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The Occidental

The Occidental

A recently retired man finds he has terminally neglected his relationship with his wife. On a whim he arrives at the airport to travel overseas alone, but can't go through with it,ending up the at a once grand hotel in the city. The Occidental has lost a couple of stars over the years and has become the domicile of some less than savoury characters.

1

Crime / Suspense / Mystery / Thriller


Author Image

Dreyfus (Australia)


The Occidental

2013 was a year of firsts for David. He retired, took up drinking in earnest and shot someone dead. There wasn’t much to retiring. He merely wound up the business in January, sending a blind CC email to all of his customers stating his intentions. One or two indicated their regret and wished him well. Most didn’t find it necessary to reply. When his wife, Audrey asked him what he would do with himself, he said he had a number of irons in the fire. He didn’t, although he had an unresolved notion he might visit the Grampians. They sat in the living room. He had the newspaper laid out on his lap and his glasses were perched on his forehead. She was reaching for the remote.

“But first, why don’t we travel, I’d rather like to go to Italy,” he said.

“Oh…I haven’t thought about that at all,” Audrey said, her index finger hovering over the red button.

“Greece, how does that sound?”

“You know what, I have thought about it, I don’t think I want to go overseas,” she said. She put down the remote.

“Why on earth not?” David said.

“Well, if you must know David, I am a bit fed up with you. I suspect I will become murderous if I am obliged to travel with you,” she said.

“I see,” he turned away from her, staring at the void of the television screen. He felt deflated. “Please don’t hold anything back on my account, be frank by all means,” he was attempting irony but it sounded like petulance.

“Don’t you think it might be nicer for you if you went without me?” she said.

“I’m going out,” he said. When he had put his coat on at the door, he wiped two unexpected tears away from his cheeks with the back of his hand. He had for some time understood he had not provided enough time to the relationship and, too late, he was now left without one. If he had given it much thought at all during the years, he would have concluded he was banking his emotional involvement, until he had time to draw on the account at a more propitious time.

He returned home drunk. Audrey had gone to bed and he slept in the guest bedroom. From that day forward an icy pall fell over the household. Audrey appeared to be completely indifferent to him. He was beginning to realize she had been this way for years and he hadn’t noticed. Of course in retrospect, he also realized how utterly appalling it was. He was saddened by the errors of judgement he had made.

A week later, he asked Audrey whether they should talk about the situation but she said no. She said there was nothing more to say, but she said something regardless.
“You are only questioning the situation now because you appear to have awoken from a long sleep. You’ve acknowledged something’s wrong, so now there is an expectation for me to provide answers. I don’t see why I should, I’m not your parent,” she said. She was irritated; ‘Antique Roadshow’ was on.

He bought bottles of whiskey home and drank them in the guest bedroom and when Audrey was out, in the bedroom they previously shared, making him feel masochistically morbid. He was careful to leave the room as he found it. The more he drank, the better he felt. He considered his hangover’s relatively mild. His friend Frank, a seasoned drinker, was impressed.

“You are a lot more fun these days, Dave. What happened? Tell me the secret so I can tell my ex-wife she can return. Frank was always drunk and didn’t make any more sense, now David was a drunk as well.

“Tell me Frank, did you love your wife?” David said.

“No.”

He thought he did loved Audrey regardless of her pronouncements. He began to think about other conversations they had had and which he had put out of his mind for fear of them spreading like an infection. Once, perhaps six months before they had been reading in bed and when he asked Audrey to turn out the light so he could sleep, she launched into a precise critical analysis of their relationship. Her voice was even and pedagogic; she had been a high school principal, after all.

“When I want to read, you want to sleep; when you are cold, I am too hot; I suffer from dry mouth, and you slobber like a child on your pillow at night,” She paused, he was turned away from her but he felt her eyes on him. “When I want to listen to Dvorak, you want David Bowie on; when I suggest we ring the children, you say leave them be,” there was another long pause, he felt her slide down, as if to sleep, but she kept the light on.

“So we are different; of course we are, we are two different people,” David said.

“That is so logical and austere, as to be ridiculous. We are not desperate animals surviving on the edge of existence David. It is more than that; over the years our similarities have receded, and our disparity has hardened into an unforgiving thing. You have not noticed this divergence and it has now become the nucleus of our relationship,” she said. He thought about what she had said, but the wine he had drunk with dinner had made him drowsy.

“Your right, I have taken my eye off the ball,” he said.

“You know when you try to push two magnets together, that’s us David,” she said and turned off the light. He failed to grasp it was in fact, game, set and match.
David read a number of books about Italy. He liked the sound of Naples and it became the focus of his planned visit to the country. He had a propensity for organization and did a great deal of research, studying the topography in particular. He had been a consulting Geologist for mining interests, before resources became the bet-noir of the stock market. He poured over maps and train timetables. He purchased a pair of expensive shoes for walking, a good backpack and a decent collapsible umbrella. He intended going in November when the weather will be less predictable but there would also be fewer tourists.

When he arrived at the airport with three hours to spare, he checked his suitcase and made for the club bar, ordering a double Dewars, and then two more. He was 65, had hypertension, an oesophageal hernia, dodgey prostate and several questions of an esoteric nature he thought he may never have the answers for. He had been to Portugal, Scotland, Azerbaijan, New Zealand and the US. He had sat at this bar several times in the past and took a long time to drink a single beer and eat nuts. The bartender pretended to recognize him.

“A Warstein, Mister Flieden,” the bartender said with a winning smile. It was in the bartenders and the airlines best interest to know, with whom they dealt. When David ordered Dewars and left the nuts untouched, the bartender, whose name, according to the name-tag, was Henry, made a notation on the digital register about his customer’s current drinking preference, ‘capricious’ he typed. David picked up his carry-on bag and left the airport in a taxi. He wondered what would happen to his checked suitcase momentarily, and then decided he didn’t care.

“Take me to a hotel in the city, a decent one uptown,” he said to the cab driver

“Sure, what about the Sheraton?” the driver said.”

“The Occidental,” he said.

“You sure? The cabbie squinted at him through the rear vision mirror.

“Yes.”

“It’s not what it used to be mate.”

“It’s fine,” David said. He knew this route. From here to the city centre the landscape would be uninterrupted industrial. He closed his eyes and wondered what he was doing. The urge to travel had left him as quickly as it had come, and this drive past the non-descript rows of factories verified his misgivings. He was put off, not only by the phony bartender, but by a commitment to providing experiences, already available in his own living room. Even the cabin of an airliner or the state-room of a cruise ship was an iteration of homely comforts. It was glaringly obvious the attractions of travel were fundamentally similar to the mundanity of one’s own existence. Hoteliers, with their suites and sea-view rooms attempted an approximation of what a traveller had left behind. David saw the implicit absurdity of this, but then he himself had no clear idea of his own intentions, so who was he to judge.

“How was the trip? The cabbie said.

“I didn’t like the barmen.”

The cabbie was right about The Occidental. At the very least the art deco exterior needed a serious scrub.





Competition: The Pen Factor 2016, Round 1

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Read Reviews

Review 1:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • The grammar, typography, sentence structure and punctuation would benefit from a further round of editing to avoid distracting from the quality of the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
Characterization
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Main character
  • Connect us to your main protagonist with a deeper characterization. Could your protagonist have a few more distinguishing character traits?
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals, conflicts and purpose were clearly introduced and I wanted to find out more about them.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a difficult balancing act. Are you sure all the material is relevant to the plot, setting and atmosphere? Make sure each sentence makes sense to the reader, and each paragraph moves their experience forward.
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. Your story makes compelling reading.
Technique and tight writing
  • When writing is tight, economical and each word has purpose, it enables the plot to unravel clearly. Try and make each individual word count.
Point of view
  • The story successfully solicited the reader’s empathy through the clever use of the narrator's point of view. You show great deftness in handling point of view.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
Opening line and hook
  • Great books, nowadays, start with a powerful opening and compelling hook in order to keep the reader engaged. Have you baited the reader enough?
General comments from your fellow writer 1:
I enjoyed this piece. Is it the opening chapter of your novel? If so the first couple of sentences are a real hook. Very interesting conflicting characters who fed off each other with purpose. It truly gave the impression of a well worn marriage that had been neglected and forgotten and therefore - dead. There was one tiny phrase that is really only nit-picking - He thought he did loved... closer scrutiny to editing would have found this mistake. Overall a very interesting and well written piece.

Review 2:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • The grammar, typography, sentence structure and punctuation would benefit from a further round of editing to avoid distracting from the quality of the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
Characterization
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Main character
  • Your protagonist exhibited a unique voice and had original characteristics. Their actions and dialogue were convincing!
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals, conflicts and purpose were clearly introduced and I wanted to find out more about them.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a challenging balancing act. The story had a clear and coherent progression with a structured plot.
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. Your story makes compelling reading.
Technique and tight writing
  • The writing was tight and economical and each word had purpose. This enabled the plot to unravel clearly. Your writing exhibits technical proficiency.
Point of view
  • The story successfully solicited the reader’s empathy through the clever use of the narrator's point of view. You show great deftness in handling point of view.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The scene needs to be vivid and realistic in order to hold the reader’s attention. Being concise and plausible at the same time is tricky. Giving this further attention could perhaps be worthwhile.
Opening line and hook
  • Your strong opening and compelling hook was a promise of wonderful things to come!
General comments from your fellow writer 2:
I loved this piece. It caught my attention and flowed all the way to the end drawing me in to the dillemna of the protagonist. Now, I just truly want to know, how on earth did this sad depressed man become a murderer?! Oh, and what becomes of his wife. I really admire your interaction between the characters and your use of dialogue. Well done.

Review 3:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • There needs to be more balance between narration and dialogue. Avoid overdoing the narrative and remember that dialogue can diffuse long claustrophobic text.
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals, conflicts and purpose were clearly introduced and I wanted to find out more about them.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a challenging balancing act. The story had a clear and coherent progression with a structured plot.
Technique and tight writing
  • The writing was tight and economical and each word had purpose. This enabled the plot to unravel clearly. Your writing exhibits technical proficiency.
Opening line and hook
  • Your strong opening and compelling hook was a promise of wonderful things to come!
General comments from your fellow writer 3:
Great opening! I wanted to read more! As a reader, I don't care if they stay together or not, but does the author want me to be attached to them staying together or want me to root for Dave leaving her? I don't know at this point. I would have liked to see a description on the wife, Audrey. What does she look like? Again, very enjoyable read. Vivid descriptions.