Room by J. Malcom Garcia

The hotel where the Memphis welfare office placed him did not have a working shower. The cracked sink in his room sagged off the wall. When he complained, his case worker threatened to discontinue him. Her voice one long unspooling curl of do’s and don’ts. He left her office and she closed the door behind him. He smelled. A nasty funk turned his head sharply when he raised his arms or spread his legs to stretch. His shirts had dark lines ground into the collars. He stayed up nights and slept in the day avoiding behind closed eyes the bright light exposing the emptiness of his room. When he woke up the sun would be setting. Expanding shadows concealed the sink and cracked walls in the fading light reminding him of the musty attic in his grandmother’s house with its cobwebs and mildew. He turned on his radio for the company of other better-off voices, and listened to his own conversation with the crumpled Penthouse he kept stuffed between the ruined pipes of the rust-stained sink. Turning to the fold-out, he apologized for the cockroaches. He said that before inviting people over he normally swept the floor, cleaned the hot plate, pots, everything, leaving not a crumb to attract bugs or rats. Miss June listened patiently holding a bottle of champagne between her breasts. Surf bubbled up in surging foam around her ankles, and salty ocean air puffed up her hair carelessly, thick and wild about her face. She tasted a wet blond strand with her tongue and smiled. Her eyes beckoned him with a wink. He raised her above him toward the columned skyline. The reflected glow of city lights burned gold across the evening sky. She pursed her lips over the bottle and blew him a kiss. He leaned forward, and she pressed her fingers against his mouth and whispered, Shh. . .let’s not worry about cleaning up now.