(Read the other chapters here.)
I forgot all about Sherilynn and Hank. Between cleaning up pumpkin remains and checking the website for new reservations, it was like they hadn’t even been my first guests. But true to her word, two days after departing, Sherilynn left a review of the bed and breakfast on TripAdvisor.
Sheri1WireHead: If you’re in search of a real cosmopolitan experience, a change of pace that provides urban ambiance like no other, but also offers just the perfect touch of down home hospitality, then the Literary Bed & Breakfast of Baltimore is the place for you–I smiled at reading this, reminding myself as I continued to read that I should send her a thank you note, and, perhaps, a box of those chocolates she liked so much.–The rooms are well-appointed, and quite lovely. The neighborhood and residents are truly colorful and very hospitable. That’s why it was such a disappointment that the lodgings were infested with rodents, and if not for this, the Literary Bed & Breakfast of Baltimore would have rated four shining stars. But regretfully, with the present level of infestation (and, really, is there ever an acceptable level?–smile), I can only award this otherwise fine establishment one star–a stellar one star, but still, one star.
I didn’t know what to do first: write a statement of rebuttal or call an exterminator? I decided to take several deep breaths. Then somewhat steadier, I pulled up my online merchant account to make sure the charge I posted for the balance of what the Minnesotans owed had cleared.
Thirty seconds later, I received an email notification informing me that the charge I tried to put through was refused, and that the initial deposit was in dispute by the patron’s card company. This, along with the stink of rotting pumpkins waiting in sacks for trash pickup, was just the sour cherry to top off the events of the last several days. I posted a rebuttal to Sherilynn’s review.
But even this (what I thought would be a few words of clarification) ended up being a back and forth between us that took on a life of its own. First, Sherilynn cross referenced the link to her review on her sewing circle’s website, Just Sew You Know it.com. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, she also reposted our “discussion” on her personal Facebook page. The onslaught was swift. I was labeled via “comments” and “likes,” everything from “rat queen” to “Baltimore’s biggest hospitality slumlord” by 1,483 of Sherilynn’s most loyal “friends.”
“Them Tea Baggers can be vicious.” Benny said after I read him a couple of the comments over the phone. “All that apple pie and hot dogs, wrapped up in stars and stripes, when all they really see is red.” Benny suggested that I do the same, start my own viral campaign, then after giving this some thought, admitted that it probably wouldn’t have the same effect, considering I only had thirty-five Facebook “friends,” thirty-six when he got around to confirming my friend request.
“Yeah, but you don’t think this will do much damage? Do you?”
Benny didn’t say anything; his silence said it all. “So, what now, sweetie?”
I didn’t like the way he said this. Like my idea of a bed and breakfast, something I had sunk close to 50k into, could now be easily retracted. Like, all I had to do is get the contractors to come back and undo all they had done; get the stores to unhook and take back the appliances; call Poe and his father to put everything back onto their moving van, but instead of traveling fifty miles back to a house I no longer owned, they’d head south for eighteen hours, and then on arrival, they’d cram all thirty-eight years of my life into the spare bedroom Glory now used for confessions and inclement weather baptisms.
Not willing to simply breathe deeply, I pulled up the bed and breakfast website to see if there had been any new reservations, there were none. I then updated it to reflect “new” rates discounting the old rates by twenty percent, twenty percent I really couldn’t afford not to collect, but a cut I hoped would be made up with an increase in reservations.
For whatever reason, I felt empowered, and was determined to wrestle my destiny out of the puffy and soft calloused hands of Sherilynn and her ilk. Though it hadn’t been close to 90 days, or even the fast track 60 days, I called the Housing Unit to check on the status of my variance application. Thirteen minutes after inputting my case number at prompt 5, I heard the recorded message: Denied. At prompt seven, “reason for decision,” I heard: Business in residential district not zoned for use described. For further information, contact a Housing Unit representative between 8am -11am and 1:30pm to 4pm, Monday thru Thursday.
I hung up the phone then lifted it again, thinking that perhaps I had put in the wrong case number, but then remembered the address stated was mine. My mind spinning, I thought about my next course of action. What would any smart, capable, resourceful woman do next? I walked slowly, deliberately, into the kitchen and took out my coffee mug from the cabinet, along with the unopened bottle of cognac I had had since the 12th of forever. Then, as if in a trance, I took the plate of brownies from the side cupboard where Sherilynn had stashed them. I removed the plastic and placed them in the oven to warm. The rest is a blur.
to be continued…
Willett Thomas is the president of Write of Passage, Inc. She earned her MA in writing from Johns Hopkins. She has received artist fellowships from Blue Mountain Center and the Millay Colony. She was selected as a Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation fellow for the District of Columbia, and is the recipient of the 2008 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange award for fiction.