- Elegy Hotel
They gave bereavement coordinators like me studio apartments on the top floors of the elegy hotel. Some had naïve ideas about saving the world, but we were really just glorified bellhops for the mountain of climate plague victims awaiting cremation, for the families who wanted to curl up in a suite with the embalmed corpses of their loved ones and heal. Most people who worked here just had baggage they wanted to forget. For nearly three years, I kept my head down and barely spoke about the past, carting bodies from California king beds to the crematorium. But my golden-boy brother showed up in the hotel lobby a month ago with news of our mother, and invited me to dinner to guilt me into coming home.
I wore the plain black suit bereavement coordinators are supposed to wear during our high-end funeral ceremonies. My mom and JJ were already at The Lucky Fin on Fisherman's Wharf with oysters and a half-empty bottle of wine. My brother helped Mom up (I could have), and she pulled me in for a hug.
"Here's my other boy," she said. She had a breathing tube running across her nose and wheezed after she spoke. Her translucent skin hung off her frame like a shawl.
"It's good to see you, Mom," I said.
She looked at me as if she was going to burst into tears. Not tears of happiness. No, just the awkward acknowledgment that I had continued to fail her, the same pinched look I had seen over thousands of dinners and parent-teacher conferences.
I ordered the halibut with summer squash, a manhattan, and took the last remaining oyster on the table while JJ stalled, talking about renovations on his house in Vegas where Mom had been living the past couple of years. Oh, and did I know that his daughter, Petal, just started junior high and was playing junior varsity soccer? No, of course I didn't.
"And Dennis is working at one of those death hotels now," JJ said. "Isn't that right?"
"Few years now. They don't have employee of the month or anything, no bonuses or stock options, but I'm doing OK. I'm the manager for two floors." Of course, [End Page 243] the floors in my charge, the econo-rest rooms, had been unrenovated and retained the building's faux-Victorian aesthetic. Even in a hotel of the dead, life gave me scraps. Floral wallpaper peeled at the corners, a large water stain skirted the carpet around the broken ice machine, and a growing colony of gum wrappers dotted the hall.
"Manager?" my mom said incredulously.
"And what do you do exactly?" JJ asked.
"A little of everything really. Part host, part mortician, part concierge. I take care of our customer's needs," I said. "Including the dead ones." I kept a bottle of Jim Beam and an emergency joint in the dryer of the laundry room and would sneak away whenever the concerns of the bereaved became too much: "Excuse me, but my husband seems to be leaking." "Does the hotel have erotic films for rent?" "But how can you be sure my sister isn't contagious anymore?" Of course, at this price point, I didn't have it half as bad as the other floors with their bougie requests. Most people were just happy to be able to responsibly dispose of their loved ones at all.
"Oh," my mother said. "How interesting." I wanted to leave, but I needed to at least hear them out. I ordered another manhattan and concentrated on my food.
When our after-dinner coffee arrived, my mom gave JJ a glance. Here we go.
"So, here's the situation," he said. "Mom's real sick. We thought we got all the cancer cells a few years ago, but there are spots all over her lungs. We need help, Dennis. At home."
"Why didn't you tell me about any of this sooner?"
"Really? Do you know how many funerals we've had just in the past year that you never came to?"