Joe just called twelve times but I didn’t answer any. I had a long sleep in Sunrise Motel, next to exit 11 on the highway from Cincinnati to Columbus. I’ve been following route I-71 almost every Monday afternoon for the past three months. For a route of 107 miles, there have just been too many motels, way too many. A rare and lucky turnpike. Lucky for Joe but not for me. I spent the past months of Monday afternoons going through every single motel on this route. Just to see where he spent his three quality Monday hours. This one, the Sunrise Motel, is one of the few whose bedsheets Joe and his twinkie Lolita haven’t rolled over. A lucky one.
I go to the reception lounge downstairs for some last minute food. They are almost closing their breakfast service because it’s already ten thirty. But they see me, this thin woman who probably won’t take much time or food, so they let me get some cranberry pastries, a sausage and some Russian salads. I want milk but it’s running out. I haven’t asked, mostly because I can’t. My mouth is dry, especially after five hours of cries and shoutings from yesterday. Even my own ear got tired of my voice, not to mention Joe, his mother, his elder sister, and our neighbor Penny and her new boyfriend Samuel, whom she met at her sister’s wedding. I crashed at the worst moment. Joe probably had this coming, but not in front of this many people. Not in the middle of a dinner party when everybody was talking about summer vacation in Trieste, disrupted by a wife suddenly throwing a bowl of tomato soup at the wall. I knew it for two weeks. I suspected it for five months. I guess I could have waited for a different time to destroy the china bowls.
Although I haven’t spoken a single word for the past eleven hours, lying on this queen-size bed in the middle of two white walls, I really want to drink something. I know they’re no longer serving milk but I still crave some juice.The receptionist seems busy checking in new guests, and apparently there aren’t any waiters for a fake cafeteria that’s basically just three tables next to the reception desk. I wave at her and she nods at me, but continues working on the procedures of a check-in. I take a bite of sausage instead as it seems to contain the most juice out of all the food I have: dried-out cranberry flavor pastry with no cranberry, and Russian salad with hard pieces of potato. Sausage is actually not bad, surprisingly.
“You can get some drink from the fridge by yourself, you know.”
A man’s voice startles me from behind. I turn and see this young man, looks like a college drop-out, sitting behind me and having the same non-cranberry cranberry pastry. He seems to be enjoying it though, one bite after another. While chewing the dried-out pastry, he repeats loudly: “I said you can get it yourself and pay later.” I listen to him in the end. I help myself with some unknown orange bottle that says “super fruity juicy juice”. I decide the name works and come back to my seat, drinking the fruity juicy juice. I drink half of it at once. Immediately I hear a yuk of laughter behind me and I stop drinking.
“Got too much sport done by yourself last night?” followed by shrieking, dirty laughter. I am satisfied with the juice, so I decide to let this kid go. Besides, I’m not really in the mood for another fight, that too with a twenty-year-old. Although, worse would be talking to or even looking at another forty-year-old man. They all just look so similar to Joe. They think a messy mustache spells maturity, a round belly success, and undone haircut sexy. Forget about it. But this young rude college drop-out boy has none of Joe’s qualities. Nasty in a different way, not in a phony way or sexy way like Joe, just nasty in a nasty way, which is good. Even the way he tries to offend me is so upfront, a little similar to me with the soup bowls.
I take a bite of the cranberry pastry, and try to chew it out the way this kid does. It isn’t too bad. It just requires some teeth work I guess. Luckily my teeth are not yet outdated at this point. Joe would probably find this cookie too hard to chew. He has pretty bad teeth. Bad teeth are filthy teeth.
Filthy teeth belong to nasty people. I wonder what kind of teeth this kid has. I want to see exactly how different they are from Joe’s. I turn around. He has finished chewing the dried-out cookie and is eating the sausage. He doesn’t need to open his mouth when eating the sausage because it’s really soft and juicy. But he does anyway, with his mouth wide open. I see the oil fat squeezed out from chewing, and that layer of oil adds a glossy glaze over his already glossy teeth, white and clean. I give out a smile that I am not aware of but it’s apparently noticed by him. The movement of me, smiling, disrupts him. He stops chewing and stares at me.
“You want my sausage?” He looks mocking. I burst out in laughter instead. I genuinely find it funny, the joke. My laughter surprises him, in a good way. He pauses for a few seconds and then grabs his leftover food,moving to the opposite side of my table.
“So I’m Danny,” he introduces himself, but I don’t respond. He continues eating quietly, right in front of me, still chewing hard. I try to follow his tempo, and begin chewing every little bit of the sausage, the cranberry cookie, the dried-out potato chunks. The sounds of me and him chewing, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes offbeat, become quite a tune in my ear. The lounge is much quieter now.The new guests are checked-in already. The friction between sausage, lettuce, and our nice teeth, yes both of us, are now accompanied by the sounds of the receptionist’s typing.
I bring some change out of my pocket, just in case the receptionist comes to ask about the juice. Then I go back to finishing the last of my Russian salads. I wish there was more. But I am satisfied already. I didn’t bring the phone with me downstairs. When I go back to my room later, I will probably get more calls from Joe. But I think I probably won’t dodge them anymore. I’ll probably greet him with Good morning. And that’s it. I won’t bring up business. I won’t raise my voice. Not even if the voice reminds me of his decaying teeth. He will ask me where I stayed last night, and I’ll have to tell him but I won’t say anything about Sunrise Motel. There is no way to make a joke out of this. If he offers to take me for lunch and talk things out. I will say yes, but I will let him know that I just had brunch with Danny. “Who’s Danny?” he will ask and I will answer, “See you at lunch, Joe.”
Artwork by: Elisabeth McBrien, “At the Motel” 2015.