David J. LeMaster
Last Call For Salvation
Angela P. Markham
Q-Q Ca Choo
The Best Laid Plans
John A. Ward
The Ecstasy of Cooking
The Girl With the Green Umbrella
The Gods of Houston
But I Have Never Known This
Clouds On Your Floor
M. Blair Spiva
Kristina Diane Smith
On Visiting Hay-on-Wye
M. Blair Spiva
Sodom and Gomorrah
Douglas C. Knight
May Ann Licudine
There are sand dunes, right in the
middle of the rainforest: honest-to-god sand dunes. Lawrence of Arabia
kind of shit. Camels and head turbans, rattlesnakes inside baskets. You
can wander around as though you were trapped in a miniature Sahara or
Gobi, and then, when you find your way out again, youíre back in the
rainforest. Evergreens and rain showers and gray skies. There are some
days when it feels like the Northwest exists inside a lead pipe.
South of the sand dunes in
Florence. Thereís a hotel there run by a Yorkshire terrier. The
terrierís got a girl working the desk because it canít, nor should
it be expected to, reach the counter, operate the cash register, get the
keys down. It canít show you to your room because it canít open the
doors. It stands behind the desk, behind the girl at the desk, chewing
on a small cigar. Cigarillos, theyíre called in some parts. Sometimes
he sits. The terrier. Sometimes he drops the cigarillo, and bites at a
patch of fleas imbedded in the fur around his hindquarters. Sometimes he
takes a break during the day to lie down on the patch of carpet where
the sun shines in, lies there because itís warm. Lifts a leg, licks
Sometimes there is someone
watching, who says to whomever is listening, Jesus H. Christ, what I
wouldnít give to be able to do that.
The girl behind the desk says, You
can fly it a try, big boy, but Iím telling you right now that dogíll
bite you something awful. She prints out a bill. Retrieves a key. Room
203. Sign here.
Located in no-manís land: on the
coast, too far south and too far north to recognize objets des raison.
Apparently, the Yorkshire terrier inherited the hotel. The girl behind
the desk says it was a contested will, but because it had been probated
there wasnít anything to be done. The original owner, Mr. Piedmont,
the girl behind the desk says, had children, too, five total from two
different marriages, but even in the grips of death, he chose to act
like a horseís ass and left his entire estate to his beloved
companion, Mr. Patches.
Has she been there long?
Oh yeah, the girl behind the desk
says. Ever since they put those sand mounds in there.
Does she mean the dunes?
Dunes, mounds, whatever theyíre
called, she says. Still looks like a big sandbox to me.
Whereíd they get all that sand?
Lord knows, the girl behind the
desk says. Mr. Patches barks. Looks like he might have fleas. The girl
behind the desk says, Donít know how. That dog gets more baths and
haircuts than even I do. By way of example, she runs her hand through
her hair. Itís flat, straight, kind of greasy, not much body. Typical
overweight woman hair: brushed, but not beautiful. It was in the will,
too, the girl behind the desk says.
Does she notice the time of day?
The early hour? Mr. Patches barks again. Where you heading? Thereís a
window out of which she can survey the parking lot in its entirety,
watch every car that pulls into one of the open parking spaces. She can
see the make and model, make presumptions about origin, marital status,
psychological profile. Thereís a lot you can tell about a person by
how they park a car.
Has she always lived in Oregon?
Come from California, she says.
Mr. Patches, though, was born and bred right here in Florence. The girl
behind the desk leans in. Whispers, Know what I think? I think that Mr.
Patches there is Mr. Piedmont. You know. Carnated like that? Just look
at him. Mr. Patches barks again. Itís time for his breakfast, the girl
behind the desk says. Breakfast for Mr. Patches: Denver omelet, hash
browns, biscuits, orange juice, coffee.
The girl behind the desk notices
the hour, but more precisely, notices how early in the morning it is,
usually a time reserved for guests checking out, not checking in. The
girl behind the desk also notices the absence of baggage, the insistence
of paying cash, the out-of-state plates, etc. The girl behind the desk
wasnít born just yesterday, or, in a manner of speaking, didnít just
fall off the turnip truck. This is why she mans the desk, why she has a
window out of which to survey the parking lot.
Mr. Patches knows it, too. Paces.
Growls, low and mean behind his closed lips. Beware the dog that doesnít
bark, for itís getting ready to bite.
Does the girl behind the desk know
that dogs bark as a way to signify territory?
Mr. Patches doesnít allow any
pets here at the hotel, the girl behind the desk says. No exceptions.
But does Mr. Patches wear sweaters
when itís cold outside? Itís one thing for Mr. Patches to act as
heir and owner of the Oasis Hotel in Florence, Oregon, one thing to chew
a small cigar and growl at strangers he doesnít trust, but itís
quite another thing, a quite unholy thing, to dress dogs up like people,
even if itís justified by unseasonably cold weather.
Oh, we get snow here, the girl
behind the desk says. Mr. Patches not only has a sweater, but heís got
a wardrobe of sweaters, specific ones he wears depending on his mood.
One he wears on his birthday, one he wears on Christmas Day with
reindeer, and one he wears on St. Patrickís Day with plenty of green
so he doesnít get pinched.
Mr. Patches ultimately decides who
gets a room for the night. The girl behind the desk apologizes. I know
this may seem a little crazy, she says, but itís what we know, our way
of life, and all considered, Mr. Patches is pretty fair.
Itís too early in the morning
for the rest of the day to go like this. Itís the desert that does
strange things to perfectly normal places like Florence. Here in the
Pacific Northwest everyone keeps to themselves, heads down, eyes closed,
and dogs are expected to growl at strangers.
AARON HELLEM attends the MFA Program at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. His short stories have been published most recently in the
Bitter Oleander, Ink Pot, Antimuse, Ascent, Facets Magazine, and