“Here at the Starlight Motel,” short fiction by Andrea Barrett, appeared in the Fall 1987 issue of MQR.
I had to leave ten bucks at the front desk before the clerk would turn on the phone.
“I’m just making a local call,” I said. “Just one.”
He picked at his nails and said “Those are the rules. If you’ve got a credit card I’ll take that instead.” Then he smiled, knowing I hadn’t checked in under my name.
I gave him the money, which left me with four dollars and a little change. Then I called Robbie Calkins’ house in Chesterfield for the first time ever. He gave me his number early on, just for an emergency; I wouldn’t have called except I knew his wife was gone.
“Just come for a drink,” I said. “I’m at the motel.” I could hear his daughters playing near the phone and his mother-in-law screeching at them. I knew he had to be going crazy.
“Well…” he said. He waffled a bit and then he came — he always does. He doesn’t have the willpower God gave a goat. Which isn’t to say he doesn’t have other things. He’s brown-eyed and big: six-foot three, two-thirty or so, and running a little to fat, which I never liked in a man but didn’t much mind in him. He has beautiful hands, and a smile that says everything’s easy. And although he’s only twenty-eight, not much older than me, he has a wife and three kids and a beat-up car with a baby-seat in the back. He has responsibilities.
He didn’t say about those until later. I didn’t know — until I finished school and went to work in the office at the fertilizer plant in Leverett, I only went out with single men. I was fine, and then Robbie transferred in from the plant, took over a desk, and flirted with me more than any single man I knew. Robbie made my breath stop the day he first walked in and every day afterwards; Robbie teased me until I kissed him in a parking lot one night and came here to the Starlight Motel with him another. Once we were here, he talked to me until I fell in love and couldn’t stop listening, and when I did the world went black and grey on me like an old TV show not worth watching. He’s been my lover, on and off, for ten months.
“Here at the Starlight Motel” later appeared in the novel Secret Harmonies (Washington Square Press, 1989) under the title “The Apple Picker Hits the Road.”
Image: Fitch, Steve. “Motel, Highway 85, Deadwood, South Dakota.” 1972. Gelatin silver print. The Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.