At midnight, Thanksgiving arrived on an unusual bitter-cold wind.  In a few short hours, the southern town would wake and warm itself around home cooked foods and fires.  White smoke curled from a number of neighborhood chimneys and scented the frigid air with a woodsy nostalgia.

Jim needed a place to hole up.  Somewhere with no music, decorations, or cute children in mittens.  He drove to a certain corner of town not known for being family friendly.  He heard himself snickering when he saw the flickering sign: End of Days Inn.  The moment felt scripted, like some writer had chosen this very motel for him, just to be funny, or clever, or sarcastic.  Maybe even prophetic.  His warmest thought was a cold pistol.

Hesitantly, he steered the truck onto the broken pavement of the lot.  Headlights reflected shattered glass.  A rusty carport sheltered the office.  The wind pushed hard against the awning and chilled Jim to the bone, more than the zombie stare of the night clerk.

The empty-eyed girl (perhaps thirty-something with meth teeth) didn’t smile at him from behind the protective, smudgy glass.  After a brief coughing fit, “May I help you?”

“Yes, ma’am. I’d like to order a Thanksgiving with no turkey, no side orders, no dessert, no parade, no ball game, no relatives, no music, no singing or dancing, and no children, please.”

“You come to the wight pwace.  Shmoking or non-shmoking?”

Speech impediment, came to Jack’s mind, like Elmer Fudd.  Try not to embarrass her, he told himself.  Maintain good eye contact.

Don’t blink!  He heard his two tiny ghost girls laughing.  If they were still alive, he would wink at them, tell them to shush and be respectful.

“I’ll take smoking.”

“We don’t got none availwable.”

“Then why did you ask me in the first place?”

“I don’t know.”

Jim looked at her with one eye, “Okay . . . I’ll take non-smoking.”

“You bettul not shmoke in thell.”

“Okay . . . I’ll just drink coffee” (and peppermint vodka, he thought). He toasted his half and half drink to her, now down to a few tepid swallows in the chill of the night.

“We don’t have any coffee.”

“Oookaaay . . . do you happen to have any soap and towels?”

“Yes—but no shampoo.”

“How much do I owe you for one night?”

“I onwy have one woom weft—105—but it’s fuhl the handicapped.  Do you mind?  You’ll have a weefrigerator and a micwowave and a walk-in shallwhul with a hose sprayuhl.  Sixty dollwuhs.”

Jack opened his wallet.  The clerk noticed the most recent picture of his wife and children.

“Them’s youl famiwy?”

Jim was signing the receipt.  He didn’t look up.  “Yeah.”

“They’s beautifuhl.”

“Thank you.”  He fingered the clerk’s pen back through the narrow slot.  She slid him a key card in return and a handwritten note with a WiFi number on it: 0626.  The script writer again, he thought, so cruel (probably looks like Quentin Tarantino).  June 26.  That day his life changed forever.

“You faw away fwom home?”

Jack took his eyes off the numbers and looked at her.  “No. They’re far away from me.”

Staring back at him for a moment, she started to nod off.  Narcolepsy, Jack thought, or Norco.

“Well, um, goodnight.  Happy Thanksgiving.”  Standing under the flickering sign, End of Days, Jim closed his eyes and tried not to remembered the rotating lights of an ambulance arriving too late.  He cupped a trembling hand over an American Spirit Blue and flicked a Bic.

The girl didn’t answer until the sluggish breezeway door was an inch from closed.  “Don’t shmoke!”
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Andrew Dabar