The lodger

Covid-19.  Cast upon the shoals of an abrupt divorce and the sudden loss of gainful employment during the great pandemic, I found myself self-sheltering in an extended stay motel, no less named the American InTown Suites, perched on the northern swale Colorado Springs right where Interstate-25 delves deep into the city.  Situated at acute angles where Fleming meets Packer Avenues, isolated from all the other buildings in the scattered commercial Center of the city, the not quite contemporary white-washed brick edifice held two hundred or so souls that might have passed for a small ocean cruiser if it just had a hull.  It was my personal ark.  Here on the high plains of the United States, where the buffalo are now extinct, and all the other interesting creatures that god committed to the earth shoved aside by sheep, cow, or horse, Noah couldn’t manage to round up a menagerie of all animals, nor would the deluge come.  But of the creatures it did collect were nearly as interesting and and no less as exotic.

Arriving nearly a month before the pandemic reached the coasts, I’d just been expunged from the ranch-style house amid the barren shale and constricting scrub in Fountain, south of the Springs on the Great Empty of eastern Colorado.  After my job was terminated when the economy tanked, I hung on under increasingly shrill and stinging comments from my wife culminating one night of sturm and drang` telling me she was entangled in an affair with a construction contractor.  Though I’d seen the end of the marriage coming from a long way off, the knowledge of the affair was a shock and stung like a towel-snap in the locker room.  So began the darkness.  I gathered myself up In American InTown Suites as I looked for employment, any kind of employment.

From the window of the second floor room they assigned me, loomed the summit and steeply sloping flanks of Pikes Peak.  In the mornings, I liked to sip my coffee and eat my toast gazing at dawn’s early rays play out monk’s cowl of the burly massif.

Before my making my cellular phone calls for a suitable monetary assignment, I took the staircase for a cigarette on the stoop of the back entrance.  There I was  joined by a dim, dreary elderly woman whose constricted world twirled at a slower speed than that for the rest of members of voyage. “Good Morning,” I’d always hail.  She’d pause in mid-shuffle, her mouth twisting about the toothless gums, the eyes lacking all luster lighting up briefly, the words slowly welling up within her, “Morning.”  As she grabbed the guardrail, slowly settling down to her share of the stoop, I’d ceaselessly enquire as to her being.  This too seemed to summon something from a deep well.  “Fine, fine.” she’d say.  “Just fine.”  With tremulous hands she’d light up.  We sat and smoked quietly.

Returning to my room every day was like something from a Fellini flick: roiling children squirting out of doorways, running down the hallway, chased by a frazzled parent figure; couples hurling epithets at loudly at each other behind closed doors, like the gods hurling threats down from the heights of Mount Olympus; manual laborers, both documented and undocumented, striding wearily in single file, wearing fluorescent silvery safety vests, weary, barely woken; and, souls of all sexes sauntering down the passage with enough metal body-piercing to pick up astral radio waves emanating from the event horizon.  Sometimes the people I passed dabble in the simple amenities of bidding one hello, but most of the time it was just like two ships passing in the night.  Tribes collected in the back parking lot to smoke or trade in the rumors of the community.  Once, when I first arrived at the InTown Suites, there was a truck with a lowboy loading a shining silver Acura onto its back.  When i asked one of the two men with the truck, they told me they were repossessing the vehicle.

But the strangest of the strangers I felt distantly akin to on this piece of their life’s journey I encountered one day as I went to do my laundry at the other end of the hallway.  A block-shaped figure, he possessed all the ponderous seriousness and solidity of a bank vault.   Tall, but not towering, arms limp he passed me in the corridor, aimlessly, and inaudibly muttering to himself.  “Uhh.  Uhh.  Mmmmg!”  I pretended not to hear him.  Staring into his blank, lusterless eyes, it appeared to me he scarcely heard himself.  Those eyes as dark and dim and faraway as long abandoned mine tunnel in the nearby Rockies, looked capable of great things untoward.  Striking a forward gaze, he didn’t seem to see me as I passed him in the hallway.  Pale and rough as Plaster of Paris, his nose appeared once broken and the bridge of it, as well as the sphere of his complexion was scalloped and heaped up with acne scars.  “Hey, hey,” he bayed to no one.  Once past him, I turned around to see his figure retreat down the long hallway.  Gazing at him, his broad-based gait apparent, he strode down the hallway as casually as if he were strolling down Main Street.  In his recession to the other end of the building his presence seemed no less troubling.  I saw him in the hallways whenever I sallied forth to do my laundry or to put quarters in the coke machine that stood in an alcove near the elevators to slake my thirst.    He was always in a white T-shirt, denim jeans and white socks and tennis shoes.  Always he was muttering some primal and guttural utterance to himself and no other.  With laundry soap in one hand and a laundry sack full of dirty clothes I easing myself farther and farther towards the wainscoting to skirt his private and personal world.  Never did his eyes flicker in my direction.

Solid steel doors guarded the rooms of InTown Suites.  Steel metal doors separated the hallway from the rooms.  A spring would usually close the door behind one in departing, but there were times when the door did not fully clasp and it was possible to open the door without a key.  I always tried to lock the door with a firm hand when I left.

There was one day, though, that I forgot to.  On my way down the hallway to the laundry room, I passed the man that I referred to myself as “Butkis” the Midway mauler, for that is what he reminded me of.  Throwing my laundry into the machines, and pouring soap on them, I returned to my room.  Butkis was nowhere to be seen.  When I let myself into my room. there he was in front of the television.  He stared at the picture of Julia Roberts playing on the TV screen in “The Pelican Brief.”  My heart skipped a beat when I saw him there.  Not moving, I stood there dumbly holding my empty dirty clothes bag.  I started to speak, but he was muttering to himself.  After a few moments, his gaze like a pit viper’s swung in my direction.  In the hand that I could not see until he turned, he held a knife.  It was my pocket knife; one I had placed on my table.  Its blade was extended.  He raised it forward at half-mast.  I was beginning to panic.  I set down the laundry bag and the half-full red plastic bottle of Tide.  He began muttering to himself.  He sounded like a rumpled child trying to repeat the alphabet in first grade, but made less sense.

Continuing to turn, the knife wheeling with him, he was soon en face to me, scarcely two yards away.  Clasping and unclasping the knife he gazed at it, looking once or twice to glance up at me.  I hadn’t moved.  Neither had he, except for his hands, playing with the knife.  No one was there to help me.   No one to implore.  With the knife blade extended, he began tossing the knife from hand-to-hand, the extended blade pointing in my direction.

Then he glanced down at the dirty carpet and after a few moments gazed at the knife, bringing it up to his face, as though he was seeing it for the first time.  He took a step to the right, and a step towards me.  Now by the desk of the motel room, he gently set down the knife and passed by me and back into the hallway.

As soon as he crossed the threshold, I closed the door behind him.  Immediately, I walked over to my nightstand.  I picked up the receiver and dialed the front desk.  “That crazy man that wanders the hallway wandered into my room.

“Oh, Lloyd?  “He’s harmless.”

 

 

By Joseph Dylan