Holy shit, am I nervous. This feels like a door I’m walking through, one that’ll change the entire world. When I drive by twice without stopping, I get the feeling I might not ever do it at all, so I pull in with a screech of tires and yank up the brake.
I’m not wearing anything special, just a pair of cut off shorts, and a t-shirt with a faded picture of Mick Jagger across the front. Daddy would say it wasn’t enough clothing, but it feels fine to me. I like the way the shorts make my legs look longer. Maybe I shouldn’t have worn them. Maybe I should have put on some jeans instead. I look at my face in the Ford’s rearview mirror and waste a minute or two putting on lipstick and smoking a cigarette in the parking lot because it calms me down. I figure I’m being as yellow as a chicken, so I grab my keys and purse, and head straight to his door and knock three times, sort of quiet.
He answers without saying a word; his whole body just sort of shifts to the side to allow me in.
“Thought you wouldn’t show,” he says as I walk past.
“Then you were wrong.”
He’s rented a single occupancy. One bed. It’s tiny and there’s a suitcase on top. The windows seem to be calling me to come over, so I do. “I’ve always wanted to see what the highway looks like from this section of town,” I say looking through smudged glass. “It’s not very impressive is it? Just a big, ugly stripe of black and little cars going by. It used to be a one-lane, but after a tornado came through and knocked the bridge off, we cut up another lane and paved it with stinky asphalt. I guess that makes us a real town.”
“I guess it does,” he says from behind.
“President Kennedy stayed here once, perhaps in this very room. And Elvis too.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” I say, watching a big-rig race by with the words PURE MILK on it. “Any reason. But they only stopped for one night each. We’re a one-night town, I guess.”
I turn and there’s almost nothing to look at but his shoulder, but I look anyway. “Is there something I can sit on besides the bed?”
He walks over and lifts a dark blue suit off the only chair in the room. Its pea-green upholstery almost matches the curtains. I sit. It’s cold near the air conditioning unit and the mist has a musty smell. The straps on my sandals are cutting into my ankles and I’d like to take them off, but the carpet looks stained.
“Would you like something to drink?” he asks, draping the suit over the bathroom door.
I’m about to say no, but a drink would do me good.
“What do you have?”
“Nothing special.” He pulls a bottle of Jim Beam from a paper sack. “I bought it today,” he says and pours us both a glass. Before I can grab mine, he holds it away. “Sure you’re old enough?”
“Of course I am. Don’t I look it?”
“Sometimes you do. But most of the time, you don’t.”
“Well, I am.” I wait for the drink, and when he gives it to me I show off by knocking it down in lightning speed.
“Have you ever let someone take your picture before?” He sits on the edge of the bed, right near me. Like, I can smell his breath. He’s not wearing any shoes. Everything about him is fresh with another white t-shirt and jeans that aren’t faded. He’s washed his hair, or put gel in it or something.
“I’m not here to have my picture taken,” I say.
“Then what are you here for.”
“Just to see what you do. I mean, I want to see the pictures. I don’t want to be in them, just see them.” But that’s a lie, because I do want to be in them. Just not the way he thinks.
“What a shame. You’d be real good, though you don’t have the model look, you have more of a natural look.”
“You make me sound like a raccoon.”
“It’s not a bad thing.”
“Am I ever going to see those pictures?”
He sips on his drink. Just when I think I might as well leave because he’s taking too much time, he gets up and starts searching through a suitcase for something. He pulls out a folder. I may be off on the numbers, but there’s a hundred or something, there’s a lot. With a grunt he hands it to me.
“I like to call it, ‘Tits Across America.’ Don’t get ‘em out of their plastic.”
Sexy girls, women, in clothes, some not in clothes. The ones not in clothes are covered with a shit-ton on makeup. He watches the entire time—to see if I’m shocked, at least it seems. But I’m not. I’ve picked through a Playboy or two before, and these aren’t even close to being as raunchy as that.
“They’re nice,” I say, even though they’re gross. Can’t believe I came here. Can’t believe I’m in the Blue Moon and nobody knows, not even my best friend. If someone saw my truck they could come save me, but then it’s not like I want anyone to see. If they did, I’d say I was here to ask for a job.
I hand him the folder and get up to leave. I got what I wanted. He does take nude pictures, lots of them. I knew he did, and now the fun is over. I didn’t see too many movie star-type girls in there, so I know he’s a liar about working in the film industry.
“Aren’t you going to stick around?” he asks.
“Not really. I just wanted to look.”
“Well, I’ll be damned, is that really all you came for?”
“Yes.” I grab my purse.
“Then, shit.” He tosses the folder across the mattress and comes around to confront me. “I feel cheated.” His hands clamp down on my shoulders. “I stayed in this shit town for you, and now you’re gonna leave. I shoulda known. Some country girl who’s too scared to have her picture taken, is that what it is? I saw you shaking when you came in. I even saw you pass by on the road twice. And I saw you smoking that cigarette out there, just to kill time. And now you’re going to act like all you came for was to look at those pictures.” He grabs the bottle of whiskey and takes a good swig. “Then get out of here, chicken. You aren’t all that pretty.”
Oh how I hate being called a coward, and he’s wrong, I am that pretty. I know, because I look just like my mother. But he’s making it sound like I did him a disservice, like I’m nothing.
I show him the middle finger and start to leave but he kicks me in the rear end toward the door, not hard, but it’s definitely his foot on my ass, and he says, “Chicken. Hick. Hillbilly baby.”
It shocks me, and I almost hate him so much that I want to turn around and serve his face with a good hit. But I don’t, I leave the motel room and head straight across to my truck and rip open the driver’s side door. Too angry to talk. He’s still chanting, and now he’s even laughing at me from the door. “Nothing but a hick chicken. I’ll be glad to leave this town.”
I’m holding onto my truck’s door handle and all I can think of is the picture I was going to give Keith, to make him love me again, and this was the only way to do it. But I’m too scared, that’s the real reason I left after looking through that book. I am chicken, just like this guy says. I’ve never been scared of anything before, not like this, and now I even hate myself.
This guy, Gerald, stands there and watches me cry. He’s still laughing but then after a few he comes to the truck and puts an arm around my shoulders. “It’s okay, honey, I was only teasing. I wanted to rile you up a little because I thought you could take it.”
“Get off me.”
Cars pass by on the road and far past on the interstate. Every car is a set of eyes.
He starts laughing. “Didn’t you know I was kidding?”
“I’m just fine.”
“Sure you are. You’re fine.” He rubs my arm and stands there until I’ve stopped being a pansy-ass crybaby. “I didn’t mean all that. I was just teasing you. Jesus. Some people can’t take a joke, and that’s what it was, only a joke.
“But you meant it,” I say.
“Oh, maybe only a little, but not really. I was mad. You jipped me and all, and listen, do you want to come back in? I don’t want to pressure you. But, honey, you really should think about having your picture done. Just for posterity. I wouldn’t even do anything with it. Just keep it.”
I look at the road, the interstate beyond, and think good and hard. I want my picture taken. But what does it mean if I do? I know what it means, and finally I decide that I don’t care. If it gets me what I want, there’s no reason to care. So we go back inside his motel room, and this time I don’t need a glass for the whiskey, I drink straight out of the bottle. “You were lying when you said I wasn’t all that pretty,” I say, placing the bottle on top of the TV set. I push the ON button because I want to see if I’ve missed any afternoon shows, but he reaches over to turn it off.
“Just like you lied to me about your age, so we’re even. Liars, both of us.”