It was a little after ten when she walked in. Dad was wiping down the desk, and I was emptying out the spittoons. She was tall, attractive in a careworn manner, and alone.
“Can I help you ma’am?”
“I need a room for the night. Are there any available?”
“I’m sorry ma’am, we’re full up.”
“It’s Miss. Not Ma’am. I’m no longer married.”
“No, I doubt that you do. But I don’t mind.”
“Well,…Miss, we don’t have any rooms here, so maybe you…”
At that, Dad came around the desk, and stopped me.
“Would you like to have a seat, miss?”
“Yes, thanks you.”
“David, move some of your things into my room for the night. We’ll be bunking together.”
“But… we don’t even know this…”
He didn’t need to add anything. At 35 years old, I still jumped whenever that old man said “Frog,” and probably always would. When I came back downstairs, he and the woman were deep in conversation. They looked up when I came into the room, not like they’d been doing anything wrong, exactly. More like they had been sharing something that I wasn’t going to be part of no matter how much explanation I received.
After I showed her to her (my) room, I went to Dad’s room, and stretched out on the pallet I’d made up on the floor.
“Why did you let her stay?”
“Son, she’s got nothing left. Her husband was killed in the War, and she tried to keep the place he’d made for them. She couldn’t, and now she’s running back to Mama and Daddy Back East, like she swore she’d never do. She’s given up her life, her pride, and everything she’s known. If I can give her back a little touch of something by letting her sleep here for one night, then that’s the least I can do.”
“She told you all that while I was upstairs.”
“No, she didn’t tell me any of that. I knew it the second I looked up across the room at her; saw that ring on her left hand, and that empty look in her eyes. Maybe when you’ve spent 30 years watching people check in here on their way up, down and sideways through life, you’ll see it too.”
I stood behind that desk for another 40 years, but I never did.
Go to Shane’s Blog to see the picture and read other stories.