A man pulls into the glowing parking lot of the only building lit up on the long, dark road. The sign luminesces red like sunlight behind closed eyelids, and he yawns not for the first time. There are three other cars in the lot, two of them junkers like his. A black Mercedes glistens at the edge of the lot, resting along two spots. He briefly allows his mind to wonder about the possible owner and why they might be staying here. He gathers his duffel and keys and steps out of the truck, locking it unnecessarily. His boots splash in the numerous puddles leading to the check-in, dampening the hems of his jeans.

Inside, a small, grizzly man sits behind what passes for a front desk—a long wooden cabinet that appears reminiscent of the WWII era. The sound of a sports game blares tinnily from an old television box behind the desk. He doesn’t look up when the door involuntarily slams closed.

The man gains the clerk’s attention only when he knocks the surface of the desk with a loose fist. The clerk glances up silently, his face expectant.

“Room for one, please.”

The older man gives a harsh cough, not unlike the churning of a train beginning its journey. “Fifty-nine dollars.”

He pulls out his wallet from a side pocket on the duffel, and leafs through the few assets he has to his name. He finds three twenties and pushes them across the desk, closing the wallet and returning it to its pocket before he can find it in himself to worry about how little he had remaining.

The clerk swiftly holds the bills up to the dim light for examination, then stashes them away. He grunts a room number and hands the key over, rummages for a moment through his pockets, and produces a single dollar. He then returns his undivided attention to the tube. The man pockets the key and dollar, mumbling a thank you before heading back out in search of his room.

neon, red, and aesthetic image

Room 119 stands at the end of the lot, closest to the road. It’s neighbor to only one other room, which is thankfully vacant. The door opens to a small space taken up mostly by the double bed placed in the center. The only other furniture in the room includes a single nightstand, a dark green armchair that looks well-used, and a sheer curtain covering the lone window, which does nothing to obscure the persistent gleam of the neon sign.

The man sets down his duffel on the stained carpet, and traverses shortly to the closed door that leads to the small bathroom. He blasts the cold water at the wall-mounted sink, wetting his hands, cupping the water in them before splashing his face and hair. The chill does nothing to energize him, but he feels slightly refreshed.

A mirror is placed on the wall in front of him, mottled with smudges. He stares impassively at his reflection. He doesn’t remember when the crow’s feet around his eyes became so pronounced. When his dark hair became interspersed with gray strands, as if he’d unknowingly walked through gossamer. When his once soulful eyes turned into the gray murk resembling the overcast northwestern skies he knew so well.

Running blunt fingers through his hair, he turns away, suddenly overcome with exhaustion. He foregoes brushing his teeth, shuffling back into the main room where he undresses and makes his way to the double bed. It’s lumpy, sinking in the middle and rigid everywhere else. But it works.

He lies down on his side, pillowing his head on his arm rather than the two flat pillows the bed offers, on top of the thin blanket. Its pattern nearly mirrors that of the flowery wallpaper in his childhood home. He quickly eliminates that thought from his mind.

A car trundles by on the road outside his window. The sound of glass shattering on the ground, followed by a muttered expletive. He closes his eyes, deaf to it all.

K.G.