Uncas’ car was a brown-colored old Saab that’s seen better days. There was a metallic squeal when Wilburn opened the passenger-side door. The smell inside was odd. There was trash strewn about.
“Sorry about the mess,” Uncas said, embarrassed. “My wife and I are having marital problems and I’ve been kind of living in and out of my car lately when I can’t afford a room. Pharm Farm doesn’t pay people shit. Surprise, surprise.”
Uncas slammed his door with an angry thud. There were specially installed bars and handles for him to be able to operate the car without having to reach the foot pedals. He leaned, turned the key and it sputtered to life.
Uncas put the car in gear and pulled out of the glossy parking lot and onto a road that connected to another. He turned right. The metal moon was blue, low, and bright. It cast a glow across the soft desert. Wilburn thought he saw bent figures moving in the fields out there — in those rectangular patches etched into the hard earth around it and splashed with the light the color of spilled milk.
Uncas fussed with the radio trying to find music to break the awkward silence but all that came across were the familiar weird vibrations and messages that came from somewhere else.
“Extraterrestrials, those not of this Earth,” said Uncas, and his eyes quickly darted upward, through the metal roof of his beat down, beat up car and all the way to space. “They keep messing with us down here, but not enough people pay attention.”
Wilburn tried to focus on his thoughts as the car bounced along the late-night road toward the guts of Giza, New Mexico. “You believe in that sort of thing?” he finally replied.
“That sort of thing?”
“Yeah. That sort of thing.”
“What kind of question is that? It’s all I believe. It’s everything I believe. It’s all I can believe. The star people are the creators. What do you believe?”
“Well, I was born into the generalized idea of religion. You know, church on Sunday, Jesus on the cross, God up in Heaven, sins and hell and all that.”
“Yeah. And how’s that been working out for you all this time?”
“It hasn’t. I want to say I don’t believe all that, but, when it’s in your blood, it’s kind of hard to get rid of… I can say, with all my own truth, that it’s never done me a bit of any good.”
“Hmm. Sounds like you need to get out more and take a real look around for yourself. Perhaps you were baptized into the untruth.” Then, after a long patch of silence, “Here it is.”
The car came to a slow roll in front of a roadside motel, the tires crunching on gravel. There was a fluttering pink neon sign shaped like a bird and the light bounced off the surrounding landscape of rocks and brush — Crane Valley Motel. Vacancy.
“This be okay?” Uncas asked.
Wilburn scanned the area with his tired eyes. “Looks fine to me. Thanks.”
“All right. I hope you find whatever you have lost.”
Wilburn got out of the vehicle and strange little Uncas drove off. He watched as the red tail-light dots grew smaller and then disappeared completely. He turned and realized someone was standing out in front of the motel office smoking a cigarette.
“Do you need a room?”
“Yes. Do you have one?” Wilburn stepped closer.
“I do.” The man studied him. “You don’t have any luggage?”
Wilburn searched around himself in earnest. “No. Just my backpack.”
“Lost it, I suppose,” the smoking man pointed out.
“No, just a minimalist.”
The man looked at him as if he didn’t understand. “Well then. Just as long as you’re not up to no good. I guess it’s all right. Not so much me. I don’t care what people do, but it’s my wife. She doesn’t like people coming here with those unclean prostitutes. Gives us a bad reputation, she says. Mostly truckers do that though. You don’t seem to be a trucker.” He looked over the parking lot. It was empty. “I don’t see a truck.”
“I’m not a trucker, just a traveler.”
“Oh yeah? A traveler without luggage or a truck.” The man laughed to himself, coughed, and snuffed the cigarette in an oval ash can tray. “Ah hell. I’m just messing with you. As you can tell, I’m glad to have the business no matter what way it comes. Step inside and we’ll get you registered.”
The office was small and bright and smelled of disinfectant and flowers and oldness. The man stepped behind the counter. He was thin and his tan face was taut and wrinkled. He awkwardly maneuvered a pair of wire-framed glasses onto his face, sniffed and opened a registration log. “All right then.” He handed Wilburn a pen and turned the logbook toward him. “If you’d just fill out that information there for me, and how would you like to pay?
He looked over the previous entries out of curiosity and in three different spots he saw the name Uncas Bravo had been written in. Wilburn scratched his own name into the next blank space. “Why do you need my address?”
“No, just want to know why you need my address?”
“In case you leave something behind, we can send it you. That a problem? I can’t rent you a room if you don’t provide us an address. It’s our policy.”
Wilburn made something up and turned the log back around to the man. He looked it over. “Hmm, Mr. Valentine, is it? All the way from Santa Monica, California?” He looked up at him, suspicious. “That’s a long way to go without any luggage and a car, don’t you think?” He laughed, sputtered, coughed.
“You should quit.”
“Quit smoking and quit asking questions about my traveling, no disrespect.”
The man sheepishly looked away, removed his glasses, and rubbed at his eyes. “That’ll be $65 then.”
Wilburn withdrew cash from his wallet and set it on the counter. “If I decide to stay longer than one night, will that be okay?”
The man scratched at his face and thought. “Yep, just fine, sir. Should be at least. Just let me or my wife know by noon tomorrow. Her name’s Mandie. I’m Sid, by the way.” He pushed the room key across the counter with the tips of his fingers. “Room 17. All the way at the end there. Should be nice and quiet and private. My wife will have fresh coffee and donuts set out here in the morning, no extra charge. The Thundercloud Diner there serves up a pretty good breakfast, too. Give us a ring if you need anything. Can’t promise we’ll answer but give us a ring. Goodnight now.”
Wilburn Valentine sat on the edge of the bed in room 17 drinking water from a paper cup. The room was small and dim. One of the walls was wood paneling. The other walls were cinder block painted a dull yellow. There was a small round table beneath a hanging lamp with an amber glass ashtray dumped and wiped clean set down in the middle. There was the smell of past lives, quick sex, loneliness, and lingering cigarette smoke.
He turned on the TV to the Weather Channel. The hosts were celebrating wildfires and hurricanes and all-around global devastation. He kept the volume low. He went into the bathroom and clicked on the bright light. It was clean. He undressed and looked at himself in the mirror. He was in decent shape still. He pulled the shower curtain aside and reached to turn on the water. He gathered the small samples of shampoo and soap from the sink counter. He stepped in, activated the shower, and let the world around him fill with steam.
Wilburn Valentine was an impatient man and it aggravated him. At the age of 59.5 he felt the end was coming closer and closer. Now more than ever. He hated wasting time. Hated it. He felt every moment should have purpose and value, be meaningful, productive, full. He felt he was constantly being chased by that reminder of time always draining away, that ever-ticking clock, those subtle sweeps of the hands, that endless feeling that “I must do something, I must get somewhere, I must accomplish something great!”
Not practicing mindfulness was one of his greatest weaknesses. But what is life if not for the small, simple moments that merely present themselves? His quandary.
Yet he was a man who squandered most of his life away worrying about not squandering his life away. He didn’t know if it was a defect in birth or motivation or if he was just overwhelmed all the time. He envied those that accomplished things in life. He questioned his own talents. He questioned his own intelligence. Self-doubt lingered in him always.
He stood in his room at the Crane Valley Motel with just a white, thin towel wrapped around his waist and he was mindlessly looking at the TV and rapidly clicking through the channels. Nothing interested him. Maybe that was his problem. Nothing kept his interest anymore. It was all thoughtless crap. He clicked it off. He swallowed some of the chamomile capsules with some water. He turned down the sheet and thin blanket on the bed and released the towel from his waist and crawled in. He reached over and clicked off the light on the bedside table. It was quiet and dark except for a narrow glow from the parking lot coming in through a gap in the curtains. He turned on his side, facing away from it, and tried to escape into the world of sleep.
You can read the previous excerpt from this novel HERE.