by Barbara Westwood Diehl
In the deep end of the Satellite Motel pool after dark, after the children are asleep in sand-gritty sleeping bags on the efficiency floor, Frank and Trish hang on opposite walls and kick at the black water full of LED starlight. They talk across the chlorine water about where they’re going to go when their three-days-and-two-nights Ocean City special ends on Sunday, now that there is no home to go home to. This is Saturday, and Sunday check-out is at noon, and their daughter Dee starts second grade in two weeks in the neighborhood where they have no home now. They do have a couple of credit card statements as proof of residence if the school asks. Statements from April that show a “last payment made.” Minimum payment. Trisha flicks water in Frank’s direction, thinking that proof will be necessary and she will be the one who will have to provide it, considering how Frank is. The pool gate creaks open and shut in the August wind. Without any predictable pattern, the padlock Frank broke with the pipe wrench from the truck clinks against the chain link fence.
Frank ducks his head under the water and stares into the pretend stars, where Trish’s white body bobbles beyond reach. Then, when he has to breathe, he comes up shaking the water out of his hair and tells her, “We don’t have to go yet. We can still charge the three-days-and-two-nights deal on your Visa.” With no home for when the specials end, though, there is this ocean between them. On all sides of them, a jury box of blinking windows.
In the little light they have, Trish’s breasts, half submerged, half in thin black bra straps and night sky, pull him in moon tides across the water, and he kicks off from the pool wall toward her. Always, a little time without the kids, a little pushing of silky little things aside, a lock broken and gate opened, have gotten him home again. Closer to Trish now and seeing her eyes, her moon-blue lips, he says, “We have float time on the cards.” Trish says, “Float? This is our float,” and her thighs and toes rise up before her.
Trish stretches her body out into dark water where the neon “Vacancy” settles like a mandala on her belly, letting her body float away, and envisions everything back as it was when Frank worked at Goodyear Tire and Auto. She breathes, hears the gate swing open, closed, mindless as the mindfulness app she played on her iPad before she sold it. And when she comes back from her app-less mindfulness, feeling all her weight and not floating at all, she tells him, “I tried to buy us another three-days-and-two-nights, but the card was declined.”
The clerk at the motel desk had reminded Trish of the school secretary back at home, how she looked at Frank and asked for proof of residence on Dee’s first day. How she stuck out her hand with that big bright ring. Right in front of Dee’s eyes. And how Frank had punched his hand down on the secretary’s desk so hard the lady’s framed picture fell, cracking the glass on her family and their white picket fence house. Trish looks out at the chain link fence around them, the steel tips, barbed wire. “She wasn’t mean about it or anything.”
Frank slaps one hand on the slippery tile over Trish’s shoulder and encircles her throat with the other. He can feel the small bones give under his fingers and her minnow pulse. A shadow crosses a yellow window. A glass door slides open and up above them someone laughs. Frank drops his hand to her breast and squeezes, kisses her with his teeth. Trish lets her body rise again, float, and her mind be mindless. She wraps her legs lit by LED stars around Frank’s chest, and he kisses the chlorine wet on the inside of each thigh. After he has made her tremble, he looks at her face, her blue moon lips. The gate with no padlock clinks closed. Frank says to her, “Nobody is mean deep down, right?” His legs straddle hers, feet on either side of her breasts, and then he kicks off against the wall, churning the pool water. Trish rubs at the chlorine in her eyes.
Frank looks at the numbers on the doors surrounding the pool and knows that in each of the rooms there is cash, and there are things that can be sold and there is food that no one would ever notice if it was missing, and there are cards that buy iPads and apps, but most importantly, there is cash, good old cash in wallets and pocketbooks that some ladies don’t want to get wet and sandy. He knows that not everyone at the Satellite Motel will lock their doors when they head to the beach in the morning with their towels and buckets and coolers full of Hawaiian Punch drink boxes and peanut butter sandwiches. So he says to Trish, “You take the kids to the beach tomorrow, and I’ll get us three days and two nights.”
What Trish sees clear as the “Vacancy” on her belly is Frank saying “ma’am, maybe we could” at the clerk’s desk with its plastic lighthouses and ships in bottles and crabs with bobbly eyes, and then Frank punching his hand on her desk and all of it broken. Because maybe the lady really is mean and Frank didn’t know. Because Trish didn’t tell him. Because this is their last three days and two nights, and it is a special. It is supposed to be special, and it is. But it is not a house. Frank must know this deep down. He is not a mean man. He wants to prove their residence.
Keeping her eyes on him across the water, she gropes over the side of the pool until she feels the pipe wrench. She lifts it just enough to not scrape the concrete, then tips it into the water and lets go. Lets it sink. Frank likely won’t return to the pool in daylight and see the silvery weight sunken and wavery on the blue floor.
Across the black water of the deep end of the pool, Frank and Trish stare at where the other should be in the LED stars and neon satellite, then swim together to the shallow end and climb the same ladder that their children had climbed up that afternoon, so they could jump in with eyes closed, noses pinched, in floaties blown up to their fullest, blown to almost bursting by Frank and Trish.
They pad in bare feet across the concrete to their bags on the lounge chair, with their declined cards and cards to activate and cards yet to be declined and black water and grit. Frank feels around for the pipe wrench in the lessening light. Trish takes his wrist and says, “Three days and three nights. Then somewhere else.” They gather their things. The gate will swing open and closed, clink, until September.