In a Trailer in Western Kentucky – Phoebe Marmura
November 7, 2023
Meet me in the mezzanine, the town is Montedello, you’ll find it on the map, if you squint yer eyes then it’ll shine. It’ll shine like Bethlehem, or some other shimmering town in Nevada … the soaks of LV. This town is a bedroom town, all motels all on one strip. Real beautiful under that milk sky, sun never rains in, or out, caught in the creamy sugar of a storm cloud.
I’m staying in the middle of the road motel in the bedroom town. The one that hangs a faded American flag and a plastic wreath instead of those floating neon signs. In the mezzanine at the motel lobby is a statue. She sits below the front desk and fountain with the two dead fish, and above the steps with the pink poinsettia that’s wrapped tight in blue cellophane with gold stars. The statue is made of marble or some hard dove colored plastic. The statue is a woman, she’s pretty if you squint so hard you imagine her face with black cherry lips, golden eyes and a blonde wig. Her smooth bald marble head glows under the burnt lobby bulb hangin’ above her.
They call her, the men who clean the lobby and change my sheets, Vella. They say she winks a gold eye when they sweep a dust bunny, a smoke butt, off her bare toes. In my room that night I say the sweet lord is my tower the lord is my strength like I know it’s the truth or something. I switch between god being my tower and strength and the lord being my tower and strength in case there’s a difference. I say to the mirror that the lord is my bride. I sing it though because that song used to play on the radio in the truck and I’d sing and laugh in the side mirror. It’s around Christmas and I’m here alone in my room. I open two bottles, one for god and one for the lord. A third for me. Later, one for Vella, and the boys have one too, the boys who sweep Vella. It’s a real slice of life, the three of us, dancing round Vella like she’s campfire. There’s me and there’s Haunt who sweeps the mezzanine, and the other guy, Dilly, who changes my sheets. Dilly always gives me a set of color-bled ice pink sheets, got dyed a real nice pink when a guest from the north slept in red wool stockings and they got caught at the bottom of a bed and thrown in with the wash. Dilly, he makes up my bed with those blotchy pink sheets and I leave him a rose in return.
The three of us, we drink around Vella like she’s burning the gold of her eyes. She’s hot all right, and so are we, huddled around Vella in the mezzanine. Dilly says, hey angel did you ever find your ring? I’ve been telling people, everyone, the whole staff and everyone I see in the mezzanine, that I lost my gold ring, hoping someone’s gold ring’d turn up, the way those red stockings turned up, and the way other things turn up around here: rolling papers, tiny pamphlets on the lord, his bride weeping over a nest of rags, trash magazines, rusty earrings in the shower, dirty ol lipstick kisses on the mirror above the bed. Treats because they are found, strays of imagined friends. I live in pipe dreams. I think it’d look nice to wear a gold ring when the new year rolls in. Haunt smacks Dilly’s arm and Dilly’s skin floats in slow waves like soft rubber. She don’t have no gold ring you dumbass. I laugh around both, pinch Vella’s stiff cheek. I feel happy, it’s Christmas eve. Dilly rubs his arm and looks at Vella with empty longing. I run over, place my lips on his head. Haunt, I say, how’d I find such a beautiful sweeper? How’d I find such beautiful men in my life? Haunt shakes his head, looks down at his bottle, looks back up and smiles one corner of his pretty mouth. Sideways, he says, you got real lucky.
You see, I used to live in a Florida room in a trailer in western Kentucky. The sun’d shine hot in the mornings and in the evenings I turned on a space heater and lay in bed and saw a few cold Kentucky stars. In Kentucky I lived with my husband, he worked at a small lumber mill, only had seven fingers, but sure knew how to please me with em. I used to sit on his lap on my bed in the Florida room, and we would stare at the moon while he held my nighty to my waist, touched me all close and soft and perfect, asked for nothing in return. I couldn’t sleep in the trailer with him, he didn’t want me to. The Florida room was tidy, pure. The trailer was piled high with junk. My husband, like all of us, had his rituals. But see, he didn’t like to share them with me, he was silent and proud. He liked it when I acted all wounded and vulnerable, had me making up fantasies and neurosis while he chewed on my thumb, wanted to know how I felt in the womb, took a lock of my hair so he had something to share his pillow with. He kept himself swaddled like the baby in those god pamphlets at the motel. He sulked and got nasty if I tried diggin’. Got nasty if I asked how he felt in the womb.
My husband had books piled from here to heaven in the bedroom. Receipts for things like cigarettes, a quart of milk, an Allen wrench, taped to the wall in the bathroom, hiding the hand towel, curling in the heat of a bath. Canning jars were stacked on top of the refrigerator: pickles and beets and peaches and green beans. Half ate, some of em, but no room in the fridge. The dishes were done. The bed made. Heap of newspapers at the end of the bed like an extra blanket for his feet. My husband had two dogs, one of them, Sal, liked to sleep in my bed. She’d come into the Florida room and lay in the sun on my white quilt while I lay in the yard. His stuff, his sacred things, his junk, never fell into the Florida Room, ’cept one time – Sal brought in an empty pineapple can, chewed it on my bed and left behind gum bleed and yellow syrup. In the Florida room was my twin bed with the white mosquito net draped over the brass headboard and onto the floor. There was a low white wicker shelf with four books and a white wicker mirror. On a tray on the floor was a jar of cream, lipstick, Noxzema for the bug bites. The bugs would come up through the floorboards. Between the boards you could see the Kentucky dirt and nearly touch it, see the leaves and the reams of copper wire stored for safekeeping, see the touch of crisscross fence that holds it all in. The net over my bed was for the deer flies, the Noxzema for when my cheeks and breasts puffed with their scorn.
At the other end of the Florida room was a round faded walnut table with a radio on top, cord seeped in through a crack in the window, into my husband’s kitchen, he kept the curtains closed. Beneath the radio was a macramé doily. Beside it a bowl with a peach and a sleeve of crackers. I didn’t go into the trailer, I ate out at that table in the Florida room. It was real neat in the Florida room. Real sparse. Sanctum like. S’pose there was that one glass cross hanging in the window which bled rainbows over me and the dog and the doily and the bowl of food. I had a trunk too, at the end of my bed, where I kept my clothes. There was a medicine cabinet on the wall with a toothbrush in a tin cup, a cooling pack, cotton balls and smokes. The washer was outside the Florida room, up against the home, beside a clothesline and a basket of pins. My clothes were folded and smelled like sun and swamp buttercup, their petals floated across the line. In the trunk I kept two pairs of jeans, six white panties, two bras, two nightdresses, three summer dresses, some tank tops, and a creamsicle orange bikini which I used to wear lots on hot days. I’d lay out like I said while the dog lay on my bed. And he, my husband at the time, would bring me screwdrivers in a glass with red squares on it. I’d drink while he rubbed my shoulders and petted my ponytail that fell between the plastic belts of the waxy recliner chair. He’d be in the trailer a lot of the time, doing dog knows what, still don’t know, really. Some evenings he’d come out happy and we would get in his truck and drive ten miles out of the woods and to the closest lake. Lily Lake. Cool and beautiful little lake. He’d bring the rest of the vodka and carton of orange juice and that little red checkered glass and mix me drinks and he’d slug from the bottles and we wouldn’t talk much just swim around in circles and then dry on the rock and then swim around again. I had so many freckles that one summer, he loved my freckles. He loved many things about me. It was me who left, I left one time in the middle of the night. I walked, took me till sunrise to get to the highway, but I knew the roads well, coulda done it blind. Don’t know much about why I left. Once I got used to my husband’s patterns- sometimes sick, sometimes gentle- I stopped being charmed, I stopped being roused.
In that first month we were married, the first time we’d lived real close, I sat in my own private Florida room and filled my diary with every detail. Every detail of him and his yard. I wanted to write about the rooms in his trailer, but he wouldn’t let me go in them. I got into the trailer once when he went out in the truck to his job and to the dollar store for orange juice, but that day he lost another finger and from then on and till the night I left, he was home with workers’ comp and a padlock on the door. Sleepy pie, he’d call me some days when he went out to fix something on the trailer, in the yard. Sleepy pie I thought, was made of sand pit sand, rainwater in a tin plate. So much fer pet names, since I’m gone now, anyways. Some days I wish he’d named me after the cool breeze or the dog’s house or called me anything but me.
After showing me to my room, my own personal Florida room, I was so pleased, I was so easy to please and the room was so pretty. By the time I left my husband and the room, it’d all worn off, it was all just nothing. I got so bored of that room, that pretty Florida room and the woods and the stumps around it. I woulda melted if I hadda stayed any longer. I do think so. The trees – the buckeyes and silverbells – with their wiggly branches and dusty leaves, lovers’ etchings, began to feel hollow. And when I leaned one day against my favorite tree, I felt I was falling inside it, I jumped away like my back had been scathed. The trees were illusions of themselves. Props. And then the Florida room, with the valences of lace, the dog on the bed, the shells on the window sill, the June bug stuck between the cracks of the floorboards, my nighty, curled on the bed, eaten by moths, it too was a facade. The touch of the nighty, the hum of the bug, existed in a transitory space that felt sometimes like heaven, for real. Most times it felt like damn all, like nothing really (when I imagined the room as empty of the things that made it sweet, I’d feel nauseous with grief). In the beginning, everything in my Florida room I could touch and admire and my fingers would tingle and light up. Soon, I couldn’t admire my dear things, the way I had before – my grandmother’s necklace, modest and gold and dewy in the sun, the flipflops with the wedge that I’d found by the river at Moxoms, with peach beads woven to the straps, now worn to a stub, a book of poems by Jimmy Alba that bled and rang and blanketed my mind in comfort and wonder for so many still nights in that Florida room. I waited in lent but it lasted forever. I couldn’t admire my sweet things because they were no longer real. And I knew that when it all disappeared, as it was bound to, one day, I’d still be there, sitting on a tree stump in those woods that had begun to feel hollow and lonely. Boy wasn’t that a bummer, the day everything began to feel hollow. When my husbands’ jam jars and newspapers, seven fingers, and the smell of his neck weren’t real anymore. I guess that’s when I got itching to leave. When I left I was wearing those flip-flops with the peach beads. When my beer can got empty I filled it with water from Lily Lake where we used to swim around. Just so I could smell it, feel it move in a can, something to hold. I rubbed petals of azalea on my neck cuz I wanted to remember that smell whether or not it was real, and I wanted it in my skin. Short skirts and bruised roses, I hummed it along the walk, my husband’s favorite song.
Everyone gets domesticated, somehow. Even when you live in the woods. Even when yer not called in on a job or a jury duty, you’ve still got to go to the grocers and the bar and put gas in the truck, mascara on your lashes – as necessary as anything like coffee or oatmeal. The trees get domesticated when we hang a line between em to dry clothes. So even though I’ve lived in the wild in a Florida room in the woods in Kentucky, I still feel like those glorified city girls here in the motel room in the bedroom town. Now that Dilly and Haunt are my only friends and I’ve started chewing gum and liking the sound of the AC in the window of my room. When I come out of the bathtub dripping wet I miss my husband. I remember how he liked to dry me off, press a pink towel to my stomach and hair until the towel wilted. Lick the beads of water from my thighs. I miss you I miss you I miss you, I write in the mirror in my lipstick, want to send it in the mail. But he doesn’t have an address. No street to put a name on.
When I left the Florida room, on a heavy early morning in August, I took the copper wire from under the porch, under my bedroom. I dragged it down the road until I found that guy Red who bought shit from my husband. Paid me real good. Even made me a sandwich when I said boy I’ve been walking all night. I made the mistake though of saying no when Red asked if my husband knew where I was. No Red, he’s sleeping in the trailer. That’s when Red’s eyes twisted all funny and I saw his bad parts rise and I jumped for the door. I made it out and ran and had the money but dropped a twenty at the end of his drive, was too scared to go back for it. I think about that twenty all the time. I think about it every time I get a bit broke and then I dream of it and in the dreams twenty turns to twenty more and so on. The thing is I don’t know if Red wanted me really, or what he woulda done with me if I hadda been slower. Because when I lurched for the door and grabbed the money off the table and the rest of my sandwich all in one fist, that’s when he got down on his hands and knees and crawled quick toward me. I’d met Red in bars and seen him from my husband’s truck, always thought he was fine, maybe nice. Didn’t think much. But I suppose I’d never really looked him in the eyes. I always looked away when I think back. At my hands on my drink or on the steering wheel.
My man used to talk into my eyes while the moonlight came pouring in and I felt something like a wink and a doo-wop band. That’s really how it was when we gazed into each other. We were little kittens. Bunting, licking. There was a feeling with us, me and my man. For a while we couldn’t get closer- we couldn’t, gentle chimes swelling in our ears, hearts tripping. Yearning, always reaching. That all only lasted a few weeks. Then we drank a bit and some more, and it lasted a lil longer. It’s still there sometimes, I can feel its glimpses. But the magic was always removed by one like the magic was supposed to be a bit more magical like the doo-wop and it just never was. It never was it never was even when it was. One of our eyes, one of em, always fading, slow blinks and scarce, drifting off… half asleep.
One time my man shined up a dresser. Found the old dresser on the highway and fixed it up and shined it up real nice. He worked on it in the yard, right outside my window. I’d smell it, smell the varnish from my white bed, and that whole week while he worked on the dresser I couldn’t stop jumping him. Man, it smelled like this: like fake cotton and wood and the spray you use to clean a convection oven in a diner, sorta like fruit but also smoke and like a man’s dirty fingers. Fake fruit like candy machine bananas and strawberries. Something about it. I made him ride me right there on top of the dresser and the oil soaked through my panties, so then I was smelling them every night while I watched Kentucky’s stars. My man needed the money so eventually he sold that dresser, I was real pissed. I thought you know, I thought he cared more about romance, about me, than money, than rubbing oil on old dressers and jacking up the price. He waxed it all smooth like I’d always wanted my calves to be. He sold the dresser and we got in a big fight that had us screaming. If I ever smell that oven cleaner varnish cotton wood strawberry smell my blood lurches down and I feel real good and then real sad. Like any bad fantasy or nice memory, good and sad. Like thinking about what woulda happened if Red got me and how I coulda liked it for a cheap spark, like wishing I was feral and could live with uncombed hair and fuck like bad men do. Unbroken, sniffing instead of thinking. Haunt says my body is a vessel. A vat, but of what I don’t know.
All I see now, past my air-conditioned window, is Vegas in yellow veins like chain lightning. Craving a slot pit old and sick with patina. I’ll bet some men in Vegas have only seven fingers, lost to a slot, lost to a night tide. Looking at a man’s hand takes me back to the old days. I am stirred by a palm with dirt in its seams. I’m sleeping in the sun and the shade in my creamsicle bikini (like it’s really where I belong) and his seven fingers are tugging and petting my hair. No one knows not even me if I like it. If I’d like to be there with him, or Sal the dog, or just me, or not at all. Not at all shackled to one place, one yard, room or coast.