Cooper Motel by Leah Mueller

I fell in love with red-haired twin brothers
who ran a highway fruit stand on Route 36 in Tuscola. They
discussed the price of apples with me
for my social studies assignment,
which involved pretending to eat for a week in Canada
on a limited budget. I loved Canada,
imagined it as the stream-filled environment
I’d seen only on beer commercials,
where friendly bears and reindeer
scampered beside my tent, or hovered
majestically in the distance. The twins had
an apple sale, six for a dollar. I recorded
this in my spiral notebook, transformed
their words and numbers into a story, one
in which I got the hell out of downstate Illinois,
and lived beside a river, high on fruit.
My teacher gave me an A-plus.


Soon after, I returned to the stand,
but it was empty: the brothers fled like gypsies
into the highway, leaving nothing behind
but a styrofoam coffee cup on the window ledge.


My mother was unsympathetic,
she said “Thank God” when I told her.
My visits to the twins filled her with suspicion.
I brooded alone in my room, tried to understand
what had motivated the brothers,
where they had gone with the fruit, if
they had eaten everything, or sold it
at the last minute for a low price, or had simply
thrown the fruit into the back of their car
and driven away. My mother told me
to think about something else, and eventually I did.


I made a new friend named Bobbie, who’d recently
moved to town from Florida
because she was both wild and suicidal.
Her parents couldn’t handle her,
so they shipped her to Illinois
to live with her minister dad. Her new parents
took her to see Christian movies, and I went along
because I was bored, and had no
other friends. Bobbie liked Cat Stevens
and already had the nicotine monkey
on her back: she always whipped out
a pack of cigarettes from her purse, as soon
as her parents were out of sight, then
talked about boys while she paced and smoked.

Bobbie had a massive crush on
the scariest boy in school, a guy named Bill
whose parents ran the local motel,
strategically located on Route 36
beside the L and K Truck Plaza—
my favorite stop for fried chicken
while l listened to jukebox renditions of
“Third-Rate Romance, Low-Rent Rendezvous.”
I’d never set foot in the parking lot
of the motel, thinking it akin to
placing my limbs into a vat of boiling oil,
but Bobbie loved Bill, and wanted to
surprise him at his father’s business,
then maybe offer him a little something, while I
waited in the parking lot like an idiot.

Bobbie felt a sudden need for grooming,
but couldn’t locate a comb in her purse.
After looking underneath the bleachers
behind the school, she finally gave up, decided
she didn’t need to brush her hair after all,
and looked fine the way she was. We wandered
toward the motel, Bobbie giggling
like we were still in junior high.
When we arrived, Bill’s dad told us
we had just missed Bill, and he didn’t have
any idea what time his son would be home.
Later, Bobbie was absorbed into Bill’s group
with enthusiasm: there were rumors of orgies
followed by another suicide attempt, and she
was sent back to her mother’s house to live.

The motel stayed open, while its neon sign
grew older. The bulbs slowly burned out
one by one, obliterating entire letters,
until finally none of them worked.
Bill shot himself in an alcohol-fueled rage, and
someone moved the sign across the highway
to the parking lot of an auto dealership, where it
still rots, rusty and proud, its pockmarked surface
adorned with tropical palm trees and cartoon travelers
delighted to find such a comfortable place to sleep.

The Holiday Inn and the Baymont exist nearby
for folks who want to pretend they’re
slumbering in luxury, but Cooper Motel
still offers its sinister one-star accommodations
to weary downstate Illinois travelers, although
its sign is located on the opposite side of the road.

I saw one of the twins four years
after the brothers’ abrupt and mysterious departure:
he was selling fruit from the back
of his truck, parked beside the highway
a hundred miles from Tuscola, and I stopped my car
to buy a watermelon. He recognized me immediately,
said his brother was doing fine,
but had decided to give up selling fruit
in favor of a more lucrative profession.

I never discovered what happened to Bobbie,
whether she found the approval she sought
with such urgency, or continued to live a life
of guilty dissolution. I suspect the latter, but
perhaps that’s not bad, since it would still mean
she failed in her mission to obliterate herself.
Despite middle age and cynicism,
I feel the same way about Canada
as I did when I was fourteen,
and look forward to the day
when I can finally recline in a chair
beside the river, calmly eating apples
while I gaze at the sky and dream about escape.

 

*Leah Mueller is an independent writer from Tacoma, Washington. She is the author of one chapbook, Queen of Dorksville (Crisis Chronicles Press, 2012), and two books, Allergic to Everything (Writing Knights Press, 2015) and The Underside of the Snake (Red Ferret Press, 2015). Leah was a winner in the 2012 Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest, and a featured poet at the 2015 New York Poetry Festival. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Blunderbuss, Memoryhouse, Atticus Review, Open Thought Vortex, Sadie Girl Press, Origins Journal, Silver Birch Press, and many other publications.