Present Perfect

You’re stretched out over a motel mattress staring up into a chip of neon that streaks the ceiling, its light bleeding in through a gap in the curtains.  You hear voices, low and disinterested, which could be coming from the next room, from the t.v. at the foot of the bed.  The room is dark.  One of the voices sounds a bit like yours.

Some time before, you were stranded by the side of a road, breathing exhaust, lost against the pulse of taillights, a red shimmer of shame.  This before your shadow darted, a high beam mirage, between speeding veins of light and life.

You’re strung out, lying on a motel mattress, buzzing addiction, clutching a crumpled bill that might be a twenty or a five or a page torn from a phone book promising redemption, a new lease, you just have to pick up the phone, is it ringing, a wrong number, your mom who died a year ago or five or was it you who slipped from stone to sleep, grasping something between your fingers. 

The phone is in your hand, the dial tone gone dead, or is someone waiting for your response, so you try to speak.  Your tongue is stuck to the roof of your mouth, and it takes seconds to get it to work.  “Wait,” you sigh, and “Mom?”  Above you, the neon patch swells a bit, or it’s just your eyes adjusting to the dark.  The longer you focus on it, the more its edges seem to blur and spread.  You wonder if maybe a breeze through the screen might be pushing the curtains apart, allowing more light to filter through.

The window is closed.  Your fingers trace or leave hazy lined smudges down the pane.  The glass is cool to your touch.  You remember the voices, don’t hear them now, wonder if maybe they came from outside.  Outside is dark, but you scan the sidewalk that stretches beyond where you can see.  The parking lot is quiet, glowing yellow under the elevated neon sign that boasts cheap weekly rates.  You can’t remember which car is yours, what it looks like, how you got here, but you don’t drive, haven’t for years, and you sense a vague recollection of dashing, on foot, through traffic.  You must be waiting for your ride, maybe your mom, she’d always honk twice, two quick bleats of the horn to signal she was there, ready.  The phone.  It’s off the hook, lying on the nightstand, you left her waiting.  But you see you’re still lying on the bed, knees drawn up to your chest, the way you’ve slept since you were a little girl.  You’re not moving.  Or the pillows and comforter are bunched, arranged in such a way that looks like a young woman lying on the bed, knees drawn to chest, unmoving, the way you’ve slept since you were a little girl.     

“Sorry,” you sigh into the phone and, “I’m here.”  You slip yourself back into the groove against pillows and comforter, the motel mattress stiff against your spine.  The paper clamped in your left palm feels clammy, damp with the sweat of a clenched fist.  You’re afraid to lose it, so you hold tight.  It might be a ten or a one or a name scratched onto a napkin or a page torn from the Bible stashed away in a motel room drawer.  “Sorry I called so late.”  The silence on the line might be frustration, so you assure, “I’m here.”

The room is bathed in yellow light, and you realize the curtains are open, pried apart, harsh neon spilling through the breach.  What if you’re not alone here?  A voice coughs laughter, the joyless sort that signals skepticism, and it could be coming from outside, from the room next door, from the receiver in your hand, from beneath the bed.  You’re not alone here.

Your breath quickens.  Lungs too tired to trap air enough for relief, so many months of struggling to inhale that simple gasp through sand.  You’re afraid to release your grip on what feels like ultimatum, a phone fixed in one fist, what feels like paper in the other, what feels like betrayal, when your mom threw you out or you stormed out or you snuck out while your mom prepared dinner for two, thinking you were upstairs behind that pounding bass that rattled the kitchen light fixtures.  How long ago had that been, a week, a year, five, before she died or was it you, stalking sidewalks, slipping from street to street, haunting the night, pleading for a dollar, a ride, a hit, a bed, nodding off under streetlamps and stoplights, neon signs breaking the black.

You whisper into the phone, “I wanna come home.”  But the phone is no longer in your hand.  It’s hung back up, resting in its cradle on the nightstand beside the bed.  The curtains across the room are drawn shut, just a small gap between, a slice of electric light bleeding through.  You want to check the dark room, beneath the bed, out the window, down the sidewalk outside, the parking lot beyond, ensure you’re alone, but you can’t move.

You’re sprawled out over a motel mattress, clutching something in your hand, willing your mom to call back, to let you know what time she’s coming to get you, what time you should be ready.  She’s on her way, you’re sure.  The clock beside the phone blinks 12:00, a quick red pulse.  She’ll be here soon.  You know.  You shut your eyes, just for a while, you think, the yellow slice of light lingering behind closed lids.  You wait, and you listen for the twin beep of the horn outside.

 

 

Amy L. Eggert is the author of Scattershot: Collected Fictions (Lit Fest Press 2015), a hybrid collection that redefines and re-envisions the trauma narrative. Additional recent publications can be found in Cardinal Sins, Bluffs Literary Magazine, and Festival Writer. She is currently coauthoring a book with Jane L. Carman that explores the mindset, stigma, and aftermath of suicide. Eggert teaches for Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois.

 

Edited for Unlikely by dan raphael, Prose Editor
Last revised on Monday, July 2, 2018 - 11:49