My Uber drops me off in front of a two-story building that I’m ninety percent sure used to be a barn. It’s a large rectangle with brown siding and neutral-colored detailing around the windows and a similarly colored pointed roof. The only time I’ve seen anything similar is in historical exhibits or in Christmas movies that take place in small towns. ‘Honorary Inn’ is etched on the small sign out front, which is hanging off of a post emerging from the fence that surrounds the property. I’m still wrapping my head around the fact that I’m here.
So far, Illinois has consisted of stout buildings, trees and fields, and more empty space than I’d know what to do with. I’m used to every inch of space containing either a man-made structure or an actual human being. The only untouched plantlife I know remains in tact solely due to preservation laws. Around here, it’s something entirely different. It’s so green. And brown.
Inside the inn, a large black woman greets me from behind the counter. She’s wearing a white top with ruffled shoulders, and has her hair up in a frazzled bun. She pauses packing a bunch of books into a cardboard box and smiles at me, and I guess her to be around my mom’s age. “Hello there! Checking in?”
I drag my two suitcases and one duffel bag into the tiny, tiny room and glance around. Everything inside appears to be the same old, brown wood as outside, and the whole place even has a sort of musty smell--unless that’s just the books. There are some small photos hanging on the wall behind the woman, as well as a corkboard with advertisements: Hot Coffee & Wifi at the Briarstone Café, Gregson’s Stop: Fishing Supplies, Annual Windthrow Fête - August 3rd. I don’t know what a fête is, but it’s two weeks away, so I’ll be gone by then.
“Um, yes,” I tell the woman. I never um. What’s wrong with me? “Clements,” I say, in a normal and confident way. She smiles and checks a paper ledger. Paper? Maybe I’ve traveled back in time.
“Ah. You’ll be in the Violet Room,” she says, pulling a key out of a drawer and handing it to me. “And I’m Mariana, by the way. I own this place, so just let me know if you need anything. Your room is just upstairs.”
I thank her, and she returns to her book-packing. I hesitate, wanting to ask if there’s anyone to take my bags up, but it’s pretty obvious there’s not. I’m not going to be able to carry them all in one go, so I glance around and finally decide to leave them in this room, which I'm generously calling the lobby. Benefits of a deserted town, I guess, are that thievery is unlikely when there’s no one around to do it.
The staircase is extremely narrow, so I have to drag the suitcase behind me and hold my duffel bag in front, with no room to either side. I’m close enough to the wall to see the maroon paint peeling off the planks of wood.
The Violet room is conveniently labeled with a hand-painted sign of a violet flower, and inside, unsurprisingly, the whole room is decorated in dusty purples. It even smells floral. The room is sparse, but not in a modern way like a hotel. It looks more like someone thrifted some furniture and then barfed a grandma onto all of it. Everything is patterned: various faded flowers on the wallpaper and bedspread, a zig-zag-patterned crochet blanket over one of the chairs, doilies on the nightstand and dresser. There’s even a little flower-shaped rug under the window, and when I stand on it and glance out I have a surprisingly nice view of the street below. Not that there’s anything to see. It’s just tree branches shifting in the breeze. Everything’s so still.
The stillness is unsettling, but from what I hear about writers retreats, which is what I’m assuming this is meant to be, I know that they thrive in stillness and silence. Though I will not be confined to this room, that’s for damn sure. I’m already choking on the smell of lavender.
I sit on the edge of the bed and pull out my phone. I only have missed texts from Bram, which I’m honestly insulted about. No one else has tried to reach me? This whole time? Maybe the messages just haven’t come through yet. I open my conversation with Bram. I’d unblocked his number yesterday, and I’d seen this: I know you’re not going. It was a bad idea anyway. I shouldn’t have interfered.
I’d been irritated about his use of formal punctuation and clipped sentences, but pleased that he thought I wasn’t going anywhere. It would just make telling him that I am in Windthrow Point, Illinois more fun.
He’d also sent: PS please tell your mom to stop texting me or I will have to change my number. I find this amusing as well as concerning. I still don't know how or why my mother got a hold of Bram.
The new messages are these: Where are you?
If you’re in a bar I’m coming to pick you up
Masie where are you?
are you ok?
call me when you get this
I stare at my phone, suddenly getting that feeling I get when I drink too much--a familiar feeling. It’s like I’m drowning but it’s all air. It’s like someone’s squeezing my heart and too tight and squeezing it until it oozes black ichor or whatever else is in there. It feels like burning in the back of my throat. That he thinks I’m missing and he wants to help. It’s almost enough to feel guilty about.
I want to call, but I remember my second suitcase downstairs. I decide to shoot over a text, and I'll call him when I get back up here. I send: Bram I’m ok. I look at the message and then add, Thanks.
I’m kind of smiling, and tuck my phone into my pocket. One more trip down the world’s narrowest staircase later, I’m standing in the tiny lobby about to grab my suitcase, which no one has stolen, when I notice someone else in the room. My eyes land on the inn lady--Mariana--and then on the person standing in the doorway, halfway in and halfway out of the inn. He’s holding the freshly-packed cardboard box of books, his head peeking out from above the box.
We make eye contact. It’s the slowest couple of seconds of my life, watching recognition flash across his eyes, then surprise, then confusion.
Darian TV Producer Russel is… here.