I miss the old keys. It was more authentic that way. A key that actually looked like a key. It had character, its own shape and grooves. Now, all keycards look the same. It could belong to any one of these doors. Not really, but you get the idea. Something else about the keys that I liked was the rubber tag that hung off the metal to let you know the room number. My name is Charlie John Brinkman and I am lost. I am looking for Pineview Motel, Room 27. Mom made me practice that many times, I still hear it in my head when someone asks for my information. That was just in case, though she never told me in case of what. Then I got my own key, and the number was right there. Each of us had one. All day long I felt it in my pocket to make sure it was still there. The same thing was in Mom’s pocket, and Daddy’s too. I used to wonder if they held theirs too. It could’ve been that we were all holding them at the same time, miles apart and none of us knowing.
Another thing I don’t like about keycards, you don’t get to hear the click when the door unlocks. It was the click of the lock, the moment before the door swung open, that told us Daddy was home. His work boots sank into the plush orange carpeting as he stepped into view. He always took his shoes off, but they were never dirty anyhow.
I let the door close behind me as I stepped into the room. The carpet was new. It was an inoffensive beige color now. I liked the orange better. I could almost hear the squeaking wheel of my old toy truck as it rolled back and forth across the carpet. It was too soft for it to roll far by itself; you had to keep your hand on it. That was fine by me. The best path was to start at the door, go under both beds, crawling real low so you don’t bump your head. That’s when the truck is in the mines. If there were dust bunnies, those were the gold nuggets. They’d go in the back of the truck. If the haul was good, it was a quick stop to the safe. That was the bank. Creative, I know. The handle was broken, so it always came open if you pulled hard enough. Then you could put your gold in the bank and, well, that was pretty much it. The old orange carpet had flecks of brown. It looked like dirt, and maybe some of it was. That was good for the truck game. The carpet was spotless now. It wasn’t that soft anymore. There were no boots by the door. I stood up and set my bag on the bed.
The bedding was clean, crisp. The white comforter was pristine. The sheets were tucked neatly beneath the mattress. It was a queen, I think. The lady at the desk might’ve said that. It was the only bed in the room now; it sat proudly in the center. I lay down, and my feet hung off the end. I remembered the bed being bigger. Even with Mom in it, too. Ours was the one by the wall, not the door. The man is supposed to sleep by the door in case someone breaks in; that’s something Daddy taught me. I wished that he wouldn’t have told me that. The street lights used to cast shadows on the curtains as people passed by, and I imagined each one was coming to break the door down. He didn’t get home until real late, so there was nobody sleeping in the man’s bed to save us. Mom told me the door was made of the strongest steel, so that wasn’t going to happen. I knew what wood felt like, but I let her think that she was right, so she’d keep feeling safe. I turned on my side and shuffled towards the door. The pillowcase beneath my head was white. It used to be a bright yellow. The comforter used to be brown with yellow flowers, or maybe they were just dots. I can’t remember now. It smelled fresh now, like detergent. It used to smell sweet, like Mom. Her perfume smelled like flowers. Yeah, that’s right. And I think the comforter was just dots.
There were two black nightstands hooked to the wall, framing it on either side. They used to be on the floor, and they were brown. There was one small drawer towards the top and a big drawer at the bottom. That one wouldn’t open. Mom said it was a fake drawer. The good stuff was at the top anyhow. We kept our secret money there, Mom and me. There was a bible in each of the nightstands, and there were dollar bills in the pages of ours. She didn’t want Daddy to spend it at THE BAR. When she said it, the words always flashed in big red letters in my head. The room used to smell like booze, but looking back, I guess that was just him. I shook that off, sliding open the nightstand drawer. It didn’t stick anymore. There weren’t any bibles either. I picked up the remote and flipped on the TV. There was a flat-screen mounted to the wall now. I flipped it on and pressed mute. The sound on the old TV didn’t work, so Mom and I liked to make up our own stories. I watched the characters laughing in high-definition now, tried to read the words dancing across their lips. I wasn’t much good at this by myself. I turned it off. I swung my legs off the bed and walked to the bathroom. The lights came right on without having to jiggle the switch. The mirror seemed to cover the whole wall now. Everything was neatly arranged on the counter. Small bottles and unopened soaps stared back at me. A single towel hung from the rack on the wall. Temporary items for temporary guests.
I had thought of a new truck game on our eleventh morning. I set the toy at the edge of the tub, watched it race down and crash against the ceramic under the faucet. I guess it hit a little too hard because a wheel fell off. I watched, helpless, as it rolled down the drain. When Mom fell asleep that night, I snuck a bill from the secret money and waited for Daddy. At the click of the lock, I scurried towards the door and explained my predicament. He stopped unlacing his boots and looked at me, his body lightly swaying as he smiled. He promised as he took the money from my hand to get me a new truck, and a couple of cars too. Then he left. I was too excited to sleep. Someone knocked heavily on the door. I rushed to open it, afraid my mom would know it wasn’t steel if they accidentally knocked it down. A man with a badge stood in front of me, shining a light into the room and asking for Mom. I sat on the comforter with the yellow dots while they talked, wrapped up tight in a ratty bathroom towel. That was when I first heard of THE ACCIDENT, as it came to be in my mind, flashing in the same red letters as THE BAR. I used to blame the room. The bathroom with the too-hard bathtub and the no-good drain, eater of toys. It was all new now, all different. The room had gotten a fresh start. Maybe I had to see it to get one, too.
Cayla Christopher plans to graduate from SIUE with a degree in English. The plan after that is undetermined, but hopefully it’ll continue to be an adventure worth writing about.