The End of the Roll – Ingrid Jendrzejewski
A Dirty Motel Pool – Dan Crawley
Conversation with Antigone – Sophie van Llewyn
Fallen Fruit – Kim Martins
Motel – Bradley Nielsen
Homecoming – Erica Gerald Mason
Not in the Brochures – Harley Hern
Hotel Jacaranda – Carrie Beckwith
A Job Well Done – Tina Grubba
The Girl – Denise Jensen
Sunshine Motel of Pondicherry – Shreyasi Majumdar
Give me the full name of the motel keeper in Psycho – Judith Higgins
Down – Lily Straker
Keeping Evie Lu Quiet – Frankie McMillan
The Old Woman from Ipanema – Meg Sefton
Continental Breakfasts Sound Fancy so You Don’t Realize It’s a God Damned Muffin and You Should Have Just Gone to Tim Hortons – David Atkinson
Listen – Sandy Feinstein
The Motel Existential – Jennifer Fliss
Guest Editors Alex Pruteanu and Kiri Piahana-Wong, on story selections for this month’s issue
Interview with Robert Scotellaro
Interview with Laurie Stone
Flashpoint zine, edited by Zoë Meager
I built the snowman big enough to camouflage my quadriplegic sister. Dad was ice fishing, guzzling vodka with grizzly bears. He loved her more than me. So I pushed her rusty wheelchair through the sludge and stuffed her body inside the base of the snowman. Dad stumbled home from Mescal Motel around midnight. I peeked out the window as he urinated on the carrot. Chugging turpentine after snorting flakka in room 420, Dad deserved to lose custody when we were borne into that preemie ward. Mom died giving birth. Dad’s nothing but bath salts and hairy balls – hirsute fiend ready for his funeral.
Nobody spanked harder and more merciless than Dad. He didn’t notice her missing till the snowman melted. She survived with severe hypothermia.
Orangutan bubbles borne by the beast brushed blades of grass. A band of horses trotted across the cul-de-sac. Seasons change yet room 420 looms in cobwebbed corner, tinfoil on rectangular windows. Loonies freebase ether. When Trent Razor wrestled alligators, Dad held me upside-down by my ankle. Trent corralled blue-collar fiends headed to ballot boxes after chugging Natty Light and smoking spliffs.
Trent needed to eradicate Motel Row. Destined to be razed, the candidate grabbed the gator by its tail. Dad shouted wicked warnings, grimaces, green teeth camouflaged cold cash. Gentlemen grunted into bloody fists − guzzling whisky − shielding strange children from pithy of carnage. The animal ripped to shreds by an eleven-foot gator with nine-inch nails.
My sister watched first snow from her rusty chariot.
About Matthew Dexter…
The End of the Roll
You move your fingers slowly. The toilet paper is thin and coarse, a cheap one-ply not intended to be anything more than functional – a far cry from the paper at the 5-star where you started out. No simple triangles for those guests, no. The regular rooms got a fancy gem fold embossed with the hotel’s insignia, but for special customers, each chambermaid finished the end of the roll with her own signature shape. Yours was a peacock – a variation on an origami crane with a twist for the crest and a pleated-tuck fan for the tail. You were young and beautiful then, your joints nimble.
But time passes, looks fade. You were let go from the 5-star and gradually drifted down from the 4-star to the 3, then from the Best Western to the Super8. And once the arthritis struck, not even the aspiring motor lodges would have you. These days, you’re grateful enough to be employed at what was once a Motel 6 before it lost its franchise.
Now, when you fold toilet paper, the manager cusses, spits. Get in, get out, get the job done, he says. Still, you do it. You do it in each room, you do it despite the pain in each knuckle. Slowly, carefully, you craft your peacock for every trucker, junkie, prostitute unlucky enough to end up in these rooms. It may be rough to the touch, but cheap paper can make nice, crisp folds.
About Ingrid Jendrzejewski…
A Dirty Motel Pool
The father opened all the doors of LTD Country Squire, including the tailgate, and the mother sent off the children with their snorkels and masks, ready for a nap.
They ran toward the crusty shoreline of the Great Salt Lake, chasing wide ripples of brine flies to the edge of the water. One of the sisters screamed, “Mosquitoes! All over my legs,” and ran back to the gift shop parking lot. The remaining children donned their masks, bit down hard on their mouthpieces. They belly-flopped and surfaced quickly, gasping in shock. The day before, they swam in the frigid turquoise freshwater of Lake Tahoe. They had looked forward to a warmer lake, like their mother promised, especially after she dragged them around the boring Temple Square all morning.
“My skin is burning,” they cried, circling the station wagon in painful skips.
“No more driving,” the mother told her weary husband.
“My tongue is burning!”
The mother opened the cooler and the sodas were gone. Only a small watermelon sat half-submerged in the melting ice. She gave her moaning children the runny slices. Their salt-burned skin turned sticky, attracting black seeds on their chests and thighs.
The father pulled into the first Motel 6 he could find off the interstate. The mother visualized trying to bath them, one after another in the small bathroom.
“Everyone to the pool!”
They cannonballed into the murky deep end. The silt on the bottom grew like thunderheads.
About Dan Crawley…
Conversation with Antigone
Sophie van Llewyn
On the lower floor of the caravanserai, the air was thick with the smells of a hundred armpits, nutmeg and saffron, a faint trace of manure clinging since winter and the noise of money changing hands: bargaining shouts and the sound of dice on wooden backgammon boards. The walls were releasing heat like the floors of a Roman bath. But upstairs, an aroma of rosewater enveloped the silk trader like a woman’s embrace, which was precisely what he was seeking.
The girl was standing in front of the large opening in the wall. Her naked, white back was turned to him. He imagined that her skin tasted like crushed mint sorbet. But she ignored him and kept looking towards the inner yard, formed as a semicircle and at the stone steps behind it, embracing and enclosing it like a womb.
“Did you know that this used to be an amphitheater? Now, it’s filled with burden beasts and their droppings,” she snorted.
“Yes, yes. Come here.”
“It means comedies and tragedies unfolded here. Great works of great men. They now lay buried under piles of dung.”
The trader felt that he was growing soft.
“Oh. I’m sure they’re not. Come here now.”
“Aren’t they?” She finally turned and he saw that she had flickering green eyes. “My brother has died and it is forbidden to bury him. What do I do?”
The trader wondered if, should he give her a few slaps, he would be able to perform.
About Sophie van Llewyn…
He said, cut it down. So they did. The morning sky was swollen with August heat, outraged blackbirds exploded from the tree as the first cut bit into the old trunk.
It was the flickering red sign that lured me. Turn left to the Best Motel, air conditioning, free color TV. I first saw her in reception, a flash of orange fingernails, dusty voice and a promise of free love.
She knocked on the door at midnight. Neon light sliced through the darkness, throwing serrated shadows over her curves. She smelled of coconut oil, sunshine and sweat. Urgent hands denied me sleep but perhaps it wasn’t rest I came here for.
Come with me, she said.
Under the guava tree, she breathed into the spaces between us, into the raindrops balanced like gems on the smooth leaves, into the silence of a moonless night. The backs of my thighs felt the prickle of decay as we moved together again.
Come with me, she whispered.
We parted as dawn pastels climbed the sky and the warm air thickened. Blue-shuttered windows were thrown open, kids and parents tumbled out, dolphin-patterned swimming towels were tossed poolside.
She ran at the cracking of tangled branches, watched the roots ripped from the worn earth, guava fruit lying on the ground like water-smooth rocks.
You’re cutting the guava tree, she said and slumped against him.
I know, he said.
About Kim Martins…
Eric had never before been asked What are you thinking? except for when an expression or gesture had necessitated the question. In his experience, such a question, unless elicited, was to be left pondered; it was not for a lover to ask – a partner, perhaps, in theory, a child even, but not for a lover. It caused a brief rupture (or rapture?) in the conventional agreement of distrust that exists between lovers. The girl, Cass was her name, saw something in the moments it took Eric to process what the question meant, if anything, and to gather a response − a joke. Her eyes seemed to dry up a little as a smile appeared at the corners of her lips, and she returned her head to Eric’s chest.
About Bradley Nielsen…
Erica Gerald Mason
After the homecoming dance, the ten of us chipped in and rented a cheap motel on the other side of town. Us girls were in shiny dresses and the boys were in suits and bad neckties. We imagined we were sophisticated as we toasted each other and got wasted on gas station wine. Had pizza delivered to our room and the boys tipped the delivery driver an extra fiver because that’s what classy people did.
We turned out the lights; then two by two, we paired off.
Jamie & Mary in the bathroom. Kelly & Sam on the bed by the window. Brian & Nicole on the bed by the bathroom. Heather & Curtis, on the floor between the beds. That left Andy and me to the closet. As Andy and I groped each other in the dark, I overheard a chorus of moaning and grunting as our friends tried to outsex each other. “Ugh. Mood killer,” I said, pushing Andy’s hand away. “Pretend we’re on the beach,” Andy whispered in my ear as he slid his fingers further along the waistband of my underwear “OK. What beach?” I asked. Andy moved his hand away and sighed in the dark. “Why can’t you be like other girls?” he asked. “Or at least, why can’t you try?”
About Erica Gerald Mason…
Not in the Brochures
An ordinary day. Screaming Jean is keening in the communal loos. She’s washing her face in a toilet. I got distracted in R1, hosing dog hair and wee from a shower cubicle. Outside, I discover six nationalities of backpackers lined-up, shivering and busting.
Face dripping, Screaming Jean strides out. Backpackers skitter in. A German man complains to me about fragrance in the laundry sachets. In R4, I wish our truckee regular would stop eating curry. From R12, I glimpse the hooker, Candy, doing a runner again. In the 20-share bunkroom, hells bells, you could cut the air with a chainsaw.
Five washing loads, ten vacuums and twelve phone calls with my how-can-I-help-you voice. The communal kitchen clearly endured a midnight party. There’s a rat jostling the rubbish. NoName, the sweet Japanese helper, can’t speak English, but she can scream.
In my office I find Mosquito Girl, slapping under her cowboy hat. She eats my sandwich while I squash invisible mozzies on the wall by her bed. Then loud, red, Scottish-Tom-with-Tourette’s wakes up jubilant, swears it’s a foockin marvellous foockin day foock and treads on Screaming Jean in the lounge, trimming carpet with a nail file. Not good. She’s prudish about vocabulary.
As the cop car leaves, it makes a tired sound. Backpackers thumb their lifts. There is a passing cloud of silence. I bash a brush through my hair, and draw on lipstick. Great day, say the fresh tourists in the afternoon. Kia ora, just lovely, I answer.
About Harley Hern…
It’s a simple enough building, locked in 1970s architecture, flat roofed, wide windowed, cheaply built to save, dressed by the magnificence of the tree.
She cups a violet ringlet, and gazes into the expanse of the canopy. The exquisite purple blossoms drip and cascade, each bough laden with the exotic fruit. Its arms stretch wide across the lawn to completely obscure the breezeblock behind.
Tattered fedora pulls himself straight, gnarly hands on the fork. “Jacaranda. Planted 70 years ago, she’s a beauty all right. Likes the sun and the sand, proper beach belle is she.”
As if to confirm her pleasure the tree elegantly bends and stretches with the breeze.
“Mother came from Pretoria – Jacaranda City they call it. Lined the streets they did. The city glowed purple when they bloomed.”
She imagines the city draped in the purple haze, a candyfloss coating luminous and ethereal. The woman enveloped in the vibrant blooms, the living umbrella sheltering her from the sun’s heat and creating an enchanted world by twilight.
“Dad built the motel, Mother planted the tree.” The contrast is absolute. The one’s drabness exaggerated by the other’s splendor.
Her hand rests on a deep wound in the trunk, the span the width of a man’s hand. She runs her fingers over the bulging lip of the scar, knitted together over many years.
“That was the axe. Mother wouldn’t let him.”
A cold wind blows off the ocean and the fronds rustle like tiny bells.
About Carrie Beckwith…
A Job Well Done
He was surprised at how fine-boned and fragile she looked. He had expected someone stocky, more masculine. Nevertheless, he thought, I have calculated the right amount of rope.
Her eyes were hard, showing none of the fear he had expected to see. Now they were invisible, hooded, her legs were strapped together, and all was ready. One word came like a sigh from her lips: “schnell.”
Bolts slid back on oiled hinges, the clack- clack of the trapdoor falling down, harsh and uncompromising in the early morning stillness; then a slight displacement of air, a small cough and she was gone.
After the rope, straps and tools were packed neatly into their compact black box, property of His Majesty’s Government, he congratulated himself on a job well done. Breakfast was the next item on his agenda.
The plush seating in the hotel restaurant was a relief after the unyielding seats of the military vehicle. He scanned the headlines of the newspaper and ordered coffee with his meal.
“Schnell,” she had said; well, it had been fast. Not my record time of seven seconds, but still very close, he thought, as he buttered his toast.
For her victims, savaged by her dogs, or left to die slowly from her pistol’s pot shots, it had not been fast.
He tucked into his plate of bacon, eggs and sausage. Too bad the Jerries can’t learn to make sausages as good as the British, he reflected, as I’ll be making more of these trips.
About Tina Grubba…
I am a motel wall. I’ve seen and heard it all – the tears, the screams, the laughter, the joy. I’ve been talked at, caressed and head banged. I’m a connoisseur of disinfectant. Today I’m being demolished.
Before I’m dust, let me tell you about a girl who was shoved into my room and locked in – alone. She stood stock-still – head down, lank hair – listened awhile then took off her coat to reveal a child size nurse’s uniform. Reaching under the uniform she pulled out yard after yard of colourful braid.
She stamped her shoe removing black fabric from the sole. With a flourish it transformed into a top hat from which she pulled out loops of fine wire, before plucking sachets of orange and a corkscrew out of her socks.
The girl dragged a chair to the door and stood on it, tapping the wall before making two holes and threading the wire through. She pierced the hat rim on both sides, pulled the wire through one hole, knotted it and left the hat dangling against the wall. The braid was then drawn through the other side and threaded through the curtain rail. Still gripping the braid line she lay on the bed.
The phone rang once. Startled, the girl leapt up, poured the orange liquid into the top hat, drawing the braid taut, re-positioning the chair, then with a shuddering breath she lay on the bed keeping the braid rigid. A key turned in the lock.
About Denise Jensen…
Sunshine Motel of Pondicherry
When the lighthouse first illuminates the ocean, froth-stitched to the shores of Pondicherry, Jacques Cordier builds a tea room a few hundred metres from it. He bathes its walls in sunshine yellow and proudly christens it ‘Le Maison de Lumière’ (The House of Light).
Over time, the diminutive ‘tea and madeleine’ establishment neighbouring the landmark lighthouse morphs into a 14-room guesthouse.
Then comes the spiritual blitzkrieg.
Churches proliferate, mystics abound, azaans are sung. Ashram after ashram mushrooms, promising gigawatts of enlightenment. Riding the wave, Pascal Cordier rents out a small section of the building to a resident guru. Soon, travellers are served generous portions of ‘Om’-infused madeleines for just over an additional rupee an hour.
Fifty years later, and the building has swollen to house 26 guest rooms. A smoking lounge replaces the meditation retreat, tea and madeleines are swapped for coffee and cake. Conservative Annabelle Cordier paints the exterior a stern Navy Blue, renames the building ‘Lighthouse Hotel’, and hikes room tariffs.
And, it happens.
The government closes down the old lighthouse and has a new one constructed on a hilltop further away. Its enduring beacon gone, Lighthouse Hotel falters, its erstwhile glory waning rapidly.
‘Sunshine Motel’ (as the sign now reads in flickering neon green) serves neither tea and madeleines nor coffee and cake. It does, however, offer overpriced mineral water and a guided city tour with several sightseeing attractions – two cathedrals, a basilica, a boathouse, a war memorial, and a stygian lighthouse from an indistinct time.
About Shreyasi Majumdar…
Give me the full name of the motel keeper in Psycho
In 1971, while I was visiting my cousin Pam in LA, she began an affair with a marine called Normand. His conversation was limited. I thought if he dropped the ‘d’ from his name, he’d appear less stupid. But he was probably only traumatised from a recent tour in Vietnam.
At weekends, Pam pretended to show me the sights while her husband worked. Instead, we drove down the freeway to Normand’s base in San Diego. She wanted to find me an alibi boyfriend and to oblige, I snogged a soldier called Randy in the back of her car and he showed me his penis. A first. After Pam gave me some contraceptive foam, we were supposed to join her and Normand in a motel but Randy didn’t show.
Apart from the one in Psycho, I’d never seen a motel before. Pam only had money for a room with two king-sized beds, as if a combo of fucking couples was the ‘norm’. I pretended to sleep, while she and Normand humped. Once or twice he said ‘Oh, baby‘ and she said ‘Shhh‘.
In the night, Pam went for a shower and left the bathroom door open so I could see her naked silhouette behind the plastic curtain. Normand soon lumbered in after her. It wasn’t at all like the Hitchcock film. I was glad about that, at least.
About Judith Higgins…
I woke up in the dark, covered by my own sweat. My body was shaking simultaneously with its heartbeat and my breathing was erratic. I must have had another nightmare, right? That would explain the uneasy feeling in my stomach.
I looked around and noticed that I wasn’t in any room I recognised, but I could see a door and decided to exit.
Outside was a hallway with countless doors on either side, as well as a figure humming. I walked up to her and noticed she was cleaning.
“Good evening, ma’am. I hate to bother you, but where the hell am I?” I asked.
“Sir, you are staying at The Limbo.” She paused. “And I’d advise for you not to use that word – you might jinx yourself.”
I spent days in this place. There was no exit and I was stuck in this giant building with no explanation.
And then the day came. The manager knocked on my door to tell me that I had until ten to leave so I asked where the exit was. He told me I would know.
The clock struck ten and I made my way to the reception, seeing the manager nod at me. I noticed a door I had never seen before.
I walked up to it and turned the doorknob.
“You will either fly or fall,” the manager said, and those were the last words I heard before the floor gave way and I fell.
About Lily Straker…
Keeping Evie Lu Quiet
While my father argues with the motel owner we play the quietest game I can think of, ‘Where is your nose, Evie Lu, point to your nose,’ and she swings her hairy arm up to her face, points to her flat, chimp nose that always feels like putty under my fingers. I have my back to the car window and a leash around my sister’s neck. Through the closed window I can hear my father’s loud voice, not shouting, but raised like he’s giving a lecture to his psych students and he’s telling the motel owner that Evie Lu is not a pet, she’s a child, a family member and he will pay if the carpet is stained or if there’s breakages, that is standard policy wherever you go in the world and the motel owner in his blue shirt is almost levitating, he rises on the balls of his toes in his eagerness to explain the motel regulations and later my father will point this out to me. ‘Body language,’ he will say, ‘did you notice that body language?’ But that is later, a hundred kilometres later when we sneak into the Waterfront motel, Evie Lu curled over my shoulders and my father thrusting the key, like a gift into the motel door. It is not now, in a stiflingly hot car where boredom sets in, where my sister suddenly scurries over to the passenger window, the leash slipping, slipping from my sweaty hand, the sky opening up to her outraged scream.
About Frankie McMillan…
The Old Woman from Ipanema
The night we met at The Red Fox Lounge at the Mount Vernon Inn, I started to lose my vision. Lorna Lombey was singing ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ and handing out tambourines and maracas and castanets and suddenly there were two Lornas and two of you and two of everything else. After that weekend, the historic Florida inn would be destroyed by land developers and Lorna would no longer play where she and her late husband of thirty years had a Vegas lounge act.
I held your hand, tears in my eyes, and watched the room double.
“Let’s get a drink,” you said, knowing nothing. I had not been open about my health. Dating at fifty was one long sales pitch.
We checked into a room. You laid me onto the bed and hovered over me in twos. “I’ll never leave you,” you said. When I was twenty-five and newly married my husband said the same thing though I left him first.
In the morning, I woke to a note: Goodbye Angeline. My double vision had fled, long enough for me to drive home and watch the news that night, including news of the destruction of a Winter Park landmark, yet another link to our past, this David Lynchian concatenation.
My dog rolled over and I thought: This is the one true thing.
I scratched her belly.
“Our city will be lonelier without strange things such as these,” I said.
About Meg Sefton…
Continental Breakfasts Sound Fancy so You Don’t Realize It’s a God Damned Muffin and You Should Have Just Gone to Tim Hortons
I was never big on Motel 6 or those other cheap, crappy motel chains − until I learned they could be used to teleport all over the country rather than having to drive. Why else would I stay at one? Frankly, you’d think they’d advertise that part a bit more.
Werner Herzog was the one who finally told me, gave me the lowdown while we were babysitting Emmanuel Lewis at a Chuck E. Cheese’s in Akron. The word ‘motel’ was derived from ‘motor lodge’, Werner said, because the damn things were mobile, at least on the ethereal plane. Put the free facial soap in the safe and then hit the desired zip code. The whole building would switch places with the target location and you could walk right out. What did I think those safes were for?
After all, no one at a Motel 6 had money or other valuables to steal, and the safes were easier to remove than the remotes bolted to the nightstand anyway.
I felt somewhat foolish, for not having known − but not as bad as Dwight Eisenhower. That little interstate system Ike deployed was a colossal waste of time since we could all just use the motels to teleport.
I wonder why Werner never told him. Must be a democrat.
About David Atkinson…
She had been watching the oud player, only half aware of the hard floor and the crowd. She was surrounded by young men, but took little notice. Had the good-looking kid beside her heard her speak today about Zenobia, she wondered, as he leaned toward her.
“Where are you from?”
Nope, he hadn’t been in the auditorium.
“I teach in Aleppo.”
“Really?” He looked skeptical.
“Do you have anywhere to stay in Latakia?”
His English was good. “I’m taking the bus back after the concert.”
“My uncle has a place. If you come back. Here,” he said, handing her a card.
She gave him her card – English on one side, Arabic on the other.
“You’re from America.”
Her name was a dead giveaway. “I am.”
What the hell, she thought when she called the number on the card a month later.
An Armenian friend insisted on her first visit being to a beach – never mind the castles,
mosques, museums – first things first.
The taxi took them to the ‘motel,’ the word on the card literally transliterated.
The uncle was there waiting: $5 for two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom, and view
of the corniche and the shadow of the Mediterranean beyond. “A’alla…sooreea.” Welcome
to Syria. But more. “Shukran.” Thank you.
He waved the keys.
The taxi driver had pulled off the road before dropping them at the faded blue building.
He smiled at the two women in the back seat. Then he played a wooden flute.
About Sandy Feinstein…
The Motel Existential
She smacks her gum and reads Samuel Beckett while she waits for guests to arrive. This didn’t happen often.
The vending machine. The fucking vending machine. Every night at eleven, she puts in two quarters. It stares at her, waiting for her to put in another quarter. The Coke says it’s $.75. She stares at the machine and it stares back. She was rewarded once, and has been trying ever since. She pushes the button to return the coins, they jangle back down and she leaves empty handed.
When Mack arrives, he asks her who she’s waiting for.
“You,” she says and tucks the book away.
“I’d like your very best room.”
“This is the Motel Sneak-Away. All our rooms are our best.”
“I’ll take the one closest to the office.” She studies him as if she might have to pick him out of a line-up later. Thirty-ish with a Cornell tee. Shorter than her, taller than the wire stand holding the local attraction pamphlets, Biggest Beehive, Museum of Lamps.
He drove up in a wood-paneled station wagon and she’s too young to have seen one of those before. She pops her gum, hands him a key. Tells him check-out is at eleven.
He spins a quarter on the counter in his wake. Grabs his bag and leaves the office. The coin spins and spins on an axis she’s never seen before. She doesn’t wait for it to land, interrupts the rotation, goes for a Coke.
About Jennifer Fliss…
Guest Editors Alex Pruteanu and Kiri Piahana-Wong, on story selections for this month’s issue: