As soon as Mama said, “We’ll take it,” and the desk clerk handed her a blanket, I thought about the last time we took a chance on a motel late at night. I tried to remind her about the bed lice in Robstown, but she said, “Shush. It wasn’t bed lice and it wasn’t Robstown. Don’t you remember it was in Poteet, and it was ringworm from that damn calico cat that mewed all night long.”
It was past the witching hour as Aunt Erleen always called it when Mama gave a little knock to the door of Room 7. I heard a muffled “Come on in.” Mama opened the door. I was standing there a little behind her, holding the Indian Princess doll she bought me at the Indian Reservation we stopped at the day before. Mama said my doll was a bargain because her outfit was real leather and real colored beads and all made by hand.
Room 7 was smaller than mine at home, even when Daddy lived with us. And the one window was shut, because of the rain outside. I could hear it hitting, noisy on the roof. But the windows in my room were never this dirty. It was like looking through the bottom of a broken coke bottle. The voice came toward us again, but at first I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. Mama and I must have seen it at about the same time because a little breath-sound came from her, like the time Daddy surprised her with a washing machine on her birthday. She saw what I saw, I guess. Whatever it was sat there in a coat and tie, just as straight as you please, propped up against the floweredy pillows. Its head jerked left, then right whenever it spoke, cocked there with its chin pointing at an angle. Mama spoke in a whisper.
“Well, little man. We sure do appreciate your hospitality. Yours, too, mister.”
Next to the little man was a bigger man whose throat looked funny whenever the little man said anything. Looked like he was smiling but he was gritting his teeth too, like Grandpa Wilbert used to do when Granny Wilbert played the piano at Christmas. Mama said it was because Granny made so many mistakes and Grandpa had learned to steel himself against the next one.
“The bathroom’s down the hall.” The little man spoke. His chin moved down, then up, whenever he said something. The big man must have had something caught in his throat because he kept swallowing. Mama said that we would roll out a pallet on the floor with the blanket from the desk clerk, but the little man would have none of it.
“We men will take that pallet. You ladies take the bed.” The little man’s head jerked left, then right, and his chin jerked down, then up. The big man smiled and swallowed and gritted his teeth again.
Sure didn’t take me long to fall asleep, I guess it being so late and all. I had a funny dream, though, like something strange was on my chin, maybe a moth or something, and then I felt my chin go hard. When I got up to go to the bathroom, Mama was sound asleep. I looked in the mirror and saw lines that started at the corners of my mouth and went all the way back to my throat. Looked like they were drawn on with pencil, but when I tried to rub them off, I couldn’t. My jaw felt funny and my head sorta jerked when I turned it. I felt shorter, too. And then I heard the big man speak for the very first time.
“You won’t be lonely any more, Buddy. I’ve got you a sister now, just like you’ve always wanted.”
Buddy jerked his face toward me and I jerked mine back. I don’t know how or why, but right then words I didn’t say came out of me.
“Hi, Buddy. Want to play?”
Katherine Horrigan grew up on a Texas dairy farm and taught as an adjunct English professor at the University of Houston after receiving her Ph.D.. Her poetry and short stories have been published both in print and online in journals such as The Birmingham Arts Review and The Molotov Cocktail. She recently completed Drought, a novel set in South Texas.