The five-day conference, “Alethea Lit Conference – Form without Substance? brought Irene to town. She was to lead the symposium O Still Voice of Calm on day three.
On Sunday evening Irene checked into room 351 and got settled. Pulling back the drapes she could see a terrace and beyond that the wooded campus of Indiana U. The late evening August sun etched the campuses’ limestone buildings with long sepia shadows; the heat of the day was receding.
After unpacking Irene went down for dinner. She returned an hour later anxious to kick off her shoes and put her feet up. Before retiring Irene was in the habit of reading. She chose Paul’s letter to the Romans for this week. But soon the day’s travel caught up to Irene and she fell asleep in the armchair. She awoke later with a terrible kink in her neck. She moved to the bed for the rest of the night.
Irene woke at the sound of her alarm clock, at 5:30. She showered, dried her hair and put on a jersey tank, an A-line skirt and a pair of flats. She was to meet her publisher Mark for breakfast. She gathered her loose belongings into her suitcase, left her open Bible on the desk and headed downstairs.
Antonia knocked. When she heard no answer she entered 351 and began her routine. Hotel housekeeping began at 7:30 during the week with the previous day’s laundry to clean. When finished, Antonia would then clean rooms until 2:00.
As was her habit Antonia turned on the TV when she cleaned a room. She switched the station to her favorite talk show. “Today, two couples each recount the loss of their child,” announced the host. Antonia’s turned up the volume and headed into the bathroom to grab the wet towels.
While dusting, Antonia saw the open Bible and moved it to the bed to wipe the desk top. She then changed the bed sheets after replacing the Bible.
“My son was eighteen when his car flipped over and he was killed,” the mother of one of the couples related. The police found nothing to cause the accident. There was no rain, no alcohol, no other car – nothing! It just happened!”
Antonia watched the husband put his arm around his wife as she began to wipe her eyes. Tears welled in Antonia’s eyes.
Antonia adjusted the sheers and then went in to finish the bathroom. Seeing the makeup kit on the sink reminded her of what had happened the other day.
After work last Tuesday Antonia headed to her car. She grabbed her car keys from her purse loaded her soiled uniforms into the back seat and then drove off, leaving her bag sitting on the pavement. When she got home she couldn’t find her glasses and suddenly realized what she had done. She raced back to the parking spot and found that the bag was gone. Now she was frantic. The bag contained her wallet. The wallet held her ID, 40 dollars in cash, her credit cards and her hotel pass card.
Not finding the bag in the parking lot, Antonia went to the front desk to see if her bag had been turned in. It had. With that she breathed a huge sigh of relief, but then made sure everything was still there. It was. Antonia shuddered at the memory. Finished, she grabbed her cart, turned off the room lights and headed to room 353.
Tuesday morning Irene woke with her alarm at 5:30. She washed her face and then slipped on a pale blue dress and a pair of flats. After making a cup of coffee she sat with her Bible. This morning she would meet author Janice Fillmore for breakfast. Seeing it was 6:30 Irene placed her open Bible on the desk, gathered her loose belongings into her suitcase and headed down to breakfast.
Antonia knocked. When she heard no answer she entered 351 and began her routine. She turned on the TV and found she didn’t have to change the channel. After turning up the volume she proceeded to vacuum the floor.
“Today we have Chance Parlance, Senior Pastor of Broadway Church here to talk to us about his new book, “The Power of You. Before we talk about your book, our viewers would like to know…You are asking each of your 200,000 followers to donate $300.00 so that you can purchase a luxury jet?”
“Yes. We want to safely and swiftly share the Good news of the Gospel worldwide…I declared it and God will do it!”
Antonia moved the Bible from the desk to the bed and began to dust. As she gathered the garbage she noticed a brochure in the desk trash bin. She lifted it out and read the title out loud. “Alethea Lit Conference – Form without Substance? Monday – Birthing The New Creation in Christian Lit.”
Looking at the time, Antonia put the leaflet into her apron and finished her cleaning. She had been given several more rooms to clean today. She turned out the lights and headed to the next room.
Wednesday morning Irene awoke before her alarm. She showered, dried her hair and carefully applied her makeup. This morning she would lead a symposium before three hundred people. She put on a gray suit while coffee streamed into a cup.
Irene sat down with the coffee, her Bible and her notes. She had chosen her topic, O Still Voice of Calm, after spending several years practicing listening prayer. It had become her habit to sit in silence and to let God speak to her. She expected God to speak to her; God was constantly streaming His words to her. And Irene had come to realize that her creativity, her art, was born out of such times. Today she would introduce authors and publishers to listening prayer. At 6:30 she gathered her things and headed down to breakfast.
Antonia knocked. When she heard no answer she entered 351 and began her routine. She turned on the TV and found she didn’t have to change the channel. The volume was the same so she turned it down. But she didn’t feel much like listening today. Monday’s program had left her unsettled, like she had lost something she couldn’t afford to lose. She even discussed the show with her best friend Lily, a biology major at IU, the day before.
Lily’s dogmatic reply came out of nowhere: “Now, how could any god permit the death of any child? You saw the pain those families had to deal with! And there is so much injustice in the world. My god, it’s like the gods are off somewhere uninvolved and angry and just waiting to jump all over us with patriarchal oppression. The god nonsense is a placebo for the weak. These things happen, you know. Just live, laugh and party on if you can before you leave. Make the most of your time. And who knows, maybe when you die you will be reincarnated as a god and you can do some good in the world. And don’t forget about me, your best friend.”
That conversation had left Antonia more unsettled.
Antonia moved the open Bible from the desk to the bed and began to dust. As she gathered the garbage from the bins she noticed another brochure in the desk trash bin. She read the title out loud. “Alethea Lit Conference – Form without Substance? Tuesday– Uncommon Grace: The Life of Flannery O’Connor, a documentary film and discussion
Looking at the time, Antonia put the leaflet into her apron and finished her cleaning. She then turned out the lights and headed to the next room. Her work for this week ended at 2:00. She would start work again on Sunday morning.
Bonita knocked. When she heard no one answer she entered 351 and called out “Housekeeping!” No answer. She began her routine. Bonita would clean the hotel rooms until 2:00. Then, her kids would need to be picked up from her mother’s house. Little Alphonso and his older sister Lupe would be anxiously awaiting mom.
Bonita had worked for six years as a hotel housekeeper. The housekeeping hours allowed her to work while her kids were in school and then be home for them in the afternoon. During the spring and summer months Bonita’s husband, Alonzo, a landscaper, was gone from six in the morning until eight at night. During those times Bonita would bring her two kids to her mother’s house.
While dusting, Bonita saw the open Bible. She carefully lifted the Bible and read out loud, “In the same way, too, the spirit comes alongside and helps us in our weakness. We don’t know what to pray for as we ought to; but that same spirit pleads on our behalf, with groaning too deep for words.”
Bonita set the Bible down on the bed. She wiped the desk top. She then changed the bed sheets after replacing the Bible. She turned her attention to the bathroom.
On the bathroom ledge was a makeup kit. Bonita cringed. It was twelve years ago, in Sonora Mexico, that Bonita lost her first child Esperanza. The child died from pneumonia six months after her baptism. For the funeral the mortuary had applied rouge to the Esperanza’ cheeks. Bonita’s eyes welled with tears as she cleaned the sink.
After Esperanza’s death, Bonita grieved for many months. After coming to live in Indiana she decided to remember Esperanza in a painting. Bonita had become a watercolorist after leaving Mexico. She had seen many art fairs in her new home town. It was the water color portraits that had so moved her.
Bonita painted Esperanza in a white Easter dress, purchased in Mexico. Bonita applied a faint Cadmium red to Esperanza’s cheeks.
Bonita dried her eyes with a towel, gathered the towels, tossed them into her cart and sighed.
Being at home with two kids every day, Bonita appreciated the room’s silence. It felt like she was in the presence of something much more than herself.
Bonita turned out the lights and headed to the next room.
Friday morning Irene awoke before her alarm. She showered, dried her hair and carefully applied her makeup. She would participate in a final symposium this morning and then head out. While coffee streamed into a cup Irene put on a jersey tank, an A-line skirt and a pair of flats. She gathered her belongings into her suitcase. When she reached for her Bible she noticed what looked to be a watermark on one of the pages. She closed the Bible, placed it into her suitcase, took one last look around, shut off the lights and went down to breakfast.
© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2016, All Rights Reserved