alex in the pink hotel
Two rust-colored thumb prints like a butterfly. There, on the bottom of my jeans, the seam running innocently through. Soiled.
The wallpaper in front of me is peeling. A geometric design.
I wrap my fingers around the toilet paper mechanically, gingerly pull out the tampon. I get blood on my thumb, under my wedding ring. I dab at it.
In front of the bathroom mirrors two girls are laughing. I watch their trim brown ankles.
“Seriously, fuck him. Like I know...so many better guys, you know? We know so many better guys. He’s just like not worth it.”
I let go of the tampon. It sounds. The person next to me probably thinks I’m shitting.
The two girls talk in loud voices.
“I know. I know. It’s so…” There’s a pause.
I lean on the toilet, close my eyes.
“I know.” Abruptly. She might be apologizing.
Their ankles are still under the bathroom door and there is the sound of water running. One hand may have been let down over a shoulder, a fading, “...ancient history.” The door closes. A practical sound.
I miss them, their trim brown ankles. Their long hair. It must have been long.
I remember my hot fingers, the golden band. I want to flush it down the toilet. I visualize it in my head, the red water, the faint blink of gold, a dwindling sound.
There isn’t another tampon. Mechanically I roll wads of toilet paper, pad my underwear, rouse myself, unhitch the latch of the stall.
I don’t feel like washing my hands because I want the faucet to know how cheapened I am. Blood on my hands is regular. A woman walks in.
She is smiling benevolently, there is a young boy trailing behind her.
Kid still young enough to attend the woman’s bathroom. I could be a mother too, I want to tell her. I smile and I don’t tell her and she doesn’t ask, the murmured coos passing between the pink stalls.
What domesticity looks like: a child on a toilet, frank and innocent questions. I think of the divorce papers in the glove compartment. If I drive off a cliff they will burn without ever having existing, without ever having existed.
Outside the Oklahoma moon hangs low and full in its palpable ache.
Some teenagers loiter behind the diner, smoking cigarettes. The staff on break hunches, protecting themselves from the twang of young voices.
I should start walking. So I do.
It occurs to me that I could break an arm if I wanted to. Two hands, gripping the elbow and the wrist, pulling down in a hard, quick motion: snap a forearm. I could walk up to every single one of those teenage boys and slap their face down a line.
The destitute groups eye me and say nothing.
I think of the abortion I had when I was sixteen. Eric’s frantic, pale hands. Running over me, through his hair, jittery, panicked. Nothing was foreign, even after, just a slow peel of something sticky coming off itself.
I turn a corner, sit on the sidewalk ledge. The parking lot feels as large as an ocean, filling with moonlight.
When we drove through Missouri we stopped to walk through the wheat. A quick road trip, we decided, stoned and tired and aching for one another. All through the state in one night.
The empty road and the quiet, vast landscape in the dark. My dollar flip flops on the floor, my feet crossed over the dash. The window cranked down halfway. So that we could smell the air.
Lapping in, warm and fresh at once. Smelling of things that grow slowly, in solitude. Stepping outside the car, dangling a foot in the air, placing it down.
The pavement was warm.
Shut the dirty gold door, walk towards the fields in a trance. The corn was fresh but too tall to be welcoming, so we turned to the opposite side of the road, where the straw grew to your waist.
Our fingers against the silken plant heads. We moved in different directions, aimless. The night was sleek and cool. Bare shouldered in the summer.
Through the breeze, the warm scent of wheat.
When I was sixteen I named her Dolly.
Dolly was a waitress at the diner we went to. Of course she was a waitress in a diner. Eric made eyes at the tag. DOLLY pinned to her shirt, under the ends of her fried, curling hair. Dolly. Archaic, iconic. Ironic.
In the clinic Eric didn’t know whether he should look at me or not and I didn’t either. When I ate at the diner by myself after school I baptized the baby silently, after the waitress burnt my coffee.
Her hair would have been long.
Must’ve been a girl, to replace my mother. Who never burned coffee. Whenever I burned coffee I thought of Dolly, and in the moments like them. Sometimes I said it out loud, “Dolly.” Dol-lee. Doile. Like a grandmother’s garish, laced up house.
In the blank moonlight of the parking lot I wrap my arms around my legs.
Before you and I went to Missouri we used to dream of Chicago. At our tiny kitchen table, our tiny square bed, dream of Chicago. That rare and precious gem of the Midwest. Glamorous, studded streets, nameless music.
I studied androgynous fashion.
“I’m obsessed by it,” I would say into the damp, small office. The skeletal wooden desk. Nights spent sifting through stark photographs. Black and white, harsh lighting. I would look at the thin bodies, elegant designs. Ageless. Full of grace, power. There was something fascinating there, in the anonymity. Eyes of perfect coolness.
One nonchalant caption: “unable to encompass both the masculine and the feminine, this design embraces neither.” There was an unbearable exquisiteness to these creatures. I drew line after line. They looked like children.
The Thanksgiving before I left John I waited outside the Nebraska gasoline station and watched a man watch Fox news. Nebraska was telephone lines, string lights, the scent of age.
I braced myself for John’s return; a pack of gum only, the melody he’d be humming. How full of surprise his blue eyes were. How sharp, in mellow, aging Nebraska.
The dingy gasoline station reminded me so much of home yet not at all. All the great states stretching on forever, cut up by roads.
As I watched the man finish paying for something I hadn’t seen, talk to the cashier boy in the oversized cap, I remembered my mother. She sliced tomatoes and told me not to be a waitress.
For some reason this memory meant I couldn’t visit John’s family. He paid, turned to face me.
I dreamed so much of New Mexico after that. Every shift at the diner once Mom left: dunes and beaches and spicy Mexican food. Every shift just as school let out, then during entire school days, every shift at the diner two streets from where Raquel worked at the dry cleaners, before she disappeared.
Two girls are walking across the parking lot towards me.
No. Diagonally by, to a different car.
I am grateful.
I want the girls to be lovers. I want them to hold hands, be progressive, something, stay the night at each other’s house and forget what time they fell asleep on some blue couch. They have their hands in their pockets.
Jeans, not shorts. They couldn’t have been the girls in the bathroom.
I notice my shoes are breaking at the sides. I suddenly am unbearably old.
I need a fucking tampon. And then I don’t. I want the kids to see my blood soaked ass. Would that be brave ? A puddle, after I rise.
The pregnant, swelling moon. Dolly hangs between me and my car like a jump rope, a limp memory. I don’t cry. Crying is reserved only for Raquel.
“Close that shit,” you used to say, later, when we realized we couldn’t afford to move. The friends I closed behind me like pages in magazines. I used to steal them from the dentist’s office.
I haven’t gone to the dentist since I was a child. For my hygiene I watch what a college-educated man once called a reputable news station.
Only sometimes, to talk to people from out of town when they order. Like you.
My wedding ring. Tight. I should throw it across the parking lot. Into the gutter next to me. Or take it off, look at it. I don’t.
The Oklahoma moon lets me come undone. I drive home, consider checking myself into the pink hotel where I found you with Alex. Youthful, fresh boned Alex. Or maybe the same age as me.
I don’t drive there. I probably never will.