Learning to Fly - Autocrit Short Story Challenge
We reached the third day of our journey and, to be honest, things were not going well.
With steam coming out of the radiator and my car dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree, (assuming anyone would actually decorate a holiday evergreen with all red lights), I pulled into the parking lot of an aging motor inn in the middle of nowhere on the edge of a landscape that, if not for the sage brush, could have been the surface of the moon.
The Paradise Motel (Really? Who names these places?) was a faded, one-story, nondescript, cement block structure that looked like it hadn't been updated since my grandparents' day. After I sent a quick prayer that the place was clean or at the very least didn't have bedbugs, up to a God who hadn't heard from me in quite some time, I pasted a smile on my face and pushed open the door under the ancient "Office" sign. After I pressed down twice on the mechanical bell on the cracked Formica counter, an elderly man stepped into view to greet me.
"Well hello there, little woman. What can I do for you, today?" I was sure I was in a time warp. I expected to see Rod Serling from the Twilight Zone come through the door behind me. I smiled at the quick memory flash of watching old black and white TV reruns with my Grandma.
My good humor faded as I remembered my dilemma. "I need a room...and an auto mechanic." I didn't waste time on pleasantries. Nor did I explain that my immediate needs were the tip of the proverbial iceberg as to defining my problems.
"Well, I can take care of the room for you right away. Fixing your vehicle might take more time. He gestured to the rusting bucket of bolts that I had named Edna and the rest of the world called a Honda Civic. In the advertising literature the color had been defined as Onyx. In its current faded, chipped, mud-caked state, that elegant moniker was more than a bit of a stretch.
"Looks like your radiator boiled over. Maybe a leak or broken hose?"
I didn't have a clue and my blank expression probably said as much.
He chuckled and then seemed to think better of his action. He cleared his throat and continued. "How about we check you in and then I'll call up to Haynesville and see if Ron can make a trip out this way to fix your car?"
"Ron? Haynesville?" My mind was whirring on hyper-speed but my words were coming out in monosyllables. "Yes, Ron Whitehead. He runs a repair shop up in Haynesville. Darned good one, too. He should be able to drive out and check on your car sometime tomorrow afternoon, unless he's busy."
My incredulous expression was lost on him. It was only 3:00. Was he telling me that I had to sit here in this god forsaken place for an entire day? "I don't understand." I finally muttered. "There's no one who can fix it today?" He smiled and the wrinkles etched around his faded blue eyes crinkled into deep folds. "I'm afraid not." He went on to explain. "We don't get many visitors out this way anymore, not since the big highway went in. Was he referring to the interstate that opened at least 40 years ago? He's up in Cody today. Won't be back until tomorrow. I think he has one of them mobile (he pronounced it mobeel) phones, so I should be able to reach him. He's my late wife's nephew, so he'll find a way to help you out."
I glanced out the window across the weed-infested parking lot where I saw only one other car. Was there a town nearby? A restaurant, or maybe a coffee shop? Certainly not a Starbucks, but someplace where I could eat. Was wifi computer access too much to assume? Did they even have computers here? When I returned from my reverie, the old man was staring at me with an expression somewhere between amusement and curiosity. I struggled to explain. "I'm sorry. Thank you. Yes, please call your nephew. This is all a bit upsetting." Now that was an understatement. "I haven't eaten since breakfast. Is there a restaurant....?"
My words trailed off. I was finally overwhelmed with the magnitude of recent events that had resulted in my climbing into my ancient wreck of an automobile with Percy and heading cross country. Oh my God! I'd totally forgotten about Percy.
"Ummm. I have a cat. Is it okay? I mean... I hope it's all right..." I began to panic as I stumbled over my words. What if he didn't allow pets?
"Don't you worry. You and the kitty are both welcome. I'm sure he'll appreciate getting out of the hot car. I'll give you the room right in front of where you're parked and let you get settled. There's a coffee shop in the old five and dime store on Main Street. Just a few minutes walk down the road." He glanced at his watch. "They're open until six, so you've got some time. They're a bit short of help since Angie went off to school, but the food's good." The room's décor, chenille bedspread and all, was straight out of a Smithsonian exhibit for the 1950's. A musty smell greeted me when I opened the door, but everything seemed clean enough. After I let Percy out of his carrier, he assessed his surroundings. His plaintive meow about summed it up. "I know, buddy. I've got us in a real pickle this time. The old guy seemed nice enough though. Who knows, maybe this is where we're supposed to be." His expression said otherwise. After a lifetime of making do, of putting up with the lies and the pain, of swimming around in the stultifying cesspool of the pond that made up my life, I had cleaned out my bank account, packed my clothes, and driven cross country to start a new life with my feline best friend. I was still a bit of a fledgling when it came to flying. Perhaps this was as good a place as any to roost for a while. Maybe I could get a job as well as a meal at the coffee shop. A poster I once saw in a novelty store came to mind, and I grinned. I finally understood the message. Across an impressive photo of an eagle soaring through the sky clutching a plump trout in its talons, were the words: "I'd rather be a bird than a fish."