I'm here now and I wasn't before. Traveling rips the time out of day and adds it to night. Guests slipping into striped pajamas behind netted curtains, prepping nightcaps for night terrors, while I stare through an erotic thriller sans eroticism and thrills, thanks to editing. I'm so tired I can't sleep. I'd get dream déjà vu anyway. The one where balloons whisper.
The view from my window is the mirror image of the view from the opposing window. It's nailed shut so I can’t leap four feet to my death. There's a wasp caught between the mesh, either dead or a stage-trained thespian making a name with a virtuoso performance. I must shave tomorrow. Today I mean. But I will shave tomorrow, and the next day.
If walls could talk they'd have tongues. Big freakish honeys with wallpaper paste saliva. They’d stretch across the room to kiss other walls and disturb or titillate motel guests. I feel like an intruder in this room. I should be asleep, temporary dead, grinding my teeth. If Dracula had a conscience his fangs would be blunt and his reputation ruined. No win.
The maid has a shrink ray and she's gone to work on the bathroom soap, mini bar, and toothpaste. I know the maid has knowing eyes, unbeknownst to her. She has dark hair, light fingers, high tits, and low esteem. One day we’ll marry and have two cars, three kids, four good years, and a chain of five star motels named after her mother's parrot.
Sure I've stayed here before. I distinctly remember the bible in the third drawer smelling like a subterranean library full of dusty old timers. I bet a fistful of Monopoly money and a post-maid top hat there’s a laboratory in Hawaii producing the essence of old people to spray bibles and museums worldwide. It's the fastest growing industry voted most crazy.
I'll write the next guest a message in the dust of the TV screen. Something along the lines of “If you can read this you are too me”. It ought to give them a suitably uneasy feeling to cherish whilst counting flies on the sill. There are seven, by the way, and a spider named Red, so called because he read my mind when I asked him his name. He abhors thumbs.
When the loud yellow morning comes I'm going to ask the maid to make the bed into a schooner. I the captain, she my first mate, the slap seduction, and the rest is sweet history. We'll fashion a sail from bed sheets and glide to greener pastures, navigating highways by starlight and ideologies by starbright. The figurehead you ask? Tiny soap, absolutely.
I found the paperback behind a hotel nightstand in Maui. The book was Whiskey Angels, a 1950’s pulp fiction of nihilistic nomads on the road to nowhere. It looked more at home lost than found, but I fancied myself an archaeologist. The yellow pages were filled with clipped prose and ancient slang. You know those nightmares of dislocate landscapes you swear have felt the press of your waking footsteps? Angels belonged in a library there.
The author was Hud Malone, a name worthy of every gas attendant shirt going. This was his only work, published once and forgotten forever. The telling blurb: Inside they were bums and losers. Outside they crawled the night country like roaches blind of reflection. Carried by whiskey and lifted by angels, only walls could stop them.
Before the book disappeared I’d studied the 258 pages a hundred times, each read unique. I don’t mean finding subtexts. The previous reader had circled paragraphs, written cryptic margin notes, pressed hibiscus petals between pages containing character deaths, drawn grotesque Tiki Gods in page breaks. This more intriguing than the story, so why ditch it?
I fell out of my head to believe it was an accident.
I asked the reception clerk for a list of previous room guests. She said no. I asked with a twenty and movie smile. She said they’d lost their records, computer virus. When I got home I read Angels cover to notes, sketches to stains. One part was underlined in green ink: Preacher searched the moonlit badlands for a sinner in need of a goodnight prayer.
I wanted to know what this line meant to someone I’d never met more than a relationship. Man’s mentality. The hibiscus petals eventually withered, leaving behind pink streaks on the pages. I began spending my time researching Polynesian myths, Maui the demi-god, Ghosts of the Hilo Hills. Fascinating stuff, but what did it have to do with an old novel? It became my Roanoke, my apartment became my office, my office became another’s.
Hud died in ‘72, an unremarkable entry in the world of dimestore paperbacks. If I had shown him my copy of Angels would it have meant anything? Maybe not, maybe the previous reader was insane, maybe it was an elaborate prank minus a payoff, except for turning a life upside down with maybes. At first friends gave me novelty Tiki mugs for birthdays. After a few years they gave me a wide berth for everyday. It became tradition.
The book, always “the goddamned book”, as if damning a thing would cure its mystery. On the back page was a crayon sketch of Maui lassoing the sun, this to stretch daylight hours according to lore. I see the connection between the Angels wanting time to stand, but why title it: Red Fish Blue Blows the Bay? In the margin: When the surf crashes mad monster means business. Crazy, but I began using this as a postscript in correspondence.
Aged seven I lost a GI Joe in the yard. I’d remember fun times I had shooting insects and spend nostalgia-fueled teen days hunting down this plastic talisman of childhood. Much later I bought the exact Joe from a junk sale. It battled dust mites in the attic while Angels lived in a safe under my bed, surrounded by half-drunk notes like: If Reader intends to make a point of death to freedom, why draw jail bars over the Sunset Heights scene?
One afternoon I woke to find the safe gone. My door was locked, sink plugged, no sign of a break-in. I crawled around, cursed a storm, turned all four rooms ass-side up. Emptying the freezer I knew it was over. A week later I painted the apartment white, filled garbage bags with garbage, caught sight of daytime TV. Mostly though, I slept.
I look back on those years with a ratio of sick to fondness, dependent upon the volume of drink ingested and shade of light through the curtains. Sometimes it helps looking things over with a detached science. Other times it’s best turning the volume to eleven, sealing the world off with your eyelids, and remembering that things change.
I have a new job and old girlfriend. Often when we’re out eating I’ll feel an eruption in my mind, a gathering of thoughts, clarity. But these napkin notes never make it past the front door. I’m traveling again. There are some good pieces on lost treasures in airways magazines. They always raise a brow or smile. Take the tall woman in the window aisle eyeballing glossy shots of the pyramids. Lips parted, neck craned, barely touched her drink.
I wonder why the next seat is empty.
The clock rocks 3:33AM and out rolls his mind. Carnival colored milky mornings wasting whiskey words in her sleepy sanguine ear. Sunlight playing in the delicate dandelion hair of her arms kills him to live. One cheeky hand on the hip equals jelly-mambo land, mama. Her favorite song sings the radio. Her peepers close and mine open.
We move to the desert, speak in tongues, and build a cabin with our bare hands on bare bodies, and bare necessities are barely necessary when dusk paints her pinks orange. Please don't wake me until this life is over. We aren't together, we can't be apart, and I don't wear my heart on my sleeve without spilling.
I was wired weird. She was fire feared. I threw myself in the flames of something wild. Sometimes my thoughts sound like movie tag-lines twisted into truths. Our cabin smells like candy and a scorched cigar-store Indian peeling layers upon years of old fresh licks. We tap our boot heels on the imaginary porch in tandem to a rooting-tooting sing-along.
Her song stops and her eyes start on me. I feel too human, too animal, unknowing whether to talk, growl, or mumble. If I died happy I'd live longer. She is a devastating shock to the shockproof system. She is a Tiki goddess and I am all knees. Sitting by the window she sighs, wondering what the hell is going on in our heaven. I lay on her bed and try not to think. She reads me like a book and rips me out like a favorite page.
She is the soft hibiscus flower floating mysteriously in the dark beauty of Bassenthwaite Lake.