The Garden Lodge Motel in Arizona, close to the state line with New Mexico, usually operated at about 5% occupancy; there were twenty rooms available, inexplicably numbered 101-121, fifteen of which were double rooms and five were singles. There always seemed to be one room inhabited, but the only times this was exceeded was when a nearby conference, usually in Tucson, would bring a glut of married businessmen to the area, and even then those that used The Garden Lodge only did so briefly, taking advantage of the hourly rate offered to bring prostitutes and female colleagues away from prying eyes for a quick throw down before returning to their monotonous lives selling air conditioning units and fucking their plain housewives in Utah or Colorado. The road that the motel was situated on was a one-way street, more of a lane than a road. Many people had quietly questioned the wisdom of erecting a motel on a one way street leaving a city, but it saw enough business to stay open. The road was tarmacked, but its surface looked like it hadn’t been maintained since the dawn of time; there were frequent potholes, some the size of a large pizza and deep as a saucepan, the road markings were faded almost to the point of extinction, the crisp white lines that had once flanked the road now chapped and incongruent. The edges of the road had no curbs and, through years of rain running down the camber of the tarmac, had eroded and crumbled like the sides of a dry apple pie. The motel was erected on hastily spread concrete which, due to its improper laying, was now undulated and cracked, resembling an arid concrete desert, still and imposing, the only movement that of concrete dust swirling erratically around the forecourt on the occasional breeze. The concrete ran right up to the roadside, making an axle-shattering divot between the two surfaces, and on the other side was Tombstone Heritage Park. The park had fallen into disrepair of late after Buck Singleton, the grounds keeper, had died four years ago and no one had cared to take up his duties. Buck had been an employee at The Garden Lodge for twenty seven years, tending to the odd guest or two but mostly nurturing Tombstone Park to a lush green paradise. There were no flowers to speak of, just a large grassed area leading to a forest at the back, but Buck had treated the Park like his own garden, watering and cutting the grass, and raking the leaves as they fell off of the trees to sully his efforts. The result had been a perfect, velvety green blanket free of any blemishes that had seemed so out of place next to the decrepit road and haphazard construction on the other side. When Buck had died of a stroke at the age of 49, no one had seen fit to take up his mantle, and slowly the sumptuous greenery had yielded to inattention, replaced by dirt. Some shoots still grew stubbornly, scattered chaotically throughout the field like a disorganised tribute to their former carer. Ironically the woodland continued to thrive, this being the one area Buck always refused to tend, though he took his reasons for this refusal to his grave. Behind the motel was a large hill laden with Palo Verde trees, rising up and away from the single storey building like an immense green tidal wave frozen in time. Come the end of the day, as the sun set, the hill would cast an ominous shadow over the motel, bringing with it an early dusk.
Elvis Tanner was a typical Garden Lodge employee; a high school drop-out with little ambition beyond having sex with anyone interested enough to indulge his fantasies of being a wealthy hotel owner overseeing a scruffy maid at work, and punishing her sexually when she failed to exert the standards demanded by his even more wealthy clientele. He had grown up on a trailer park not too far from the motel, living with his mother and three brothers, of which he was the youngest. None of his family held down a regular job so when he had been employed at the Lodge, he had announced it to the household beaming from ear to ear, and had since become disillusioned by his paycheques serving only to feed the various drug and alcohol habits of his family. He had been named after the famous singer, but that was where the comparison abruptly ended; he was 18 years old and stood almost seven feet tall, his skinny frame gave the appearance of a malnourished basketball star. He moved with the gangly awkwardness of a giraffe learning to walk for the first time. His skin was greasy, a manifestation of his strictly fast food diet, and his face was a complicated mosaic of pimples, pock marks and freckles. He had hit puberty early, hence his height, but still struggled to grow any facial hair. Despite this he insisted on keeping a meagre, scraggly moustache at all times. He thought it gave him an air of authority but in reality it made him look far younger than his already limited years, like a teenager keenly nurturing the first sprouts of facial hair and claiming it a beard. To make matters worse his hair was the same colour as the rust that accumulates under the wheel arches of old cars, and atop his head was a bedraggled mess of shoulder length ginger hair resembling tangled copper wire coated in Arizona’s own Conoco oil.
Elvis sat in the kiosk at Garden Lodge, or rather he perched on the edge of his seat more leaning than sitting owing to his height, surveying the same view that greeted him day after day through the Perspex window of his booth; the red neon sign stood overhead, reading ‘The Garden Lodge Motel, Color TV, Hourly Rates Available’ spelled out in coloured glass tubing. This was surrounded by a square of the same neon piping, the top of which depicted a crudely misshapen Swiss chalet, the Motel’s logo. It had always puzzled Elvis, that chalet on the sign, given that is was so far removed from the motel’s setting in a quiet corner of sun-blanched Arizona and bore no resemblance to the motel itself, which was more like a huge grey-rendered bungalow separated into apartments, each with their own faded, chipped red door. The kiosk, a two by two metre sarcophagus with its three interior walls painted red to match the neon sign, the front being a Perspex customer interface, was at the roadside and opened backwards into the staff office. Elvis hated the kiosk, it was far too small for him to move around comfortably in and the frontage and paint job seemed to magnify the Arizona sun, giving him sweat patches under his arms and worsening his already greasy complexion. A white fluorescent light fixed to the ceiling served only to amplify his imperfections, and furnish him with a permanent squint. When night fell, Elvis could see his reflection in the Perspex so clearly that sometimes he pretended the image was real, role-playing with himself a scenario where he was being paid a generous tip to find a room in which his ethereal self would interview potential maids. This particular fantasy never failed to leave a swelling in Elvis’ trousers, but for the most part of his time in the neon-red crypt he simply stared at his reflection, idly fingering his unkempt whiskers. He’d petitioned his boss several times to change the décor but was told that customers needed to “feel the brand” and that the colour red “was central to this”. When he’d threatened to quit, claiming his health was suffering and that he was bored there anyway, his employer had generously hung a calendar portraying picturesque Arizonian scenes on the back wall of the kiosk next to the door to the office, “so that customers could enjoy it too”. Elvis figured his boss knew he couldn’t afford to quit, but didn’t know if the calendar was a genuine, but useless, gesture or if it had been his boss’ way of saying “fuck you”. The employees’ office, located through the door at the back of the kiosk was similarly dismal. Although considerably larger than the kiosk, around seven feet long by six wide, it was in far poorer condition than its conjoined counterpart; cream-coloured wallpaper with a raised floral pattern that resembled paisley was peeling away from the wall as if trying to make a devious escape from its anchoring, stained tobacco-brown and dried at its free edges. This slow, determined fugitive from wallpaper paste surrounded a space that contained a desperately worn 2-seater sofa-bed to the right, upholstered in lime green herculon that was now fraying at the edges, revealing discoloured patches of pus-yellow foam. The sofa sagged in the middle and had cigarette burns in its arm rests. The material was itchy and uncomfortable, but the mechanism to transform it into a bed had long since been broken so when Elvis wanted to sleep he was forced to drape his lanky frame sideways across the two seats, head resting on one arm rest and the backs of his knees over the other. The only alternative would have been to sleep on the floor, but the carpet was no longer plush, having not been replaced since the motels inception, and was probably dirtier than the sofa. In the more commonly trod areas, eroded lines connecting the sofa to the office door, TV and toilet, exposed the carpets underlay, and its dark brown colour could hide a multitude of sins. So Elvis preferred the couch, awkward and prickly though it was. There was an old television set opposite the sofa, the kind that was the same size as a shipping crate, sitting on its own stainless steel peg legs like a cuboid pirate. It was framed in cheap wooden veneer which, in keeping with the theme of the office, was cracked and peeling at the sides, and it had a large convex screen which emitted a low hum and a glow like a firefly when turned on. On the right of the screen were two dials, one was to select the channel you wanted to watch – there were only five to choose from, and only three of those worked – and the other was to tamper with the volume which, Elvis had learned, could only be set to inaudibly quiet or deafeningly loud. The wiring of the television was questionable at best, with exposed copper where the wires left the rear of the set and where they entered the plug at the other end, which itself was inserted into a socket that hung free from the wall, exposing yet more wire behind it. An old telephone sat on top of the television set, the kind you’d find in old peoples’ homes; beige in colour with oversized brown and orange buttons, its spiralled dark brown cord was draped over the back of the television and found its way into a socket next to the TV’s power source. The door to the staff toilet stood invitingly in the centre of the back wall of the office, and beyond the ash wood ingress stood a small white basin under a gleamingly clean mirror. To the right was a toilet in matching white, the silver depressible flush lever polished to an impressive shine to match the taps of the sink. The porcelain bathroom-ware were impressively clean, displaying no signs of former use in the form of stains or limescale. The floor was a simple but off-putting light brown lino, and the walls a putrid, rotten green, but all the surfaces in this room were as spotless as the apparatus they contained. Elvis took pride in keeping the toilet this clean, and considered it his contribution to the comfort of the other four Garden Lodge employees; he knew not all of them would clean this room but everyone would use it at some point in their tenure. Despite the impeccable, though dated, appearance of the toilet Elvis could never fully eliminate the odour of stale urine that always seemed to occupy such communal amenities. This fact caused Elvis no particular anguish, he did what he could after all, but given that the only radiator in the office, an old vertical iron bar affair, was situated in close proximity of the entrance to the toilet, the winter months meant that the smell of urine permeated the office as if spurred on by the circulating heat, infiltrating his clothes and stinging his nostrils. Luckily on days such as this in mid-June, when the sun boiled his blood as he stood in his booth, unwavering like a guard on duty at Buckingham Palace, Elvis didn’t need the central heating and, with the door to the toilet closed, could only smell the moisture in the air outside, rising from the rain-beaten peat across the road as it dried. He had the outside door to the kiosk, behind and to the right of him and painted red to match the rest of the interior, open in hope that the breeze would cool his sweltering skin. This door was strictly supposed to be kept shut at all times, “for your own protection”, but seeing as the motel only had one guest at present, and Elvis hadn’t seen him for more than twenty four hours, he was willing to take a chance that he wouldn’t be pitilessly ripped limb from limb on the off-chance that he might not die of heat stroke instead. Elvis stood from his perch and wandered to the door, leaning lazily on its frame like an awkward tribute to James Dean. He wore his work-issue beige short-sleeved shirt, which had his name stitched into the left breast and the motel’s logo on the other, under faded denim dungarees. Moisture darkened the fabric of his shirt in circles under his arms and a large U-shape under his Adam’s apple, his shirt was unbuttoned to halfway down his sternum and errant tufts of ginger chest hair clung to his pale, glossy skin. He surveyed the motel, which extended in an L-shape from the back of the office, the five single rooms running sequentially backwards until a ninety degree turn in the structure brought the remaining rooms perpendicularly forward before him. The motel was only a single storey so the rooms lined up successively, occupying more land and giving the impression that the place was larger than it actually was, each represented by a red door with a silver number screwed into the centre. The paint on each door was in a varying state of fading or peeling so that none of them matched one another anymore, and certainly none of them matched the luminous majesty of the neon sign. Each room had a forward-facing window lined with net curtains except room number 114, the ninth in the line of doubles extending away from the office and the room where the current resident was staying, which had been blacked out by what looked like cardboard panels held in place with duct tape. Elvis felt sorry for the occupant, the shining Arizona sun must play havoc with your sleep if you’re not used to it; this time of year it could be bright as day by six in the morning. The car park was empty, the motels singular inhabitant having arrived on foot, and the uneven, rippling concrete gave the appearance of dusty grey dunes stretching out before each room. Elvis returned to his post in the booth and frowned in confusion as he noticed a figure shambling toward him across the field. As he watched this person draw clumsily closer he could see that they were male, and that they looked a little worse for wear; his light blue shirt was untucked and ripped open at the front, exposing the man’s abdomen, and his black chinos were torn at the knees. As the man drew closer Elvis recognised him as Mr Stokes, the gentleman who had checked into the motel three days ago, but the well-groomed customer who had paid upfront for a two week stay in cash bore little resemblance to the zombie-like figure now approaching the booth; his hair, unruly and matted to his forehead, seemed far longer that it had been just days ago, and his face was devoid of expression. Elvis became aware of a dull ache in his ears, the kind you get from diving too deep into a swimming pool, but he put this down to the intense, draining heat. As Mr Stokes reached the road he ambled across it aimed directly toward the kiosk without checking for traffic, then sharply veered in the direction of room 114. Something about the way he moved didn’t seem right, like he was a puppet at the mercy of a poorly-trained apprentice. Elvis moved hesitantly to the kiosk door as the man shuffled past,
“Everything OK Mr Stokes?” he enquired in his hillbilly drawl.
The man ignored him, unrelentingly heading towards his room.
“Say, Mr Stokes, do you need me to send your clothes for laundry?”
Again, Elvis received no response.
“Asshole”, he muttered as he closed the kiosk door and strolled into the office, dropping his weight onto the sofa. He paused, staring at the wall and drumming his fingers across his knees as he scanned his memory of this surreal encounter. This guy had clearly taken a beating but something didn’t seem to fit; Mr Stokes had looked roughed up but he wasn’t coming from the direction of the city, and Elvis hadn’t seen any bruises to suggest he’d been in a fight. Staring deeper into the brief memory of what he had just seen, Elvis shifted in his seat. The man’s eyes were strange, deep-set in an inexpressive face and fixed, unblinking, on the faded red door to his room they had seemed terrifyingly cartoonish; pure white more stunning even than Elvis’ porcelain had surrounded pupils so large that there was no obvious colour to discern. They had seemed hungry, almost monstrous, and made Elvis shudder as he swung his legs up over one side of the couch, lying down to sleep off his headache and attempt to forget Mr Stokes’ haunting eyes.