Think Fast

When I pull back the grimy motel curtain for the 100th time, the view, unlike my life, holds no surprises.  There, through the glass, in the dark, my Mini, dent and all, awkwardly straddles the white line of the parking space: a familiar reminder of the normality of yesterday.  Across the freeway, the Ballow Burger’s lights blink as they do twenty-four/seven.  This doggedness I have discovered as I have many things in the last twenty-four hours.  I need an answer but I – the customary answer lady – am at a loss.

For the past two days Ballow Burgers has not only been my dining (sic) centre but it also been my far flung kingdom.  And even if my stomach could take another twenty-four of their carbohydrate blow-outs, and I could find a nearby place to buy another keg of beer, a decision has to be made: a line of action, a retaliation strategy.

Retreating into the cramped motel room, I wipe my hands on my jeans and regret that I cannot as easily wipe my mind.  I pass up the bone hard metal chair (suitable only for someone with a more cushioned rear end) and collapse on the bed.  As on previous forays, although I discover nothing of interest on the TV, I stubbornly flip from channel to channel passing programs that would bore a lab rat: none of these escape potions are potent enough for me.

After forty-two glorious years, I am stuck for the first time in a situation where my answer isn’t quicker than the question.  Here be me bumped between rage, confusion, sadness and wonder with no idea what reaction I could live with.  ‘Till now, I have never taken more than 30 seconds, whatever the moral dilemma, to decide my next move.  Friends and colleagues label me assured or bullheaded depending on how my decisions affect them.  But forty-eight hours ago, thanks to good old Tim, I hit the pavement and I’m still seeing stars.  Whether they are the big dipper or the bear and which direction they are pointing, I know not.  I resent being responsible for deciding whether to hurl into uncharted waters or sink back in the mud.

Two days ago when I staggered into the kitchen, grumpy from an impending cold, nothing in Tim’s pale face suggested his double life.  There was no warning sign from hubby that by nightfall I’d be scrutinizing the cracks of the paint peeled walls in a shabby motel twenty miles from home and smacking back and forth between rage and fascination.

Tim had insisted that cold or no, I drive out to Chilliwack to visit my friend Natalie arguing that I wouldn’t get another chance soon.  And agreeing to seize the moment with my boss out of town and my work projects on hold, I had hopped in my chariot of fire and headed out the Valley.

Tim is no last minute man so he must have known that morning where he’d be that night.  What would he have done if I had changed my mind and stayed home?  But he knew that was unlikely, I am no longer a last minute girl.  There’s the rub.

I justify my reaction to Tim by saying it’s because of the boys who’ll go into free-fall if they learn what their dad is up to.  ‘Til now they have been embarrassed by my quixotic battles with everyone from the garbage collectors to the local councilors and my colourful clothes.  Their father Tim, conservatively clad in browns and grays, the soul of discretion, has never given them a bad moment.

Maybe my concern is not for my adult sons but where Tim was those nights when I was scrubbing the’ kitchen floor so when his boss came over the next night for supper his feet wouldn’t stick to the linoleum.  Working, Tim had said, but now I question everything: every day, every comment.  Why couldn’t he just have had an affair with his best friend’s wife like other men?  That I could understand.  How could I have missed it?  I who have always known what people were up to, turned them off at the pass?

Perhaps what sticks in my craw is that Tim, the flattest, most predictable and boring guy in the world had another life: a life of drama and fun.  And while leaving me to swallow the boredom and monotony of our everyday existence in our sardine tin, he had found a corner of the universe where he could explode.

Two days ago, still an innocent, I had headed off, coffee in hand.  Before I had even escaped the city, I got Natalie’s call regretting that an emergency had come up and she had to cancel the invite.  My heart sank, I had been looking forward to an afternoon sitting on her back deck drinking wine and remembering things that never happened.

Having psyched myself up for a time away, I continued heading out of town, turning off the highway to stop at a roadside stand, and later poking through things I didn’t need at second hand stores.  Late in the afternoon, tired from sitting in the hot car, I turned off the highway at the seedy Duck and Windmill bar, a hangout that the family used to pass on the way to the cottage.  I planned to have a cool drink and some bar food before heading home.

Inside it was as I had always imagined: dark and noisy, a shock to the system coddled by the sunny afternoon.  Smoke was seeping in from the patio outside but no one cared.  The place was packed: small tables for three crammed with five or more and up front some sort of boisterous show and spurts of laughter: Abba of all things.

When a server materialized, I ordered a rum and coke for old time’s sake and then another and soon I thought about just staying at a nearby motel and going home the next day.  Floating contentedly and on my own, I felt mellow, slightly morose, but happy.  Humming along to a country and western tune that sounded vaguely like one an old boyfriend used to play I thought of all the nights out I missed.  On early dates, Tim had been quite a mover and we’d danced into the morning.  Musing on the past, eyes half shut, I was shocked alert by Tim’s voice.  I lurched forward sloshing my drink on my shirt and there he was: Tim at the Duck and Windmill.

No, it couldn’t be.  I shook myself.  I must have dozed off.  But yes for God’s sake, it was him.  Dress and all I had no troublepicking him out, looking suddenly huge and blossoming in a colourful pink muumuu.  Tim in drag and shaking and laughing with two other drag men on the cramped stage like Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

Had I been caught out, taken a wrong turn, and ended up in someone else’s story?  There was the man that for twenty-two years wouldn’t go out dancing.  He was up on stage, in drag, having the time of his life.  Shit what a bugger.  The boys would be shattered.  Hell, I was shattered.

Tim who’d refused to stop here years earlier on the way to the cottage insisting it was a drug den, saying it reminded him of dark old drinking holes from his student days.  Now there he was, swaying and bumping like an old hand.  Did I feel like throwing up or running up and grabbing him?

I stumbled out of the door and drove down the highway to the Motel 6.  And here I am determined to wake early, pay up, buy my last coffee at the Barrow and head down Highway 1: but would it be east or west?   Never mind, I’ll be like Scarlett and I’ll think about that tomorrow.  I am so tired of being the one to figure things out, find the solution, and fix other people’s booboos.  Why is it my problem?

The phone rings, I study it suspiciously as if it’s a lizard which will jump if I move; then I grab the receiver.

“Where the hell are you?”  Tim’s voice.  No hello, Nothing.  “Natalie said you never even went to see her.  Where have you been staying?”  And then I knew the answer.   Not my problem, back to you Bob.

“At a Motel 6.”

“Why didn’t you come home?”

“I was too tired to drive home.  I went to the Duck and Windmill to enjoy the show.”

I heard him gasp and shuffle around the kitchen. I could see the crinkle of his brow and the twitch he got when he was cornered.  It was like when we were kids and you threw a ball at someone who wasn’t expecting it and you yelled “Think Fast.”  But this was a slowed-down version.

~ Melodie Corrigall

Originally published in:  FreeFall Magazine, Volume XXI Number 2