Sunday, August 7, 2011

111/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Oh My Heart" by R.E.M.

"The bridge is out up ahead." The state trooper wore a clear polyvinyl poncho. Water slithered off it in the drizzle.

"Where's the nearest way around it?" I asked.

"Do you really need to get into the city? We're trying to evacuate."

"I haven't heard from my parents."

The trooper stood up and sighed. An aftershock started. I gripped the steering wheel of my car and the trooper leaned against my door for support. Small rocks tumbled down from the cliff on the right of the car. Car alarms went off in the parking lot of the demolished convenience store to left. The shook subsided.

"Look, they're working hard to restore cell service. Why don't you wait another day or two and try calling them? They could be at a shelter by now."

"Do you even know if there's another way in?"

"Look buddy, to be honest, your best bet is to hike in. All the roads are too badly damaged."

"I guess that will have to be it then," I said.

" But I don't recommend it."

"Thanks officer."

I pulled back, then pulled into the convenience store parking lot. The trooper returned to the safety of his car. I turned around and drove back the way I came.

There was a motel on the way in, a single story deal, that look like it was still livable and open. I pulled in, stopped the car, and sat eating a chocolate bar, watching droplets of drizzle turn into little rivulets of water that ran down the windshield, waggling with Brownian motion.

Finally I got out. I put up the hood of my jacket. I'd forgotten how cold and soggy it could be here. I made my way to the motel office. The door was covered with the usual credit card stickers, but the glass was fractured and the door itself could no longer close. The wall around the frame had a crack in the white stucco that gaped at least two inches. I pulled open the door, scraping it against the cement on the ground. A little bell jangled and tapped against the glass. The interior was dark, and even though the outside was dark with the rain, I still had to let my eyes adjust. There was a counter and an ergonomic chair behind it, festooned with a floral cushion, but no one sitting on it.

"Hello?" I asked.

There was shuffling from a room beyond the counter. A face popped into the doorway--a middle-aged woman with a tattoo of a fairy visible on her neck. Were the nineties that long ago?

"Hi there," she said. She came out and stood behind the counter. "We haven't had electricity restored yet." She looked at me apologetically. "I've heard that other areas have it again already. Anyway, what can I do for you?"

"Do you have any vacancies?"

"Yup, sure do, but I can only take cash. Credit card machine does work, and I don't like using that old-fashioned mechanical swipe thing."

"Yeah, I brought cash."

"Excellent. How long you staying? I'm sorry put I can't put you for more than two days unless you prepay."

"How much for a week?"

"You from out of town?"

"Does it matter?"

The woman flushed slightly.

"Don't take it the wrong way, but I'm giving a discount to anyone local. Just seemed fair to me."

"I'm up from California. I'm looking for my parents."

"I see," she said. She tapped her fingers on the counter and bit her lip. "I can do three hundred for the week. Cash up front."

I took out my wallet and counted off three hundred dollars in twenties and handed the wad to her.

"Great," she said, accepting it. "Can you write your name down here?" She handed me a clipboard, with a fresh page on the top. "I can fill in the dates later," she added.

I printed my name, Lyndon Reynolds, then signed it next to that. She turned around to a hutch with cubby holes containing keys. She pulled out a brass key attached to a black diamond with a white label with #5 written on it.

"This way," she said, moving around the counter and directing me out the door. We walked towards room number five. "Do you want some coffee?" she asked. "I have a camp stove set up out back."

"I'm fine," I said.

"You can't come to Seattle and not have coffee," she marveled.

"Maybe later," I said. "I'm a bit jittery as it is."

"Yes, well, aren't we all these days." She unlocked the door, pushed it open with a hard knock from her shoulder then handed me the key. "Queen bed. Linens are clean. Have to wash them by hand now, but there's a stream right out back. One great shake and we're back to pioneer days. There's the TV, and there's a coffee pot and the air conditioner--but of course they don't work right now. Sorry--I have this spiel totally memorized."

"That's all right," I said. I stood in the doorway to the dark room, rocking slightly on my feet.

"Do you want the blinds open?" she asked.

"No, it's fine. I have a kerosene lamp."

"Be careful with that please. I don't need a fire on top of all this, although I can't complain. We're still standing. Oh, let me know if the roof starts leaking, will you? I had to put a bunch of buckets on room three."

"Can I ask you something? It might be a bit personal."

"Uh, sure." She folded her hands across her chest.

"Your family, your friends...did you lose anyone."

Her face drained slightly of color and the muscles in her cheeks tensed up--she ground her teeth briefly. She nodded.

"I'm sorry," I said. She nodded again, then looked at the tan carpet at her feet.

"Let me know if you want that coffee, yeah?" She said. She moved past me, out of the room, touching her hand to my shoulder. I watched her walk back to the office, force open the door, then pull it closed behind her.

I went back to my car and retrieved my backpack and suitcase, and the bags of snacks and groceries I bought yesterday at a Mexican grocery store in the San Fernando Valley. I dumped everything on the queen bed. I unzipped the suit case and pulled out the GPS unit I bought an hour after the earthquake (knowing the one in my phone probably wouldn't work properly without cell service), and the city map of Seattle I had since I was a teenager.

I unfolded the map, spreading it out on the round motel table. Last night I outlined as best I could the areas that were inundated with the tsunami. With a red pen I marked the destroyed bridge. I pulled a can of organic fair-trade soda from its three remaining companions. I popped the tab and guzzled the can in one go. I felt guilty about not drinking water, but the sugar kept me thinking clearly and calmed my nerves. My careful vegetarian diet was being tested.

Then there was a knock at the door.

"Mr. Reynolds?" It was the motel manager. She knocked twice again before I could answer.

"What is it?"

"Your name is Reynolds?"

"Yeah," I said. "So?"

"This might be nothing," she said, trying to suppress a smile, "but look at this."

She held up the clipboard and turned my page back. She pointed to a line halfway down. I squinted at the names and had to reread them.

"They're still here," she said. "Are these them? Are they your parents?"

I took the clipboard and looked again at the names. Annie and Bill Reynolds. I looked up at manager, unable to speak. A broad smile expanded across her face.

"They're in number eight," she said. "Come on."

She took me by the hand and pulled me further down the sidewalk. We stopped in front of the door to room two and exchanged glances. She knocked on the door for me.

"Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds?"

There was movement behind the door. The chain unlatched. The door opened a crack.


"Your son is here."


"Your son! He's right here!"

My father pulled open the door. He looked at me without recognition. His face had an angry gash and his arm was in a sling. His hair stuck and was dirty with dust and grit. He was standing barelegged in boxer shorts and a torn cable knit sweater. His feet were blistered.

"Dad, it's me," I said. He blinked and stepped forward into the gray daylight.

"Is it you?" he asked quietly. "Lyndon?"


"Annie, it's Lyndon." He turned and looked back in the room. "Annie get up, it's Lyndon."

I moved in and hugged my dad. He slowly hugged back. I saw my mom swinger her legs out of the bed. One of them was limp and lacerated.

"Lyndon!" she yelled. She held out her arms. I ran in and hugged her.

"How did you find us?" she asked.

"I didn't," I said. "It's just coincidence. The manager figured it out." I turned and smiled back at her. She was leaning in the doorway smiling at all of us. My dad came and sat on the bed.

"We're not fit to be seen," he said.

"I don't think he cares," said my mother.

"We'll leave as soon as you want," I said.

"Leave Seattle?" asked my dad.

"You need medical attention. We can come back in a few weeks when the roads are better."

"I don't know," said my dad looking down.

"The city's half gone Bill," said my mother. "The house is nothing but splinters."

"All those memories," he said.

"I know," I said. "But we need to get you taken care of."

"I bet you thought we were dead," said my mother. She stroked my dad's back. "I think he's still a bit shocked. But he carried me all the way here on his back."

"That's what, seven miles?"

"Yes," she said. "I'm very grateful."

"I couldn't go any further. We didn't have any money. But she let us stay for free." He looked up at the motel manager. She wiped a tear away with her sleeve.

"Thank you," I said. I went over to her and hugged her tightly. "Thank you," I whispered. "Thank you." She tapped my arm.

"No problem. We all have to help each other out, right?" I disengaged and nodded. "I should give this back to you if you're leaving."

She pulled the wad of cash from her pocket.

"Keep it," I said. "I couldn't pay you enough."

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