Another one of my dumb stories. Enjoy.
We arrive at the motel out in the middle of nowhere with more space in the back of the truck than I can imagine. My mother, a woman in her mid-forties with the face of youth and the heart of Christ, looks to me with anticipation, marred with a subtle semblance of irritation.
“Ready to go?” she asks, mockingly sweet.
We find ourselves out of the truck and into the rural void that we’d planted ourselves into. In the distance one can see small forests and a tiny assortment of a lining of a town. Presently, a compact parking lot stood at our feet, with a few vehicles parked within or slightly outside the lines predicating the proper parking placement. The pavement is a dull gray that seems to sink into the Earth with every passing step; within time, it may disappear entirely. The motel stares back at me with the same vigor with which I carry unto its front passageway. The sun barely shines past a thick layer of clouds lounging across the sky.
Mother leads the way into the building where we’re taken in by a decrepit sight of basic, floral designs on the walls and the floors alike. Shades of green protruding the foundation of the walls give the impression that we’ve stepped forth into a jungle of unmanned chaos. The lack of traveling bodies leaves me uncomfortably calm. Within a few moments of our intrusion, a sizable woman stood up from behind a desk counter.
“Hello. Can I help you?” she asks robotically kind, both in voice and in appearance.
“Uh, yes,” Mother starts, “we’re here to purchase a bed from you.” Mother offers a graceful half-smile while the attendant translates her words into reality. Before long, another woman comes in, overhearing Mother’s words, and offers to take us to the room with the purchasable bed. She was a slender figure, one overcome by age as the wrinkles and pores made residence plentifully down her cinnamon-powdered face. Her hair was as dark as the Devil’s tongue, and her words had an aura of hesitation to them. Perhaps she was not so acquainted with English as we were.
We’re led up various flights of stairs in a small, pyramid-like maze of hallways. Before long, the habitual greens that garner around each corner turn to a more faded patch of emerald. The rips and tears become more evident the more we travel away from the motel’s center. At one point, the slender woman stops and directs our attention to a room to the left closest to the end of the hall, where a giant window allows for a picture of cloudy monotony to intrude upon one’s sight.
“This iz the room,” she says. Mother and I enter to find a plain room with nothing more than a single bed with its sheets already torn off and its basic parts clumped together in a fluffy pile. The room itself was picturesque of how little care was put into the design; white walls, creaking, wooden floorboards, and a single bathroom too dark to make out. But none of that was important.
Mother took a look at the bed and was likely less overwhelmed by its size than I was. I couldn’t help but stare at the hulk of comfort that I’d have to drag out of the building and into the truck. Not just that, but find a way to strap it down with the hour’s trip back on the interstate and across the bridge. The more it dawned on me, the more unwelcoming my mind became. I began to feel unruly and cynical. My insides were starting to rot and my mind already so, but I never let it show aside from a distinguishable grimace planted on my face.
Mother pulled out her wallet and gave the slender woman what looked to be sixty dollars. After trivial banter between the two about how much of the bed we’d be taking and otherwise, Mother claps her hands together and rubs them at an exaggeratively high speed. “Okay! Let’s get this thing out of here.”
“You better appreciate this,” I think to myself.
The truck gave a short rattle driving over a bump. A sharp “ping” could be heard from the backside. Almost habitually, I check the side mirror to see if anything became unhooked, all to find the mattresses perfectly handled underneath a few lines of cords wrapped carefully around them.
“Every time I hear that sound, I think something’s fallen off!” Mother exclaims with a smile.
“I’m always checking the mirror out of fear of that,” I respond casually. We’ve been on the road for about a half an hour now. Every so often we’ll hear a squeak or bump from the back that makes both of our skin’s crawl with nervous trepidation. Mother is already driving slower than she normally is, slower than most people would be okay with, and she’s being concise with her turns. I humor myself with the thought of the mattresses acting as a bomb that would explode if we go over a certain speed limit or make too sharp a turn.
Getting the materials into the back of the truck took more trouble than I believe Mother anticipated. The gargantuan backside of the truck we’re currently driving wasn’t enough to fit every piece into, so we had to compromise by letting some fluff stick out. We had to take out each piece individually, which meant back-and-forth trips in and out of the motel each with a piece far too big or far too stiff to carry easily. Mother was even given a nightstand along with the bed. By the time we managed to place bungee cords around the remnants of the bed we took apart, neither of us felt entirely comfortable with the end result. My fingers didn’t feel entirely comfortable, either.
“And y’know, I didn’t have to do this for him,” Mother says for the hundredth time this trip.
“Yet you did anyway,” I respond for the hundredth time this trip.
“Yes, I know.” Mother pauses only for a moment. “The thing with Wallace is that he can’t manage to do anything by himself. He’s always asking buddies for rides and asking me to help him with finding a car or driving him to go see a house. It’s just ridiculous.”
Wallace has been a part of the family since I can remember. He is like another son to Mother and another brother to me. We had been close all throughout middle school and high school, but within the years that followed, he’s become more and more negligent of his responsibilities. His life is a constant parade of new people, new homes, and new issues to overcome. It’s come to the point where we hardly contact each other on a personal basis. Unfortunately, his contact with the house has become more on an emergency basis only.
“Wallace just needs to learn that his actions have consequences,” Mother enunciates slowly. “Sometimes he can be so stupid!”
“Are you even really listening to me?”
Mother sighs. “He lets all his friends take advantage of him without any second thought. He’s always trying to help them and provide for them, and lets them walk all over him. Like, the whole thing with having Edward live with him! Edward didn’t have any job, didn’t have to pay any rent. He was just freeloading off of him for how long? It’s, just, ridiculous.”
I’ve seen signs of this from Wallace since long ago. The experiences he’s had with past loves and his overall look on life gives me the impression that he’s as whole-hearted as Mother is, perhaps even more. This isn’t anything new to me. I realize that he’s willing to go through obscene lengths to satisfy the people he cares about. Unfortunately, that tends to lead to his undoing, most of the time.
“Does he ever call you anymore?” Mother asks some time later.
“No, not really. We hardly talk.”
“I think he talks to me more than he does you!”
“It’s probably because I’m not as beneficial to him as you are.”
Mother laughs harder than she has all afternoon.
We arrive at Wallace’s apartment complex and begin to unload the pieces bought from the motel. Thankfully, nothing fell off during the drive there, and nothing about the truck was damaged from all the bumps and turns. Even more so, the walk from the complex’s parking space to Wallace’s room is far shorter in distance than the motel to its own parking lot.
Even with the mattress in hand, I couldn’t help but inspect each little detail about his apartment. I had never visited it before and it was a lot more spacious than apartments he’s had in the past. It was fairly dirty, as Wallace is known by our family to be a slob, with almost nothing decorated across the dark, wooden walls or the light carpet below my feet, aside from some wrappers or DVD cases. But what caught my ear as we carried each thing inside over and over was the whining of a silver-coated cat. Each time one of us entered the room, it would meow incessantly and loudly for everyone to hear. I wondered to myself if the neighbors could hear its siren-like, high-pitched bellows.
“Is this your room? And the other is your friend’s?” my mother questioned Wallace after unloading the bed into his apartment, referencing two small rooms hidden behind doors at the end of a small hallway.
“No! I’m just using this room for equipment. My bedroom’s not set up yet,” Wallace said, suddenly defensive.
Mother and Wallace continued their back and forth for quite some time. Mother always accusing him of some thing or another and Wallace pulling an excuse as if he were an expert at it. All the while, the silver-coated cat, whose name was revealed to be Leo, meowed and purred and rubbed along our meaty legs. I stayed quiet throughout the whole ordeal, carefully inspecting the make-up of the apartment. The entirety of it was a living area, a kitchen, and two bedrooms, presumably one that hadn’t been “set up” yet, as the door was shut tight. In the living area was a small television set that was on the main menu screen of a particular TV series I was unfamiliar with. It seems we had descended upon him at a bad time.
Leo was skittering along the floor, meowing and meowing second after second. The cries hurt my ears and drove me into a fit of internal rage that I could hardly hold back my urge to silence him myself. As if reading my thoughts, or the noise was getting to him, too, Wallace comes over and picks up Leo and sits down on a small couch sitting next to the television set. Leo no longer meowed or cried, but rather purred and rubbed his head across Wallace’s chest absent-mindedly.
“Can the neighbors hear that cat?” I ask Wallace half-mockingly.
“Why haven’t you cleaned this place up yet!?” Mother cuts in.
“I like cleaning the house when I have two people over…”
“Why?” I ask.
“So the second person can comfort Leo.” Mother and I both look at him with furrowed brows. “If no one is here to give Leo any attention, he’ll just keep meowing. He won’t ever shut up.”
“What a princess,” I retort.
“He came from a party-home, where there was always lots of people. He’s not used to being alone.”
There was a short silence before anyone else said a thing. All that could be heard was the continued purring of the ignorant cat in Wallace’s arms.
“You really need to get your act together,” Mother finally gets out. Wallace’s face turns too obviously meek. “You better appreciate this. We didn’t have to do this for you, y’know.” There was that line again.
“I do appreciate this…” Wallace said quietly. Leo’s purring becomes even louder now, loud enough for me to forget about the uncomfortable silence that follows after Wallace’s meager line of defense. Mother and Wallace stare each other down as I continue to gaze at Leo, who looks from person to person, then blinks in indifference. I couldn’t help but feel some strange connection to that cat. Not in the sense that I, myself, have anything related to which the cat exhibits, but the sense that something about him rings eerily similar. Somehow, I feel an air of familiarity with him, despite knowing his existence for a mere few minutes. It was troubling and fascinating all at once.
“Well, get to it. We’re gonna get going.” Mother gives Wallace one last glare as she opens the door to the outside hallway. I follow suit. We’re not three steps out of his home before he suddenly beckons my mother back inside. Cordially, she allows herself one last visit as I slowly make my way back into the truck’s passenger seat. Once there, I can’t help but make note of the cat’s meow, the cat’s purring, and the unusually human-like desire for any sort of attention. Leo was unlike any cat I had ever encountered before. It astounded me greatly more than perhaps it should have.
And to think, it was now within the home of a single individual that would give it all the attention it desired, without ever thinking otherwise. I couldn’t help but find such delicious irony within that tidbit. I found myself imagining, fantasizing, about the fate of the cat named Leo and what the future held for him. Whether he would break free from the natural desire for unwarranted amounts of attention and nurture, or if he would forever remain the most pampered cat.