Thanksgiving at the Hotel Stella

By S.C. Wahleyre

For RF

They're foreigners, Louise says, blinking like she's confused.

She's the owner of the Hotel Stella, a narrow structure built fifty years ago in the rue Saint André des Arts.

Right. They have these things they do, Claude says.

He tries to keep away from the affairs of the hotel. They're complicated, difficult. Slow evenings tending bar down the street are enough for him, plus the stories don't demand anything. All you have to do is listen.

So what should we do? Louise isn't asking so much as thinking out loud.

What's it to us? As long as they pay.

She scowls like what else would you say. A strand of brown hair, gray at the root, falls in her eye. She pushes it behind her ear and gets up from the table.

He hears her turn on the faucet which means the discussion is over.

She hears his chair scrape the floor and knows he's about to leave.


Upstairs in room 15 a pair of American travelers is thinking about Thanksgiving.

Look, James says. She won't let us do this just because it's us. Let's go out. Celebrate ourselves. It'll be great.

Get stoned first, Charlotte says. She holds up an index finger like declaring a principle. Always.

Her attention drifts and lights on his glossy mustache. She starts for him. He jumps back.

Whoa. Let's stay in focus.

Okay, alright. She picks up her jacket and opens the door.

He winks at her back and follows.


At the bottom of the stairs they find Madame Louise sitting at her desk. She looks up. They're so young and lit with energy she's moved. On the spot she makes a decision.

So would you like to do that? It would be a novelty for us.

James and Charlotte eye each other. He turns his palms up, cocks his head. Charlotte nods.

Thank you Madame, James says. We would.

As before she is taken with him. Call me Louise.

We will buy the special things, Charlotte says. Her French is awkward but she figures Louise will understand.

No, no. You'll never find what you need! Louise takes out a square of paper and a pen. Tell me, she says, what we should have for Thanksgiving dinner?

First turkey. And cranberry sauce. Charlotte says cranberry sauce in English, having neglected to look it up when she checked how to say turkey.

Louise frowns but doesn't ask what it means.

Green beans, sweet potatoes, James adds. He has the name for the beans but not the sweet potatoes. A literal translation he figures will do.

Louise understands perfectly.

Good, she says. The other guests will like it. You must say some things to explain, alright?

Bien sûr, James says. Charlotte looks at him, impressed.


Nodding at the empty bar, Claude is roused by sirens on the television. Oh no not again, he thinks. The thought of the horrible events two weeks ago puts him in a desultory state. He stares at the shiny surface of the bar, stunned by a feeling he can't sort out.

Through the door comes Christophe with the beer delivery. Claude shakes off his stupor and pours the man a drink. They toast the dull November afternoon.

What's up? Christophe asks.

Claude leans over the bar, his elbows braced on the inner rim, hands clasped together.

Tomorrow, he says, Thanksgiving. At the Stella. He spreads his arms wide. Huge dinner, American style.

What for?

He shrugs and tilts his head like why not? Louise, she wants to do it for these kids. From the US.

Thanksgiving, Christophe says.


Turkeys. They thank the turkey for something. Then eat it.

The President forgives a turkey. What for, I don't know. Then they eat it at the White House. Everybody does the same. All over America.

So what's Louise got going with these kids?

Claude takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. Who knows. It's like she's trying to spend money.

Turkey. Costs a fortune. They pay the same, right, the guests?


Christophe downs the rest of his glass. Have a good time, he says laughing.

Claude winces at the slice of gray light through the half opened door. The city noise makes him think of Louise.


Late the next morning Charlotte pulls her hair back in a pony tail. She heads downstairs. Louise is in the kitchen chopping celery. A laptop open to a recipe sits at eye level on the shelf in front of her.

Can I help?

Louise looks up at the laptop. Her first thought is to get the girl out of the kitchen. The recipe however calls for more chopping than she'd planned. Nuts and sausage, onions, bread, other things.

She turns to Charlotte, smiles warmly. Very good. Take that board. Chop those onions.

Charlotte moves quickly. This is great, she says. Her head's mostly cleared from the dope she smoked after breakfast but there's still a nice aura hovering over everything.

What about your family? They're doing this now too, no?

Well, six hours after us, Charlotte says. She throws her head back in raucous laughter.

Louise turns and looks.

Charlotte is fascinated by the woman's dual-colored hair. She imagines dying her own roots gray. Louise's face takes on this curious expression, like she's trying to make sense of Charlotte while Charlotte's studying her. Charlotte stares at the dark half moons under the really kind of cold blue eyes.

James appears in the doorway. What can I do? He reaches up and grabs the top of the frame like he's ready to swing from it.

Louise puts the knife down. She wipes her hands on a towel. You could, she says, stop down the street, Bar Le Pigeon. Tell Claude to get here by six o'clock. Tell him to bring more wine.

Bien sûr, James says.

Charlotte rolls her eyes. Louise sees this and frowns.


At six Charlotte's hair is still wet from the shower. She's wearing the best of what she has, a white voile summer dress embroidered with small flowers. She pulls on a grey sweater. In the bottom of her bag she finds a pair of dark green knee socks. Great, she says to herself. They almost match.

She grabs the roach in the ashtray, lights it, and takes one long toke. She sticks her head in the hallway to see if James is out of the shower.

Wrapped in a towel, he rounds the corner.

Hey, you look nice!

Thanks she says. Want some? She holds up the roach. Inhaling, he looks at her out the corner of his eye. He gives it back and pulls her to him.

Hey watch the roach, she says. Burn yourself.

He kisses her and says into her neck, Things I'd rather do than sit down for Thanksgiving dinner.

Come on, she says, it'll be great. I'm hungry.

Always, he says and drops the towel. He holds his arms out like, what do you think?

Charlotte rolls her eyes and heads for the door.


To the poor young souls at the Bataclan, Louise says, raising her glass.

They toast. Everybody's silent.

Tell us about Thanksgiving.

Well, Charlotte starts. You don't give presents. That's Christmas.

Louise looks impatient.

It started with the Indians, right? says Claude.

Charlotte looks at James. He straightens up.

They taught it, he says. To the white people. The ones who came on the Mayflower. You know what that is?

Claude stares. He reaches for the wine and fills his glass.

The first ship to go to America. With pilgrims, Louise says.

Not exactly the first, James says. But close.

A clear picture comes to Charlotte like a film strip with a subtitle. The Indians, she explains, showed the pilgrims how they gave thanks. For everything.

So the pilgrims did this too? Claude asks.

Sort of only it was just that one day. The Indians did it all the time.

They gave thanks to their gods?

I guess so, Charlotte says. Maybe just each other?

James clears his throat. It was a way of appreciating the world, the animals, the plants, you know. It helped them see the world better.

Very interesting, Louise says. So that's what people in America do now?

Charlotte throws her head back and laughs like a horse, snorting and gasping until she's almost in tears.

The table goes silent around her. James looks at her and snickers. Louise's eyes dart back and forth between the two of them. The other guests stare.

What's the joke? Claude asks.

Charlotte straightens and wipes her eyes. Mostly it's an eating festival, she says. Families get together. She starts to convulse again but stops herself.

James looks at her with admiration and worry.

They appreciate each other, he says. It's that simple. Eat and love.

Louise puts her chin in her hand. She seems thoughtful.

Claude stares at Charlotte wondering if she'll start laughing again. Well bon appétit! he says.


That was cool, Charlotte says. Only I lost it there a minute.

James is taking off his shoes. I think about those kids at the Bataclan. Shit.

Listen, she says. It was the worst. What can you do?

He shakes his head and holds it in his hands.

Charlotte goes to the window. The moon, she says, it's nice. She imagines the kids standing around scared in the theatre. She looks away from the window and tries to think of Thanksgiving.

James looks up at the window. She turns to him and sees his sadness.

Let's go to sleep.

They slide out of their clothes. The narrow bed is wobbly. It's just wide enough for the two of them. He puts his arm around her and pulls on his mustache.

She settles her head on his shoulder. A siren screams in the street. She can't quite see the moon over James's head, but he's nicer to look at anyway. Watching one streak of light in his hair, she falls asleep.


The moon is nearly full. Claude can see Louise's face as if it were bright daylight. She blinks in her sleep and rolls toward him. He hears a siren careening down the street maybe three blocks away.

He sees the years in her jowls, in the folds under her chin. Her eyes have that turn-up at the ends he's always liked. He's glad they're closed. The cold blue gaze would ruin the moment.

Suddenly she's looking at him. There it is, chilly as the moon. He keeps looking.

It's like she's trying to find something in his pupils.

The wine glaze she noticed after dinner is gone. His eyes are clear and sweet as when he was nineteen. The lines crawl out from the corners, roads on a map, but there's that light like a low burning candle. She remembers seeing it all those years ago.

The blue steel warms. It's a softness in her eyes he hasn't seen in how long? Louise, he says and takes her in his arms. A cloud slides over the moon. Shadows cover the bed. The jowls disappear. Claude and Louise fall into the night, lovers like they haven't been in ages.

Hours later, the moon gone from the window, he wakes and finds her looking at him again. Joyeux Thanksgiving, he says. She grins and whispers thanks mon vieux.