Drifting

Devon Murphy, ArtSci ‘09, is this year’s winner of the Postscript Short Fiction contest

Credit: 
Photo Illustration by Matthew Rushworth and Tyler Ball
Credit: 
Photo Illustration by Matthew Rushworth and Tyler Ball
Credit: 
Photo courtesy of travelblog.com

Holiday Inn—$31/night

We trudge through the rain towards the front door. It’s been pouring the past four days. The bottoms of my pants are soaked and leave puddles on the cushy carpet of the lobby, and the concierge frowns at me from behind the desk. Tonight we are wet rats, good-for-nothings taking up valuable space. The elevator is out of order. Five floors later, Gray turns on the TV and I take a shower. The towels are scratchy and too small; I need three of them to dry off. I take two of whatever we have that’s extra-strength and pull on the one pair of clean underwear I have left.

Room service is over for the night. Gray goes off in search of food, but I tell him I’m not hungry. I feel like a kid who’s run away to join the circus, but then realizes she hates clowns and elephants and popcorn and people. I wait for the drugs to pull me into a deep sleep, but end up restless, tossing and turning with the light on; I can never sleep well in a bed other than my own. When Gray returns, I shut my eyes and pretend to be asleep. The pizza he brought smells so good, but I don’t feel like talking, so I stay still. Eventually he flicks the light off and crawls into bed. Feeling his hesitation, my body tenses, but he only grazes my shoulder with his lips and whispers something I can’t hear. He falls asleep with his arm around my body and I spend the night staring at the wall two feet from my face.

Motel 6—$29.99/night

We take the elevator up to the third floor even though Gray wants us to take the stairs; I was exhausted from a whole day of sitting. The theme of our room was coral, I guess. It looks like a bridesmaid’s dress threw up on it. I flop down on the scratchy polyester flower-patterned comforter and stare up at the ceiling. Stucco. I’m so tired that I just want to take a Valium and go to sleep, but Gray wants to go swimming.

“You know the rules,” he grins.

How can he be so awake right now? The Rules are an outline we came up with when we were bored driving through the prairies: whoever drives the most that day gets to pick what we do at night. There’s other rules too, but they’re all pretty stupid. Gray is the only one who takes them seriously. He insists that I pick when it’s my turn, so I always pick sleep or drink.

“Alright,” I sigh and let my body slide off the end of the bed.

Our swipe card isn’t working in the door to the pool.

“Shit,” he keeps saying, “shit, shit.” But then a family comes towards us on their way out. They look suspicious when we slink by, even though we held the door for them, so I stick my tongue out at their kid. Fucking people are so rude sometimes. Chlorine invades my nose and lungs as soon as we step through the door—just wet, hot air.

“It’s forty-million degrees out here, but they can’t turn the pool temperature up past fifteen?” I say, dipping my toe in the water.

“Why can’t you ever enjoy things?” he asks, but he’s smiling when he says it. He cannonballs into the deep end, splashing me.

“Fuck you, now I’m all fucking wet.”

“That’s kind of the point,” he says, laughing.

“I’m going in the hot tub,” I say, turning left. My mother never let me go in hot tubs as a child. So dirty, she would say. You know cousin Jake got impetigo from one. But that was nine years ago. I dip the same toe in to test, but the water scalds me.

“Ow! Jesus.”

“Come back to the pool,” Gray sing-songs.

“Yeah right, I’m not getting in anything.”

“Excuse me guys,” a teenage girl squeaks out of nowhere, “but the pool is closed for the night.”

“What? Are you serious?” I say, exasperated. “But we came all the way down here and everything.”

“Sorry.”

Gray sidles towards her, waist deep in the water. He has a way of convincing people of anything—probably his good nature. Or his hair.

“Is there any way we can stay for a few more minutes? We just got in from a long day of driving.”

“Sorry,” she shrugs.

We walk in silence back up to the room. He leaves damp footprints the whole way.

The Polar Bear Motel—$9/hour

Dirty wood paneling. This place smells like dead skin and toenail clippings, but we’re pretty much out of money. At least there’s a bar right in the lobby. We don’t even bother to unpack. Thank god for The Rules; I need a drink.

The bar is full, to my surprise.

“Awesome, an open mic night,” he says.

Great, I think, twelve different covers of “Wonderwall.” “Looks like there’s some prize money to be won,” he says, pointing towards a jar once full of pickled eggs, now full of bills and toonies.

We sit in hard, wooden chairs and the waitress comes and we order shots. Loud men are banging their glasses around and commenting on the act on stage: a meek 30-something singing too close to the microphone—“Wonderwall”.

After our fourth round, I’m starting to loosen up, and even the guy playing the electric keyboard is starting to sound good. Gray wants to dance, but I want another drink. The waitress started ignoring us because we were lousy tippers, so I stand up to head to the bar. I hold on to the back of my chair to steady myself; the last few drinks hit me like a subway and I feel great.

“Two,” I nod to the bartender, pointing at the beer tap, after finally getting his attention. I fumble around in my jeans pocket for the last of my change.

“Looks like your boyfriend is going to perform,” he says to me as foamy beer trickles down his knuckles.

“Oh, he’s not really… yeah looks like it,” I say, confused.

“He’ll have to win over that crowd to get the money though, and I don’t like his chances,” he chuckles, gesturing to the table of rowdy men.

I thank him for the beer and walk back to our table, just in time for Gray to start. There’s some feedback when he plugs in the guitar he borrowed from another performer, and there is a collective groan from the crowd. He perches on the barstool, his legs long and bent at strange angles. He starts out so softly that no one is really even listening to him. I glance around the room and pick at my coaster because I’m sitting alone and feel awkward about it, even though I’m drunk. He strums a chord I recognize—a song that was my favourite, one year. He performed it for me one night in my room, and I told him that I liked the way he played it. Now I’m mesmerized, my mind floating back to that night and how we played cards until early in the morning and told each other what we thought life would be like, later.

His eyes are closed, gently, and his fingers are moving wildly but with precision, practice. My eyes are wet and wide and my mouth is open, taking in slow breaths, staring up at him; every other noise in the bar becomes unimportant. The stage light casts a blue glow around him and, God, he’s beautiful. He finishes the song without flourish, the last note of the song just kind of trailing off into silence, but he doesn’t open his eyes until it’s completely gone. The crowd manages a few meagre claps and some grunts.

He climbs off stage, sits back down and gives a shy smile.

“Sorry,” he says “I guess we’ll have to sleep in the car tomorrow.” I push my chair back, grab behind his neck and kiss him, hard. When I pull away he looks shocked, then he smiles and kisses me back, and we are unaware of anything around us.

“I like the way you play that,” I say, looking him right in the eye. He makes me want to do wild things. I feel full of helium and not stopping to catch my breath, I skip to the front of the bar and whisper my name to the announcer and she introduces me. Bathing in the lights, I walk to the centre of the stage and find him in the crowd, smiling up at me.

I get more cheers than anyone that night, and we stumble out of the bar with an oversized jug of money, drunk and rich.

“Your song was good,” I tease, “I guess I just had something you didn’t.” The Best Western—$75/night

We walk up to the front door with our bags in tow, our coats slung over our shoulders; tonight we are famous. We check in with exaggerated accents from far-away places, mysterious, exotic. We ride the elevator up and down for hours, bowing and telling everyone stories, even when they don’t listen. The sheets feel like satin and we wrap them around ourselves and give long, lingering kisses. We order room service at three a.m.: french-fries, chocolate milkshakes and grilled cheese sandwiches. We make the bathroom into a spa and fill it with steam and bubbles, writing secret messages on the mirror for the next hotel-goers to find. We stay up all night, talking about the way life was, then, and in the morning we go for breakfast.

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