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showcaseWho the Lord loved bestbMy SUSAN JAMESr and Mrs Cal Bothieshould have checked out of the MacArthur Suite at noon. President Kennedy had been dead sinceFriday, but his face was still folded and thick with newsprint on the carpet outside their door. I hadn’t expected to find anyone inside. The suite was in almost total blackness. The drapes were shut. The doors were closed.I ignored a light in the master bedroom because patrons often left a dollar on the bedside table for housekeeping; I’d collect it when I was done.The bathroom? Chanel and tobacco.The mirror was half-fogged. Towels were missing from the rings. Next to the sink was an unlidded prescription bottle. Mrs Cal Bothie was in the tub with her eyes closed and her lips parted. Middle-aged, perhaps.I could never tell with the wealthier guests. She might have been beautiful once, but now her blonde hair was brown at the roots and breaking at the crown, and it hung ina single wet tail over the lip of the tub. I pressed my fingertips to the soft spot under her jaw – nothing. This had never happened to me before.‘Oh, I’m quite dead,’ she said, opening her eyes and bringing a lit cigarette out from under the water. She put the filter between her teeth and inhaled. I staggered back into the doorway and made the sign of the cross with trembling hands.‘Don’t worry. I don’t bite.’Opening her mouth into a yawn, she blew a perfect circle in white smoke.‘May I call someone for you, Mrs Bothie?’ I asked, snaking my foot behind the door frame, sliding by inches into the hallway.‘Like who?’‘Mr Bothie, perhaps?’She stretched her leg out of the water, admiring her painted pink toes. I hesitated. Despite my terror, for some reason I wanted to stay.‘Janelle, his first wife, was as fertile as a floodplain by all accounts.’ She pulled her legs up into two peaks and opened her knees. Grey water surged over her stomach. I looked away, blushing.‘Delicate little thing she was: all bone and brassiere.’‘I could call him for you.’‘You’re welcome to try,’ she said, taking another deep breath of her cigarette. ‘He’s down the hall.’I could see the master bedroom fromthe bathroom. The hallway in between was unlit. Midway along was an old French bureau, and I used its silhouette as a landmark. Tracing my fingers along the wall, across portraits of men from the hotel’s golden age, I called out Mr Bothie’s name. There was no answer.I could taste the room: rust and Bourbon and more tobacco. Vomit rose in my throat and stuck at the back of my mouth. Covering my lips with my hands, I stepped inside.An empty liquor bottle spun away, clippedby the side of my shoe. He was face-downon the bed. The sheets were tangled; the mattress corners exposed and bloodied. His white shirt was untucked from the back of his dress pants. Bourbon splashed across the headboard, over the carpet and over him. The back of his skull was gone. Much of it worn by the wall behind him. Wet bone peaks had grown out from where his greying hair had been thickest.And then he moved, and I was staggering back out into the hallway. Mrs Bothie sangfrom the bathroom: ‘I did it. I told him I’d do it.’I could hear him: his hand slapping against the bedside table as if he was half- asleep and searching, glue-eyed, for his glasses. My heart rolled behind my ribs, unfixed. Half-bent at the waist, I staggered back down the hallway, past the halfway- bureau, to the bathroom door. I clung to it.Mrs Bothie was sitting up, laughing the rattle from her throat. I slid my hand under my collar to the cool silver chain of the crucifix hanging there. As much a part of me as the teeth in my mouth, it burned under my fingertips, I was squeezing it so hard.‘Makes my little meltdown at the Plaza seem rather inconsequential now, doesn’t it, darling?’ she shouted.But then she stopped laughing, and she seemed almost sorry that I was watching. She slid deeper into the tub and pointed to the closed lavatory seat opposite her.‘Go on, then,’ she said. ‘I don’t know your name.’The cigarette dropped from her fingers onto the carpet. It landed whole and unlit.‘Maria.’‘It’s a pleasure to meet you, Maria.’She didn’t frighten me. I moved past herand perched on the edge of the lavatory seat. Neither of us spoke for a moment. I sat on my hands and let the silence between us carry away the last hitches in my breath.‘And you’re married?’ she said, eventually. ‘Yes, I am.’‘Children?’‘Girls. We have two.’‘Such a shame. How very disappointing that must be for your husband.’ Her voice was flat, and it seemed an almost accidental attempt at provocation.‘Still,’ she said, circling her hips and thrusting them above the water, ‘there must be life left in yours yet’. The wet pouredfrom her milk-limbs, and I looked away, embarrassed.‘Not scared of a dead woman’s cooch, are you?’ Lowering herself into the water, she tipped her head back and closed her eyes. ‘You’ll stay with me, won’t you, Maria?’Only, I wasn’t sure that I could. My shift had almost ended. My cart was still fully stocked in the corridor outside. The hotel manager, Mr Norton-Tuff, would no doubt come knocking for me. He might already be on his way.‘He won’t be long now,’ she said, softly, as if she’d read my mind.‘Who?’ I asked.She didn’t reply.‘When you did it... did it hurt?’32 Mar/Apr/May 2017 mslexiaPHOTO: LUCY LIU / SHUTTERSTOCK

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