To the staff of The Grundy Hotel,
The cab picked me up the morning after the night before, when everything had happened. Judging by the bags under my eyes and the heftiness of my suitcase, the driver knew better than to ask if I was okay. Instead, he heaved the case into the boot and stubbed something into the satnav before setting off for the hotel. It was only round the corner, but for some godforsaken reason a spark of dignity still burned away inside me, though it was rapidly disappearing.
Were I one of those insufferable sorts who gave complete dives marketable accolades, I would have described the Grundy as ‘vintage’, as it is I am not one of those people and saw it for the shithole it was. But it was cheap, or as Trip Advisor described it ‘an excellent overnight stop for the thrifty traveller’, so I booked a room.
‘Do you have a lift at all?’ I asked the receptionist, gesturing to my comically oversized suitcase – Julia had teased me from the day I bought it, ‘I’m not chucking you out just yet’, she’d said.
The receptionist sighed and reached for the phone.
‘I can call the porter,’ she said, ‘but he won’t be here for another ten minutes.’
‘Don’t worry about it, then. Sorry to have bothered you.’
My key read ‘101’, though there were not a hundred rooms by any stretch of the imagination and I read it as cruel joke by the hotel staff. Perhaps I am being unfair for, miserable though the peeling brick wallpaper and Bates’ Motel shower curtain were, the room was clean enough and functional. I did not want a five-star suite with fluffy robes and chocolates on the pillow because then I would not have permission to mope – after all, who can mope with lobster on room service? – and what I really wanted right now was to sit in a cheap hotel room and devote one hundred percent of my being to unreservedly and unapologetically wallowing in self-pity.
For all the room’s frugality, there was a small minibar at the foot of the bed. I did not drink back then, even now I limit myself to a glass of wine a week, but there was something strangely comforting in the knowledge that I could, theoretically, drink myself into a blissful week-long stupor on miniatures of Scotch that were better suited to the insides of a car than a human body.
‘You’ll go to pieces without me,’ she’d sneered as I crammed clothes into my case, ‘and you know what? It serves you right, you fat fucking whore.’
‘I’m not fat.’
‘Like I give a shit, just get the fuck out of my fucking house.’
‘Don’t call me that.’
‘Fine. Julia, please, it’s three in the morning.’
‘Then sleep on the fucking curb for all I care, just get the fuck out.’
(For those who are interested, I did sleep on the curb.)
As I say, I did not drink and even if I did, I was all too aware of the extortionate prices that lurked inside hotel minibars. The week came and went, much to my indifference, and the solitary minibar and its contents remained untouched. It therefore came as a sickening surprise when I was phoned by the receptionist at the crack o’ bloody dawn and billed for a week’s worth of minibar drinks.
‘But I haven’t touched the damn thing,’ I stressed for the third or fourth time. ‘I don’t even drink.’
‘Madam, we keep careful count of the beverages in each room and I can assure you…’
‘There are fewer in my room than there were at the beginning of the week, yes, you’ve said, but I’m telling you I haven’t touched them.’
‘Please, madam, you don’t need to raise your voice.’
‘I’ll do whatever I bloody well like until you start listening to me.’
I hung up. In hindsight I will agree this was a bad move and was not going to do me any favours. Much to my disappointment, the haranguing from the hotel did not end when I decided it ought to; week after week the bills kept coming and the threats of eviction were becoming increasingly real. I was only allowed to stay because eventually I would have to cough up. I could have left as soon as that first bill had come through, but there was that spark again, refusing to admit defeat even when it was not only staring me in the face, but holding me at gunpoint on the edge of a cliff.
It will come as no surprise that I hated that minibar, the cause of all my misery. Every morning I would wake from a bad night’s sleep to that tiny, yellowing fridge watching me. Every night I would turn out the light and the last thing I would see was that fading rectangular outline. There was no escaping it. I have later since discovered I was regularly heard screaming insults at the minibar, other times sobbing confessions to it.
Somewhere in the middle of all this I went to the police. I do not know what I was expecting given that I had little to no evidence of my innocence but all the same I went. A grey-haired sergeant shook my hand and offered me a seat. I explained myself as quickly and ‘sanely’ as I could but he refused to believe me.
‘It’s not a question of what I believe, madam. There simply isn’t the evidence to support your case. I suggest you pay the hotel and leave at the end of the week.’
But I had not taken anything.
‘Madam, we’ve been through this. There is nothing we can do until there is some evidence to give the hotel. Now, if you’ll please…’
Isn’t it your job to find evidence? You’re the police for Christ’s sake.
‘I would appreciate it if you didn’t use that kind of language, madam. Now, I’m a very busy man and I do not have the time to detain you for abusing a police officer.’
Abusing a police officer? But I haven’t done anything. Why was no one listening to me?
Minutes later, I found myself being escorted away from the station by a pair of police officers. I am still not sure exactly what I said or did to warrant my being thrown out but I did find a clump of hair in my hand when I returned to the hotel, and an oozing patch of blood on my scalp. Still the receptionist phoned for my bill, still the minibar remained. Of course it remained, it was a minibar. Why I was expecting it to have upped and left by the time I returned is beyond me, but still, there was something insidious about that lump of metal and plastic, and not just because it had ‘Fag lords must die’ scratched onto its door.
‘They’re talking about us, again,’ I said, putting my bag down beside Julia. ‘I’d give it a week before the letters start back up.’
Julia shrugged and continued flicking absent-mindedly through the thousand and one television channels we owned but never watched.
‘So what?’ she said, settling on some nature documentary or other. ‘Let them talk. It keeps them entertained.’
‘Great, so now we’re the local freak-show? Step right up and don’t be shy, come and see our stomach churning, blood curdling rug-munchers in action.’
‘There’s no need to get like that.’
‘Fine. But when the hate mail comes shitting through the letterbox don’t come crying to me.’
‘Why won’t you leave me alone?’ I wailed, hurling my rucksack at the offending appliance.
It toppled over with a satisfying thump, its door swinging open as it hit the ground. A couple of miniature gin and tonic cans rolled under the bed, I had to force myself not to pick them up. For a good long while I just sat and stared at the fallen little fridge and, even now, I believe it knew I was watching. The light faded and the overall greyness of the room deepened, the shadows contorting into monsters under the bed. Only the dim yellow light of the minibar kept the monsters from coming any closer and for the first time, I could not hate it. It was not its fault that I was living alone in a crumbling hotel, very nearly broke, with only an appliance for company.
The light had gone completely by the time it occurred to me I had never actually checked the contents of the minibar. Maybe there was nothing missing in the first place? Maybe the hotel was trying to extort a vulnerable guest? Should I phone one of those shows that exposes dodgy businesses? Would the pay-out be good? With a little effort, I propped the minibar back up against the wall and began to inspect the interior. Given that I had not checked the contents at the beginning of my nightmare stay, I did not know what should be in there, but it did seem rather sparse. There were a couple of wine miniatures, one can of orange juice and three bottles of beer surrounded by acres of shelf space. I had not slept in several days and struggled to read the labels on the drinks; the world was becoming a strange whirl of yellow light, shadow monsters and illegible labels on fuzzy green backgrounds. Nothing was making any sense. I was not making sense. I thought I was going to see the infinite a la 2001: A Space Odyssey, but a merciful thud plunged me into darkness and the infinite retreated back to whatever corner of space it lurks in.
Morning came with a dull ache to the back of the head and the discovery that I had slept head first in the minibar, I figured the door swung back and knocked me out. But the minor head injury and strange sleeping arrangement were by the by, it was what I saw when I woke that was of importance. At the very back of the minibar was a small gap in the bottom join. Figuring I must have missed this yesterday, I put one finger along the join. It was sticky and smelt like nightclub floors. A sharp edge against my finger caused me to recoil, and in doing so hit my head against the top of the minibar. Sucking the blood out of the small cut, I returned to the join to find a can of gin and tonic, crushed to paper thin proportions. Someone must have been bored to do this. Carefully, I began dredging up more and more cans, crushed to so finely it seemed impossible for a human to have done. I laid them out on the floor next to me and hefted over the minibar for one last inspection. On the bottom was a label, standard factory stuff, giving the details of the minibar and I would have given it no further thought had some very small print caught my eye: Not to be sold separately. In that moment, it all made sense, the missing alcohol, the crushed cans, the label.
‘You’re sad, aren’t you?’ I said, turning the minibar upright.
The minibar light blinked.
‘I’m sad too, in case you hadn’t noticed.’
Two more blinks.
‘I’m sorry I threw my rucksack at you.’
A growling hum.
‘I really am sorry, okay?’
The growl lowered to a quiet buzz. Neither of us should have been sold separately, but here we were, living alone in a crumbling hotel, one nearly broke, the other nearly broken, with only each other for company.
I therefore apologise wholeheartedly for the trouble I have caused you during my stay. Please find a contribution towards the beverages consumed.
P.S. You might want to use that contribution to purchase a new minibar or two as I have rehomed the room’s previous occupant.
‘Me and the Minibar: A Letter of Apology’ was published in 2016 as a part of the UEA Undergraduate Creative Writing Anthology, Undertow.