“No more Vacancies!” Jeremiah said without looking up when he heard the bell over the office door jingle dingle. “And I’m closing up for the night.”
“But we have a reservation,” came a timid girlish voice. “We made it a week ago.”
Jeremiah looked up to see that ‘we’ was a young black woman and her tall blonde girlfriend. The tall one was wearing the type of sunglasses people his age wore. They were excessively dark and covered half of her face. Below them, her lips were pressed together as if she were fighting not to say something dreadfully important. She had her hands shoved into the pockets of her impossibly tight blue jeans.
The black girl stepped up to the counter and stood on her tippy toes to meet Jeremiah’s gaze. “We couldn’t miss this!” she added and her blonde friend nodded her assent.
Jeremiah scratched the stubble on his chin. He looked behind him and confirmed silently that he had given over all the keys. Indeed, since the thing fell from the sky he could barely keep a room open for more than a few hours. He had even hired a second maid–himself being the first maid–to help keep things running smoothly with the continuous glut of customers.
“And how did you make it?” Jeremiah asked.
“Well, your website was down, so Krystal here called and spoke to you.”
Krystal nodded. She must have used up her monthly quota of words to make the reservation.
“Phone, eh?” Jeremiah mulled as he flipped through his notepad. He didn’t get many phone calls these days. People seemed to prefer to conduct business online which he didn’t mind since it gave him more time for his tv-program binging. Still, he didn’t remember receiving a call a week ago.
“I don’t think–”
But then he saw it, Amber Butler reservation for two, written in his own tiny knotted cursive. He had the type of handwriting a drunk arthritic doctor might have. It was unmistakable. He paused and scrutinized the note he didn’t remember taking as if it were in hieroglyphs. It was always off-putting to encounter tangible evidence of one’s own impending dementia.
“You found it?” The black girl asked, smiling with relief.
“Amber Butler! Yes sir!”
“I guess I did,” Jeremiah sighed. “However, somehow this didn’t make it into the actual calendar.” He paused, hoping it might sink in and that the girls might disappear. They didn’t.
“Oh,” she said, staring at him with eyes like saucers. “Shit. What should we do?” Her friend slouched and kicked at the threadbare carpet.
Jeremiah was startled at how well they were taking it. It was, after all, his fault that they were currently without lodging. He clicked through the calendar on his IBM.
“I have a room for tomorrow night! I assure you the meteor will still be here.”
Amber leaned in and propped her elbows on the counter.
“But we need somewhere to stay tonight,” she said. “We came all the way from SLC.”
Salt Lake was a ten hour drive south of his motel and the shit township that stole his taxes every year. It was at least an hour drive to any other hotels. His ranch was secluded, which had almost killed it until the space rock fell in the woods behind the building. Now people were flocking to spend a night so they could get a look at the strange light it radiated at night and to hear the ethereal humming it emitted during the day and to run their hands over it and pray and make wishes and cry.
“Salt Lake City, huh? That’s a long drive!”
The tall girl nodded slowly. Her hands were still stuffed in her Jean pockets. Jeremiah imagined them as wads of balled-up skin and bone dried up like owl pellets. The strange image surprised him.
“You sure there’s nothing for us? I really don’t feel safe sleeping in the car again.”
Jeremiah looked at her and her friend and imagined them sleeping in their car. He had a niece their age and he would never want her to have to do that.
“I have a small cot in my apartment. You could share it I suppose, or one of you could sleep on the couch.”
Amber suddenly looked so happy she might explode. Her friend even smiled. She had perfectly white perfectly straight teeth like the grill of an ancient car from another dimension.
“Really!?” Amber bounced back from the counter and did a little spin. “That would be so great!”
“Don’t get too excited!” Jeremiah chuckled. “It’s just an efficiency and I’ll still have to charge you for parking.”
“Oh that’s fine! Thank you Thank you Thank you!”
“Lock that door behind you, if you would.”
Krystal engaged the bolt.
He lifted the hinged part of the counter and the girls ducked in. He waved them toward the back and led the way. The room was pretty much as he described it. There was a sparsely furnished kitchen / living room area and then a small bathroom directly adjacent and then the door to his small bedroom.
As they silently followed him in, he realized that they were the first guests he’d had there in many years. Suddenly much of the maculation was more apparent. Coffee stains mottled his couch. Crumbs were scattered across his coffee table. Dirty glasses hid in the shadows. In the sallow lamp light he noticed that the TV, aside from its nobs and switches, was covered in a film of dust.
The girls didn’t seem to notice, though. Amber strolled in and bounced onto the couch. Jeremiah grabbed a few of the dirty glasses and carried them to the kitchen sink, clinking them down and rinsing them out.
“This is great! This is perfect! Isn’t it, Krystal?”
Krystal smiled and walked over to the window. Outside a green glow filled the forest.
“You see Krys here really needs to see your rock tomorrow. It’s been visiting her in her dreams. She thinks it has something to tell her.”
Jeremiah had been having strange dreams lately too. In his dreams he was an ant carrying a chunk of hard candy past giant rocks and stalks of green. He passed other ants heading in the opposite direction, their antennae flitting at unseen electricity. Suddenly he plunged into darkness and was tunneling underground, clambering over other ants in the gloom. The sound of insect legs was a manic scuffling. He could taste the sugar melting in his mandible. Somewhere below him in the twist of tunnels he could hear the subterranean warble of the Queen Ant singing.
He looked at Krystal, still staring at the green-tinged night through her sunglasses. Her silence was unearthly. Amber was still bouncing slightly on the couch.
“Are you girls thirsty? I have Kool Aide,” Jeremiah offered.
“You must feel so lucky that thing landed in your yard!” Amber said, nodding. Krystal didn’t move. Jer poured three glasses anyway.
“Lucky? Well, yes, I suppose. This town is pretty dried up. I was lucky to get a customer once every month or so. Now, as you can see, I’m booked solid. I’m lucky to get a night off.”
“That’s great for you!”
Jer smiled and carried two of the glasses and put them on the coffee table. “Well, for the first time in a long time, money isn’t a problem. The problem is that I’m now too old to enjoy it.”
“How old are you?”
Jeremiah did a quick tally in his mind. He was old enough not to count birthdays anymore, and he didn’t have friends or family to remind him. He was old enough to qualify for a discount at the movie theater when they still had one which was some years ago.
“In my seventies, I think,” he said.
At this both girls giggled. Amber had a high pitched girlish laugh. Krystal had more of a husky cough which she directed at the window.
Then, as if being reminded of his age also reminded him of how exhausted he was from living so goddamned much, he was hit by a wave of fatigue.
“I’m sorry, girls. Suddenly I can’t keep my eyes open.”
“That’s okay, Jeremiah. We’ll see you in the morning,” Amber said.
Jeremiah shuffled back to his bedroom and barely got his shoes off before falling down the dark hole of sleep. His last thought was, When did I tell her my name?
To be continued.