This hotel room is better than the last one. It’s got a kitchen. The thick layers of grease and burnt cheese on the stovetop don’t bother me. It doesn’t matter that someone probably cooked crystal in here at some point. I put the grocery bags on the counter: a pound of thick cut bacon, eggs, rye, NyQuil, deodorant, a cheap skillet. I count what’s left of my cash. Seventy-three and some change.
My ex calls. I grab the Rye. “You need to come get this damn dog. He’s digging up my fucking yard,” she says.
I’m working on it,” I tell her. “Last time I kept him at the hotel with me those sons of bitches almost took him from me. And his name is Maddox.”
“I know what his fucking name is. I still can’t afford to keep feeding him. All he does is eat and dig.”
“Huskies have a lot of energy. I’ll give you some money,” I say. (Fifty-three and some change.)
There’s a pause, a crackle on the line. “I’m taking him to the pound in the morning,” she says, hanging up.
The bacon sizzles in the skillet, but I don’t feel like eating anymore. I go after some more rye instead. The Wonder Years plays on television. I’m finally as old as the parents. I could have been a family man: safety award-winning sedans, daycare tuition, road trips to Montana, credit card debt leading to the threat of bankruptcy which further leads to the threat of divorce, tee-ball games, quiet missionary sex while the kids pretended to do their homework, life insurance, parent-teacher conferences, going to church even though we don’t believe in God, extramarital affairs, staying together for the sake of the family, Disneyworld. I’d have probably still ended up back here, though. Some things you can’t control.
My eyelids surrender, fall heavy as I lay on the mattress. Smoke drifts over me. A small orange flicker dances atop the grease in the skillet. I throw a glass of water at it. Flames charge my face and flit across the cabinetry down to the turd green carpet. I fly down the hall, banging on doors and yelling for everyone to get out. Waiting for the last confused body to exit the building, I sneak off into my truck and step on the gas. Street lamps and headlights blend together in an electric panic as I hightail it.
I drive until I find the back entrance of my ex’s neighborhood – a private community you can only get into if you have a remote or if the guard at the front calls and confirms you’re a welcomed guest. I leave my truck behind some trees and hop the gate.
The lights in the house are off and the fence is unlocked. I let myself in and see Maddox curled up by the sliding glass door. The yard looks like something out of The Great Escape with Steve McQueen, one big underground escape route. I imagine my ex ignoring him when he wants to play, refusing to take him for a walk, leaving him lonely. I sneak up and pull him in my arms. He’s lost weight; she let him starve to half to death. He jolts out of sleep and barks, realizes it’s me, starts licking my face. A lamp from upstairs comes on. We book it.
I roll the window down so Maddox can stick his head out, but he rests it in my lap instead. Fine by me. The emergency vehicle lights are visible from almost half a mile away. We park in an empty lot across the street and watch. About a dozen people gather outside the hotel. Some stand in their underwear, clutching a few belongings. One woman hugs a cat.
The fire dances wildly across the empty midnight sky as it celebrates its freedom. I start the truck, head toward the freeway. The firemen did all they could to suppress the flames, but the inferno persisted.
D.T. Robbins’ stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Hobart, Bending Genres, X-R-A-Y Lit, Ghost City Review, and others. He’s founding editor of Rejection Letters. Follow him on Twitter at @dt_robbins or go to dtrobbins.com for more information.
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