From the Archive: “Here at the Starlight Motel,” by Andrea Barrett

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Fiction by Andrea Barrett from our Fall 1987 issue.

I had to leave ten bucks at the front desk before the clerk would turn on the phone.

“I’m just making a local call,” I said. “Just one.”

He picked at his nails and said “Those are the rules. If you’ve got a credit card I’ll take that instead.” Then he smiled, knowing I hadn’t checked in under my name.

I gave him the money, which left me with four dollars and a little change. Then I called Robbie Calkins’ house in Chesterfield for the first time ever. He gave me his number early on, just for an emergency; I wouldn’t have called except I knew his wife was gone.

“Just come for a drink,” I said. “I’m at the motel.” I could hear his daughters playing near the phone and his mother-in-law screeching at them. I knew he had to be going crazy.

“Well…” he said. He waffled a bit and then he came — he always does. He doesn’t have the willpower God gave a goat. Which isn’t to say he doesn’t have other things. He’s brown-eyed and big: six-foot three, two-thirty or so, and running a little to fat, which I never liked in a man but didn’t much mind in him. He has beautiful hands, and a smile that says everything’s easy. And although he’s only twenty-eight, not much older than me, he has a wife and three kids and a beat-up car with a baby-seat in the back. He has responsibilities.

He didn’t say about those until later. I didn’t know — until I finished school and went to work in the office at the fertilizer plant in Leverett, I only went out with single men. I was fine, and then Robbie transferred in from the plant, took over a desk, and flirted with me more than any single man I knew. Robbie made my breath stop the day he first walked in and every day afterwards; Robbie teased me until I kissed him in a parking lot one night and came here to the Starlight Motel with him another. Once we were here, he talked to me until I fell in love and couldn’t stop listening, and when I did the world went black and grey on me like an old TV show not worth watching. He’s been my lover, on and off, for ten months.

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“Here at the Starlight Motel” later appeared in the novel Secret Harmonies (Washington Square Press, 1989) under the title “The Apple Picker Hits the Road.”

Image: Fitch, Steve. “Motel, Highway 85, Deadwood, South Dakota.” 1972. Gelatin silver print. The Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

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