“Because of a rat.”
“No, because of ratsss. That’s a plural,” she said. “A big plural. There was a whole nest of them.” A street lamp passed over us and in the glow I saw Margaret’s grip on the steering wheel tighten.
“How could that happen?” I yawned, wondering if it was worth it to wake all the way up or muddle through until we got to the hotel and I could fall back to sleep. “You think a pack of rodents in our attic would have been a little more noticeable. Are you sure that’s what you saw?”
“It couldn’t have been very bright up there. There’s only the one bulb.”
“Maybe it was something else? Something that just looked like a nest of rats.”
“I’m sure and you’re welcome.”
“Sorry. It’s just part of me wishes I could have finished sleeping before discovering we were shacked up with a bunch of black death carriers.”
“That’s a bit dramatic don’t you think?”
“Says the woman driving a getaway car at 2:00 am. By the way what were you doing in the attic in the middle of the night anyway?”
Margaret didn’t answer. I was just about to ask again when she steered the car left and said, “Finally. Here we are!”
We rolled to a stop in front of large sandwich board sign. Faded and worn you could just make out brush strokes. Once upon a time the sign probably said something meaningful like “welcome” or “have a pleasant stay”, but those days were long gone. On a nearby post a neon no/vacancy sign buzzed. So many of its letters were broken room availability was permanently ambiguous.
I pointed but Margaret wasn’t fazed.
“I phoned ahead.” She told me. “They have room.”
Opposite the board was a set of double glass doors, the kind that swing both ways, and a ramp leading in. On one door was a sheet of copy paper with the words “office. No more than $100 kept on the premises overnight” hand written in ink. Behind that was a chipped Formica counter and behind that I could just see a ball capped man watching something in black and white on a small TV.
“Well this is classy.” I said.
Margaret was already out of the car. “You wait here. I’ll only be a minute.” She told me and I did as she asked. It wasn’t like I had another option. Anyway I was tired. The sooner we got to the room the better.
As Margaret moved through the glass doors a bell chimed. Something in me pinged. The scene was familiar. It was a sharp known familiar. Did I recognize this place? A memory surfaced and I was sure of it. Margaret had walk into this motel before, a long time ago. I know. I was there.
I could not understand how it could be true. Margaret and I had never taken any vacations or gone on any trips. We’d only lived in two houses in all our time together and when we moved, we didn’t stay in a motel.
At least I couldn’t remember us staying in a motel. It was a long time ago and not a time I liked to recall. Not if I could help it.
Maybe I was wrong. Maybe we did stay in a motel, in this motel, back then. It must be. The memory was too clear to not be real. Maybe the pain and confusion of everything else I went through back then overshadowed and ultimately blocked out one uneventful night sleeping in a dive.
Blocked it out until now that is. Now, while I waited for Margaret to get keys to what would surely be the dumpiest room I have never before so desperately wanted to be asleep in, my weird brain decided it was time to remind me of ancient history.
Ancient horrible history.
“Good to go.” Margaret was back. She held two key cards in hand and smiled. “Your bedroom chamber awaits m’lady….What’s wrong?”
“You look like death. You see a ghost or something?”
“Talk about being dramatic. I’m fine. Just tired. Can we go?”
Margaret turned the engine over and drove the car less than a hundred yard before parking again. She handed me a key then got out to get our bags from the back. Our room was on the second floor. I swung my bag over my shoulder and lumbered up the steps in silence. My head was swirling in unwanted memories.
Why was this happening? Why this motel? Why were we spending the night in the same place we stayed when my life fell apart?
“…if that’s alright…Violet?”
I looked up. Margaret and I were in the room. She had dropped her bags and was staring at me.
“Vi? Did you hear me? I asked if that was alright.”
“If I could have the bed by the door.” Margaret repeated.
“Oh. Sure.” I picked up a pillow and stared at it. Had I really seen this before?
“You should lie down before you fall down.” She said. “You’re practically sleepwalking.”
“Huh huh.” What about the walls, the furniture…is this truly the same place?
“Yeah, well…I need a shower.” She said. “I feel like rats have touched every inch of me.”
I tossed the pillow onto the bed and walked over to the window. Neon and moonlight lit up the night.
“Think you can stay alive long enough to close the curtain?” Margaret asked.
“You’re halfway there.”
She was right, one hand clutched the curtain ready to shut out the world.
“Sure.” I said, looking out the window again wondering what I had been looking for. Behind me the bathroom door closed and water ran. My eyes searched the dark road below but it was too bright in our room to see anything well. So I shut the curtain like Margaret asked and switched off the light.
I sat on the edge of Margaret’s bed thinking, remembering. It wasn’t hard to bring it back. The details flooded in as clear as if it all happened yesterday. They always did. How old was I? Six? Five? Younger? I don’t know that but I remember the sky that day, cloudy and on the verge of rain. Maybe I remember that because it explains why I was in Tommy’s garage in the first place. I couldn’t think of anything else to do.
I remember exactly how excited and curious I was, standing there alone with a boy. My heart beat like a caught bird. Tommy leaned towards me, lips puckered. The only kissing I had ever seen was on TV and so, letting that be my guide, I let my lids fall. Then Tommy Spader touched me. He wrapped his hands around my head and cradled my face in his palms.
When I remember I see it in slow motion, his hands rising, the feeling of his fingers against my skin…then comes the electricity, the charge, the fiery connection that neither of us wanted.
That’s when the film in my head speeds up. We are running in normal time and suddenly, instead of giving me my first kiss, Tommy is giving me an earful. I opened my eyes fast, startled by what I heard. There, inches from me was Tommy, looking terrified. I was instantly afraid and tried to wiggle free but his hands held on, like he couldn’t let go. The back of my head, where his finger tips touched my scalp, was on fire as Tommy Spader told me things I’m certain he never meant to tell anyone.
Tommy was a rotten little boy and deserved all the shit that rained down on him after that day. But, if it hadn’t been for me, no one would have ever known.
I leaned over from my spot on the bed and pealed back a corner of the curtain for one final look at the grounds. The moon was nearly full and lighting up the parking lot. There was only our car below and I wondered how the man in the baseball cap got here. Did he walk to work?
So much of my early childhood was lost to me. There was so much I had no memory of, my parents for one. Who doesn’t remember their parents? Of them I have nothing. No images, no sounds, not a smell that when I came across it would draw me back to an earlier time. I had not one shred of memory of them to hold on to but that day with Tommy…that day stayed with me.
It wasn’t all Tommy’s fault I guess. All the gossip and glares, our rapid move and Margaret and I staying in this ugly motel, was a little bit my fault too. I was a good little girl who told what I knew to the first adult I could find. I was just too young to know that for a girl like me, that’s never a good idea.
So I let Tommy off the hook, a little bit.
Besides, if it hadn’t been for him it would have been some other unsuspecting chump showing me who I am, what I can make people do. It would be some other name terrorizing me whenever I felt like getting close to anyone.
The ball capped man stepped out onto the black top. He left his post and the tiny television for a breath of night air and a cigarette.
A cigarette he decided, at the last minute, not to smoke. He dropped it to the ground as soon as the tobacco glowed and stomped it out under his boot.
I watched him now, curious. He returned to the office and as the door swung behind him a figure emerged from the shadow of the building. A tall man in a dark suit walked across the parking lot alone. A car appeared from the street. It motored along quietly until it was beside the man. He made no moves while it did this and when the car stopped he got in the back seat without a word. Then they drove away.
I followed every step with insane interest.
I know it sounds crazy, but I was pretty sure I had seen him before.