Alice is lying on the floor staring at the dark narrow space between the old chugging fridge and the crudded linoleum. Despite the loud motor, the fridge doesn’t work worth two shits. She knows this because earlier the beer was warm.
Earlier Alice had sat in the other room on a saggy motel bed, facing three young guys. One of them did the talking. He was scrawnier than his friends who were obvious jocks, wearing their football jackets and their hair buzzed short. It was a graduation celebration, the end of high school, the end of an era. They’d seen Alice outside the motel counting her money and invited her in. The talker was talking. The deal was Alice could stay in the room for free and in exchange she would buy the boys their poison of choice. We’ll be gone most the night partying, so you got the place to yourself.
The boys stood outside the liquor store smoking and shoving each other around while Alice picked up a two-four and a bottle of Captain Morgan’s dark. She handed off the goods, keeping a beer for herself, and away they went hollerin’ and whoopin’. Alice wasn’t so much older, but she was feeling mature. Look at where she was after all.
The walk to the motel was short. She stashed her beer in the fridge and headed to the beach. The only big water she’d seen before was during a family vacation in Gaspé, but the bay was nothing like this. This was California, this was the 101, this was a shelf of water so big you could sail your boat for a long, long time before ever falling off the edge. Funny how it reminded her of the prairies, how big the sky was, didn’t matter if it was resting on the ocean or a field of wheat. But there was no deeper blue than this sky reflecting off this water. And this crash of waves could drown the whisper of wind over wheat. Alice inhaled the fresh sea air, filling her lungs, filling her toes. This was the best idea she’d ever had.
At first, she’d tried to get friends to come, but they were all too busy or too broke. Excuses, Alice knew. Small town kids didn’t like leaving home, no matter all their talk of blowing this shit hole. Lack of cash was the usual defense, but look at her, she was always busted flat, yet here she was. Alice lifted her face to the last rays of the sun, orange then red then gone.
She could have partied with the boys. Already fires were being lit along the beach. It might have been fun to meet some people, but really all Alice wanted was to drink her beer and go to sleep. She’d been getting up earlier than usual. This morning she’d seen the sunrise.
Back at the motel, a stale smell filled the kitchen as Alice tugged the fridge door open. The beer was still warm. She dumped it down the drain with no deep regret, enjoying the glugging sound and the light spray on her fingers. With a blanket from one of the beds, she made herself a nest on the kitchen floor. She figured that since the boys had paid, they should get the beds. Also she liked the idea of this being her room.
Hard to tell what time the boys rolled in. Alice turned to face the fridge and faked sleep even though they were making enough noise to wake the dead. The bedsprings squeaked. There was some fumbling and some falling and some cussing and then there was quiet. The lights went out.
But now Alice is fully awake. Her heart is knocking against the hard floor.
Fuck this, one guy says. Alice recognizes the scrawny talker. He pushes himself off the bed. It only takes him two steps and he’s in the kitchen, in her room. He leans against the wall and slides down to the floor, straightens his legs with a clunk of boots. Alice had noticed them earlier. His friends wore sandals, he wore steel toes. He is staring at Alice’s back. She can feel his stare as insistent as a pushy finger, poking into her spine. He starts talking shit. He’s got one dirty mouth on him.
Alice curls into a ball. She feels a breeze on her bare feet. The air is warm. She shivers.
Just past her head is the door. I should move, she thinks. I should leave. She can’t move, doesn’t leave. She stares at the dark narrow space between the fridge and the floor and marvels at the filth. The talker keeps talking. I bet you got a nice tight hole, he says. Alice would flinch, but she’s too wound up, like one of those hard rubber balls that bounces off all four walls when thrown. She tries to breathe but can taste the dirt, the hundreds of people who’ve stayed in these rooms, the musty blankets, the paint on the wall that is yellowed by smoke, the dark narrow space between fridge and floor.
It is summertime – sum-sum-summertime – and she’s in California and this should be her beach vacation and she should be sweating because it’s hot, but she’s cold and she tastes the words of the scrawny talker, dry dust, gunpowder in her mouth. Surely his friends won’t let him do anything stupid, she thinks. Alice knows they’re awake in the other room, listening, excited, but they wouldn’t really let anything bad happen.
Outside the seagulls scream into the no deeper blue sky. Pretty soon it’ll be sunrise. Alice wants to see that. She wants to crawl into the dark narrow space, wants to bust open the door, wants to run to the ocean and in. She wants to look at the sky with salt water in her mouth. She should move now, she should leave now.
The talker has stopped talking.
Alice tastes salt water in her mouth.