The Innkeeper’s Place

by Angela Readman

Mr Merendez wasn’t sweeping the back of the hall, shhhhhing the innkeeper’s nerves. Daniel scratched tinsel on his tea towelled head. Joseph took Mary’s hand as if she had fleas and stepped onstage. The big line was approaching. Mr Merendez wasn’t here.

The school announced who was who ages ago. Daniel crossed his fingers, desperate not to get ‘orchestra.’ The orchestra didn’t get wings, or follow a star, or have a fluffy lamb stitched to their legs.

‘Daniel,’ Miss said, ‘you’re the innkeeper. Sarah Mitchell, you’re his wife.’

The girl pouted. Daniel stuck out his tongue. If he could pick his own wife, he’d pick someone else. Sarah Mitchell would die before she’d lend anyone a rubber from her pencil case.

The dress rehearsal stank of potato and Vix. Daniel felt sick. The caretaker, Mr Merendez, was steadily sweeping around the stacked dinner chairs. Daniel listened to his broom hush the floor.

‘Lovely,’ Miss said, ‘but this time, Joseph, act as if you don’t hate Mary.’

Mary and Joseph knocked at the innkeeper’s. Daniel mumbled his line. Sarah Mitchell busted in like a granny at a jumble sale.

‘We get so busy at this time of year, booked up,’ she said, ‘you can imagine…’

‘That’s not your line!’ Daniel said.

‘No, Sarah, that isn’t your line,’ said Miss.

‘He’s not doing it right! I’d do it better,’ Sarah said, ‘I know I can! Let me say his bit!’

Miss rubbed her skull. ‘Let’s start again. The innkeeper’s wife only says ‘what about the manger?’

The caretaker, Mr Merendaz, swept tinsel after the children went home. Daniel sat on stage whispering his line. Eight words he could say eighty ways. It had to be right.

‘Don’t worry,’ said Mr Merendez, ‘all actors get stage fright, if they care.’

Daniel looked at Mr Merendez- about his father’s age. He seemed older, silently propping his weight on the broom.

‘You say your line like you,’ he said, ‘underplay it, like Brando. Its a very fine line.’

‘But, Sarah Mitchell could say it better,’ said Daniel.

Mr Merendez shrugged. ‘She says it louder, not the same as better. Hey, cheer up! So the innkeeper has a bossy wife? Ha! It happens! Do your bit again. I’ll be audience.’

Daniel delivered the line like a dead letter.

‘You must think like an innkeeper.’ Mr Merendez tapped his head. ‘The innkeeper is sorry he has no room, yes? The great actors recall something that matters to them. Think of something that matters.’

‘Like what?’ Daniel thought only sawdust mattered to Mr Merendez. He saw him carrying the sawdust bucket a lot.

Mr Merendez flipped open a photo in his wallet. On it, a blonde woman cradled a child. ‘This is my girlfriend, oops, wife now, and my son, if I was the innkeeper I’d think about them. If they don’t let me stay, if I don’t get my visa. I…’ He snapped shut the photo. ‘Of course, you think about your something, your football team losing… something.’

‘I’m sorry, there’s no room at the inn,’ said Daniel. It was simple, in front of Mr Merendez. He was a grown-up, but he spoke like a person.

Mr Merendez watched, dark eyed, serious. He clapped his hands.

‘You did it! See? You are the innkeeper. Why be nervous? Look for me on the night, you’re just speaking to me. OK?’

The hall clicked with camera loaded parents. Little Donkey had been sang, trailed along its dusty road. Mary and Joseph wandered onstage. The innkeeper waited, the line crouched in his mouth. Everyone was looking and Mr Merendez wasn’t there. He’d been absent all week. They did not let him stay, no one was taking care of the school.

Mary and Joseph knocked on an invisible door. The innkeeper answered, wife at his side.

‘We’re looking for somewhere to sleep tonight, my wife’s having a baby soon…’ Daniel knew what the Innkeeper should say, but Mr Merendez wasn’t there.

‘Aye, come in, there’s plenty of room at my place,’ he said.

The audience looked at each other. Miss hissed the correct line at the side of the stage. The innkeeper wouldn’t hear. His wife tried to talk over him.

‘What my husband means is, there’s is no room at the inn,’ she said.

‘That’s not what I mean, woman,’ the innkeeper said, ‘there’s room, come in.’

He waved a confused Joseph and Mary into his invisible lounge. He waved the kings, shepherds, angel and the orchestra onstage. They all trailed into an imagined lounge, looking around, following no script, the one they were given not working out.

‘Come in, come in, sit down…’ the innkeeper kept saying, ‘there’s plenty of room, scooch.’

The audience laughed.

A very Merry Christmas to you from The Pygmy Giant!

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