They Will Leave From
Movies have taught the woman that she can do this: Drive to a town outside of her own — fifty, sixty, or even one hundred miles away. Whatever distance puts her at least halfway between her town and another. She can park her car in the back, sign a fake name in the register. Pay in cash. She will wait for a knock, look out the tiny porthole of her room, and then open the door.
If a camera is anywhere, it is in the car with her now. If there is a camera, and there could be, it shows a serious face under swept-back hair, at once arranged and messy. This camera, unmoving itself, would document only the small flick of her eyes as she switches lanes, the shift of her shoulders tilting the wheel. Meanwhile, beyond her cheek, the window allows a dead bean field, blurring to a grey nothing. Here is what this camera will not show: Lately, she has been thinking only in the present tense, the near future. Thinking only in is’s and will be’s. It’s the reason she likes driving. How easily she switches from one radio frequency to the next, the way she can make everything louder or softer by twisting her wrist just so, slower or faster with a hinging of her ankle. There is the future of the highway, the flat Illinois roads that show themselves all at once — a single image, not a slow unfolding — and there is her knowing, because she can already see it, just what will come next.
But when she gets inside, the woman behind the desk tells her they do not accept cash. Even in this economy in this motel off the interstate, with only a gas station and an Arby’s in view, no cash. And there is no red leather-bound register for her to sign either. No little pencil. She senses the clerk — a woman who immediately conjured in her the word dowdy — discovering the lie of her meeting, unfolding it like a map.
As she returns to her car, she thinks back to what brought her there — a quiet stasis, wanting to move, nothing at all. The anticipation that came with plans being made. There is a husband, of course, a good, quiet man to feel guilty about were she not trying so hard to push forward, to say, This is happening. Sitting in the silent car, framed once again, her face has become an after. Her face, deeper — as though viewed from the end of a long hallway. She thinks of how all those movies are fixed in the past — drapes with print flowers flat like open palms, the carpet holding years of people’s dirty feet. It was a past before she was born, a time when people could smoke wherever they wanted, not just in certain rooms of certain hotels.
Back in the car, waiting, adjusting the mirror to brush her hair from her face, she thinks of how cinema would show everything the viewer wants to see: Another car approaching in her rearview, a man emerging from it, her window rolling down to meet him. How they would enter the room together — no knock now, no look to see that it was he who was there. Then a silent undressing — breath and the tempered moving of limbs. Finally, the cinematic cigarette and the covering of her breasts with a sheet, sinking into the bed, that cliché. But she has skipped all of this, is imagining a future just further away — not the motel room they will go to, but the motel room they will leave from. The black television screen, the room cast in silence after the door closes behind them. Their dampness will have disappeared into the bed, their fingerprints having dulled the shine of two glasses freed of their plastic wrapping. She is still in the car, still waiting, as though in a line of many, thinking of how they make all the rooms the same — square and ordered and neat — so that one beautiful pair after another can come and mess them up.