UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION

BARI ANN KYLE

The Rules of Avoiding Checkout Time

         The very act of owning "things" became a relentless dedication. A tiring habit. An addiction, compulsion of updating,

Edward Hopper, Morning Sun
upgrading, remodeling belongings. And there was no point staying once our marriage had gone to fightless. The mode a relationship clicks into when it has reached the end of the line.

         One day you realize there's not much else to talk about because you know each other's stories by heart, and so you argue. You yell and use vulgarities from a comfortable leather seat in a luxury car. Feel your skin burn red with rage and don't bother to wipe spittle off the corners of your mouth like rabid foam.

         And then one day you realize there's not much else to argue about, either, because you know each other's weaknesses as well as your own.

         So, you tread water, wade in silence until you rent a room by the week. Where you own nothing but the clothing crammed onto eight wooden, anti-theft hangers. Even your neighbors are ever changing. A rotating turnstile of human decor. And one tends to rant incoherently in another language when he masturbates, but you don't complain. Because he'll never be back after the 11a.m. check out time.

         The maids know you. They know Tuesday and Friday they can clean your dwelling. The rest of the week they clatter bottles of disinfectant on their carts outside your room and whisper to each other (about you) in Spanish. And you wish you spoke the language so you could eavesdrop and know what strangers think of you, of your shattered life.

         The communication barrier has broken enough for them to understand and comply with your request to always, every single day, leave a stack of fresh towels that still smell of dryer heat, and a glass ashtray with the logo of a competitor's hotel - who now owns yours too.

         You change hotels, once, when you realize the yellow cast of your skin, the deep fret lines embedded in your delicate face, are not you at all. But bad lighting and cheap mirrors. That by simply relocating you can peer at a reflection that offers a more even skin tone; a healthier, happier, more vibrant you.

         And, it has an indoor pool.

         It is the ultimate in non-committal living. Nothing attaches you to any other person, place or thing in the world.

         It is freeing.

         It is frightening.

         Sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night, lost. There is a heart-pounding panic as your brain searches for something to remind you of where you might be. The outline of a closet from a childhood home. Or the rustic vanity from a bed and breakfast in the French Quarter where the honeymoon was spent.

         The digital clock bolted to the bedside table offers no help. It's scarlet numbers only report the time of day - not the year.

         Your dish set consists of Styrofoam cups collected from weeks' worth of continental breakfasts. Those morning congregations that sometimes feel like a self-help, 12-step gathering that has gotten off the subject.

         Buy yourself one, good, cozy blanket. Something thicker, softer, then the scratchy, floral-print throw the hotel provides. Something only your skin has touched. Something with only your scent. True, the pillows are flimsy. But since you're not sharing the bed, you can make use of all four.

         "When you were a baby," your mother once cooed at you when you were still a child. Murmured like it was a bedtime story, as she smoothed down locks of your hair; her breath smelling of orange marmalade.

         "We took you camping, and you raised such a fuss. You cried and cried, and wailed - and you weren't the sort of baby to cry like that. So, finally, your father and I broke down, and checked into a hotel. And the minute we got you there, you stopped crying. You giggled under chubby, tear soaked cheeks." She pinches your soft flesh for emphasis - or theatrics.

         "You were at peace," she finished, every time.

         And you think you haven't changed a bit. Or, maybe, you have. But you've come full circle and ended up right where you began.








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