For Your Convenienceby Kristine Durden
Frank says this is it. This is number 238. He opens the orange door with the numbers on it and we walk in. The first thing I do is head for the bathroom. Frank plops down on the big bed in the middle of the room. It has a pale blue and green bedspread on it like one I saw once in a catalog. He spreads his legs wide apart and he looks like an upside down Y. "This is the biggest bed I've ever seen," he says. "I think this is more than a double, babe. I think this is a Queen - or a King. Yeah, I think this is a King. I think I'm gonna get me a King-Size bed."
I'm exited about the bed too, I've never been on such a big one, but the first thing I want to see is the stuff in the bathroom. I just love the little glasses wrapped in paper, and the ice buckets, and the little bars of soap. "Hey Frank, they have little bottles of shampoo and mouthwash. Isn't that cool?" I hold the bottles up so he can see.
I've only been in a motel one other time. It was after my eighth-grade graduation and Aunt Alberta took me up to her place for a vacation. We stayed over one night at a Travelodge since the ride was so far, and I was so excited. I kept singing that SleepyBear-is- Everywhere song till Aunt Alberta was threatening to leave me locked up in the car. It was my favorite part of the trip, and the stuff in the bathroom was my favorite part of the hotel.
I run my hands over all the clean white towels that are stacked on the wire holders, and decide not to go to the bathroom just yet when I see the toilet all decked out like a beauty queen with Sanitized for Your Protection written cursive across the pale pink paper sash. I take off the j acket to my new peach linen suit and rice falls from somewhere onto the pale green carpet. I think of Mom and Pop and everyone at home - five hours away. They are probably beginning to relax now after cleaning up after the reception. Momma's probably in the kitchen getting something together for dinner although everyone is saying they couldn't possibly eat for hours. It'll just be here ready for you, Mom'd say. Just help yourself when you can. She needs her busy work. And even though she wanted me to marry Frank more than even I wanted to, still she must be a little sad tonight. Pops, he's probably in his chair, and maybe tonight he will go out to the garage and "take care of some things" although no one could ever tell what he's doing there. I think he just moves stuff around and smokes those cigars.
When Frank asked me to marry him, we'd been going out steady 8 months. I didn't give him an answer right away. When I told the folks, Momma rocked in her chair steady and strong, while doing her needle work. She said she couldn't think why I wouldn't want to marry him. l was 20, time wasn't gonna slow down from here on in, better get started on my family and start a decent home. Frank had a good job working home repairs with Mac Fulton. He may be partners with him someday. I fumbled a little with my words and she told me I wasn't meant to be a spinster. I didn't have the disposition for it. Why look at Mrs. Winters. I didn't know, and l still don't know, what her point was that she thought was so clear about old Mrs. Winters. But I didn't want to encourage her. I had too many wobbly feelings in my stomach and I wasn't about to take Momma on. And it's not like I was going to college or anything, momma continued. I had no real skills, except my pretty face and that piano. And Mrs. Ogle will probably have to stop playing at the church sometime soon, and I could maybe take over the job. That'd be something wouldn't it. And momma smiled like her work here was done and she tied up my future as she tied the knot on her embroidery and bit off the thread.
I didn't tell anyone that I wanted to go away so bad that I dare not say it, dare not jinx it. I wanted to see the world, or at least some of Missouri, and spend sometime in Chicago. Tammy, a friend of mine since grade school had to move there in the tenth grade and she still writes me about all the fine stuff she's seen. Although in the last few years when she has written she sounds so snobbish and she didn't even seem pleased I was marrying Frank Clayton, even though she seemed to approve of him enough to kiss him often under the slide after school all during eighth grade. And the thing is Frank is a good man. There is nothing wrong with him. Honest and hardworking and, man, can he make me laugh. Some people are just meant for staying put, momma said later from the kitchen, while pans clanked. Daddy's only comment to me was that everyone in our family seems to be of that kind. And when he said this he watched me from the side of his fishing magazine, and I just looked away and out the window and said, guess blood is thicker than gasoline. And momma humphed at this, I could hear her from the kitchen, like she didn't understand my juvenile comment.
I hang up my jacket and walk into the other room. Frank is now lying on his stomach across the middle of the bed. His head and feet are hanging over as he reads one of those motel courtesy books that is lying on the floor. I look around the room. "Gosh, this is a pretty room. Maybe when we get a house we can do it like this." The wallpaper is pink and blue and green with dots and dashes and there are pictures of bouquets and hearts in matching colored frames nailed to the walls. Frank gets up and heads for the bathroom with the motel courtesy book. He walks over to me as I stand squarely in the middle of the room, hands on my hip, surveying, cementing the room in my mind. " Babe. My Bride. Woman," and here he smirks in that charming way he has 'cause he knows I hate it when he calls me woman,"When I have the money, you can decorate the hell out of wherever we are living, although," Frank stops and looks around the room, places his hand on his chin, "a nice big picture of a Harley could really dress this place up. " I laugh and say Frank ! the way he has come to depend on and he kisses me on the forehead and heads for the bathroom.
I turn and notice the desk and rush to it. It has in it, besides the Gideon bible I am not interested in, a couple of postcards of the pool and some paper and envelopes with the name Memories Motel on it, and the address; 22 Lincoln Rd, Libertyville, Il 60048, all written in silver ink. I slip my shoes off under the desk, take the paper, envelopes and plain ball point pen beside the postcards and go to the plump rose colored chair that sits by a small table by the window and light a cigarette. I imagine that this will make me feel like someone in a movie and it almost does. I sit poised, ready to write, but to whom and what to say. Instead I watch the smoke file out of my mouth heading straight for the heavy mint-green curtains.
The day before I told Frank yes I spent a long time up in the attic looking at Momma and Poppa's wedding albums. The piece of petrified cake in a glass jar. I remember wanting to open it and try it when I was a kid. It stays whole and gray, like some ancient fossil. What did it look like when they put it in that mason jar, did they think it would stay white and pretty, and how did they manage to get no frosting on the jar's sides. I turned it around and around in my hands, almost trying gently to break it apart, but it just softly thuded each time. I look at the pictures of them, The big 8xlO's in black and white matte, with the cake in the corner, this cake. I can't match them up. Just like I can't match up the sweet, fresh-faced, thin smiling kids with my weary round parents. They looked so young. Too young. Momma was 16. I can't even keep track of all the ways I've changed since I was 16. But since she was 16 she has been here, in this house with that boy in the pictures. For 23 years. It makes me feel like she must have no feeling left, no desire of her own left that existed before Poppa. What happens when either of them stands alone in the middle of a cool summers evening. The kind of evening that echoes giggles, and wind playing in your hair while you drive away from town. The kind of night breezes that kiss your bare shoulders and make you expect first love and lemon cokes around the corner. Do they allow themselves the memories, even the night air.
Frank says I'm too romantic. That most people don't think about these things. He laughs and makes some wisecrack when I tell him stuff like this. Not in a real mean way, cause he does love me. I know that. But, do I spend my life writing these things in letters I never send. Will I end up at forty-five not noticing the whisperings of the summer breezes.
"How do they get all motel rooms to smell like this?" Frank asks as he ambles across the room and takes a cigarette from my pack.
"And exactly when did you become such an expert on motels, hm?" I look at him from the corner of my eye, half-smiling. He arches his eyebrows which is his way of saying "wouldn't you like to know," unzips his bag, pulls his robe from it and says he's going to take a shower. Once I hear the water running and his muffled singing I get up and go unpack everything from my suitcase, put it all in drawers and on wire hangers, even though we are only here one night. I know if Frank saw what I was doing he'd say something to that affect, so I leave his bag as it is, and I put my case high up in the closet. I go back to the window and sit in a different chair. Frank comes out after I finish another cigarette and the room smells like mist and ivory soap for a minute. He looks at me and pats the bed beside him. I sit beside him and take his hand. "Ya know, hon, I wish we could stay in a motel forever. It's as if there is a whole perfect world waiting for us, with furniture, and a telephone, and dishes, ice, towels, closets, TV, everything we could want. And it's just patiently waiting for us - waiting for us to claim it. Why shouldn't we claim it?"
"Seventy-four bucks a night, that's why." Franks says, getting up and grabbing the ice bucket. "I'm gonna go get us some cokes, 'kay??"
"Yeah," I say, "seventy-four bucks." I watch him leave. The door closes behind him quietly but in that real solid heavy way. I get up and go into the bathroom, unwrap a glass and crumple the paper with the words "For Your Convenience" into a ball and throw it on the floor. The maid will get it.
Judge's CommentsA powerful treatment of newly married like. The narrator's voice is fresh and ironically innocent. The story creates a strong sense of future foreboding.
--Chitra B. Divakaruni
I love the way the author captures the narrator's sense of hopefulness as she faces a new and unfamiliar life. The voice is dead-on as is the writer's eye for detail. Though I meet the characters only briefly, I feel I know them well.
Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.