This story is by Jewel Eliese and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Olives. Strangely enough, that’s what I think of as I sit on the hotel bathroom floor by myself. Well, not entirely alone. Penny, my pug, looks up at me with her big, black eyes. I can hear Adam in the next room, snoring softly. And, of course, Mother-in-law’s soft breathing. Actually, maybe never alone enough.
Mother-in-law insisted on driving with us for our Thanksgiving vacation, and sleeping in the same room to, “avoid spending money on two rooms for her hard-working baby”.
“He has enough stress with taking care of you and that dog, already,” she’d told me. Her white hair lay on her square face at an angry angle.
The watch timer I set counts down. One minute left. Will our family grow by two feet? My heart races. Do we want this? I thought I did but the adverse reaction of my Mother-in-law has me second-guessing our choice.
Don’t stress, or think about the test on the counter. Instead, think of olives. Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday. I used to hide under the table until the appetizers were set up and steal an olive. Or two. I can still taste their salty goodness.
I may not have much say in my life with my Mother-in-law hanging around, but I am old enough to buy olives when I want. Even if I do hide them from her. Adulting at its finest.
I sit up on my knees, turn around, and prepare to know my future. My heart races.
Penny barks, and I scream as the timer blares.
“Not now, Penny,” I tell her, heart fluttering, and turn off the alarm. “You just went.” I take a deep breath and look back at the counter but Penny books it out the bathroom, and out the hotel room door — which I didn’t remember leaving open. The chase is on.
“Penny, come back here,” I yell at her. There’s no one else in the hotel, thanks to Mother-in-law and her ‘connections’. The Hotel Roose is closed for the holiday but they let us have a room in the empty hotel.
I half wonder if Mother-in-law brought us to The Hotel Roose to convince us not to have a baby. No doubt she knows the rumors of the Lost Child who wanders the halls.
Suddenly the hallway is hot. Stifling. My skin, only moments ago filled with goosebumps, starts to sweat. Penny, whines, and bolts in a different direction.
I slosh down the broad hallway, my feet going tipsy-turvy. It’s just so hot. We run through a kitchen filled with copper pots and pans hanging from the wall. The water stains on the shining metal look like blood in the dark.
I run, bare feet pounding, as if compelled.
I exit the kitchen through light swinging doors, through the bar, and into a dining room. Tables are set up for future guests with white tablecloths and wine glasses that look more like bubbles. Streetlights shine through the wooden blinds, showing off my ghostly reflection in the crystal.
Penny stops dead. Her beady eyes look up, unmoving. This is what she came here for. I can see it on her face. It’s the same far-off stare a dog has when they hear a high-pitched sound meant only for canine ears. She tilts her head, gaze cloudy.
I don’t want to see but look anyway. There, before Penny, is the statue of the Lost Child — in honor of her memory.
And short life.
Penny knew she was here. My skin goes cold again. My warm breath floats on the air. The statue is black with bronze edges that seem to glow in the light of the night. She wears pigtails and her wide eyes seem to tell me something; a secret I will never know. For decoration, she wears a bow on her neck, but it only partially covers the line, like a crack in real tissue, on her throat — as if it had been slashed.
I am hit with a sudden burst of protection for this child who once was. And, more than that, love. Love for who she could have been. Grief for who she was.
Tears pour down my face; they fall like ice. I take the statue’s hand in mine and feel calm, let out a deep breath, and something within me shifts.
I no longer feel meek or worried, but confident. I know what I want, and what I need to do.
Penny and I walk back to the hotel room, the empty halls no longer bothering me. I tiptoe to the bathroom and I know before I look at the test, what it will say.
I lay down next to Adam, chilled blankets crunching with the movement. He still softly snores. With a smile, I close my eyes and fall asleep.
I sit at the Thanksgiving table the next day. Family chatters and laughs around me. Wine is poured as treats are laid out. Mother-in-law sits on Adams’s right side, laying her head on his shoulder. Today I don’t mind.
“I would like to make a toast,” I say suddenly, glass raised.
“Maybe it’s a divorce,” Mother-in-law says under her breath, a grin crawling across her face.
“Adam, to you my beloved husband. And to your mother,” I pause, “who will be sleeping in her own room tonight, courtesy of my credit card.” A few people chuckle. My sister gently chokes on a stolen piece of turkey. “And, to our growing family.” I rub my belly for emphasis. After a moment’s thought, the room explodes with joy.
Adam’s kiss is wet with tears.
Mother-in-law glares and I smile. One day I will feel little fingers grasp mine, just as Adam’s large fingers do now.
Once the dessert comes, I steal an olive and leave the dining room to call the hotel. Time to live up to my promise.
“Thank you for calling the Hotel Roose.”
“Yes, I need another room for the night. For my Mother-in-law.”
“No problem.” Her fingernails click at the computer.
“And you know, I wouldn’t mind if you put that four-foot statue of the Lost Child in her room,” I say with a laugh, only half joking.
She stops typing. “Oh, I’m sorry, ma’am. But we don’t have a statue of the Lost Child. Never have. Just the stories of her.”
I bite into an olive at last. It tastes bittersweet.