Photograph by Emily Kennedy
It’s 2:47 a.m. when I push through the doors, trying not to squint from the fluorescent rays trickling above. Dry air smashes into my eyes and they fill with fluid. I rub my hands together and exhale on them for warmth. Tonight, the woman at the desk smiles, teases and laughs with me. She’s not funny, but I play along. She’s not attractive, but as I pull closer to the counter my eyes brush the curves of her hips, her round neck and the stretch marks above her elbows. She talks and my tongue longs to part her thin lips, taste her stained teeth and dance across the murky gum lining.
Resting my left elbow on the counter, my chin rests on my shoulder while my eyes drop to her nametag: “Joyce.”
And she talks.
The splits at the tips of her blonde hair bounce and stand up.
She laughs at something I’ve said.
Her smile is a shred too liberal, her jowls a slice too loose and her cleavage a smidgen too creased.
We exchange goodnights; I tap the counter twice with my hand and stagger away along the pastel yellow hallway, the sound of each footstep bouncing off the walls. I find 107, lean against the white trim and glide my card above the knob. The door beeps and swings open. I enter, step with my left, step with my right and back with my left. The door crashes and echoes down the hallway as I fall against it. I hear a faint cough and sigh. My eyes focus on the desk with its piles of notebooks and paper strewn, scattered and sprinkled around the laptop. On the far blue wall hangs a framed photo of a park bench, captured on a foggy morning, nestled along the edge of a walking trail or forest. Directly below is an oak nightstand holding up a clunky black television with a bubbled screen. On the floor rests balls of dirty sheets, decorative pillows and two empty bottles.
I could write. I could call Jennifer and apologize or I could tidy up. Lately, it’s been difficult to look the housekeeper in the eyes. But I know that I’ll just lie on the bed, pull at my belt, watch a stretch of television and wait for Joyce.