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July 6, 2010

After the second set of sliding glass doors, we entered the lobby of the Mount Airy Microtel, and for the first time in my life I walked up to the registration desk and asked for a room without a reservation. It was after midnight, and the boy I’d just roused from sleep was enthralled by the aquarium.

“Look, Mommy, fish!” he said from across the room. “Come see the fish.”

I was watching the cursor blink on the green-black monitor on the other side of the registration desk while the late night attendant walked over and began clicking keys to enter my credit card information. She seemed like the kind of woman who’d spent a lot of years on the night shift, at convenience stores selling beer in brown paper bags or at the Waffle House going home smelling of grease and cigarettes.

I imagined she was grateful for the quiet at the Microtel in the dark hours. She didn’t talk much, didn’t need to.  The loudest thing in the room, aside from my son, was the dot-matrix printer that zipped out my receipt for $59.99 plus tax.  I half expected to get an actual key to the room. I walked back over toward the door after she handed me the key card, saying only 117 and pointing in a wide circle around and to the right.

“Come on, baby, let’s go to our room,” I said to Elisio.

He looked up at me, looked back at the fish, and then reached up his arms.

“You’re too big for me to carry you,” I said.

I usually say this, unless of course he’s hurt or I’m just feeling particularly keenly how his little boy moments are fleeting. This time I know he’s tired but I’ve got too much to carry: our suitcase, my computer bag, and the reusable grocery bag full of his racing cars, including three different talking Lightning McQueens.

The room is dark when I crack it open. The excitement he’d felt at helping me slide in the plastic card with the magnetic strip that made the little green light come on, well it faded pretty quickly as I fumbled my fingers in search of the switch. I was a little scared too, thinking for the first time that a mother and son east coast road trip to our new home in New Haven might not be the greatest idea.

The room was adequate. There was a small, scratchy love seat, and Elisio immediately grabbed one of his racing cars, jumped up onto it and started bouncing on his knees while he vroomed the car back and forth on the back of the furniture. I walked through the mini-suite turning on lights: the one by the bed next to the floor-to-ceiling mirror that stood in place of a headboard attached to the wall; the one over the little dresser next to the wardrobe, where there was a t.v. perched that I almost couldn’t reach to turn on, the one in the tiny bathroom that made me decide it was probably okay to wait and take a bath the next night, and finally, the one next to the love seat that illuminated my happy boy who now seemed hours instead of moments away from falling asleep.

There was a little sink on an island between the sleeping and seating areas, so I started opening cabinets looking for a drinking glass to pour us some water to sit on the night stand next to the bed.  No luck. I grabbed brass handles on six cabinet doors and opened and closed six creaking hinges without finding anything we could drink out of. I ended up cupping my fingers under the faucet and slurped up a few sips of cool mountain water.

“Are you thirsty?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

I spied the remote control and reached for it, scanning through channels until I came across Nick, Jr.

“A kid show!” Elisio said, “I want to watch that kid show!”

We don’t have tv, so we instead subject ourselves to the same minimal collection of DVDs and the few dozen streaming episodes of Kipper, Caillou, Dora the Explorer and Diego that are available on Netflix.  I decide to let him watch it, thinking the diversion will take my mind off the fact that he and I are sleeping in a strange bed in a small town that just happened to be the closest and cheapest place to sleep and gas up before the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I turn down the air conditioner.

“It’s really cold here,” he’d said when I lifted him out of his car seat and plunked his orange Crocs down on the yellow stripe that divided the parking spaces in the Microtel parking lot.

“Really?” I’d asked, smiling because 62 degrees must have felt chilly coming from the heat of Miami and then Atlanta in the last few days.  “You don’t know what you’ve got coming.” I thought, knowing that at the end of this journey was Connecticut, where in a few months he’d really feel cold, something I was sure he couldn’t remember from his first year in Providence.

I’d opened the hatchback and fished around until I found his pullover, the one he’d only worn twice that was decorated with a little red crab on the zipper pull that made me think of New England.

Air conditioning seemed redundant in this part of North Carolina, where the air was thinner and cooler at the foothills of the Blue Ridge. In fact, even though he is a sweaty sleeper, we snuggled up under the clean sheet and beige velour blanket – I’d thrown back the comforter immediately – and then I hopped back out to make the rounds of the room again, this time turning off all the lights.

I saved the one next to the bed until last, not wanting him to get frightened again, even though the flickering cotton candy light of Nick, Jr. was beaming down from near the ceiling.

“I’ll be right back,” I said from the light switch next to the door, bolting it shut and pulling across the little metal thing just in case.

He didn’t respond, engrossed in a treat as addictive as the candy and Cheetos I knew I’d be indulging him while he sat patiently in the back seat for the next couple thousand miles.

“Elisio?” I said, needing to hear his voice, maybe  needing to make sure he was there before I dashed across the dark toward the little light next to his head.

“What, Mommy?” he finally said when I was standing at the foot of the bed looking at him tucked in there, my arm reached up just about ready to turn off the television.

“Nothing, baby,” I said. “It is time to say goodnight.”

He started to protest, but then didn’t, just reaching up for me to hold him as I crawled back under the unfamiliar covers and into his little arms.

One Comment leave one →
  1. David F. permalink
    July 6, 2010 11:04 pm

    Haste Ye Back. I hope your journey concluded uneventfully.

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