The Old Woman at the Hostel

There is no more concrete cess pool than a hostel. When you’re young, you can’t see it through the film of excitement and wonder over your eyes–the very film that propelled you to leave behind your drab existence in the first place and ignore, against all reason and everything you’ve been taught by your parents, the extreme discomfort of this so-called form of “lodging.” Georgiana Maddix, now thirty-five years old–which, to the eighteen to twenty-four year olds that tended to gravitate toward the hostel scene–aesthetically came across as seventy-five. Still, she continued to travel by herself. And continued to stay in $30 a night “inns,” as some places liked to bill themselves–one supposes, for the sake of attracting all walks of life, like the one Georgiana was from: Day Old Bread Lane. Like Jacob’s Inn on Talbot Place. After some light perusal about where to stay, she settled upon it for its cheap price point, even if it meant she would be in the top bunk and sharing the room with three other likely under twenty-five year olds. No matter, she reasoned. She was commencing her winter sojourn. Last year, she had started in Zagreb, and this year, it was Dublin, whereupon she would make her way down (or as “down” as the route’s trajectory would permit) through the U.K., stopping in the pertinent to her locations of Leeds, Blackpool, Liverpool, Nottingham, London, Cardiff, Southampton and Brighton–all in that order.

Georgiana arrived on January 24, 2014. She had worked at her job long enough to secure these three-week long stints that most American office workers could only dream of finagling. It was the benefit of living a beige existence that, in turn, made her essentially camouflage whether she was at her desk or not. She first began traveling alone after her former boyfriend, Tony DiGianna, an Italian-American from West Islip, started taking her on trips whenever he made enough money from his bathtub and wall tile porcelain reglazing business. Having built a reputation for himself that spread to the Hamptons, Tony began building quite a devoted following, and the more money he made, the more trips they took. It was mostly to Italy at first, where he had relatives that could take them around and offer them free places to stay. But in the third year of their relationship, they started expanding their net to countries that included France, Montenegro, Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria and Turkey. Even though Georgiana had often suggested England, Tony would always balk, “I can’t stand British people. And that fucking weather.” So no, they never made it there together.

Georgiana had always wondered why Tony never asked her to move in with him. She had even taken to complaining about how much she hated living in North Babylon, which, though less than a ten-minute drive away, always felt like an inconvenience to “commute” back to from West Islip in the mornings, after spending the night at Tony’s and then having to get on the Sunrise Highway. She couldn’t think about what had happened between them now though, she had to check in to her room. The fresh-faced, red-haired girl at the front tried her best not to appear bristled by Georgiana’s decrepit body before her. And, going through the amenities, it seemed as though she had to gloss over some of her usual spiel, like talking about the rooftop area, where many “of our guests like to drink–or, er, read as well.” Georgiana was used to this sort of treatment by now. Her breakup with Tony was six years ago, and when you aren’t traveling in a couple, the budget that affords one an Airbnb or even a hotel room, at times, vastly dwindles. In short, she’d been the requisite old woman at the hostel for six years. Just one of the many little perks of being a female alone. It wouldn’t be so challenging if others didn’t seem to make such a big to-do about it, look at Georgiana so piteously when she told them that she was on her own. “Really? You’re here by yourself? Not even one friend?” It was a source of such constant controversy in spite of women of the twenty-first century incessantly being assured that none of the old rules of the past applied. It was just another lie told by those who themselves would never adhere to the promise that a woman wasn’t expected to be in a relationship. Even if it was, all of the sudden and out of desperation, a relationship with another woman.

When she arrived via the elevator on the smoke-tinged fourth floor, the sound of raucous laughter could seem to be heard from all corners of the hallway. It was true about the comparison of hostels to college dorms, most of the ephemeral residents being, indeed, in college. Georgiana sighed as she approached her room. Maybe she was getting too old to be in a place like this. It was exceeding the limits of decorum. And though one didn’t want to believe that the world was such an ageist place that it really was the case that a person of a certain age shouldn’t be in a place with others of a less robust in evocations age, it appeared that this was very much the case, try to single-handedly fight it as Georgiana might. Mercifully, the room was empty when she opened it, giving her at least a few minutes alone to unpack some things, shower and change. When she was finished with her regimen, she exited quickly, as though she was a spy committing some implementation of a recording device.

Outside, it was brisk, the wind whipping against her increasingly cracked and aged face. A face that would soon never have to worry about eliciting catcalls or otherwise unwanted advances. Crossing the bridge, she barely regarded the River Liffey. Rivers made her uneasy, they were too overt a metaphor for time and its passage. She went about her usual method as a lone tourist, walking aimlessly until some museum or shop or other landmark caught her eye. And in between the McDonald’s and the T.G.I. Friday’s, she did find a few entities worth noting, including the Oscar Wilde House and the nearby National Gallery of Ireland. After encountering Dublin Castle and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Georgiana felt she had earned a drink. She eventually sauntered into Pygmalion, largely for its name (even if all it said on the sign was the newspeak spelling, PYG). She already knew it was a sacrilegious act to start at a cocktail bar as opposed to a standard-issue pub on one’s maiden voyage to Dublin, but Georgiana had no one to impress. She was alone. But then, not really. The bar was teeming with youths from the Dublin Institute of Technology. Curse Dublin and its affordability, its quality of life standards, Georgiana thought as she sipped from a lemon drop, a drink order that had caused nothing short of a scandal.

At times, there was a feeling of total liberation in traveling solo. This wasn’t one of them. For right in this moment, sipping from her drink alone and beholding all the revelers around her, Georgiana believed herself to be utterly foolish, a crypt keeper who had abandoned her post to wade in a sea of embryos. So she downed the drink and scuttled back to “the inn.”

People are searching for connections and companionship in hostels. Someone to take their picture, to upload memories of their so-called quality experience to the internet to prove to everyone that there is no loneliness for those willing to commingle. Georgiana, in contrast, was deliberately seeking not to relate to anyone, just wanted to be left on her own. It was because of her aura of impenetrability that she became more noticeable and appeared even more rejected by humanity than she actually felt. But when the judgmental eyes of snickering youths are on you, it can really sour a vacationing experience.

It was a souring that would follow her from Dublin, and though the denizens of Cardiff, Brighton and Southampton were too enmeshed in their own clouds of wealth to much notice the anguished scent that seemed to spout from Georgiana’s very pores, she couldn’t shake the out-of-placeness she had began with at Jacob’s. Which is why her final leg in Brighton found her staying in the Old Ship Hotel overlooking the water.

At the Brighton and Preston Cemetery, Georgiana went to visit the grave of Violette Kaye, one of the victims of the Brighton trunk murders (they were unrelated to one another, but both cases involved a woman’s corpse ending up in a trunk in 1934, which is pretty big news on a small coastal town like Brighton). Staring at the stone, she made a quiet vow to herself that she would no longer stay in hostels, put away such foolish notions that age was irrelevant. The last of her youthful folly died next to Violette Kaye, a prostitute whose own youthful folly at the age of forty-two had gotten her killed by a man sixteen years her junior. This is what becomes of women who ignore reality. They are snuffed out by humiliation or literal death as punishment.

Back in North Babylon by mid-February, Georgiana upheld an appointment she had made at the dermatologist’s before she had left town, in spite of a touch of jet lag. She had a mole that had been bothering her on the side of her neck. Its raised aesthetic was becoming too repulsive to bear, and she said as much to Dr. Reedman, a pleasant enough Indian woman (who had clearly taken the last name of her husband) that felt inclined to forewarn Georgiana of the dangers of removal. “You’ll have a bit of scarring in its place. You’re trading one thing for another. The hope is that the result will look better than what you originally had.” Georgiana nodded. Maybe it wouldn’t. But there is hope with each new endeavor and approach we try, even if it means surrendering a piece of ourselves we thought would always be with us.

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