Detour

Posted on August 19, 2010

34


This #FridayFlash is based on a prompt from the wonderful Eric J. Krause. He puts one up every week, so check it out if you need a little inspiration. You can find that prompt here. Thanks, Eric.

* * *

The motel was one of those cheap and seedy enterprises on the edge of civilization, available to travelers and to locals with secrets to keep. Rhonda was one of the travelers. She’d gotten off the Interstate to get gas and got turned around when she tried to get on the road again. Now she was lost on a stretch of back road, and the sputtering neon “Vacant” sign was a beacon drawing her in.

She pulled into the motel’s empty parking lot, intending only to ask for directions back to the Interstate. She walked into the registration area and rang the bell on the counter.

A woman emerged from the back, annoyed at being disturbed. She looked at Rhonda with beady eyes that were nearly lost in the folds of her sagging face.

“Help you?”

“I’d like a room, please. Wait, no, I don’t. Can you tell me how to get back to the Interstate?” Rhonda didn’t know why she’d asked for the room. Saggy Woman looked her up and down. She put a registration card and a pen on the counter.

“You’re a traveler, then. That’s $49 per night plus tax. How many nights?”

Rhonda shook her head.

“I don’t really need a room. Just tell me how to get back to the freeway, please.”

Saggy Woman might have smiled; it was hard to tell.

“It’s late, sister,” she sighed. “Take the room. Get some sleep and start fresh in the morning. You don’t want to fall asleep at the wheel.”

“I guess.” A few hours’ sleep wouldn’t put her that far behind. She filled out the card.

“That’s what I thought,” said Saggy Woman. “Out the door and to your left. Sweet dreams, now.”

She handed Rhonda a key on a ring with a diamond-shaped fob bearing the number 6. Rhonda hoped the sheets had been changed more recently than the entry system.

The room was shabby and worn, but it was clean enough. Rhonda dropped her bag on the floor and stretched out on the bed. The pink glow of the motel’s neon sign seeped through the closed drapes onto the aged carpet. On the other side of the bed was the dresser. The big mirror above it was positioned directly opposite the window.

I bet that’s some glare in broad daylight, Rhonda thought. The decorators must not be into Feng Shui. That mirror reflects all the good energy right back out that window. If there is any good energy.

She must have fallen asleep, because she was jarred awake by the sound of a crash. She got up and opened the drapes to look out at the night. The parking lot was still empty except for her car. If there was an accident, it must have been down the road. All Rhonda could see was the cracked cement of the lot and the forlorn row of rooms across it.

Maybe she’d had a nightmare. It wouldn’t be the first time since Ed’s accident. Even after two years, she couldn’t shake her sense of guilt. If we hadn’t argued. If I hadn’t told him to get out. The litany threatened to shift into full gear if she didn’t distract herself. She wished she had some Scotch.

She went around the bed to look at herself in the bleary mirror. Her reflection was exactly what she expected: dark circles beneath her eyes, hair unkempt with the long hours on the road, thinner, older and harsher than she should be at her age. Maybe when she got to Santa Cruz, got settled into a new job and a new home, she’d be able to rest properly. Maybe the past would stay in the past.

Something shifted in the mirror behind her image. She turned sharply to look out the window, to see what had moved. There was nothing but the empty lot, pink under the neon. She looked back at the mirror.

Behind her reflection, the scene in the mirror changed. The parking lot dissolved and was replaced by an image of a rocky beach under a blue sky. Rhonda’s own reflection shifted, too. She looked rested, better fed, prettier, even happy. Mirror-Rhonda turned and ran up the beach.

I’m dreaming again, she thought, but she couldn’t look away.

Mirror-Rhonda was enjoying herself. She picked up pebbles and skipped them into the surf, laughing when they sank. She waved at other beachcombers as she headed toward a taco stand. Somehow she knew it had the best shrimp tacos on earth, and she couldn’t wait to taste one.

A guy came up and took hold of her arm, delaying the tacos. She felt annoyed that a stranger would accost her like that. She looked up to tell him where to get off, and stopped in her tracks. It was Ed.

There was a black tinge to everything about him. He was pleading for her to take him with her. If only she hadn’t told him to leave. If only she’d heard him out. His car wrapping around that tree was her fault. She deserved to keep him with her forever as her due penance.

Mirror-Rhonda looked away from him to the taco stand, at the beach, at other people enjoying themselves.

Make the right choice, Ed told her, trying to make her look at him again. But Mirror-Rhonda turned to look instead at real Rhonda.

Make the right choice, Mirror-Rhonda said. He chose to clean out your bank account and to sleep with that trollop at his job. He chose to drive drunk. He’s dead now. That’s his to deal with. Make the right choice.

The scene in the mirror dissolved again, and Rhonda saw the parking lot reflected behind her. She looked tired again, except that her eyes had a spark she hadn’t seen in years.

Rhonda got her bag and went to the front desk to check out. Saggy Woman might have been surprised to see her; it was hard to tell.

“Leaving so soon?”

“I got my second wind. How do I get to the freeway from here? I’m headed west.” Saggy Woman opened a map and drew the route in red ink for Rhonda.

“All right, traveler,” Saggy Woman said. “Don’t get sidetracked again. Happy trails.”

“I know where I’m going now,” Rhonda said. “Thanks.”

She got in her car and drove off, dreaming of shrimp tacos.

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Posted in: #FridayFlash, Fantasy