Hau Tree Green

A couple of days and a whole lot of miles later, I stood in the parking lot of a motor court hotel called ‘The Sand Castle’. The sign in front promised that the rooms were air-conditioned. It was the kind of place where maids wiped dirty drinking glasses with used bath towels, then slipped them into paper sleeves that said ‘sanitized for your protection’. As long as there was a working ice machine in the hall, I didn’t much care.

Behind me, the Ford's engine ticked as it cooled. It was late afternoon, and I was tired. I had left the Mexican border at sunup, and after a day behind the wheel I wanted three things: a cold drink, something to eat, and a quiet place to close my eyes for a few hours. It didn't matter what order they came in.

I got my suitcase out of the back of the car and set it down. There was a line of small trees decorating the edge of the lot, and the ground under my feet was littered with fallen blossoms. They smelled dark green, a strange fermented perfume that went well with the air coming off of the ocean.

A woman left the sidewalk and moved across the lot toward me. When she got close enough she stood still, to let me get a good look at her. She moved as though she had just gotten up from a nap. Her blue dress was dingy, her lipstick looked hurried, and I caught a whiff of booze. On top, it smelled fresh, but underneath it carried the stale reek of bad habit.

“You staying here, mister?” she asked.

I said that I was, and she looked at my suitcase and shifted her weight from one foot to the other.

“You want some company?” she asked. “Buy a girl some dinner and a drink, maybe?”

Company was the last thing I wanted, but I was too slow saying so, and something like hope crossed her tired face.

“I could use a bath first,” she said. “A place to lie down for a little while.”

She was awfully young, and somehow didn’t look the type. She was pretty enough. If she was cleaned up and treated right, she might have been more than just pretty. There was a slight coarseness to her complexion, though, the kind that comes from sleeping too often in unfamiliar places. I fished out my wallet, and handed her a five.

“Get yourself a bath, a place to lie down, and some dinner,” I said. “It will have to be without me, though. I’m busy right now.”

The hurt in her eyes surprised me. She took the money I held out, though. The fingers that brushed mine were ice cold.

“Suit yourself,” she said. “Thanks for the date.”

I watched her walk back across the parking lot, and then I picked up my bag. I wondered what her story was, but only briefly. You hear a lot of stories in my line of work, and you learn not to get interested unless you’re being paid for it. Maybe she and I weren’t all that different.

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