A cheap motel, cheaper under reconstruction. Coming soon: a new name, a new face, and a better reputation. I’m envious.
No continental breakfast will be served in the morning, according to Roger at the counter, a red-vested bachelor with a whopper of a booger playing peek-a-boo just behind his left nostril. Zero eye contact. Nasally sentences. I’m not judging, just observing the details.
“Room 225. No smoking. Initial here, here, and here. Vehicle make, model, license plate . . . here.” Tap, tap, tapping with a dirty fingernail. “Sign and date at the bottom, please.” Scratching the signature line with the same blackened nail.
Sliding a key card across the counter, “Elevator doesn’t work. Stairs are midway down the hall.”
I say to him, “Thank you. Have a good night.”
No response from Roger. He snatches a frayed copy of People magazine and disappears into a small room with a one-way mirror. I wonder if he’ll pick his nose and lick the same index finger when separating the shiny pages of gossip and then return the publication to the lobby table for the customers to enjoy.
Probably another Norman Bates. A kidnapper. A killer. A fresh victim chained even now in his mother’s basement, hogtied, slobbering on a gag ball, dreading his inevitable return. These are my thoughts close to midnight.
I desperately need sleep. And lots of prayer.
The place matches my mood: broken, empty, sticky, sad, off the grid.
I pass scaffolding draped with white tarpaulin. Tall dapple ghosts speckled with putty and paint. Boo.
A child’s Dollar Store sticker is peeling off a smudged stainless steel elevator as I pass—a rainbow that’s been bleached of all its color, almost gray now –a visual reminder that time passes, children grow up, and life is less colorful because we need the little ones to restore our faith in fairy tales and dreams.
Paul McCartney’s, “Long and Winding Road,” is serenading my mind. I think of destinations never reached.
My breathing’s a bit labored after skipping every other step to the second floor with a pack on my back—a minimalist’s satchel stuffed tight with only the necessities: composition notebooks, a slow computer storing an unfinished, lousy novel that feels like a yawn that won’t quite catch, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, razor, a single change of clothes, and a bottle of gin. There’s also hidden in an inner pocket of the weathered bag, a coral-pink thong; a silky triangle of material is all that remains of her, sacred and scented with her DNA.
I’m quarantining myself for a while because my troubles are highly contagious and starting to affect other people. Mainly her.
Paul’s still singing as I enter the rented room.
Many times, I’ve been alone and many times I’ve cried…
Anyway, you’ve always known the many ways I’ve tried…
But still they lead me back to the long, winding road….
I want to run to her door, but it’s locked now.
Good night. Sleep tight. Don’t let the damn bedbugs bite. They can flatten to the size of a credit card just to enter or exit a baseboard.
* * *
Good morning to no one in particular. Maybe to my missing muse?
Time to write. I hope they come today—the words—the ones that will combine into something worth remembering, a story that will leave every reader saying ahhh, yes, okay, wow. Isn’t that why I’ve been placed upon this earth? Shit, I’m starting to wonder.
It’s seems contradictory that I’ve removed myself from love to write about love or that I’ve tossed my faith in order to find it. Bless me, for I have sinned.
Reincarnation. Maybe I’ll return to a normal life not just a better man but a different one altogether. Maybe I’ll start with a haircut. Right now, I need to brush my teeth.
But first: microwave popcorn and black coffee for breakfast.
While the corn is popping, I part the dusty, heavy drapes at the window—like something from the seventies, designed by LSD.. It’s raining again. I don’t mind. These are the writing hours and I’m warm and dry.
My spirit’s in a funk because of the loss of her. I need some happy noise. I click on the television.
“Good morning. It’s January 3, 2019. A happy new year to all our friends out there…”
No neighbors in the next room, I crank the volume and tiptoe naked to the bathroom to scrub my hands before I reach into the bag of popcorn; I skeeve hotel television remotes. I’d rather risk licking a grocery cart or a gas pump handle than eat with my fingers after touching the festering buttons of the filthy black controller.
“…not so happy for some. Yesterday, Daryl Dragon…”
Some things we try to block forever from our memories. The Captain and Tennille’s, Muskrat Love, for example—one of the worst songs ever recorded—is playing on the screen and making me squeamish. Yacht rock. No, no, no, please, never, no. I’m horrified afresh at the passionate emissions of rodents Sam and Susie water-farting and queefing in the background. Cheering the little rats on is the cute Colgate smile of Tennille over against the boring, deadpan expression of the Captain (extra dead as of yesterday, according to the news anchorman, though not in those exact words), whose talented fingers created the skeezing sounds electronically—this, allegedly, the only intimacy of which the strange man had ever been capable of.
“Dragon died at a hospice home in Prescott, Arizona.”
According to reports, Daryl’s ex-wife was by his side even though they’d divorced. “Love didn’t keep them together,” says the anchorman tongue-in-cheek, linking one of their terrible songs to their divorce, and I am overcome by a sudden urge to smack him—hard—like sssssslap and then mess up his hair sprayed pompadour and choke him with his ugly tie. Show some respect. Damn.
Stage performances are just that: performances, well-rehearsed acts. Behind the curtain, however, there are no illusions, just real life, and lots of broken glass. Nevertheless, Tennille rushed to Dragon’s side when he needed her most. There was something there. An uncommon loyalty on her part though he didn’t seem to deserve or want it.
Loyalty is uncommon these days and the very essence of genuine love.
A commercial for gorilla glue as I’m turning off the television, “Original Gorilla Glue . . . for the toughest jobs on planet earth.”
Marriage is the toughest job on the planet. Is there a glue for intimate fractures?
Muskrats and marriage. Strange how things connect in a stream of consciousness. Trying to get the old writing generator cranked, kind of stubborn this week.
When I was a teenager, I developed an innocent crush on my friend’s divorced mother. I remember the exact moment. She was warming herself by a wood stove, combing her long hair still wet from a cold rain, and she was wearing tight long johns. She was a passionate hunter of game. She would enter the forest confident, independent, and dressed for the part—androgynous and indistinguishable from all the men but just as accurate and strong and far more likeable. Her crazy son and I feasted on venison and sat on the edge of our seats as she recounted her kills –a live audio version far more entertaining than a glossy article from some hunting magazine in the local barber shop.
Speaking of barber shops, her son always sported a jaw-dropping bad haircut, like he had clipped it himself and without a mirror. I would look at him with a smile and say, “Barber school?”
My friend’s mom ultimately remarried. She peeled off her camouflage pants and slipped into a white dress for the occasion. All were shocked at her surprising transfiguration into feminine grace and beauty. After her divorce, she had gone into hiding and disguised herself for years. She killed, skinned, and ate animals for therapy. But when she walked down the aisle, she was no longer one of the boys but the breathtaking wife of a talented fisherman and trapper. That handsome and rugged man led her by the hand from the woods to the water and taught her everything she needed to know in order to thrive in his world. Tragically, she disappeared again, this time inside a pair of rubber waders, and returned to a sort of pseudo-masculinity, an attractive woman sadly reduced to a fishy version of Sadie Hawkins, chasing her man around the local waterways, trying so hard to impress and please him.
The two were rarely seen apart but, whenever they were, he was never alone. It was muskrat season when she discovered his cheating.
She didn’t confront him. He never knew that she knew.
Then came the night of the annual muskrat dinner at the township fire hall, normally a happy, festive time which never failed to rake in a good amount of money for local charities. Her husband and the other woman served as volunteers, dishing out food and waiting on tables, smiling and acting innocent. He would be home late, he said with a wink, and it was a promise he kept.
Nobody dressed for the occasion because the feast was always sloppy and the fire hall, situated so close to the water, was miserably cold and breezy. The crowd stayed warm and real in their rubber boots, hooded sweatshirts, and dickies. Fisherman, trappers, and hunters all huddled around kerosene heaters told their family and friends the same old tall tales over and over again while others sat quietly guarding their secrets.
Muskrat love, yes, every year bordering on worship.
I don’t eat anything with the word rat in it. That’s what I told another friend’s bully of a father when he had sliced some muskrat meat cold from his refrigerator and offered me a bite on the end of a clean fork. He wore a weird smile on his face—or maybe it was just the fact that he was even smiling at all that was weird. I don’t know. I imagine he wanted to poison me. He once threw a hammer at his son. Don’t tell anyone.
The word Democrat ends with rat. Just saying.
The unfaithful rat trapper finally came home to his wife. She was waiting for him. A trail of candles led to the bedroom, but he didn’t find her there. She was still in the bathroom, preparing. Naturally pretty, she didn’t have to try too hard. The man had had forced his occasional Cinderella into a humiliating competition with one of the ugly stepsisters.
They say the ugly ones are the best in bed. That’s the kind of lousy information relayed by cheaters. I pray to God that will never be me.
My friend’s mom was weary of downplaying her beauty. She wanted him to pant with lust for her and her alone—permanently—and if she started to flaunt in public the curves God had given to her, maybe some of the other men might appreciate what they saw and cause her playboy husband the same deep hurt and angst that he had given to her: the constant threat of betrayal.
She took her time. The candles burned low. Her husband was tired and not in the mood. At least he’d been afforded some extra minutes to recover from a steamy tryst on the way home. Recharged, he’d be able to perform one more time and without a tattletale softie that wouldn’t pop up on demand.
Another performance. Another act of love, well-rehearsed, fresh from an act of betrayal. He likely wondered if she’d smell her on him, possibly hoping his unsuspecting wife might mistake the scent of illicit sex for fried muskrat leftovers.
Forty-five minutes later, tight-mouthed and impatient, he finally decided to speed things along. That’s when he entered the bathroom and found her.
There she was. Still in the tub.
She didn’t say a word.
After bathing and perfuming her body, she had slipped once more into her white wedding gown. She had also taken the time to braid her long blonde hair into a French twist but with one loose strand hanging over her right eye, which was always kind of sexy. Sensual cherry lipstick matched her painted toes. One long athletic leg slung over the side of the tub like an invitation while the other was bent at the knee with her big toe stuck inside the trigger guard of a shotgun. Her hands were still gripping the barrel directly over her heart where, only two hours ago, all her pain had leaked through a sieve of multiple pellet holes.
Brown eyes, dark and glassy as a fallen doe, accused him through an open veil.