Drive-in I

Drive-in I is one of a series of micro-fictions, written by Anthony Hawley. This particular piece is inspired by a hotel on Nebraska's Cornhusker highway. 

Motel, 2014, photograph by Anthony Hawley

Motel, 2014, photograph by Anthony Hawley

In the best stories, there is already a room waiting for us. 

We drive up, see the “vacancy” sign lit a tired pink on the side of the road. Some trucks and long cars parked out front. All the blue ground-level doors. The woman in the main office is slow to answer when we enter. She watches reruns on a tiny television with an uneven picture. As she turns in her chair, she smiles a thin smile, asks for your driver’s license, as if to say I already know all your stories, your forking paths, all I need to do is let you in. She hands you a paper where you write your initials, sign and print your name, and write the make, model and color of your vehicle. And then gives you a set of keys. You walk back outside and park your car in front of a door, the room you’ll tenant temporarily.

Even before the story has started, the room knows you’re coming. There is a somewhat uncomfortable bed with papery white sheets and a thin comforter made for summer. There is a wooden bureau with several drawers and two doors behind which there is a rod and hangers. A bulbous gray television sits caddy-corner near the curtained window. The curtains have a pattern with pink flowers. Greens, tans, salmons and cream colors. A plain wooden bedside table is to the right of the bed. On it sits a clock radio. In the drawer a phonebook, some take-out menus. A tall lamp with a golden body and cylindrical lamp-shade goes on when you flick the light switch by the front door. Everything smells vaguely of shampoo.  

And when you enter it, the room knows your shape and what you do under the covers. It has all the props and outfits from our future epics. The TV shows all the roles we play at some point or another. Depending on the story, you find you already know everyone in the phonebook or that all the names have been erased, that the menus are not what you expected; or that despite their offerings, the operator says “this number has been disconnected” for every restaurant when you call to order. Numbers on the clock radio are missing sections. In the bathroom, the shower is running, a new razor on the sink to shave your legs or face, but every time you try to shave the hair keeps growing. You finish washing, go to the bed feeling lonely, a little empty, but fall asleep quickly. All the dreams you dream are already here in this room. Tonight you dream you have sex with someone on a rock, but don’t orgasm. You wake up chest heaving and touch yourself beneath the thin covers. The sheets get wet. You fall back to sleep. A faint yellow light from the porch light outside your room peeks in through the curtains watching you. When you wake in the morning there are piles of take-out food outside your door from the all the restaurants you weren’t able to reach. You feel a little embarrassed. The woman from the front office watches you through the window as you stand looking at the many dinners at your doorstep.