April 29, 2022
by Holly Pelesky
This is the first place I’ve lived that knows darkness like I do. How it’s felt as much as seen. At the right hour, even the shadows have shadows and at a later hour, the dark grows heavier and colder, so cold that darkness feels a part of my body, like a hanger for my skin.
Berl says there are bears here that roam through those pine trees on either side of the highway, but I’ve never seen one. My fear feels comfortable here. Here it’s something unfamiliar, not lodged inside my ribcage. I think after hibernation season I’ll start hiking, see if I remember how to climb.
Berl keeps up the motel and knows my name.
“Delaney,” he said, considering it.
“It means from the alder grove,” I told him, although he didn’t ask.
He learned my name once he finally stopped asking where I’m headed. Berl says everyone else who stops at the Winter Queen Lodge is passing through: hunters, hikers, road trippers, work crews.
I told him I’m not. That I’ve hung paper chains every color in the construction paper palette from the ceiling of my room here where the coffee tastes like mud but is warm in a mug against my hands all the same.
Today I was in the motel lobby, sitting on that worn, stained sofa, reading a newspaper from last week. I didn’t know it was uncurrent events. It’s hard to tell here, the time moves like the light—unpredictably. News is inessential and most of it is about Portland which has nothing to do with us out here on Highway 26. This newspaper had a story about a woman named Susan from Montavilla who came home to a note from her husband and the hitman he hired hiding behind her bedroom door.
“Some story, huh?” Berl said from across the room.
Usually I would have frightened, but Berl isn’t like that. He has been making the coffee just for me each morning, has been slipping books into the towels he leaves outside my door. He makes sure the sidewalk is salted before it snows and only smokes his cigarettes after he sees me drive off to the grocer.
“It’s nice to have a different reason to be afraid,” I said.
Berl said nothing. There was a pause long enough for a Freightliner to haul itself up the hill.
“You know what I found the other day, cleaning out the attic?” Berl asked.
“Bats,” I said. “A colony of bat skeletons, their meat chewed off by rats.”
“Jesus, you’re dark,” he said, but he smiled. I watched him cross over to the front desk and rummage some papers around with a grunt. Then he held up what he was looking for.
I said nothing, just looked at him with the newspaper lowered to my lap.
“They used to make postcards of places like this one. People used to write home, send notes of their travels.”
“That’s nice,” I said but I didn’t mean it.
“They’re just going to waste here, thought maybe you could use them,” he said, holding them out to me.
“I’m alright,” I said, lifting the newspaper back to my face.
“There must be someone who wants to hear from you,” he said, although I noticed he had dropped the postcards back into the pile of papers that would never be sorted through, filed away.
For the briefest of seconds, I caught myself remembering the trees that aren’t these pines, the trees I knew before—the way the sun glinted through their trunks in the afternoon, his hand on my back, my mouth shaped like a cry for help and the whole scene suspending itself in a time and place no one knew I needed to be saved from.
“I even have stamps,” Berl said, shuffling through a drawer.
But he and I both know I’m not asking anyone to come get me here.
Holly Pelesky writes essays, fiction and poetry. She received her MFA from the University of Nebraska. Her prose can be found in The Normal School, Okay Donkey, and Jellyfish Review. Her collection of letters to her daughter, Cleave, will be released by Autofocus Books in August. She works, coaches slam poetry, and raises boys in Omaha.