The morning came, although I did not expect it to.
I go down to the small, clammy reception because I am not sure where else to go while I wait for Jeremy.
Perhaps they have some sodas or something I could buy. I am not sure I need sodas, but perhaps I just need to need something.
Mr. Ruiz (that’s what it says on the small cardboard sign taped to the reception desk) is here.
Or rather his body is here, but his mind is elsewhere. He sits as if half-asleep. A black and white TV flickers strangely on the shelf behind him, between bursts of snow and then the silent running of a horde of football players after a ball I presume is somewhere, outside the screen, too fast for the camera to follow. The picture winks in and out of existence – snow, match, snow…
I tap the bell.
“Uh — yeah?”
“Do you have something to drink?”
“There’s water up in the tab, ain’t there?”
“I mean a cola or something?”
He dries sweat from his forehead and then keeps his hand there for a moment as if he has to think really hard about what a cola is.
Mr. Ruiz is a short, plump man; face puffy, something black under his eyes that I’m not quite sure about. His eyes have this feel like a glow from a dark room, where a single red light bulb dangles.
“Cola?” he repeats.
He turns, fumbles with something behind the desk.
“Lemme see. Might have some here.”
I lean on the counter, on my elbows. Everything in my body hurts. I wonder if it’ll ever stop.
There’s no one else here.
Outside, through the dust-plastered window glass, I see the small parking lot in front of the motel. Beyond that: big, grey-green nothing that stretches from here and into Arkansas. Maybe it’s all there is.
“Ah!” he exclaims with some enthusiasm. “Here, lady. That’ll be 3 bucks.”
“Do you want it or not?”
“Fuck… yeah. Okay. Give it.”
“Don’t you trust me, huh?”
“I don’t trust any of your outfit. ‘specially not this guy.”
“Yeah, that him. Bad hombre. Bad company.”
“Yes, he is.”
“So what a pretty girl like you doing with him?”
“What pretty girls do… with a guy like Jeremy. Don’t tell me you don’t know?”
I’m too tired to try to make up some story. What does it matter? He can see my mascara running. He can see the black-blue underneath that I’ve been trying to conceal. He has to go to the room and clean up the stains from the sheets after we leave. He knows.
Sure he does.
Mr. Ruiz snorts hard, like he suddenly has a really bad cold coming. Or if he just smokes too much. Or both.
“Well, your Jeremy been here before.”
Ah, the confession phase. We’re getting into that now. I pluck open the cola. It is near stale, nowhere near cold.
“So you know him?”
“I don’t know him,” Ruiz says sharply. “Not like we amigos or somethin’.”
I drink. Try to taste the cola. But I don’t taste anything. Outside a car comes to a halt in front of the entrance. If he parked any closer he’d be half-way into the reception by now. It is not Jeremy.
“Just a sec, miss.”
I watch Ruiz do what he has to do. In a matter of minutes it is over and some man I don’t even remember and a girl whose face I do remember, although I would not be able to describe it now if you asked, they pass me and I hear the stairs creaking.
“So… ” Ruiz turns to me again, lays both hands on the desk. “You want more cola?”
“I don’t want more of your shit.”
“I still don’ understand you. You should get a job or something. Not run around with … a man like Mr. Jeremy.”
“Ha. You should get another job, too. But – oh, wait – Jeremy makes sure you have a job, doesn’t he?”
“Customers who would not come here otherwise. Do you think anyone would stop in this shithole otherwise? Any tourists? Ha!”
“Perhaps we both have something in common then. We both know what we have to choose and then we live with it.”
“I guess we do. Some of us has more choice, though…”
“Look I got 6 damn kids, okay? One of them, my eldest daughter. She just got herself pregnant with some bum. He left. She is ill, too. Can’t work. The money has to come from somewhere.”
“Yeah, don’t I know that!”
“I guess you would know that, wouldn’t you? I guess you would know a lot about the need for money. But who started started taking the sweet stuff for you? I only see one person here. That a choice, if there ever was one.”
“Why am I even talking to you, you old prick?”
“Aarhh… ” He shakes his head and plunges back in the old leather chair. Then he takes some papers from a drawer under the desk and starts shuffling them around in his hands. He then puts them in small piles on another, smaller table that he has besides the old chair. Some of them go to a shelf that’s under the TV.
“I’m just in a caring mood today,” he grumbles. “But I guess I should know better,” he says, still looking very concentrated at the different papers. “Guess I should just keep my big mouth shut, because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what old Juan says.”
“You know I have to do what I have to do. You don’t want to hear excuses and I respect that. I am not going to give you anymore excuses.”
“… no… “
The TV has changed. Through the snow I now see a picture of a man. He rides in a convertible, wind in hair, something glinting in the sunglasses. He is driving through a desert or something. He leans his head back and it looks like he is singing but because there is no sound. I can’t hear if he is singing.
Suddenly there’s an eagle in the sky. Above him.
Then I remember.
It’s an something from MTV I once saw. I think it might have been back home – I mean, back in Glendale. I think it was when we got our first satellite TV. Or was it earlier? Or later? It is so hard to remember. But I definitely remember the pictures – I remember the video. They played it a lot. I was only a little girl. I remember all the words but I didn’t know what they meant.
“What’s he singing about?” I suddenly blurt (- Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.)
Ruiz looks up at the screen, a second – no more. Then it’s those papers again. Those papers that have no apparent purpose but to be put in different piles.
“I dunno what … ” he says and then trails off.
“I don’t know either,” I say and walk away, push the door open. Need to get outside. Need air. I leave the cola on the desk.
I see the sky above me now and there’s something up there, even though it is completely empty – completely blank. Not even the sun is there.
But… there is something up there.
…What is it?
Then a car pulls in. Another car. It is him.
“Hi baby. Sorry I’ve been so long. Are you ready to move on?”
I nod and feel something inside, just below my heart, knit itself together real hard for a moment.
Then it… opens. Becomes both empty and strong at the same time, like it was somewhere you could fall into and just keep on falling.
Somewhere you would want to fall into.
Like that sky.
“Yes, I’m ready to move on.”