Copyright is held by the author.
GOD, CHUCK thought, they probably looked like drowned rats. The poor desk clerk would have to mop up all the rain dripping off them.
The desk clerk looked up. “Checking in?”
“Yes, for the Slaters? Chuck and Madge?” Chuck answered. “For the 1950s cabin, young man?”
Chuck looked the clerk over. Upraised black fist tattooed on his bicep. Nose ring. Earring in his right ear. The world was changing, he thought. The new world? The one he’ll be alone in?
“Yes, Sir! I have you right here,” the clerk said. “Welcome to Now and Then Motel, where the past lives on. Your first time?”
“No, we’ve had this cabin before. And the 1960s one. The 1960s is my favourite,” Chuck said. “But this visit is all about her,” Chuck said, pointing towards his wife. He wondered if the clerk noticed how thin she was.
“Hell of a storm,” the clerk said, handing the man the metal key on the large key fob. He shook his head. “Global warming, you gotta love it. You’re lucky that you beat it out. Supposed to go a little west, though.”
Madge looked at the clerk, frowning. “Weather changes all the time, you know,” she said. “Doesn’t mean diddly-squat.”
The clerk rolled his eyes. “Need any help to the cabin?”
“I think we’ll do just fine,” she answered, laying a whole dollar bill on the desk.
The room was exactly as it should have been, Chuck thought as he opened the door. Faux wood trim. Cowboy-themed wallpaper showing horses, log cabins, and campfires set against a tan-orange background. The room’s centerpiece, a Zenith combination black and white television and record player, sat against the wall. “Your magic passport to an enchanted evening,” the sales brochure on top of it said. In the corner, an AM radio, one dial for tuning, one for volume awaited. He knew that both the radio and television were frauds, to a degree, as the motel fed the input with carefully hidden cables. An avocado-green gas stove graced the kitchenette.
“Home sweet cabin,” Madge said and sighed. “Let’s get into something dry. I could use a snack, and I bet there’s Jiffy Pop in that cabinet.”
Chuck laughed as he changed clothes. Her appetite was back! The doctors had said that it would come and go with the chemo. “Remember the one of these that your dad had?” he said as he reached for the radio. “When we were still dating? It was 1967, but he hung on to that radio for dear life. Wouldn’t let it go.”
With a click, there was static and humming. Chuck twisted the dial, finding a station. “. . . and although nationally, COVID cases have dropped nearly 40 percent from their July peak of over 72,000 cases a day, experts caution that . . .”
“Damn it! I can get this crap anywhere.” He clicked the radio off. “Can you call the desk? This isn’t what we’re paying for. They need to turn the oldies on.”
As Madge picked up the phone, he walked to the television. It, at least, was working correctly. “Gunsmoke,” an announcer’s voice said. “Starring James Arness as Matt Dillon . . .”
He heard the rotary dial click as she dialed. “Hello,” she said. “The radio is just getting regular AM, not the oldies. I expect that to be fixed right away, yes?” She paused. “O.K. But they said that we were going to be O.K., that it was going to go west of us?” Another pause. “Well, that wouldn’t be much of a vacation, would it. I’m sure we’ll be fine here.”
“What now?” Chuck asked.
“He said that he turned the 50s feed on and that it would work now, but that the storm track had moved east. That we might have to go to the basement in the main building for a while if it gets bad.”
“I’d like to see him make us,” Chuck said. “Like you said, we’ll be just fine.” He’d be damned if he’d let anything spoil this for her. He thought briefly of Beethoven, totally deaf, rising from his deathbed to write his Ninth Symphony. His ode to life. His masterpiece. One last moment of perfection.
Pictures of Doc, Miss Kitty, and Festus filled the television screen. Chuck and Madge sat on the vinyl sofa and settled in for an evening of television.
Maybe, Chuck thought as he looked at the Sinatra record on the top of the pile, they could even dance later.
The sounds of rain pounding the roof and wind whistling woke them in the morning. The wind was loud enough that Chuck had to raise his voice. “Rainin’ cats and dogs out there,” he said as Madge put pop tarts in the toaster.
“Did you hear the phone ring last night?” Madge asked. “Some alert. More nonsense about the storm. I took it off the hook.”
“Nope. Slept right through it.”
“I’m not surprised. You were sawing logs,” she said, chuckling.
Chuck smiled. She had said the same thing about his snoring the morning after their wedding night.
There was a pounding at the door. “Mr. and Mrs. Slater? We need you to come to the basement of the main building. You need to take shelter.”
“Boy,” Chuck said. “My wife told you last night. We’ll be just fine. Get. Lost.”
“Whatever. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
The wind whipped as the desk clerk retreated.
“Do you think maybe we should . . ?” Madge began.
“No. It’s nothing.” I am here with you in this moment, he thought, that’s all that matters.
Madge joined him, looking out the window. The rain, now nearly horizontal, crashed against it. Bits of insulation and random pieces of metal flew by. Water began to trickle under the door.
“Hold me,” Madge said.
“Always,” he answered. “No matter what.”