She got into the motel a few minutes past midnight. She’d been driving for the better part of the day and she felt as much tired as excited for making it to Billings to start her new life. Her feet were pumping under the red nylon trainers as she got off the car. As soon as she opened the door to room 22 she could smell the carpet cleaning fluid trying to disguise the distinct odor of vomit mixed with mildew and tobacco smoke. She wheeled her bag inside and closed the door behind her. She set the bag down between the twin beds and stretched her back. She took off her trainers and went into the bathroom. She turned the cold water faucet in the bathtub and sat on the edge of the tub running cold water on her swelling feet. She closed her eyes but she could still hear the hiss and roar of the interstate traffic in her head. She tilted her head back and flexed her muscular thighs and went into a trance. For a moment she thought she was falling with no one there to catch her. She opened her eyes and took a glance at her reflection in the long mirror mounted on the door and that broke the spell. She dried her feet with a small towel and sat down on a bed and turned on the TV. She went through the channels without knowing what she was looking for. With no intent of watching TV she left a rerun of “The Dukes of Hazzard” on. She set the bag on top of a bed. The Western-themed bedspread released some dust into the air making her cough repeatedly. She paced the room impatiently, looking everywhere around her but with no particular target in sight. She reached into her hand bag and pulled out her cell phone. She checked for new messages and then started dialing. She peeked through the drawn curtains at the pitch black night and waited. When no one picked up she threw the phone at one of the beds. It bounced on the bedspread and fell swiftly to the carpeted floor. She didn’t bother picking it up. Instead she sat on the edge of a bed and half-opened her bag. She leaped up and ran to the door and locked the dead-bolt briskly. She sat down on the bed and opened the bag, digging around underneath her underwear until she felt the small black box with the diamond ring. She opened the box and took the ring out which he had given her as a promise of his commitment. She walked over to the full-length mirror and looked at the image of herself wearing the ring. She smiled briefly then began to panic. She took the ring off and looked at it and at its reflection in the mirror. She got angry for letting herself fall for a married man living almost 600 miles away and letting things get to this point. It took this long for him to make a decision that she wasn’t certain he would abide to without some struggle. In the meantime, in the last six years, her life stalled, waiting for him. She sat on the bed and started to play with her long curly hair and tapping her bare feet on the carpeted floor repeatedly. She felt her heart skipping. Was she really gonna do this? Break up a family? Was it all worth it? She reflected back on the six years since they met in Colorado at the Realtors Conference. She couldn’t find any reason to reaffirm her life to strangers, let alone to her frayed friendships and distant relatives in that period of her life. She felt that for them it was like she had ceased to exist. She felt powerless and more alone because of it. She threw herself on one of the beds with her arms stretched out above her head. She lay there flat and stiff staring up at the ceiling. She squeezed her eyelids tight together, trying to see herself with him, but couldn’t. Without opening her eyes she could sense her aloneness. She kept her eyes shut tight and pictured the life she missed these past six years. She leaped out of bed and put the ring in the box and caught a glance of herself in the mirror. She didn’t like the person that she had become and that it was staring back at her in the mirror. She threw the box at the mirror, splitting it down the middle and shattering it to pieces on the carpet. She took her time cleaning up all the little pieces of the broken glass off the carpet fabric with a wet towel. After it was done, she took a deep breath and sat on the floor with her legs curled up and stared at the diamond ring on the floor for a while. “The Dukes of Hazzard” was still on the TV but she wasn’t watching it. She began to pack. Her cell phone rang in the middle of it but she kicked it under the bed. She knew it was him. She left it there for the maid to find it in the morning. She left the diamond ring next to the TV remote, with a note underneath, to pay up for the broken mirror. Outside, the orange moon was low and huge on the horizon. The lights were out in all of the rooms. The motel neon sign had been turned off for the night and the office was dark except for a glimmer of light coming from behind the desk. She got in the car, turned on the engine, and drove off in a hurry, leaving a trail of gravel dust behind her. She had six years to make up for and the road was wide open in front of her.
Friday, March 3, 2017
He was out the door of room 121 before the crack of dawn. The fluorescent lights of the lamp posts still reflecting their red and yellowish color on the wet asphalt of the parking lot. He noticed that the “M” from the motel neon sign was unlit and wondered if he hadn’t noticed it last night when he came in or if it just went out during the night. He made a mental note to tell the motel owners about it on check out. He headed to his 1999 GMC Sierra pick up with Wyoming license plates featuring the Grand Tetons on the background. He walked with an accentuated limp on his right leg. He took a pack of loose tobacco and rolling paper from the ashtray cup holder and took his time to slowly roll a near perfect roll-your-own American Spirit cigarette. He placed the cigarette in the left corner of his mouth, hanging by a thread and looked for matches in the breast pockets of his black cow suede vest. When he didn’t find any he didn’t bother to look elsewhere. He kept the cigarette dangling from his lips and took a pair of coyote gear gloves from the glove compartment. He proceeded by cleaning up the bed of his pick-up truck. He unstrapped the bungee cords from the hard plastic containers and took a cleaning cloth from one of the containers. With such precision that you would believe his life depended on it, he began to, systematically and methodically, clean the dirt off his tack and rodeo gear. He started with the roping reins and the harness, followed by the noseband with buckle, ending with the leather saddle bag. When he was done he took a brush from the other container and with the same precision he had applied to his tack and rodeo gear, he shined his Tony Lamas until they itself were shinning and reflecting the rising sun over the underpass. He did the same with his Ken Dixon hand engraved sterling silver belt buckle. At the end of it he found himself breathing heavily and panting for air. Little drops of sweat rolling down into his forehead protruding from his Resistol Cattleman Silver Belly Cowboy hat. As he took a step back, feeling the pain in his limpy right leg he felt the need to lay down ever so briefly. He abstained from it and instead rubbed his right knee with such abrasiveness that the pain slowly started to subside. He took his gloves off and found his stainless steel coffee cup on the coffee cup holder and headed for the motel office as the motel neon sign and the fluorescent lights on the parking lot were being turned off one by one. The sun was already rising over the interstate to the east. The soft wind flapping the tiny triangle-shaped flags strapped to the parking lot lamp posts advertising the annual Miles City Bucking Horse Sale. A few lights turned on from inside some of the rooms as he stood outside the motel office door feeling the wind hit his cheeks for a moment. The distant sound of a TV set in the room adjacent to the office coming on, tuned to the local news channel. He looked at his reflection in the glass door. All dressed up in his Cowboy get-up. The thought he had been avoiding since the sale and that he had been able to put in the back burner until this moment staring straight at him. He had suddenly become a 47-year old Cowboy with no horse to ride. He shifted his hand-rolled cigarette from the left corner of his mouth to the right with a touch of his lips. He straightened up his Gold and Silver Eagle bolo tie and got in the door and only lingered enough time to drop his room key and fill up his stainless steel coffee cup with freshly brewed hot coffee from the breakfast buffet table being set. He limped his way back to his pick-up truck, placed the cup on the roof of the cab and secured the hard plastic containers with the bungee cords. He circled the pick-up to strap them from one side to the other but stopped midway in pain, crouching and holding his right leg. He was face to face with one of the bumper stickers in the back fender of his pick-up. “This Ain’t My First Rodeo” it read. He remembered the occasion where he bought it more than thirty years ago at the Cody Nite Rodeo. He straightened himself up and grinned at the futility of that bumper sticker now. He stood motionless for a moment feeling the wind in his face. That seemed to rejuvenate him. He held his right leg straight up with both his hands and got in his pick-up. He turned on the engine and rolled down his window. He took his cowboy hat and placed it on the passenger’s seat. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with a red bandana he found in his coin tray. He looked straight ahead at the traffic starting to clutter the frontage road parallel to the interstate. The sun was hiding behind a big cluster of clouds and the wind was picking up. He wondered what would he do from now on. How he would make a living. Was it too late for a 47-year old has-been third-tier rodeo cowboy to start a new life? He spit the hand-rolled cigarette out the window and drove on out of the motel parking lot. At the intersection of I-94 he looked at the interstate signs like he’s done so many times before. I-94 West leading back home to Wyoming. I-94 East leading to places unknown. But this time he looked with intent at them like he didn’t know where each was leading to. He pondered that his life couldn’t be more uncertain as it was at that moment either way. He stretched his left hand outside his window and followed wherever the wind blew.