There’s the sound of someone pushing a broom outside my motel window. There’s a curtain I’ve pulled to keep out the night. If I leave the curtain open wayward travelers, wanderers like myself, might look into my Motel 6 room, my home away from home, and see that I’ve brought along with me a few things from home: a blue linen tablecloth to place over the scratched Motel 6 table, a white china plate, a blue napkin, some silverware, and my favorite 2003 Kentucky Derby julep glass. On the wall they’d see the Rothko lithograph I’ve hung to brighten up the place, and on the bedside table, next to my laptop, my Our Lady of Guadalupe mouse pad, with the image of the Virgin Mary standing on a crescent moon.
Were my fellow travelers to zero in on my Derby glass, inscribed with the names of all the Derby winners since 1875—Vagrant and Behave Yourself and Shut Out—they might begin to wonder, as I have begun to wonder, what if Our Lady rode the long shot at the Derby? What if she rode a dark horse? What if she dressed in colorful silks in a pink polka dot pattern, instead of her usual utilitarian blue garb? What if she came from behind to win? When the Derby officials walked her horse to the winner’s circle and placed the horseshoe of roses upon the horse’s neck—good luck, good luck—would that feel anything like the good luck I feel each time I drag the mouse over her image on the mouse pad, with each swipe the feeling that I am temporarily lucky and blessed?
If she did win, would people who’d bet on her read a story about Our Lady on the racing form, the tale of how, in 1531, in the dead of winter, she appeared to a wanderer in the hills above Mexico City, who, when he saw her on the mountain path, saw too that roses bloomed in the snow? Would they be surprised to learn that later, when he returned to his village, her visage appeared on the inside of his cape and from that day forth her legend grew along with her message, that she would take all comers, the sick, the dying, the confused, the lost, and that she was heard to have said to the wanderer, Be not troubled or afraid. Come here. Sit on my lap. Rest a while.
The broom continues sweeping. The curtain stays closed. I know that someone is pushing that broom, someone who has a job to do, who might not have the wherewithal to take a day off to check into a Motel 6 and get away from duties, from cares, from all that clamors to get into our lives. (What is the pay this hotel worker receives? My guess? Not enough, not enough.) I hear the rhythmic brush, brush, brush, then the tap, tap, tap as the broom hits the walkway to shake the loose pieces of debris that collect in the bristles; a gum wrapper, safety pin, a scratched, discarded Lotto stub, unlucky, unlucky. I hear the dustpan being placed on the ground—the sharp, scraping sound of metal on cement. Is there a noticeable crick in the back of the worker bending over, a sharp twinge, a reminder of having lifted something heavy one too many times and the back never the same again? What was it that caused the injury; an overloaded garbage can, a heavy box, a sleeping child?
There’s a knock on the motel door. A hard, repetitive rap; one, two, three. Before I draw back the curtain to see who is there, I remember another knock, another door, last New Year’s Eve. My wife and I were on vacation at an upscale hotel; classier, more expensive, with thicker carpeting, thicker drapes. We’d lucked out, I’d gone online, got a good deal. That evening we went out to dinner to celebrate, to raise a glass to the new year, then returned to the hotel room to an early bed. Let the others watch the Times Square ball drop, I thought as I pulled the covers up tight. By midnight we were long gone, deep in our dreams. When the clock struck twelve I believe I faintly heard a soft hooray, some fireworks crackle, a young girl banging on a trash can, singing out, Happy New Year, Happy New Year, but those noises were not enough to wake me.
At three in the morning there was a bigger noise, a louder noise, not of pots banging together, or fireworks, but a deeper, thudding sound, the sound of a boot kicking a motel room door, our door, kicking it again and again. Someone was screaming, “Let me in you motherfuckers. Let me in!” My wife ran to the desk phone to call security and I ran to the door. I looked out through the peephole. There he was, a skinny young guy; hopped up, on something. I could see the top of his blonde shaved head as he bent over and looked down at the motel card key in his hand, stared at it as if the card were unlucky or cursed, saw as he tried again and again to jam the card into the lock. The door would not open, it held tight, so he screamed and kicked, and when I heard the first splinter of wood, the small giving way, I yelled, “Stop! We’ve called the police.”
When he heard that he fled. Minutes later, there was a soft, apologetic knock. I checked through the peephole and saw it wasn’t the young man so I opened the door. A tall, sleepy security guard asked what had happened and after I told him he said, “Don’t worry, ladies, he won’t return.” I looked past his shoulder, down the long carpeted hallway. All the other doors on this floor were shut tight. I thanked the security guard, closed the door, then pulled the desk chair over and placed the lip of the chair back under the doorknob like I’d seen in crime-stopper stories on TV. We tried to go back to sleep, back to those dreams, though my mind raced and raced and could not get untracked. What if he had gotten in and why did he want in and what did this event, coming as it did on the first day of the year, portend for our future, Happy New Year, Happy New Year.
Fifteen minutes later—or was it twenty?—the young guy returned and kicked again and after we yelled that the police were on their way he fled again and the door held tight, our hearts held tight, our hearts did not give way. The security guard came back and apologized and said this had never happened before and that he was sorry, so sorry. He was sure the guy was harmless, was just trying to bring in the year with a bang. And when we didn’t laugh he turned serious and said that he’d make a report. Somewhere in the night I heard a Piccolo Pete go off, then another, then another, as if someone had put the whistle’s high, sharp scream on reverb.
Only later, days later, when we returned home, as I was unpacking our bags and taking out the Derby glasses I’d brought along on that trip, did I begin to wonder what Our Lady would have done. Would she have asked us to be not troubled or afraid? Would she have skipped the call to security and simply opened the door? Would she have seen the young man as just another wanderer down on his luck who wanted entrance, who needed shelter, who needed to sleep it off and have a cover brought softly over his shoulders by someone who would promise that everything would be alright, that tomorrow would bring a rosy dawn?
I never could figure out that evening’s significance, though for months I’ve tried. I’ve gone round and round, asking myself, why was he trying to kick into our room? What peace or rest or comfort did he think he’d find there? And tonight, in this generic Motel 6 hotel room, is it possible that something or someone is trying to kick into my life that I can’t keep out, that a drawn curtain will not keep out, that I need to welcome in, for haven’t I come away to a quiet motel room to find something I’ve been missing—some respite, some relief from daily cares?—a quiet motel but for the sweeping of the broom, the sweeping and the knocking, he is not kicking, he is knocking, he is knocking, one, two, one, two, three.
I draw back the curtain and there he is, a young man who is not hopped up, who is not angry. He’s dressed in a brown work shirt and brown pants and I can tell by the look on his face—confused, apologetic—he knows he’s made a mistake, it’s the wrong door, not the door he’s looking for. He gives a wave of his hand to signify, I’m sorry, begins to turn away and that’s when I want to signal to him, to say; I know, you’re tired, come in, rest awhile; you with the crick in your back, and the guy with a motel card key that won’t work, and the forlorn, and the sick, and the wanderers who’ve gone away for one night to escape the tedium, the fact that our lives are going round and round, round and round, that we don’t know where we’re headed, that what we do know about each other is not enough, it’s not enough. He doesn’t stop to stare at me or my home brought objects; my lucky mouse pad, the Derby glass. He just turns away and the curtain closes and the sweeping stops.
Toni Mirosevich is the author of six collections of poetry and prose, most recently The Takeaway Bin (Spuyten Duyvil, NY). Her book, Pink Harvest, won the First Series in Creative Nonfiction Award and was published by MidList Press in 2007. Her multi-genre work has been anthologized in Best of the Bellevue Literary Review, The Gastronomica Reader, and Best American Travel Writing. Her literary honors include the Frank O’Hara Chapbook Award for LGBQ poets. She’s currently a Professor of Creative Writing at San Francisco State University. For more info on this writer’s work, please visit: www.tonimirosevich.com.