jueves, 6 de agosto de 2015

Pomp and Circumstances

   Every single member of the staff was very nervous. It was well known by them that when the McAllen family decided to visit, it was a trying moment for the hotel and everyone in it. But the McAllen’s were very rich and they knew they could use that kind of clients. Rich people were not coming to the hotel anymore, or maybe to the region… Anyway, not many wealthy heirs and heiresses wanted to visit Lake Flora in the summer. Other vacation spots had become more popular and the lake had lost some of its former splendor. But the McAllen’s were a family of traditions and they had come to the lake every year for sixty years, so they weren’t going to break that custom.

 The day they arrived, every single staff member had to stop whatever it was they were doing and just run to the main hall and line up on either side of the red carpet they had installed exclusively for the event. The other guests, which were not many, had been barred from the main hall and had to use the service elevator in order to get to the their rooms or from there to anywhere else in the hotel. Some of them complained but as none of them were as rich and famous as the McAllen’s, their opinion was not very important. That sounds awful, especially when the hotel always cared about every single guest with care. But this time it was different because the McAllen’s were the difference between a definitive closure of the hotel or their permanence in the business.

 When they arrived, everyone was as still as a statue but that didn’t mean that people weren’t excited or curious. After all, it had been a year since they had been there for their last visit and many staff members had entered the hotel after that so they were really excited about meeting people that were practically royalty. If nobility existed in any way in this country, the McAllen’s would surely be a very important and powerful family, maybe even more that they already were. Arthur McAllen, the main figure, had made his family richer by buying several mines around the world as well as having an almost complete monopoly on several markets such as bananas, sugar and tea.

 He was the first one to come in and every single staff member had to bow as he passed. Mister McAllen seemed overjoyed and the first thing he said to the hotel manager was that the place was as beautiful as he had always remembered. He congratulated everyone and moved on to the main counter. After him, came Lady McAllen. She was a true noblewoman, daughter of a duke from England. Her father owned several newspapers. She walked among the people, greeting some of them. And then came the children. The girl was already a women, very beautiful but visibly very annoyed by the whole concept of spending her holiday in the lake. She rushed over the red carpet and joined her parents fast.

 The young boy that followed him was ecstatic. He looked at everything, greeted some of the staff and asked a kitchen maid if she knew if there were monsters in the lake. She laughed at the comment but the hotel manager gave her a look of disapproval, which stopped her laughter. The last person to come in through the door was the mother of Arthur McAllen. Everyone in the region and the country knew Callista McAllen very well. She had been the wife of a governor that years later became prime minister. And he had been a particularly bad prime minister. Many people said he had died of an illness related to madness but no one was really sure. The truth was every staff member looked at her, interested by her story.

 The older woman crossed the red carpet, oblivious to the preparations for their arrival, getting to her son and demanding him for a bed in order to rest her feet. A waiter gave each one of them lemonade, made with fruit grown in the hotel surroundings, and then several younger bell boys rushed outside and started taking the luggage to the presidential suite. They all signed the guest book and then the manager asked Arthur McAllen if he would like to pose for picture. It was kind of a tradition of the hotel, so the family complied although only the men were happy to do it. The women looked annoyed and tired. So the photographer, who happened to be the groundskeeper, had to do it fast.

 Moments later, everyone was in the presidential suite, their empty luggage in a big closet and all their clothes and belonging in drawers and closets all over the room. The place was very overwhelming, if one wasn’t very used to the golden glow of its walls and the overpowering smell of the perfume used when the maids cleaned up the bedroom and bathroom. It was just too much for every one except for such a wealthy family as the McAllen’s. The women decided to rest and retired to their rooms. The men changed clothes and decided to take a walk. When they arrived to the hall, the red carpet was no longer there or staff members. Everything was back to normal. But they didn’t really pay attention. They just crossed the main doors and went outside.

 Arthur and his son walked towards the lake and there, the father would tell his son several stories about the monster that many had claimed lived beyond the surface of the lake. Some said it had wings, some others said it was like fish but huge in size. Father and son threw stones at the water as they shared stories about the mythical beast. They also explored the woods around the hotel and discovered the place were the lemon trees grew high and mighty. For Arthur, this place brought the best memories from his childhood and he wanted to past that on to his son.

 But his wife and daughter weren’t as happy to be there. The next day, her wife refused to have breakfast in their private dining room, and preferred to eat alone in their bedroom. The daughter wasn’t a much easier person to handle, especially because she did come out of her bedroom. In just a few hours, the staff had come to hate her even more than any other guest in their time there. She was bossy and very rude for such a rich family. She would tell them how to do their chores, even as she had never moved a finger in her life to do anything. And she tired everyone by always saying that her future husband was a commander in the army and he would have the power to improve this lost region and make it productive, instead of just a place for old people to catch some sun.

 But the elderly person in her group would not have agreed. The oldest McAllen was maybe the nastiest and that was because she insisted, every morning in sitting in the main table of the dining hall down in the ground floor. She wanted to seat where her dead husband also sat when he was governor and prime minister. The thing was Callista McAllen had lost it several years ago. Her son was too kind and didn’t want to realize it but she was losing her mind by the minute and she was becoming more and more demanding and rude because of it. She even attempted to hit a waiter on the second day because he had delivered her tea colder than she liked it.

 And the McAllen’s never apologized. The waiter had to leave for the kitchens immediately and he was relocated to another part of the hotel, were he would not be affected by Callista’s insanity. Besides minor incidents like that, everything was going very well with the McAllen’s summer stay. The manager love to do the counts of how much money he would win by the end of the season. He was relieved more than happy because it was not mystery that the hotel was going under: there was not that much money to pay every single person that worked there and attendance had been so low that year that they had even though of closing for some time. That’s why the McAllen’s had to be treated like royals.

 But then one night news from the capital came in and everyone was awoken by the man carrying the letters, because it wasn’t just one but many. He demanded to see Arthur McAllen, who had to be woken up and rushed into the ground floor. There, the man gave him all the letters. And every single one of them told exactly the same story: their neighboring country had attacked a border post and then a whole border town. It was war and the government had demanded for the wealthy to help them in this hour of need. McAllen asked for a pen and paper to write his response, that he was going to give all the money he could to the cause. But the man that had brought the letters stopped him and told him that not only they required his money, but his presence to in the battlefield.

 Everyone in the hall became mute. And it was the first of many silences they would hear for the following years. The war grew larger and more and more lethal. Arthur McAllen would die months later, as well as the commander who was going to marry his daughter. The hotel closed indefinitely the following winter and no one would ever hear about Lake Flore until after the war, when it would become synonym of madness, as the hotel was bought by the ministry of wealth fare and then transformed to an asylum. The McAllen tradition and dynasty died in the war, as the women died of sorrow and the men of war.

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