Boulevard Criant Étê
Stanley stands outside the lemon yellow building with his family. They came to see the Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaas. The installation “Exhale” is a series of eighteen two-story tall sculptures of the letter “a” in lowercase following a three-story tall capital “A.” It’s one of these public art pieces on the Boulevard. As Stanley said, “One of these, what do you call them, moments?” Nobody calls the exhibit by its name, people say they’re going to see the Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaas.
Stanley thinks the hotel name means Eat. They are visiting, from America, and are hungry. They wonder if it’s the open mouth shout of the Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaas that has made the hotel so hungry, caught on the idea that it means eat. They thought the exhibit was a scream. They each took their pictures in front of a different “a.” Robby held his phone up, it is the newest, and snapped the pics. In each a family member is shouting in mock terror.
Robby lifts his phone up to the hotel marquee, places the translation camera over the word ÉTÊ and the app turns the word to “SUMMER.” Stanley says, “So, let’s eat.” Then he laughed from his belly which he patted as he bobbed inside the hotel.
Inside the hotel there is a narrow path of checkered tile that curves beneath sand from both sides of the long entry. The sand looks as if it has overtaken the place, more than it has been placed here. On the far wall is a dusty palm tree painted against the marble tile. The check-in counter is overgrown with ivy, a lot of which is just dead vine still holding its grip..
“You’d think they could keep the ivy alive,” says Betty, Robby’s wife. “It’s ivy.”
“Look at this,” says Stanley, his back to the rest near a wide, grand old starwell. On the first landing sits a large stained glass window, a golden beach with a white chair and a yellow umbrella in the foreground, a blood red and orange sky behind. On the landing itself are a few slightly deflated beach balls, all quartered in white and sky blue. Stanley begins up the stairs.
“Dad,” says Robby, “You think we should wait for someone?”
“Like who?” says Stanley, “A frickin’ ghost?”
A cold wind blows through the lobby kicking sand up at the family. Robby brushes away some speks and follows his father. Robby’s mom, Darlene, and his wife keep close behind.
“Looks like an old movie,” says Betty.
“I don’t miss the old movies,” says Darlene. “New ones are more fancy, they tell the stories quicker.”
The men are wearing straw hats, looking like tourist explorers. On the mezzanine they can hear the faint crawl of the ocean, the whish of the water creeping over the sand and pulling back. The marble walls are black with white cracks that paint a whisper of life against the false night sky. Robby passes his father, heads towards the sound of the waves. He’s first to feel the water over his feet.
On the landing Darlene is touching the stained glass “This has a dimension to it,” she whispers to Betty. “Looks like the beach goes on forever.
“The beach looks like it continues that way,” says Betty, as she extends her arm into and past the glass. “Well, would you look at that?”
“I’ve always wanted to have my picture painted,” says Darlene with a wink, as she steps onto the glass’s sand and into the frame. Betty follows her inside the mural, bathed in its sky’s red light. Their colorful dresses turn from patterned white to gloss pink; their faces, obscured by shadows, become the simplest shapes.
The water soaks both men’s shoes. Robby removes his and tosses them back towards what he imagines is the shore. Stanley has determined that he should keep his on, should they be needed after the swim.
“I think there’s another stairwell,” says Robby to his dad. He fumbles his phone out of his pocket to access the flashlight. He steers the white light away from them. The water quakes and crests, growing in height and ferocity.
“Those white caps?” asks Stanley as the waves begin to thrash. Robby throws Stanley his phone and dives in head first. Stanley fumbles with the phone, directing its light towards the bare feet of his son as he kicks away towards the staircase he himself could not see. “Maybe come back now, Robby,” Stanley shouts. “Robby!”
The waves go calm, and the vast room falls silent. Stanley, waist deep in the water, takes a few large steps backward to what he imagines is the shore and just as soon trips, feeling the hard edge of something against his ankle. He falls backwards on another set of stairs.
Stanley closes his eyes now, to turn and take the stairs. He feels each step out with a foot in front of him. It is easier this way, to avoid being spooked. He squints in the darkness now and again to see if anything new has announced itself. His hands, shaking from the cold, reach to their sides and he finds a wooden banister. He removes his waterlogged shoes.
With the aid of the handrail Stanley quickened his pace, ascending the stairs, finding their curve, and soon the next floor. This is golfing green beneath him, he can tell by the bristled top and the slight cushion. He opens his eyes. A single beam of dusty light spreads across the abandoned course. It is eighteen greens, spread out, bordered by lines of sideways brick. A mini-golf course. An old windmill is frozen, as if the spiders themselves stopped it in place with their now thick webs. Is that a carousel in the distance? Stanley can hear the xylophone bells of an old music box cranking to life.
When he was a child they went to a place like this. They’d speed through it like a task on a list. They’d go through each game quickly, enjoying the seconds as they passed before it was too late and they had the chance to look back, because they wouldn’t play again, even if the course was empty. After there was always the reward of ice cream, if not a cone, than a float, and the tallying of scores. He could smell buttered popcorn in his memories.
After considering a round of golf, making it so far as to grab the putter and select a ball, yellow, Stanley spots a flicker of light in his periphery. A moving white triangle of light twinkles atop the last stairwell, the light of a projectionist’s room, the flicker of shadows and shapes from a screen.
He creeps his way up the stairs to a large open theatre. In black and white on the screen is Stanley and his wife and their son, and his wife. They are running around the exhibit, they are laughing and smiling, they are holding up their phones and snapping photos. They are placing their hands against their cheeks and shouting.
Stanley runs from the room to where he thought were the stairs. Now there is just a plain door with the word EXIT clearly marked in green letters on a white box. He opens the door to a surprise of fresh air and daylight. He walks out onto the roof of the hotel Étê. Stanley paces the flat space. It is a clear day, there is a row of beach chairs in a line on one side of the pool. The pool water is perfectly still.
There is a glass railing along the edge of the building. He walks close to the edge to look down. He reaches for the railing but feels nothing there. Below, beside the letters that run down the center of the boulevard, as Stanley's bare feet reach the edge of the roof and curl over its edge, his family is waving their arms, shouting.