.
I wasn’t having any of that and he smiled and said thank you.
As the group moved away the little girl stopped and ran back to where I was sitting.
“Thanks for looking after my dad,” she said. “He worries a lot. You made him feel better.”
“My pleasure little one. Which one of the Hoskins tribe are you?”
“I’m Emily, and I’m very pleased to have met you Stephen.”
Without thinking I called out as she ran back towards her fast disappearing parents, “Have a safe trip Emily, it was good to meet you.”
For a moment Joe Hoskins stopped walking, even though he was across the room and right at the front doors he looked like he had heard what I said.
He looked at me but turned to walk away.
Emily waved at me, and the penny dropped.
I’m not that quick these days and it had been a long shift.
As tired as I was, I was now wide awake, and the hairs on the back of my neck were standing straight up.