by jesse s mitchell
illustrated by rhoda penmarq
Mary Jo knew exactly where in town was best for running through the razor wire. Where the fence was weakest, where nobody ever looked, where a person could get under the neon lights, slip out and get free. She knew all the darkest spots and the weakest ones too.
She sat still in the big tan fake leather chair from behind the front desk. She had moved to next to the dirty window and chewed the end of a pencil.
She kicked her feet. All along the walls, there were black and white photographs that stared down, lines and lines of them, quiet and motionless, as grim motionless as the dead and dying dust flying in the desert air. The air stinks. Everything always smells burnt, all burnt up and nothing but ash. The pictures stared down at her every move…and she watched back.
She is locked looking right in the shades of grey somewhere near the natural location of an eye…eyeish areas of all these frozen ghosts…oh, the staring pictures. Well tonight, she was staring back. Eye to eye locked together, tunnel tunnel, center-to-center, eye to eye.
The silver car parked out front was not hers. It was not hers but she did have the keys…well, at least she knew where they were and she could easily get to them.
They were as good as hers…anytime she felt like making them hers, really… and she was definitely thinking of making that exact thing a reality. Just steal the son of a bitch. Why not? Fuck this hellhole. Who would know? She could just get the keys, start the car, drive the fuck away…dum dum dum dum…boom…never look back. Right through the fence…rocket.
The silver car out front was not her car. It belonged to her friend, Fiona…friends, Fiona and Alex…it was their car. They had left the car with Mary Jo earlier in the evening. They left it with her so she could watch it as she worked her shift as the night clerk at the only motel in town. And on occasion, she looked out the window and noticed it was still there and then back at her staring match.
She thought it was creepy enough that the owner of the motel insisted on all the weird southwestern desert motif…the town (and motel by default) was in fact located in western Minnesota…but the decorations were only off-putting, only strange…merely quirky… the real trouble was the collection of very old sepia and black and white pictures of apparently completely infamous, uninfluenced people.
All of them so gaunt and sad…like each on of them dying of the worst disease…skeletal. Skull and bones. Victims of poisonings and syphilis and profound clinical boredom. Always looking down. The staring grey eyeballs. Wow.
She looked out the window. The car was still there…still fine…and she thought her friends worried too damned much. A large chunk of the pencil eraser broke free from her incessant gnawing. She coughed and sputtered and almost choked…perhaps to death or worse…but in the end pulled through and spit the slimy lump of pink goo into her hand, made a face of shock and shook the whole load onto the ugly carpet and rubbed the spot dry with her black boot. Doc Martins. Bouncing soles.
She thought about stealing her friends’ car again. She looked at it, new, clean, shiny, and decided it was not the sort of car she would like to steal. She had principles.
So nauseas, she hated the dim yellow neon lights that flooded the motel’s every crevice and corner with a sick yellow incandescent glow. They made her so nauseas. There was not much that Mary Jo found acceptable about the motel, the town, strangers, things, or work in general. Almost all of that stuff made her feel rather ill almost all of the time. But if Mary Jo were to steal a car, it would not be that brand new shiny vaguely citrus fruit shaped turd out front. It would be something with some class.