Thursday, 14 November 2013

Lime Tree House

Madame Zest always borrowed some of Katherine Mansfield's words when her guests tried to thank her, “I am nothing but the small clerk of some hotel without a proprietor.” She quickly dismissed their effervescent praise face-to-face and proffered the guest book. “Please write your comments here.”
On quiet evenings, accompanied by a large glass of red, she'd leaf through numerous entries of squiggly writing and linger over the remarks guests had left. They were testimonials to her years of service and proof that a woman was capable of running someone else's business, and very successfully too. When she wanted to relax, Madame Zest wrapped herself in a duvet of statements. At least she used to, but over the last couple of years, reading these had not satisfied or relaxed her. They irked her, often making her feel as if she was wearing barbed wire close to her skin, or as if her body was being suffocated by bubble-wrap. The comments guests left were still effusive, but her satisfaction from these had diminished.
As her name implies, all her life she'd relied on her zest, but now she had no more to give. Continuing, as she had done for many years, to single-handedly run front and back-of-house had squeezed the last drops out of her. She carried on meeting every guest's needs, but inside she was bitter and sour.
Every day, she rose at 5am to be the breakfast cook, waitress and dishwasher; at 11am, she stood behind the front desk to check guests out; then she morphed into the chambermaid and housekeeper, cleaning and inspecting the five en-suite bedrooms; afterwards if there was time before new guests arrived, she'd launder pillowcases and sheets, or shop for food and complimentary sachets of teas, coffees, and shampoos. And always the 3pm deadline loomed, for that was when Madame Zest split herself in two to be the Welcoming Committee: alternating between the role of General Manager and Senior Receptionist, with sometimes a third, the Head of Concierge, appearing. Each day was led by the mantelpiece clock and with the more or less the same apportioned tasks.
Guests buzzed and hovered like flies, while Madame Zest's under eye circles deepened from a faint blue to black hue. It was no longer pleasurable to serve the guests that came to stay, but it was unprofessional to swat them away, although inwardly her blood would seethe and her voice would rage. To her, the guests had changed.
Lime Tree House had become a magnet, it seemed, for the strange. The reservations diary was filled with unusual names: Mr. Anxiety, Miss. Panic Attack, Mrs. Resentment, Sir Bitterness, and Dame Impatient. Upon being checked in, they vied for Madame Zest's attention and were impossible to please. Could she confirm a wake-up call for 7:30am? Where were the brown paper bags she said they'd supply? Why couldn't she provide an ironing service? Wasn't the bathroom light bright? And just when would she deliver the extra soft pillow? Madame Zest suppressed her volatile temper and fulfilled all these demands. She entertained and swallowed the emotions of these unpleasant house guests.
This was achieved with such aplomb that in the mornings new, charming guests came down for breakfast. Madame Zest was baffled by this overnight transformation, and even more so when they checked out with different, but still extraordinary, names: Mr. Certainty, Miss. Serenity, Mrs. Twinkly, Sir Joviality, and Dame Contented. Madame Zest found it odd and unsettling.
Lime Tree House had been pitched into Madame Zest's emotional whirlpool. A vortex of conflicting moods and opinions, but as of yet, she hadn't recognised that the emotions she contained inside were portrayed by these guests on the outside. She would not concede that her mind had indeed lost control over its own guest house. 
*Inspired by Elif Shafak's Black Milk & by Rumi who likened the mind to a guest house.