The Dar-Ron Motel by Julia Strayer

The doctor says I should spend the night nearby, just in case, and now I think I’m crazy for doing this so far from home. I find a cheap motel with free TV. It looks better at night when sunlight can’t get to it. Or in a fog when the edges are blurry. But by the light of day, it’s the kind of place I’d drive by without turning my head.

The sign says Dar-Ron Motel and I know a couple named Darla and Ron run it without even asking. Or maybe Darren and Ronda—without an H, because her mother wanted her to be special, the kind of person who wouldn’t grow up to own a rundown motel. Either way, Dar and Ron probably aren’t even together anymore. Maybe it’s just one of them—Darla with a new man who now helps her keep up the place, even though the sign still says some other guy’s name. Maybe the new man resents Ron. Maybe he’s grateful. Or maybe it’s just Darla because no man will stick around long enough to make changing the sign worthwhile.

The night clerk’s a gum chewing teen with red lipstick and hair that’s black on one side, white on the other. I wonder how much thought went into deciding which color would look best on which side. That’s the sort of thing that would prevent me from doing that sort of thing. I envy her. She’s probably the kind of person who’d never change herself for some guy making promises he’ll never keep just to get in her pants, eventually saddling her with a smaller, needier version of himself, unless she’s the one who finds a doctor far from home.

If I owned the motel, I’d name it The Francine because it’d be all mine. I wouldn’t cut up my name and share it with some guy, because that only leads to heartache and dead unicorns. At Halloween, I’d go all out decorating the place, and people would come from all over to see it. Halloween makes everyone equal—visible and invisible at the same time. I’m safe because I can see the masks. It’s easy to tell who’s pretending.

My motel would have a lounge where the lonely people who are missing persons from their own lives could feel like they’re part of something and like they have a home. Maybe they’d rent a room and maybe they’d even meet someone. And they wouldn’t care if the room came with free TV, at least not right away.

Julia Strayer has stories in Glimmer Train, Kenyon Review Online, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Cincinnati Review, Jellyfish Review, Wigleaf, and Atticus Review, among others, including the Best Small Fictions anthology. She teaches creative writing at New York University.

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