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SHORT STORY

Wrinkled

A Short Story by Giovanni Santalucia


Giovanni Santalucia

Strange because it wasn’t really like an ocean at all. Didn’t have that steady roar you’d expect. No, it was silent. Which was even more threatening than your typical screaming, warrior ocean. After all, noise is only that- just clamor made in defense, out of fear. Howls of the killed, not the killer. Now, silence, silence is as valuable a weapon to the predator as horn or tooth or nail.

That night, the ocean was hunting. It didn’t linger. No, it was too sure of itself to linger. It lay flattened and stretched and seemingly relaxed, with its gray static waves and undetectable breath. Stillness was just another part of the strangeness. Oh, and the patience. It was less like an ocean and more like a painting of an ocean. It was big and still. It was still but mobile, crawling across the city- crawling faster than the lampposts in the street could flick off in genuflection to the sun. Not eroding the city but becoming the city. More accurately, the city was becoming the ocean. No, not a conqueror ocean. No active consumption; nonetheless, it grew from what it was given. The city gave itself out of fear. The stars, disappearing ten by ten, gave themselves out of fear.

The ocean curved through and around the planet, its magnificence gleaming in one beautifully structured obsidian wave. And, when the starry ocean met the rippling sky, that was it. God, in his dark, quaint heaven, lost control over the predator that tore, reared, bucked, and soon fell asleep, content with the night.

Only the Hotel gave that all-consuming ocean pause. A cold night, when molecules of water turned flighty, inconsistent, toggling back and forth between flowing and freezing. That animal ocean stopped short at the foot of the very bright and ugly Baltimore Hotel. Where a motionless man- more a bearded fog than a man- sat on his hands to warm them. The water pressed right up to his toes, receded, left black beads around his feet. Stars peeked white through night like cracks in old leather.

Eleven vacant years, eleven years forgetting to breathe. Time had a strange way of passing at the Hotel, he noticed. It was pulled, or exorcised from him, taken from him; only existing outside his body, outside his mind, would it latch onto him. With eleven years latched to him, he had nowhere else to go, and yet, he didn't want for anything. He had never desired to be anywhere else or tend to anything else.

That, however, was not the same thing as being happy.

He hated the hotel. He hated how the place was never hot nor cold. He hated the indoor pool on the second floor that never had any water in it. Above all, he hated the vastness. Robust and neon and expanding still, expanding with the universe, faster, even. Where Hotel met predator ocean in hushed chaos, all war, quarrel, and conflict merged and converged on the connecting border. And that line, that jagged furrow between stupidly glowing building and ocean defined the threshold for mankind. That line separated man from God, it was the chasm between heaven and hell. A chasm named planet Earth. Maybe?  Earth, where he would live all his life? Earth which, by the ocean, had been reduced to that hotel and the small trimmings of beach behind it. That was planet Earth, all his He was stuck there, while everyone else lived like Gods beneath the shade of the ocean’s beautiful black curve.

He had a dog, Dolores.  She was big and smelly. Her hair tangled like the wooden carving of a fire. It felt beautiful, her hair.

The hotel had a tower attached to the roof, a little water tower, and he and his beautiful dog would climb the tower and pace along the walkway, guarding it like the watchful eye of a lighthouse, pushing back the towering ocean. He loved the rain, he loved the ocean spray. He loved to be outside, standing, running his fingers through the world’s fur as it tried to keep still.

An old husband and wife had owned the hotel, but they were likely dead.

He occasionally felt the impulse to light the fireplace and sleep next to it, but he was always too afraid. Afraid of an unattended fire. He instead decided to wait in the uneven degrees of hot and cold that flooded the confused hotel. The hotel was big, with odd angles, walls made of varying materials. As a result, the heat currents within were all scrambled up, creating pockets of cold in some places and hot in others. God, he hated that. It really just pissed him off.

He stepped outside, the sun looping through a shrugging sky. His face was warm, but his back muscles braced against cutting gusts peeling off those peaks in the west. He prodded the grumbling earth with his White Stick.

A flock of something squeaked under that toy sun.

The hotel gasped.

Dolores barked.

“Do you- do you know if anyone works here?”

He jumped, scared. He hadn’t heard her approaching. She must’ve been purposefully silent.

“Yes. Yes, I work here.” He heard the odd intonation in his own voice, perhaps the result of not having spoken to anyone for so long. “Yes, I’m the only one who works here. Dolores, what are you doing? Down! She’s old, but she’s still playful. I apologize. Have you come to stay?”

“Yes.” And she repeated: “Yes. This is a hotel, isn’t it?”

“It is. Let’s go inside.”

In stiff, boxy waddles, he and Dolores made their way through the entrance, the woman following carefully (quietly) behind. Entering, she took hold of a part of the doorframe that had popped out of place and pushed it into its original position.

“And what is your name?”

“Lisa.”

“And what room would you like, Lisa?”

“Any room.”

“You can have room 203. That’s right next to the library. There’s a television and a billiards table in the library. Second floor and to your right.”

Lisa shifted the weight of her backpack onto her left shoulder. She let her hair down and then put it right back up again, adjusted her glasses, smoothed her shirt. All of this was for no one, because no one was watching. And even if anyone had been watching, none of this maintenance would have had any effect on the viewer’s impression of her, for she was such a bland person, such a nothing. A person with always half-new clothes and bags, always half-tired and half-late to work. A person with no question, no story. Another person who lived under the curve, who would accept the eventual ocean.

“Shouldn’t I get- don’t I need a key?”

“I keep ‘em all unlocked, Lisa. But if it would make you feel safer, I-”

“No, you’re right. You’re right, I won’t need it. Sorry for interrupting”

“Second floor and to your right.”

And she was gone, and the hotel returned to its swaying, lifelong trumpet, and he was once again angry. And when he shuffled into the common room, he noticed that, for the first time, the temperature had flattened out. And he was less angry. And as he stooped down to straighten a wrinkle in the rug, he felt time reverse.

Dolores whimpered.
A glass on the counter rattled.
A brass pipe rang, stricken.
A shot upstairs.
And time sent itself straight again and he, unable to run, moaned and knocked over furniture until, out of breath, he settled off to sleep on the stairs.


AUTHOR BIO
Giovanni Santalucia is a high school senior from Queens. He has won 2nd place in the Singapore International Poetry Competition, as well as in the New York Public Library poetry competition for youth. He is also the recipient of the Scholastic Essay competition's silver key. Giovanni is thrilled to be published in the Neworld Review and hopes to continue his writing career in the future.



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