Little Thing

The following piece was presented at Jersey City Writers’ genre event – The Horror of Love. Please enjoy.

The motel is halfway between Tybee Beach and nowhere, the last stop for the holiday folks who can’t make the drive in one go. The Value Inn closed so we’re the only place left and we keep busy, given how much desert surrounds us. I’ve been working here since high school, graveyard shift, usually checking in red-eyed parents who spent all day getting hit in the head with a beach ball while they crossed Texas. Lovers, too. Lots of newlyweds, back of their cars spray-painted. Sometimes it’s the second-honeymooners. Sometimes affairs, complete with wedding ring tan lines. Then there’s the transients. They roll up with ten people packed into a pink minivan and smell like body odor and weed. All ages, all with that star-eyed look, like no one remembered to tell them they don’t have wings.
Then there’s the couple I put in Room 9 that night. Bad night.
They rolled up around sunset. He was a transient type, beat-up skinny jeans, t-shirt with some obscure Canadian band name half-faded away, greasy hair, too long, red eyes. Heavy eyes, set far back in his face so looking into them was like looking at a skeleton. I shivered when he came in. His girl stayed in the car.
“Smoking,” he said.
“For two?”
He scratched the bridge of his nose then let his hand fall to the counter, smack.
Deep voice.
“Can I see your ID?”
It was hard not to look at him while I took down the information. He was young but had big, calloused hands and sharp lines in his face. He scratched the bridge of his nose through the whole transaction till it was red.
“Where ya headed?” I asked.
“Turnin in early, then?”
“Haven’t stopped in three days,” he said in a voice that sighed out of him like a deflating tire. He was looking out the window, across the cracked, dim parking lot and into the cacti. That sounded like a transient. I looked into the passenger window of his car. She was a little thing. Short hair. Staring out the front window making swipes at her cheek. Pinching her nose, rubbing her face. Crying, I realized, as I finished putting in his information and gave him back his credit card. Too tired, poor thing. God loves the travelers but they make life hard on themselves. I hoped her man would treat her good, and gave him the key to Room 9.
“You two get some rest.”
He scratched the bridge of his nose.
“Yes,” he said, and went out the door.
It was sometime between midnight and sunrise.
“Mel, honey–”
“I’m not your honey.”
I grunted at the desk. “Can you go change the linens?”
“In the laundry room?”
“Where else?”
“It’s creepy in there,” Mel murmured from the back room where she was napping in one of the lawn chairs the day maids left.
“Fuck. Fine.” I grumbled my way out the swinging glass door. I passed a couple tarantulas in the yellow lamplight. Seemed everyone was asleep. The only sound was the distant diesel engines chugging down the highway. I could see the flickering fluorescent lights of the laundry room at the end of the sidewalk, past the pool that hadn’t held water in a decade, past–
Ice dropped down my spine. The word puffed into the air like butane catching fire and disappearing in a whoosh.
I was standing outside Room 9. I took a breath, and pressed my ear to the door.
“Stop. Stop crying. Fuck–is–what?”
I only caught pieces.
“Sorry, I’m sorry–”
Like one of the cheap chairs hitting a wall. Then–
Knock knock knock.
My own balls surprised me so much that I searched for the sound for a second before realizing it was me, knocking on their door.
The deadbolt pulled back.
The door swung in.
Hollow-eyes leaned against the door frame. He scratched the bridge of his nose. “Yes?”
I hadn’t thought, just acted, didn’t know what to do now. I leaned around him. “Miss? You okay?”
The large callous hand pushed hard and I stumbled back into the parking lot. “Hey now.” I put my own hands up showing I didn’t want trouble. Little-thing appeared with a red puffy face and bleeding lip.
“It’s okay,” she said in a hoarse voice. “I fell. In the shower.”
Very small, a full foot or more shorter than her man. She came up behind him and put a calming hand on one arm. Guess she startled him. He turned fast and pushed, hit, slapped, I wasn’t sure, but her feet went up and I took three steps forward.
Hollow-eyes turned my way and the red bridge of his nose was like a bulls-eye. I broke my hand against it and felt his nose snap. He went backwards and the back of his head hit the door frame. Stunned silence. Blood trickled from his face. He touched the back of his head. Blood there too. Hollow-eyes looked at me and smiled a grin that split his face in half. He chuckled, barked, then screamed high laughter. It sent ice under my skin and I froze in the desert air and didn’t even try to dodge his fist when it came at my face.
I woke up after sunrise to EMTs, cops, and a vicious headache. The couple was long gone. We had their plates, his name, but no one tries too hard to go after that category, domestic dispute. They weren‘t special, really. I see bruises on the wives that roll through our corner all the time. I never forgot them, though. His skeleton eyes, the laugh of a man that doesn’t feel pain, but the worst of it all, the gentle hand placed on his arm, to calm, to soothe, to protect her man. I think about little-thing a lot. Not much else to do out here.


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