The motel had a washer and dryer, so Melinda Kendall thought it best to take advantage and get after her clothes before they got out of hand. She went down in a pair of shorts and a tee shirt she figured she’d just throw away anyway. She stuffed every other stitch she owned into one of the motel’s trash sacks and brought it down to the wash.
She’d called the front desk from the room and asked to stay on another night. After last night’s newscast, she thought it best to stay off the road, hole up inside and keep out of trouble. Out of sight. The last thing she wanted to do was step up to the front desk, let any more people catch wind of her. Maybe she could ride it out. Maybe this whole thing can blow over.
No such luck. Fella came into the laundry room looking for the vending machine, trying to get a soda. She didn’t want to draw any attention, just pointed him down the hall, told him the ice machine’s down there as well if he needs it. He left, but came back after a few minutes. She tried to convince herself that she didn’t know he would.
And boy was he slick. His grin came in one style only: shit-eating. He was the type of guy who always had something going on. To him, all of life was a side gig. She had no idea what he saw when he looked at her, but she could tell he considered himself game.
“Hot out there, huh?” he said.
“It sure is,” she said. She didn’t care to look him full in the face so she kept her head turned sideways, hair down around her eyes. No telling if this guy watched the news. She’d much rather keep to herself, but had a run of bad luck lately in that department.
“I’m in for a couple of days, until tomorrow at least,” he said. She wondered what gave him the impression she cared, didn’t bother asking. “Sales. Wine. I’m in wine sales.”
“Ah.” The washer buzzed and stopped spinning. She opened it, collected what she had and put it in the dryer.
“Are you much of a wine drinker?”
“I know that’s right.” He stole looks up and down like he may not ever see her again, may need to remember her for later. “What’s your favorite kind of wine?”
“Red.” She slipped a couple of quarters into the dryer and got it to going.
“What kind of red? Merlot? Cabernet?”
“Cheap red,” she said.
He smiled. He wasn’t bad looking, really. A little older than most guys she’d go for. She figured him definitely more square than what she’d consider her type, but she was still young. He had a way. She watched his smile and supposed it nice enough.
“Do you ever drink Zinfandels?” he asked her. She shrugged. “They’re real good. Especially if you like red wine. I’ve got one in my portfolio that’s drinking very nice right now. It’s from California. They’ve got some very nice wines out there. You ever been to California?”
She shook her head.
“You don’t talk much do you?” She didn’t answer, so he went on: “If you ever get out that way, you have to see some of the wineries. They’re spectacular. Just rows and rows of vines, all making fruit for wines.”
“That sounds lovely.” She estimated her clothes twenty minutes from drying and settled in for the long haul.
He popped the soda he’d been carrying and offered her a drink. She refused and he sucked down a few gulps. “That Zinfandel I’m showing right now is one of those that you can drink all by itself, or with food. It’s the kind of wine that you can enjoy in the middle of the day, especially one like this.”
“Yeah.” He was on the edge, peeking over, ready to leap. “Would you like to try a glass?”
“Why not?” She had nowhere to be.
“Really?” His sails filled with air. “Sweet. Hang here a second and I’ll go grab the bottle and a couple of glasses.” He looked her up and down again as if she may vaporize before his return, then bolted for door.
She giggled a little. But this is a very bad idea. The last thing you need is to make any more friends. The dryer knocked and clomped as the clothes rumbled round. She considered taking off, just grabbing the damp clothes and making a run for it. She could skedaddle, just scoot on out and get on the road, or she could retire to the room and keep the shades drawn. He’d never find her. Besides, she’d have to hitch and that wasn’t a good idea. Not with it being a slow news day.
How far are you going to take this? She didn’t have time to think through scenarios before he returned sporting a half bottle of red and two plastic cups from the room. He poured the juice, gave her the glass with the larger pour.
“First, you’ll get a little boysenberry on the noise, maybe a bit of chocolate,” he said, sniffing into the motel cup. “But once you taste it, you’ll get the pepper, spices, and a dry mouthfeel.”
“Yeah, take a sip. You’ll know what I mean.”
She looked at him like he had ten heads then took a sip from the cup. Followed it with a gulp. Then, what the hell, she drained the cup and set it down on the dryer.
“Mouthfeel,” she said. She looked him full in the face, let him see her, figured fuck it. He couldn’t look away. If he knew, he couldn’t force himself to care. “Zinfandel’s nice. What else you got?”
And in no time she let him talk her back to the room, or let him think he talked her back to room, because at this point she’d decided she was bound and determined to get in there. He was fun and they were both out of town and he had a mess of booze. She’d noticed the wedding ring earlier and never noticed when it came off, but it was off now so she reckoned him unlikely to raise a stink, fall in love, or want to go steady. No, they were just going to have a few glasses of wine and goof off.
All of the bottles had been opened, been sampled around all the shitty restaurants in town. He told her over and over that all the joints out there were small-minded and knew nothing about wine and were still serving the same old stuff from the Eighties. Nobody cared about the independent farmers, the small producers, the lifeblood of the wine industries, the lifeblood of traditions so old that blah, blah, blah. A couple of glasses got him to going and she’d pour another, hoping to drink him tolerable.
He blushed. “I’m talking too much,” he said.
“It’s okay,” she said. “It’s very interesting.”
And on that note, he leaned in for a kiss. It was clumsy and awkward, and since she’d been smiling, planted on her teeth and before she realized what was going on, he stopped, unsure whether or not to go on. She kissed him back — proper this time — and he let her know right away that he’ll run a yellow light. His tongue went every which way, mouth all over her and hands to grabbing. All systems go with this fella. A few times she tried to kiss back, but he planned to take it from here, didn’t need any of her help thank you very much.
Soon he leaned her back on the couch and started to work her buttons. He was all thumbs, so she helped him, wondered how much further they were allowed to go before she could call it quits, then wondered why’d she even want to call it quits and in no time her shirt was on the floor and he’d set to handling her titties. Oh man, if this ain’t a bad idea I don’t know what is. But, no stranger to bad ideas, Melinda helped him off with his pants.
“You got a condom, sugar?” she asked, sweet as can be.
“No, I don’t,” he panted. “You don’t think I’m the type of guy who’d just happen to have a condom on him, do you?”
“You’re about to sleep with a girl you met in a motel laundry room,” she said, rifling through her knapsack. “You’re exactly the type of guy who should have one.” She scrounged one up and they got to it.
Once all that was said and done, he hopped off her and skittered to the bathroom. She lit a smoke and looked through the wine bottles for one that still had some left. She threw back a jammy little number called a Pinot Noir and waited for him to return. He took his time in there. Should I get dressed? She felt shitty. Kind of. Nothing a shower couldn’t fix.
What was that all about? She couldn’t decide if she did it for the thrill or if she was just that horny. No, it wasn’t that. Horny she could handle. This is something different. She wished Sam were still around. At least then she could get a bump. It was the last thing she needed, but man, she sure could use a bump.
He came out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist that was too small and kept all his cards on the table. He couldn’t look at her. Uh-oh, this ain’t good. He busied himself around the room like he had a hundred other things to do. Like the other shoe was about to drop or something. She began to get the picture.
“Sugar, you don’t mind if I take one of these bottles back to my room?” He shook his head and she lifted each one to find a bottle most full. They’d done some damage earlier. He grew impatient and went to his leather case and pulled out an unopened one.
“Here,” he said, handing it over. His eyes looked at everything but her. He found his pants on the floor and retrieved his wallet, counted out forty dollars and handed it to her as well.
“What’s this?” She only played dumb.
“Just take it,” he said. “Get yourself something to eat.”
Her cheeks burned but hey, forty bucks is forty bucks so she snatched It out of his hands without a second thought. She calculated how far that would get her, if she only ate two meals per day and figured no way, she worked way too hard so she reached into her backpack again and this time pulled out Sam’s .22.
“Oh, I’m afraid it’s going to cost you a little more than that.”
And to make sure he didn’t cause any trouble, she tied him to the bed with him still wrapped in that too small towel, sheets binding each of his wrists and ankles to the posts and for good measure, one of his socks in his mouth. She found three hundred bucks and four credit cards in his wallet, as well as the keys to a Honda in the parking lot. The leather case kept four more bottles of wine – the good stuff – and she discovered a couple more cases in the trunk.
Not a bad day’s work. She cleaned out her room, picked up her laundry and scooted on down the road in his Honda. Not bad at all.
Melinda Kendall’s tears would not stop. A flood of emotion could be expected when a person is trying to kick, but this shit was uncalled for. Melinda’d always known it was not the day after, or the day after the day after, but the following day that was going to hurt. Meth left the system slow. It dripped and oozed through the bloodstream, like fat off meat. And when it’s gone baby, it’s gone.
And it was gone. She remembered one weekend when she and Sam’d really been at it. Not just run-of-the-mill, average Saturday night for the Jones’ at it, but chalk-one-up-for Sam and Melinda at it. Both of them swore it off again, said one thing’s for sure: no more ice, when they got to following each other to the bathroom, thinking the other maybe had something up their sleeve. Or were licking their driver’s license. Or had saved some empty plastic baggies just in case and were holding out. Hell, Melinda’d been known to finger through the threads in the shag carpet on hope of an errant rock.
That weekend they were at Defcon One. Both desperately needed the other to fuck up so they could point fingers and say you did it first, but stubbornness ruled supreme and no one offered any give. He sat red-eyed, knees tapping and she snapped at his every word because he had a way of coming off like an inquisitor and no one was getting anywhere and at some point things got hairy. She told him he was a pussy, which he had mounds of childhood issues concerning, and he called her a cunt, which he’d done probably once too many.
She threw a crystal ashtray at his head. It broke into a million pieces. He grabbed the copy of The Satanic Verses her dad had gotten autographed, locked himself in the bathroom and tore out, page-by-page, the first two chapters. To his credit, he’d started with the blank pages, himself being a bibliophile, but the anger welled up in him and before he knew it, he’d flushed the dedication page with Salman Rushdie’s scribble and then started in on the text.
She lit into a fury, as Melinda was known to do, and knocked the door plum off its hinges and tackled him into the bathtub where she operated on him with a vengeance. Fists flying, legs kicking and teeth to gnashing but all for nothing, for he was bigger and meaner and got a thrill out of her trying so hard. He got off on it. He had her clothes off in a heartbeat, right there in that tub and when the cops came because the neighbors got twitchy, they gave them quite the show. And still, the cops said she needed to stay somewhere else because it was technically a domestic disturbance and they just had to follow rules but Sam wasn’t hearing it and threw a big fit, yelling at cops and saying, hey, we were fucking when you got here, did it sound like she was in danger to you? But the more he yelled, the more he proved their case. He screamed and cried and pitched a hell of a fit, but they still took her away and left her at a friend’s house. He never got over the betrayal. That night when he cried in his goddamn bed, he cried alone and the next day they figured what the hell was the point in trying to kick? What point exactly? So they called JoJo and made a weekend of it.
Not since then had Melinda cried this much.
So why was she crying? Did she miss Sam? Of course, she missed Sam. Before him, she had one trajectory. She’d been beautiful, but smart. Guys didn’t like smart girls in high school, but in college she found herself in demand. Not only hot guys, but dangerous guys. Sam wasn’t her first, but as far as she was concerned, he could have been her last. Or at least, one of her last. He was handsome and funny and smart and driven. The drive alone sent her into a frenzy.
But that was not why she was crying. She considered herself not so foolish to remember exactly why she’d put that Louisville Slugger into his face, knew that he would want no explanations. She’d watched him rise up the ladder, knew that only JoJo would keep him still. No more JoJo, no more leash. He’d put her head on a pike and call it good business. If you see what I’ve done to someone I loved, check out what I can do to someone who crosses me. No, she didn’t cry for Sam Tuley.
Did she cry because of the wine rep? That pasty fella with the funny hair back at the motel? The creepy dude with the Pete Rose haircut and a bowtie that called himself Randy? Cry that, despite her good Catholic upbringing telling her she headed in only one direction from here on out, there were no take-backs and she now played for keeps and when St. Peter held her up, he’d probably be looking at the image of Randy tied to a motel bed with sheets while she made off with his money? No, she reckoned not.
Nor would she cry for the two frat boys now emblazoned with matching scars upon their cheeks, for no other reason than they were rude and insulting and in bad need of etiquette. No, she’d do that a million times, over and over again.
No rather, she cried because of the news broadcast. Once again, some pinhead with over-moussed hair told the story — getting most of it wrong, by design or by fault — with an incredible backdrop of photos and videos and quotes taken out of context. They showed file footage of the frat boys being wheeled out of the car and pictures of the barbed fish hooks. He appeared on-site of the actual hotel room where Randall McVeigh had been bound, wrist and ankle, to the bedposts. They followed him down the trail of the state park where she’d brought the science teacher, had him stand on the spot where they’d found him hog-tied and penniless.
She cried because of what they said. “…a prostitute who authorities are calling ‘Sweet Melinda’…”
A prostitute named Sweet Melinda.
She shuddered. If she had to figure which facet of the investigation peeved her the most, she’d have to spin a bottle or flip a coin or something, but there was no end to her despair. At first she dropped to her knees and wept, then threw herself across the bed and wept, then fell into the bathtub or closet — wherever would hold her — and let it all out, screaming and kicking and calling the world a motherfucker, hanging hell in the balance. No outlet short of detonating a fission bomb would calm her sympathies, for she found the universe to be a whore, a whore with no shame who pointed a crooked finger in her direction and hissed, “harlot.”
They called her prostitute on the news. They said that authorities searched for a prostitute, and that sent her into a tizzy which resulted in the near-drained bottle of Jack denting the wall over the television and possibly a broken knuckle or two. She kicked the motel toilet a dozen times but that fucker wasn’t breaking anything but her foot, so she gave up and figured this was not the way to go. She collapsed to the bed.
And to call her Sweet Melinda? Holy shit! How in god’s heavens do they get that name? She’d been trying to blank it out of her mind for a while now, but she knew. She’d signed into that motel back at the Delta under the name “Melinda Allmann,” then went about molesting the seedy wine rep. They probably all figured it to be a alias, but newspapermen found poetry to a hell-bent prostitute named Sweet Melinda and this thing was bound to catch fire.
Now, no matter how great her 4.0 was, no matter who she chose as her patron during Confirmation, no matter how hard she practiced at piano lessons: she was now known on the news as the prostitute referred to as Sweet Melinda.
And this made her cry.
“This ain’t fucking fair,” she said, then went to see if that bottle of Jack had anything left in it, but before she could get there she fell to her knees and got to crying again. It got to be where she didn’t think she’d stop crying. Tears may cease, but that lump in her throat never would and until it did, she may never suck a full breath of air again. “This ain’t fair at all.”
But who would hear? Not the police. No, they were looking for a strung-out woman who lured men to bait-and-tackle shops, or motel rooms, or even state parks and would never hear the cries of the forlorn. Certainly not the victims. They would never hear her, for they didn’t before and why should they after? Her parents? No, she hoped they were never dragged into this. Sam? Any day now, he’d be putting two and two together. Any day.
Nope, it was just her. Her and the fella handcuffed on the floor in front of the television. Poor bastard thought he had it made, finding a girl at the truck stop who was going his way, and not just on the blacktop. Why, he’d scored himself a gram of shit and wanted to find someone kindred to enjoy it, but instead wandered along Sweet Melinda Kendall and she’d figured instead of sharing, why not jack the whole sack, for there was very little left for her to have redeemed.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Eryk Pruitt is a screenwriter, author, and film maker living in Durham, NC with his wife and cat. His short dark comedy “FOODIE” has won awards at film festivals across the country. He has also been published in The Avalon Literary Review.