It’s dark. I’m tired from driving all day and Jane has diarrhea. She clutches her stomach and blames the tacos back in Albuquerque.
The sign says PRAIRIE VIEW MOTEL, but it’s just three tiny log cabins behind a rundown office. A wrinkled woman in a stained blouse stands behind the reception desk.
“How many nights?” she asks.
I say, “One.”
She says, “Twenty-six dollars.”
I pull a twenty and six ones from my wallet and lay them on the counter.
I walk back out to the car. I give the room key to Jane and point to our cabin. Doubled over, she crab-walks toward it while I grab our bags from the trunk. When I open the door to the cabin, Jane’s already in the bathroom. She’s closed the bathroom door, but that only mutes her urgent gasps and moans.
I look around the room. A great deal of restraint was exercised in its furnishing. A dingy green spread covers the bed. There’s a small bedside table missing one of its two drawers. On top of the table sits a lamp, a Native American warrior with a light fixture sticking out of his skull. Butterflies flutter across the torn lampshade. Hung above the bed is a badly painted and poorly framed watercolor of a gondola bobbing on a canal in Venice. A shape that may represent a human being is attached to one end of the boat. I wonder if our innkeeper might be the artist.
When Jane finishes up in the bathroom I’ll brush my teeth and pee and call it a day. I pull back the covers of the bed. The sheets are filthy, covered with pale yellow stains and the bodies of several dead wasps. Miss Stained Blouse is her own housekeeping staff.
I hear a muffled “Oh, God!” from the bathroom as Jane flushes the toilet. She opens the bathroom door and steps into the bedroom. An overpowering stench fills the room and I nearly gag. I look at Jane. She’s pale and her face is damp with sweat.
“Are you okay?” I say.
“I feel better.”
“Jesus, what a smell!”
Jane sniffs and wrinkles her nose. “It is pretty bad, isn’t it?”
I point to the sheets. “Gross!” Jane says. “Let’s get out of here. Right now.”
“What about the smell?” I say. “Shouldn’t we open the window and air the place out?”
“No,” says Jane. She looks at the bed. “We’re even.”
With the seats tilted back as far as they will go, we catch a couple hours of sleep at a rest area on the outskirts of Wichita, Kansas. Then I slide Van Morrison into the CD player and wheel back onto the Interstate. At sunrise, in Topeka, we stop for breakfast at a place called the Royal Diner. Their sign promises “Home Cooking Fit For A King!” and urges patrons to “Come As You Are!”
I eat eggs and bacon and an English muffin slathered with cream cheese. I sip at my coffee. It’s weak but it has a bitter aftertaste I can’t quite place. Tin foil? Dishwater? Gasoline? Jane nibbles at a piece of dry toast and drinks a cup of tea. The young waitress is friendly. And happy to see us.
“Where are you folks from?” she asks.
I have an urge to tell her we’re from a planet far, far away in a distant galaxy, but I just say, “Boston.”
“Gee,” she says, “you are a long way from home. I knew you weren’t from around here.”
I smile weakly.
“You talk different. I don’t mean funny or anything, just different. More coffee?”
“No, thanks,” I say. “Just the check.”
The waitress snatches a pencil from behind her ear. “I’ll bet Boston is pretty awesome,” she says. “All those Redcoats and those Pilgrims and the Revolutionary War and everything. Oh, and lobsters! And seafood, too, cause you’re real close to the Atlantic Ocean, right? And the Red Sox! Jeez, I almost forgot about them.”
I glance at Jane. She rolls her eyes.
“Boston has a lot of history,” I say.
“And how about Paul Revere, with his lanterns and everything, riding all over the place on a horse warning everybody about the British are coming, the British are coming! One if by land, two if by sea, and all that stuff. And those witches! The ones that came over on the Mayflower and they had those big red letter A’s tattooed on them and then how they got burned up at the stakes and all. History is totally awesome.”
As Jane and I walk back to the car I say, “She was quite the history buff, wasn’t she?”
Jane says, “I thought she’d never shut up.”
We pull out of the parking lot and onto the highway. While Van sings about being back on top, we head east, toward big cities, clean sheets, and the Atlantic Ocean.
published 29 August 2011