One Night Only
We were on our way, so we had to stop.
Veloura, my corpulent cargo cultist, was busy daubing rouge and hooker eye shadow on her voluptuosity. I knew nothing of her origins, nor mine, for that matter. We were just here, riding side-by-side, where the story begins.
When I asked her identity, she said, “Veloura.” She had cheeks like an ass and an ass like ancient history. She waved her bat-winged arm at an approaching exit, so I veered the car toward a screeching seizure.
Do as you’re told, or so I’ve been told.
We came to a stop, the old Mercury throbbing and wanting to go, me standing on the brakes to keep it from bucking.
A sign said the cross street was one-way to the left.
Another sign said “Do Not Enter” on the street across from where we sat.
We sat on a one-way freeway exit.
Our phone said our destination, the New Old Flamingo Hotel, was off to the right, but all we could do was turn left.
Even as we did, another sign said: “Do Not Enter.” Two roads in, no roads out. A four-way conglomeration of moving motorized passenger vehicles. I found myself pointed East, needing to go West, when here came another vehicle in full reverse, whipping past me against the flow.
I got the message. I was aimed in the legally correct direction, so if I were to just back up, I’d be where I needed to get, like walking backward into a movie through the Exit door.
We entered a classic California plaza, palm trees, and a gazebo. An AC/DC cover band was ripping it up in the park, but nobody was watching. We pulled to the curb in front of the New Old Flamingo. Between the curb and the hotel, planter wells hosted a row of topiary ducks.
A bellman greeted us. “Nice to see you back,” he said.
“We’ve never been here before,” I said.
“But you backed in,” he said. “Nice.”
He said his name was Leonardo, and he was huge. Leonardo quickly lifted Veloura’s luggage from the trunk, tucked three bags under each arm, pivoted on his heel, and set the bags two feet from the curb.
He grabbed my keys and handed them to a Latino chap, name of Umberto, who jumped into the Merc and left a patch of smoldering rubber as he sped off around the square.
“Where’s he going?” I asked Leonardo.
“The Old Flamingo,” he said and pointed. “No ducks.”
Such ceremony. He next lifted the bags to the deck of a luggage cart, grabbed a pull cord, and yanked its small, well-hidden four-stroke to life. Fumes like mustard gas enveloped us all. Leonardo left us standing there, Veloura adjusting the pillbox hat pinned to a shellacked curl dangling over her capacious brow.
We found our way to the front desk. The attendant wore a tag that said her name was Vincent.
“Hello, Vincent,” I said.
“My name isn’t Vincent,” she said. “It’s Cassandra.”
“Then why does your tag say Vincent?”
“That’s the name of the tag. How can I help you?”
“We’d like a room.”
“For how many nights?”
“Only one night?”
“One night only.”
“Do you have any vacancies?”
“We do. I can put you in a room with two queen beds.”
She looked at her device, then looked up. “I can’t find a button for one night only,” she said. “I can do seven.”
“We only want one.”
“I can do eight, then subtract seven if that works for you?”
“Will we be charged for eight?”
“Yes, but I can give you coupons for the extra seven. Good anywhere, for the next month.”
I glanced at Veloura, but she was oblivious, busy with her makeup.
“Can we get a suite or a plus-size?”
“Not here. We used to size our rooms with Xs. We’d start with an L room. That’s because nobody wants an S room.”
She looked at me to see if I got it. “Small?” she said.
“Right. Large or Larger. So American.”
“Precisely. But that’s too obvious. So, we gave them an XL. Or an XXL. See?”
“I do. Like sweatshirts, only … rooms?”
“You got it. But after that big fire at the X Factory in China, we had to change our M.O. Now we only have Flalicious and Flabuloso and Flamongous. Shows how international we are. Walk through our doors, and you can feel the vibes and rhythms of the New Old Flamingo. Aren’t you glad you’re here?”
“Where else would I be?” I said.
She jumped back, flashing a pair of fiery castanets. She had good clack.
“The world is definitely in a global situation,” she said.
“I see,” I said, thinking this desk attendant might not make much sense, but could be savvy enough to advise us later about a good fish ‘n’ chips joint. She had a plume of pink hair.
“We’ll take whatever space you’ve got,” I said.
I had no idea where this would lead, but I was eager to finish checking in before it was time to check out.
Veloura led the way down the hall, daubing, painting, and spritzing with glee. Leonardo waited for us. The door opened, and an agitated woman attendant backed rapidly through it like she was being chased by carnivorous rats.
“Messy, messy,” she said, waving a wet rag, wiping the door frame, and bending over to mop up what appeared to be soda pop from the floor. She wore a child’s dress, which rode halfway up her buttocks, which were themselves covered in a girl’s cheap cotton bloomers.
She turned and grabbed me by the hand and led me into the room and through a door into a rear space, where she started fiddling with the ignition jets behind the rear burner of a gas range.
“Not at all indispensable,” she said, with some agitation. “Serious potential for adverse implications.”
“Why are you showing me this …?” I asked.
Had we ordered a kitchenette? I didn’t recall the clerk mentioning it.
“Eloise,” she said. “I am Eloise.”
I heard a scrabbling sound and chirping from beneath the stovetop.
“Even mice need a place to stay,” Eloise said and slapped the stovetop, which silenced the mice for a second before a chorus of agitation erupted again from within.
Back in the bedroom, I could see Veloura sitting on a queen bed opposite another queen bed, on which another couple was sitting, both in their underwear, staring at her.
“What brand do you use?” the woman asked Veloura.
“L’Orange,” Veloura said. “It’s like a tan but good for all your various accouterments.”
The woman purred like a cat, nuzzling her husband. “I know you’d love some emollients, but not now,” he said. “Wait till they’re showering.”
Leonardo was down on the floor, picking up dirt with tweezers.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“No, it’s not,” I said, following the cord to the wall where the plug lay on the carpet. I plugged it in, and the vacuum hummed to life.
Leonardo started pushing the machine around our feet and under the beds. He disappeared into the bathroom.
I thought it best to introduce ourselves to the other couple. Wilfred and Letitia were visiting San Recondito for a piano concert.
“That must be hard, traveling without your instrument,” I said. “Did you know you would be double bunking with someone…like us?”
“Never in a million years, but they say that’s one of the upgrades at the New Old Flamingo,” he said. “Apparently, you don’t get that at the Old Flamingo.”
“We had no idea, either,” I said. “This must be what she meant—” I patted the queen mattress “—by available space.”
Wilfred looked at his wife. Just then, there was a knock at the door, and Leonardo opened it to a couple of guys with a furniture dolly.
“Where do you want it?” one asked.
Letitia tittered. “Not now,” Wilfred said, jumping up, pushing their bed against the window air conditioner, and helping the workers roll his piano into place.
Veloura looked at Letitia and asked if she wanted to see her collection of motel courtesy amenities. “I’ve got one of the best assortments of shower caps anywhere,” she said, beaming at her talent for Frenchifying any word, then flicking open the toiletry case where she carried them all from hotel to hotel. She would add maybe six new items at each stop, his and hers soap, shampoo, and conditioner, with the occasional hand cream and shoeshine rag thrown in. Not everybody offered shower caps or sewing kits.
Letitia stared at Veloura, digging her hands into her booty, jumbling it all up like a pirate digging through the treasure chest of gold doubloons. It wasn’t anything like a collection, nothing like a book of stamps cataloged by year and type. It was more like a hoard. Hoards were the opposite of collections. Hoards were like booty. Collections had order. Hoards had mystery that way, and Letitia jumped at the lure like a large-mouth bass chasing a fake rubber frog.
“I haven’t spent a dime on shampoo in twenty years,” Veloura said, “but my lodging costs are…through…the…roof.”
The ladies howled in laughter. Bonding over freebies. Veloura picked up the toiletry case and headed into the bathroom, followed by Letitia. The door closed, and I heard Leonardo’s vacuum kick in.
That left me and Wilfred to ourselves.
“What do you play?” I asked.
He sat down, stretched his fingers, and launched into a pretty decent rendition of “Crocodile Rock.”
When the ladies emerged, I was frugging on top of our bed—I tend to do that when I hear oldies—and barely noticed that they were covered with emollients.
“I let her keep the pink molded flamingo soap, and she gave me conditioner from a hotel in Bisbee,” Letitia said. “Wherever that is.”
She looked at Wilfred. “Did you know that most of these are made in Thailand?”
Leonardo emerged after them, pushing his vacuum with the cord and the plug in his hand.
“Does anybody know why we ended up in the same room?” I asked. “No offense. Just curious. You seem like nice people.”
“I snore,” Letitia said, sitting on the bed. She had one of the biggest noses I’ve ever seen, like a macaw but human. She dipped her hand into a bag of sunflower seeds, stuffed them into her mouth, and started cracking, chewing, and spitting shells all over the floor.
Leonardo saw this, plugged his machine back in, and attacked the shells, but the hail continued. He eventually turned and left.
Wilfred was warming into “Hit the Road, Jack” by Ray Charles when Veloura and I excused ourselves and went into the hall to find something to eat. A crew of workers now lined the width of the hall on their knees, rolling up the carpet. The heads of former employees protruded from both ends of the carpet roll, and they were laughing at the fun of it all.
I had to admit, I had never done that myself, but we were hungry and probably should go somewhere that had prepared food of the edible kind.
As we walked down the hall, Veloura casually swiped her key card in each door lock and pushed the doors open, and every time, we saw Wilfred and Letitia sitting on the bed in their underwear. Not once did I see a piano.
“They’re not guests,” Veloura said. “They’re furnishings. Every room has them.”
I started to say something, then stopped. There were maybe half a dozen luggage carts being pushed our way, and each one carried a piano.
After we reached the hotel portico, I couldn’t find Umberto to retrieve our car, nor could I see it anywhere. The street was completely full of parked cars, and nothing could move forward or backward. The central part of the city had become the valet parking lot for not just the New Old Flamingo Hotel but also for the Old Flamingo Hotel.
A dark cloud hovered over the plaza, thrumming, ululating like Tongan throat singers. I told Leonardo that it looked like rain. He was busy vacuuming the planter boxes beneath the feet of the topiary ducks.
“Drones,” he said. “Every time we lose a car, we put another one up there. They never find the cars, but they seem to like it up there. They’re solar-powered. When the sun goes down, so do they. We call them Splat Bats.”
Veloura slapped her forehead.
“That reminds me,” she wailed. “Our flight leaves in twenty minutes, and I need to get my bags.”
Our flight? Yes! Our flight!
I knew there was something I had been forgetting. And I knew we were going to miss it. I had completely lost sight of the bigger picture when we left the freeway in search of a room. Reminded of our journey, I still wasn’t sure where it would take us. Or, for that matter, who Veloura was.
I didn’t want to admit to Veloura that I didn’t know where we were going, and I didn’t want to go back to the room for emollients, so I told Veloura I remembered a plaza like this from my youth, and it had newsstands on each side, so I would leave her to wait for Umberto and the Merc, while I visited the newsstands in search of nudist magazines. I had a serious thing for homely naked people smiling in the sun on either side of a volleyball net.
When I returned without any magazines, I told Veloura that I had decided instead to take up smoking and offered her an unfiltered Pall Mall, which she took in a very elegant fashion. She held it to her lips as if she had done this a million times, and as Umberto strolled up and told us he couldn’t find our car, I struck a match and lit Veloura’s smoke, and after she inhaled, she passed the glowing cigarette to me, and I hit it too.
I noticed my ex-wife standing in the shade of a large oak tree across the street in the plaza. Staring at me. Like she did. She had been following me for years. She looked like a memory, shady, not quite in focus.
“Let’s walk,” I said to Veloura.
“Can we do that?” Veloura asked.
I told her we could, and more than that, we had better get going if we hoped to catch our flight. Not that we had a snowball’s chance, but we had to try. While we walked, I could search my pockets for our tickets. Mine, anyway. I wasn’t sure if Veloura even had one.
That’s when I took my first step away from the New Old Flamingo Hotel. We had to go, so we were on our way.
About the Author
Stuart Watson wrote for newspapers in Anchorage, Seattle, and Portland. His writing appears in Yolk Literary Journal, Barzakh, Two Hawks Quarterly, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Bloom, FewerThan500.com, Mystery Tribune, Bending Genres, 433, Flash Boulevard, Revolution John, Montana Mouthful, Sledgehammer Lit, Five South, Shotgun Honey, Lowestoft Chronicle, The Writing Disorder, Grey Sparrow Journal, Reckon Review, and Pulp Modern Flash, among others. He lives in Oregon, with his wife and their amazing dog.