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Superficial Appraisals
About the Author: K.R. Segriff is a Canadian writer, filmmaker, and visual artist. Her work appears in Prism International, Riddle Fence, and Storm Cellar magazines, among others.

The scene we drift into is almost appealing. 1953, an old hotel lobby bathed in the half-light of late afternoon. The Hotelier, dressed in his flannel suit, sits at the desk by the window. He considers the gentle ripples as they fan out across the lake. On its surface, the hotel seems a most soothing, ordinary place.

We six sisters are the muck beneath the surface of this seemingly placid afternoon. We are not siblings of blood, but of circumstance, the last six occupants of room three-sixteen—save for Devona, the only one who got away. The six of us have departed, checked out, but never in the traditional sense. We exist as formless figures, invisible to all but each other, hovering silently behind a wool-covered wolf.

The Hotelier does not sense our presence behind him. He is not aware that we are watching over his shoulder as a young woman, not more than twenty, eases herself past the carved glass of the front-entrance door. The woman pauses in the vestibule as if somehow sensing it is unwise to proceed.

The Hotelier’s face reflects in the glass. To the unpracticed eye, his expression is pleasing. His cheeks point upward to his pale brown eyes. He gives a brief flash of his perfectly polished teeth. His is a smile that drew each one of us in as we took our own turns passing through the glass door.

“How can I help?” The Hotelier asks.

“A fella named Chuck told me,” the woman says, “that you offer rooms on the cheap to folks who are trying to get back on their feet.”

The woman speaks with a rural tongue, and her face suggests a former plumpness; the remnant, perhaps, of some past life of buttermilk, fresh eggs, and warm peach pie.

“Yes,” The Hotelier replies, donning his glasses so he can better appraise her. “I usually assign them to room three-sixteen.”

The woman’s skin hangs limp beneath her eyes. There is a hint of purple there and an unhealthy translucence. She is not too far gone, but the signs of addiction are present for we who know what to look for.

We become restless, and a sudden wind rustles the papers across The Hotelier's desk. The woman pulls her thin sweater closer to her frame.

“Awful cold in here, ain’t it?” she says.

“Draft has never bothered me,” The Hotelier replies. “Perhaps you would be more comfortable if we got you into your room.”

The Hotelier slides his hand into a small drawer, removes a syringe, and slips it into the folds of his jacket. Six low hisses escape our unseen lips, and the woman startles. Her eyes dart to the wall behind The Hotelier’s head.

The Hotelier looks behind himself with a suspicious eye.

“You say something, there?” the woman asks.

“Must be the lake wind,” the Hotelier replies, his tone unsure.

We sisters share a smile between us. Despite our combined voices, we have never been able to make The Hotelier hear us. Our abilities, it seems, are improving.

“I don’t have much money …” the woman says and places a few coins atop the desk.

The Hotelier draws forward and rests his pale fingers on the woman’s forearm. “I too am recovering from what afflicts you,” he says. “The first night here is always on the house.”

This, we know, is a lie. We look to the phone and consider how, once he has finished his deed, The Hotelier will call his friend and say something like, “Hook ’em every time with the dope-fiend line, don't I, Chuck? Feel almost bad for them. Almost.”

“You’re so very kind,” the woman says, and we roll our eyes, despite knowing each one of us felt the same gratitude when we were in this poor woman’s position.

The woman’s posture relaxes, and we ache to say more, but we must save our energy for when it is most needed. We have been rehearsing, but we suspect we will only have one shot at tonight’s plan. We hope, now that there are six of us, we might finally succeed.

“We’ll get you settled,” The Hotelier murmurs as he takes his key ring from the hook.

We follow the two of them up the stairwell and enter a room familiar to each of us. The Hotelier turns the door lock behind him as he proceeds forward, and a wave of excitement crests. We have agreed to wait for the best possible moment to strike, and it seems that the moment might be upon us.

The woman looks to the telephone on the bedside table.

“Can I place a call directly from this phone?” the woman asks.

This story appears in our JAN 2022 Issue
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Reader Discussion

Ahhh, very good!! Great twist!! A mesmerizing tale! I like it!! Well written!
By Tina

Nice twist, indeed. I did wonder about the hypo, the way he slipped it into the folds of his jacket sounds like she doesn't see it. Or did she? We're supposed to think it's dope, but why would he be giving that to a girl who's trying to get clean? Did the girl see it and think it contained dope? I thought it might be poison until I read about the stain beneath the bed. I don't think it matters much, but you don't want a reader to see it as a loose end. Nice job!
By David Arbogast

Thank you for a read-in-one sitting story. I devoured it. Kudos to you, K.R. Segriff.
By Ann Swann

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