by LEAH MUELLER
Room 8 by Squid Ink | Flickr
Dusk had already fallen when my husband and I pulled into the center of town. Its dusty street sat empty, shop doors padlocked, windows covered with plywood boards.
“I bet the motel is open,” I said.
Russ shook his head wearily. “No one answered when you called.”
“The room will be empty,” I insisted. “Everyone is afraid to travel. Except us.”
Russ and I had sold most of our possessions, fled Tacoma, and headed south. Washington’s economy had expanded like fast-rising bread dough. Even the pandemic couldn’t slow it down.
For decades, people moved to Tacoma when they had no other options. Now, 1500 square-foot bungalows sold for a million dollars. The two of us didn’t have that kind of money. We’d bought a dirt-cheap house in southern Arizona. Same town where my mother spent the last nine years of her life. Thanks, Polly.
Russ shrugged. “Worth a try, I guess.”
Minutes later, we pulled into the empty parking lot. My bladder felt swollen after hours on the road. I took a piss behind some cacti and approached the motel. The proprietor had scrawled a phone number on a paper scrap and affixed it to the grimy windowpane with a torn strip of tape.
A woman answered on the second ring. “I’d like a room,” I said. “Looks like you have a few available.”
She laughed. “You might say that. One bed or two?’
I took a deep breath. “Well, you probably hear this a lot, but I want to stay in Gram’s room.”
‘I’m about fifteen minutes away, at Walmart. Can you wait?”
I glanced over at Russ. He sat immobile in the passenger seat, looking nervous. It was a habitual expression since his cancer diagnosis.
Half an hour later, we stood in front of our queen-sized bed. “Don’t worry,” the proprietor had assured us. “We sanitized everything. No one has stayed here for three days. Usually we’re booked months ahead.”
Outside the door, a huge ceramic guitar protruded from the ground, surrounded by piles of drug paraphernalia, sunglasses, empty bottles, ceramic skulls, and peace sign medallions. An attached sign read, “Safe at home.” At the property’s edge, the artificial shimmer of an aquamarine pool, devoid of swimmers. I could hear birdsong in the distance.
I lay on the mattress and stared at the ceiling beams. Same ceiling Gram saw right before he died. Thousands of people had partied in the room since then, paying homage to the dead. No one anticipated that a virus would arrive and make fun illegal. Gram had left the planet at the right time. How could he possibly have known?
At least we were safe. For now, anyway.
Leah Mueller is an indie writer and spoken word performer from Bisbee, Arizona. Her most recent books, "Misguided Behavior, Tales of Poor Life Choices" (Czykmate Press), "Death and Heartbreak" (Weasel Press), and "Cocktails at Denny's" (Alien Buddha ) were released in 2019. Leah’s work appears in Midway Journal, Citron Review, The Spectacle, Miracle Monocle, Outlook Springs, Atticus Review, Your Impossible Voice, and elsewhere. Her essay "Firebrand, The Radical Life and Times of Annie Besant" appears in the book, "Fierce, Essays By and About Dauntless Women" which placed first in the non-fiction division of the 2019 Publisher's Weekly Booklife contest.