The car handles beautifully, hardly showing its age. I wish I knew something about engines so I could properly appreciate it. It's all prettiness and handling, as far as I'm concerned. It eats up highway, smooth and relentless. It's no place to sleep though, leaves my back tied up in knots so tight I don't know if they'll ever come out.
Two weeks out, I stop at a motel. The money will last, the way I'm spending it. I've never been a saver and nothing's changed that. I guess I lost the taste for company for a while.
The building is old, a ramshackle piece of shit, the likes of which you can find in failed, back country districts all over. Water's gotten into the foundation at some point, the whole structure leaning a little to the left. The new me deserves the Holiday Inn--at least--but the new me doesn't have an id yet, or a credit card.
The inside is what you'd expect, faded Southern schtick, the bastard child of a crabshack and a mid sixties reno. There's a net hanging in one corner, dusty with cobwebs and full of plastic seafood. The front desk is empty so I ring the bell. Doesn't get me anything so I ring it again, and a few more times too.
"Jesus Christ, I'm coming!" Old timer shuffles out of the depths of the kitchen with a mug of the worst smelling tea I've ever had the displeasure to encounter. He's glaring before his eyes even focus on me, and hey, here's someone whose customer service is even worse than mine. "Want a room, I guess."
"How'd you know?" He squints at me, his cloudy going eyes finally taking me in. It goes on a little too long and I've got a fuck you ready, but he does the smart thing and turns away. He shuffles over to the key board and pulls one off of the hooks. Three quarters of them are empty. For a clear shit hole, the motel is doing just fine.
We go through the paperwork, what little the place requires. It's more familiar to me from tv than from life. Where did I ever go? Then I have a key to a room of my own. There's nothing much nice about it until I get the fan going and crack the window. There's no security to speak of in these old motels, but what I'm leaving behind, security wouldn't do much to stop. I fall asleep with the window open and the door locked.
We'd be lying in her bed, pressed together from the waist down, holding hands to keep our mouths close, even while we shook with laughter. There were always matching white nightgowns, both of them hers--despite her Gran's insistence that one of them was mine--and we would be princesses, debutantes, super-heroines; everything we had no chance to be.
We'd be lying in her bed, pressed so close together I could almost lose track of what was her and what was me. Breath at least, was something we could really share, un-e-fucking-quivocally. The air between us, what there was, thick with body heat, from my lips to hers and back. She could find her quiet in the noise of our laughter. It had to stop eventually and when it did-- her lips parting, mine moving in response and I would never know what to do. Just lie there stupid-quiet and still, until her nose wrinkled and I could practically see "nasty". I would always drop my eyes then. Sometimes, with her nightgown rucked up from horsing around, I could see her thighs, pressed together and slick.
Something, not someone, maybe my keys falling off the dresser, goes bump in the night. In the split second between dreaming and waking, it's him beside me, blood for eyes and calling for me. I spend the rest of the night shredding the pillow with my teeth. Fuck the damage deposit anyway.
The next day, it's the road. The day after that, more road. Mile after godforsaken road, dotted with converted plantations now. Old South tourist traps that I flip off, driving past. (Fast, while I choke on the sudden hot mass in my throat).
The new me has too much of the old me inside. The trouble isn't the anger--pretty much always justified, since forever--but the rest of it. Sometimes I think it'll eat me from the inside. I gun the engine instead of letting it go, not the anger. That's what I'll take to my grave, and with no worries about how ugly it makes me.
No it's the goddamn rest of it. On bad days I make a point of turning the mirrors just enough to be useful, just enough that I can only see myself in them distorted. On mediocre days I wonder how Sam could stand it, the old him always insinuating himself into the new.
My stomach grumbles about being hungry, so I find a place to pull over. An abandoned rest area that's just grass, a couple of picnic tables and an outhouse. I settle onto the grass--cooler.
Lunch today is a sandwich and a bottle of juice, both of them too hot from the sun to taste good. The slice of cheap-plastic cheese makes a mess of things, but at least keeps the sandwich together. I spend a minute afterward licking my fingers clean. It's good though, by virtue of it not being Sam's cooking, or bought at the same stores I've been going to my whole life. I think about finding a payphone, and calling the first number I ever memorized.
Instead I get back in the car and keep driving.
I dream every night, the worst kind, but it's getting better. Someday soon I'll be able to dream him as beautiful as he was. And I'll be able to: say his name without choking, pass a beautiful house without clenching my fists, sleep through the night somewhere pretty, and pretend to be-- somebody better. Someone who's better.