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July 15, 2024

Shadow Across the Building

By Thomas Elson

I liked to be alone -- away from angry adults and contentious kids -- to separate myself from turmoil and to escape.

So much pain on that day.

For me.

My mother.

My grandfather.

My father.

For years at dinner

Their talk.

Their anger.

Each afternoon a shadow appears on the west side of the hotel: A dark form arms flaying, hair astray, mouth wide. Some think it's from one of the trees across the creek. Others know it's from the large house in front of the high school. Older folks think they know all about it. They don't.

I do. I know. I was there.

The eight-story hotel was built in 1933. The first owner failed to keep up the payments. The second, my grandad, operated it successfully for almost forty years. The third owner, who acquired the hotel when my grandad's pain became too great, ran it into the ground within eighteen months. It now stands vacant -- waiting.

Today the weathered building is a sliding scale of history when the lights were brightest before people left, before food became fast, before commerce evaporated. Splintered window frames allow air and water to corrupt. Floors grate if walked upon. Walnut dining tables donated or stolen -- no one remembers. Kitchen equipment sold at twenty cents on the dollar. Marble wainscotting stripped from the lobby. Copper pulled from inside the walls.

* * *

But on that day seventy-two years ago -- the grass in front of the hotel was lush, newly peeking above the dusting of late season snow. Late model cars -- Plymouths, DeSotos, Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs, LaSalles, Packards filled the perpendicular stripes near the curb. Younger people rushed inside. Older folks, in no hurry, rambled. The hotel, awash in the savory aromas from the restaurant's steaming food, breathed with people, with commerce from oil, gas, wheat, corn, with military men and materials.

Earlier that year I had hung my legs over the ledge leading to the basement twelve feet below. Jumped. Attempted to rise. Failed. Smashed my face against the screen door. Crawled up the steps.

A few months later, in the lobby of the hotel, facing the brass-plated front doors, I stood, ran toward the door, lowered my head and rammed it with such force my skull cracked. Blood poured down my face and over my yellow shirt. I was laid out on the center table of the hotel as the town's only physician hurried to repair me as my mother assisted and my grandad hovered nearby.

It was late the following fall that I climbed up the fire escape to the roof of my grandad's hotel and jumped.

My flight.

My attempt to rise.

My failure.

The building.

And each afternoon,

My shadow.

Article © Thomas Elson. All rights reserved.
Published on 2022-07-25
Image(s) are public domain.
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