Blue Moon Motel

by Caitlyn Leonard

october 2016 story of the month

The A/C unit in the lobby broke a month ago. Our oversized posters—models with nineties hair, eating bagels and carrying briefcases on white backgrounds—have rippled under their frames. I open the window, but my manager, Mr. Stevens, objects during night shift for security reasons. "What if a burglar climbs through there and stabs you?" he says.

I'm watching the double doors and wondering if I'd know a hooker when I saw one when Joe walks in from the elevator. His hair is wet. "Hey, Katherine," he says. I guess he sounds like Valdosta. Deep and flat.

"Hi," I say.

Joe leans against the desk. The particle board creaks. I've never seen his hair wet before. It's gold-green like lake water. He's wearing a white t-shirt that sticks to his shoulders and a wristwatch with a wet fabric band. He takes a pen from the plastic cup and chews on it like you do when you realize you're holding a pen. "I called about an hour ago. Miranda picked up. There weren't enough towels in the bathroom. I went ahead and took a shower because I thought they'd be in the hallway."

"I'm sorry," I say, trying not to swallow all this spit because it'll make a sound.

"I really don't give a shit," he says.

The skin under his eyes looks like half of a pink pansy. I want to touch it with my thumb. "Rockaria!" starts playing on the radio behind me, a microwaved Chuck Berry progression.

Joe steps away from the desk to look down at his shoes. "Damn heat wave followed me from St. Louis." He drops the pen back in the cup.

I want to ask him what Georgia's like. I've seen a travel book with Spanish moss hanging from trees, spongy and occult. Looping fountains lit by rainbow bulbs. "Where are you going?"

"Salina." Joe's territory circuit sends him through here once a month.

"I've got a cousin there," I say. "How many towels do you want?" I can give him a few dozen. He's our only room tonight.

"One," he says. "For my hair."

Our laundry room is stacked with cheap linens, folded damp and dried into each other. The air is salty with powder detergent.

Joe squeezes his hair through the towel so it will dry wavy. Maybe he's vain about it. "You got something to do in here?" he asks. "Read?"

"It's not bad," I say. "There's this art I can just look at whenever."

"See, that one gets me," he says. The elevator door opens and closes. "Where'd that son-of-a-bitch get a bagel? You don't even have coffee and you're advertising bagels."

"It's ballsy." I should have said 'audacious'. I've never even said 'ballsy' before. I think I gave it a soft 's'.

Joe hits the elevator button again. "I remember these shifts," he says. His face warms. "Way too many seconds." The door opens and he gets on. "Take care."

He gets room 207 and leaves packs of Camel Blues. Gas-station egg salad sandwiches. And he read The Three Musketeers in the bathroom once. He left it on the sink, parted between pages fourteen and fifteen in a splash of water.

I trade places with Jeremy at 3 and walk out to my car parked next to the sign. It flickers, from black sky to a giant crescent moon with a yellow, soggy-looking face. It must be awful to drive past that on the highway. Suddenly you're headed to space in a French silent movie with no rules.

In my bed, I listen to 105's television. Someone coughs like he's in my closet. In the hallway, we all look down like we've walked in on each other changing clothes.

* * *

Mom calls the next day and asks when Andrew and I can come by for dinner. That's always funny because it's a rural house built when people were shorter, she told me a year ago. There isn't room for everyone.

I tell her it's hard because I work mostly nights now.

"That can't be healthy."

I wonder if people like nurses wouldn't know what's healthy.

"That's martyrdom and it's completely different. Why don't we plan this, seriously? Dan makes this great lamb rogan josh. Or pork loin. Whatever you like. He makes his own mayonnaise."

I suggest a Friday I'm already scheduled. And say hey—before she hangs up—does she remember those bad days, when we'd take the Del Sol out on the highway? And I'd beg her to slow down in case a lizard ran out onto the road?

Maybe I just saw that on T.V, with better-dressed people. Before she says anything, I end the call.

* * *

Andrew meets me at the restaurant with plastic-veined ivy. We kiss, spitlessly. He surprises me with his new glasses and breaking up with me.

"It was weird, right?" he says. "Five months and nothing ever moved. My grandma has these desert plants that you can forget to water and it doesn't matter. Like that. And I'm sorry, you know I'm not just typical, but five months."

I remind him that we did sleep together.

"In the first few weeks. That's worse than if we hadn't. You don't get that. It's—look, I'm gonna be honest with you, okay? We probably weren't going to get married but I liked the hell out of you at first. And now I can't remember—I guess I thought you'd be funny? That you might be funny?"

Our entrees arrive.

It probably didn't help that I was in love with someone else.

"What?" Andrew salts his pasta before tasting it. "How would anybody've known that?"

* * *

My plastic bags catch in 207's door.

I set three packs of Camel Blues on the nightstand. First back-to-back. Then in a triangle. Then in a pile, like 'just some casual cigarettes for you'.

The mini-fridge isn't cold, so I go down the hallway and chip ice into the bucket with the scoop. Egg salad sandwiches go inside.

The Three Musketeers, pages warped and stiff. I stand it next to the lamp on the desk. I read up to page 15 last night. "How'd you stop there?" I'll ask him.

I put twelve extra towels in the bathroom. There's no significance to the number; I was going for opulence. They spill onto the floor.

A bagel on the nightstand.

He might check his closet first. Looking at it now, I see how this could be unnerving. But once he sees the bagel, he'll come down to the lobby and say, "At least the guy on the poster got cream cheese," and I'll say something funny. Or maybe he'll just come down and sit on the bench no one ever sits on. "Am I an idiot," he'll say. "I had no idea."

My stomach is inflated and sloshy, night-after-a-carnival sick. I check the lamps for him and start touching other dumb things, like the headboard and the window unit. Breathing in sips.

I lock the door behind me and go back down to the lobby.

* * *

It's a busy evening. Five rooms sold, couples on their way to her mother's in Topeka and where's the pool? Mr. Stevens is here all night. My hair sticks to my forehead.

Joe checks in at 10:30, neck blotchy from shaving. "We've got valet service now," I say.

Joe looks at Mr. Stevens and says, "Is that right?"

Mr. Stevens laughs like he's only heard someone do it once or twice. "If she wants to carry your bag, she can."

"I don't have any cash," Joe says.

"Accepting tips is against company policy," I say. My underarms are prickling.

Joe signs the paper and slides it over to me.

"Well," I say, "you're set. With towels, I promise."

Joe picks up his bag and taps the desk twice. "Night, Katherine."

"Good night," says Mr. Stevens.

Joe gets on the elevator. Mr. Stevens turns on the radio and sits in the other chair. He opens a yellow folder and takes out an inch of paper. Five minutes pass. I feel a little manic. "How's Casey?" I ask.

He looks over like I was never supposed to know about his daughter, even though he's the one who told me about her. "She's in fourth grade."

"Wow. Back in my day, we..." I have no idea where that was going.

"You could check on the laundry," says Mr. Stevens.

I do. It's behaving.

"Sweet Emotion" into "You Shook Me All Night Long" into "More Than A Feeling" into "Hey, fans, I don't know whether you're rockin' or rollin' on this steamy Wednesday night, but I wanna shout-out to my favorite pizza joint—Mario Brothers! Open until 2—that's AM, people—with their famous triple-mushroom slice and four dipping sauces..."

I fold towels, cross-legged on the floor. The last one I drape over my head, recycling warm-white breath. "Mr. Stevens?" I call from the laundry room.


I join him at the desk.

At 3, I trade places with Kevin and walk out to my car parked next to the sign. All the rooms are dark. To my left is the highway. I reach my mother's voicemail. "Hey, just confirming Friday. You should still call back, though. I'm thinking about laying out tomorrow, just on top of my car, and I can't remember the stuff we'd use. If it was Coppertone or what? Yeah. I think I'll do that. I need to kill an hour."

The air is a slow boil; I'm softening. I'm leaking outward into the night. Then the crescent moon flashes on, and I'm surprised by my own hands.

BIO: Caitlyn Leonard is an English major at the University of Kentucky. She will try hard to have a conversation with you without working your mannerisms into a story. Caitlyn also loves her husband's cooking, downtown rooftops, and the Great American Songbook. "Blue Moon Motel" is her first published piece.