Saturday
Nov182017

Nebraska

Nathan Knapp


 

They arrived at the hotel in a bad mood and the bad mood persisted when they went to their room and found blood on the bathroom wall. She wanted to go to a different hotel but did not say so. She wanted to move to a different room, and said so. He insisted the one they had was fine. After all, he said, the rest of the room didn't have any blood on it, and what blood there was wasn't very much blood. They were in Ft. Collins, finally, after a two-day trip from Seattle, to see if they wanted to live in Ft. Collins, and they were tired, both of the trip and a little of each other. The blood on the wall didn't seem promising for their future in Ft. Collins, to her. To him, it only meant that someone had bled, and that housekeeping had missed a spot. Let's use the pool, he said. She did not want to use the pool, and said so. If there is blood on the wall of our bathroom, she said, just imagine what's in the pool. He said, I don't want to imagine what's in the pool, I want to swim in it. And she said, Fine, you swim in it then. So he went into the bathroom where the blood was and got ready to swim in the pool, taking off the shirt he had worn the past two days, and his pants, which felt greasy from so much sitting in the car, and his underwear, which was chafing his inner thighs, and, finally, his dirty socks, which smelled like roadkill, making a little pile of his effects between the tub and the wall, below the brownish-red stain. The bathroom had a large mirror and he looked at himself in it. As he looked he sucked in his belly, and when he decided he looked all right he slid on his swim trunks and a fresh T-shirt, a blue one with an airplane on it that he loved, then grabbed a towel, and walked back into the room, where she lay on the bed with her arms crossed. On the television people were arguing in a semi-scripted fashion. So you're going to the pool, she said. Yeah, he said, I'm going to the pool. Okay, she said, and reminded him not to forget his room key. I'm not going to forget my room key, he said, and took his room key and his towel and his body out of the room.

She lay there for a long time and watched the semi-scripted show, and though she had at first wished he would be gone a long time, when it turned out that he was gone for a long time she began to regret having wished that he would be gone a long time, and wanted him to come back. But he did not come back. The semi-scripted show turned into a fully-scripted infomercial about a new brand of stain remover and still he did not come back. Eventually she slid her own room key into her pocket and went out of the room to find him, but he was not at the pool; the pool, it turned out, had been closed for quite some time. This made her wonder if he had gone outside to the car for something and gotten locked out, but when she went out to the car it was still there and when she went back to the room he was still not there. What had happened to him, she wondered, and felt sorry for having quarreled with him about the room. It was, she now conceded, not such a big blood stain. But then thinking about the blood stain became unpleasant, because he was still not in the room. This was not a line of thinking she wanted to pursue, so she did not pursue it. Though she did not want to pursue the line of thinking about the blood stain, the line of thinking about the blood stain pursued her, and she lay awake in the bed for a long time hoping he would return. But he did not return.

The water in the pool, when he waded in, was very cool. Too cold, in fact, he thought, as he swam toward the bottom of the pool without any breath in his chest. When he surfaced he almost climbed out of the pool, in order to go back to the room, but he didn't, because a young woman with long black hair had just closed the gate to the pool area behind her, and she was good looking. In fact, the woman looked just like the kind of woman he had always wanted to make love to, but never had. He forgot how cold the water was. He wished she would talk to him, and when he wished this, she dove into the pool and swam right over to him, and talked to him, and he thought, This is not the kind of thing that happens to me. But it was happening to him. She was from Nebraska, she said, and he had always liked the word Nebraska, because he had been born there, in Omaha, even though he had not been raised there, had not even visited. They leaned back against the edge of the pool and allowed their bodies to float as she talked and he talked. She had a very curvy smile and this smile showed her upper teeth, and her teeth were all more or less the same shape. A good sign, he thought, in a string of good signs. She said she came to Colorado for the legal weed and did he want some. Like, now, she said. He did not think about it long enough to tell her No. He only thought about it long enough to tell her Yes.

In the morning the sun came up very hard through the window of the room with the blood on the bathroom wall, and his side of the bed was still vacant and still cool and still unemployed. She rubbed her arms and rubbed her eyes. It had been cold in the bed without him. She put on her clothes and went to the hotel lobby, where she poured a cup of coffee for herself in a paper cup with an illustration of a cup of coffee on it. Steam floated upward from the coffee as she carried it back to the room, which was dark now, someone had pulled the curtain and the person was him, he was lying in the bed now with his eyes closed, like he had been there the whole time. But she knew he had not been there the whole time. And she knew that he could not yet be asleep. Where have you been, she said. He shifted a little in the bed, to indicate that she was waking him from a deep sleep. Where have you been? she said again. I've been here, he said. But he had not been here. She backed slowly away from the foot of the bed and into the bathroom. His swim trunks lay crumpled in the bathroom next to the toilet. He had not brought back his towel. His T-shirt, the blue one with the airplane on it that he loved, was nowhere to be seen either.

Oh, she thought.

She went outside into the cool dry air and stood next to the car that she had bought three years ago with her own money and had shared with him as long as they'd been together. The coffee in the cup with the coffee cup on it was cool enough to drink now, so she drank it. Beyond the lot was an empty field full of dead brown weeds with the blue sky of morning above, and beyond the weeds was the freeway, and the freeway was the road she would take to go back home, where she lived with him. She wondered what it would be like when she got there.