Ray Steven Herron
When he first walked in to the lobby, he attempted to hold the door open for the woman I'd been talking to, but lost his balance and stumbled backwards into the vending machine behind him, barely holding on to the stick in his hands. She sneered at him, a sever woman with turquoise jewelry and disdain in her face. Opening the door herself, she left. He leaned on the counter, his nose runny, pouring down into his thick mustache. His eyes were hidden behind Aviator sunglasses that went out of style in the 90s. I would never have suspected those eyes; startling, frenetic blue that looked out from their corners, and seemed to be asking so much of me.
"Got a room?" he asked, gaseous alcohol coming from his lips. I knew he must be desperate, but I did not want to give him a room. And yet I couldn't turn him away, as he must have been so many times.
"I only have two left. One has three full-size beds, and it's going for sixty-nine. The other has two full-size beds and it's going for fifty-nine."
"Fifty-nine, huh?" he sniffed heavily and swayed. "I'm a vet," he said. "Got any discounts for vets?"
"Sorry," I said, "We don't."
"How much is that with tax?"
He pulled out a wad of bills.
"-Four, eighty four."
"Here's the…sixty…" he handed me three twenties' and began digging out crumpled ones'. "-four. And…" he fumbled with a pile of change.
"Eighty-" I selected three quarters, a nickel, and four pennies. "-four." I printed up a sign-in sheet. "I just need your driver's license number, and a signature at the bottom. He pulled his heavy backpack from his shoulders to obtain his driver's license, and mumbled, "I got about twen'y cans o' beer in there." He smiled. After digging out the license, he stared at it for a minute or two.
"I can't read the numbers," he said. I took the card and wrote them down for him. "It's 'cause of the stigmatism, I can't read things up close."
"Oh," I said.
"Not 'cause I'm drunk."
As I made his keys he slurred, "Wish I could get a woman for that price. Heh…" He saw that I was not laughing. "Sorry," he said. "I'm just making a joke."
By the picture on his driver's license, he looked respectable. He even could have been attractive ten years ago. When he was in his early twenties, just another one of the guys. Cracking dirty jokes and making the drunken girls laugh and smile at him. I don't imagine it would have been hard for him to find a woman to share the night with back then.
His walking stick slipped off the counter and fell to the floor. He picked it up and held it out for me to see. "It's a good stick," he said. "And I just found it. Like it fell off the tree, just the right size. It's not like I broke it off." He dropped the stick and it hit the counter, knocking chips of wood onto the surface. "It was just there. So… I thought I'd take a walk," he smiled and something glimmered behind his glazed eyes. As if he wanted to believe that his discovery of his stick was the reason he wandered. He wanted to believe it as much as I did. That he was still that guy in his twenties, it was just that no one could tell.
"You're in room one-seventeen." I said, pointing to it on the hotel map.
"Where are we?"
"Here," I pointed to the yellow block labeled OFFICE.
"And I'm in room…"
"I go right?"
"When you leave the office, head into the courtyard, and over to the left corner," I explained.
"That dark corner?" he said. "I've been there before. I know where it is."
When the door shut behind him, the smell of booze took me and I felt weak with nausea. A whole formed in my stomach and a sob retched from it. Because I couldn't know what had happened to him to make him drown himself like that. I know that one day he'll die from it. I know one day, way back, he was born into the world and someone must surely miss him when he leaves. I sickened for the fact that I brushed away the chips from the countertop so know one would see his dirt, or know he was here. I acknowledged that we all have those dark rooms in ourselves that we've gone to when we've wanted to give up. But few of us have ever decided to live there. I may have pondered it; sat on the doormat and stared at the dusty doorknob. I have yet to enter. I have peeked in the window. But have not gone in. Not like he has. He has shut himself out of the world and it may be too late for him to come out again. Some days he pulls back the thick shades and looks out at what he left out there, but it will never bring him back.