Imagining: Although it was late, some new arrivals in a flashy European car pull in out the front, their bright headlights briefly illuminating the reception area, dazzling the dozing Darryl out of his slumber. During the day, the reception area doubles as a cafe, the air thick with the smell of freshly ground coffee, the chatter of acquaintances making small-talk, and tourists excitedly planning their day. But on the night shift Darryl’s post is a lonely one, and, though he’s loathe to admit it, he sometimes falls asleep in his chair.
‘Good evening, and welcome to the Club Hotel. You must be the Lawrences’, Darryl says perkily, surreptitiously wiping some sleep from his eye and trying to conceal a slight croak in his voice. The couple return a lazy half smile and inform Darryl they’d like to check in. ‘Melburnians’, Darryl thinks to himself, ‘And rude ones at that’. While Darryl was right about their origin, what he couldn’t know is they aren’t typically rude, just tired from the drive and still rattled by a near miss with a particularly suicidal kangaroo.
‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave’, jokes Darryl, raising barely a chuckle from the Lawrences. Darryl continues, ‘Actually, check-out is 10am, but you can leave whenever you want’. As Darryl fetches their key, the couple thumb through a magazine and inspect the collection of antique coach lights lining the wall. ‘Your room is out that door and up the stairs. The last on your right’, Darryl instructs them. ‘Enjoy your stay’.
Glancing into the lounge and restaurant as they pass, the Lawrence’s notice a nighthawk at the bar, swirling ice and whisky in a heavy crystal tumbler. Framed by ornately arched recesses in the bar, a filigree canopy hanging overhead, and historic 18th-century portraits lining the walls in the background, this composition gives the Lawrences the odd sense they have walked onto the set of a film.
As the couple drag their suitcase up the stairs to their room, they pass another guest, tucked into a cosy nook in a widened section of the corridor. The nook is overflowing with books, among which the guest’s face, and thick bushranger beard is illuminated by the soft glow of an overhead pendant and a wash of colourful light from a stained glass window behind. He sits, reading; engrossed in a biography of Ned Kelly.
What the Lawrence’s can’t appreciate is the stories playing out behind the closed hotel room doors. In one room, a guest unpacks his suitcase and ruminates over his pitch for the next day, his confident persona concealing an anxious over-planner deep down.
In another, a young family are sound asleep after a long day of fossicking. A metal detector leans against the wall. Unfortunately, there isn’t a huge nugget to reward them for their busy day, but a collection of bottle caps and old coins on the desk is their haul.
Next door, another guest flops onto the soft, four-poster bed, her beaded gown bunching around her legs as she kicks off her precipitous heels. The long day had passed so quickly. A year of decisions, minor freak-outs, preparations, major freak-outs and nervous excitement receding into the past.
On the other side of that same room, a man with a mop of tight curls slides open a door to reveal a hidden kitchenette. He pulls a chilled bottle of Champagne from the mini-fridge. 2011. The year they met.
Earlier in the evening that same couple and more than a hundred guests filled the elegant oval ballroom downstairs. Together they ate, laughed, and danced, under a constellation of delicate spherical bulbs, floating overhead. It was the wedding they’d both hoped for; a day full of character, elegance and fun.
All these characters’ paths, for whatever reason, cross, at this moment in time, in the tiny town of Clunes. Tomorrow they will pack up and leave and a Darryl will welcome a new chapter of tales.