By Kaia Hobson
If I had to feel even a grain of dirt in my sweat soaked socks again, I would never return. Even Reno was more pleasant than the trip. I had made it to my hotel after nine hours in the car, not including the four bathroom and stretching pitstops where I had attracted all this dirt. Deserts were beautiful on my computer’s screensaver, and the crunch the dusty gravel made under my sneaker was a pleasing sound, but I’d rather observe from afar. However, Salt Lake City seemed different. The surrounding mountains were fresh, like something that would emit cold, clean air.
I stepped into the hotel shower, and immediately stepped back out. The water back home heated in less than a couple seconds. I waited until the temperature matched my insides — I wanted no contrast. As I watched clear water turn gray upon hitting my toes, the thought of dinner floated around inside my head.
I was right about the cold. Perhaps it was the combination of my wet hair, or the fact that I had left the hotel without a coat, as I had come from the desert. This prompted me to walk into the closest restaurant, a burger-joint. I sat at the bar, menu in one hand, the other digging into the soft wood of the counter. I glanced around, and happened to lock eyes with a familiar looking man sitting three chairs down the bar.
“Mike?” I asked.
He smiled back at me, still staring. I shifted in my seat, hoping he was who I thought he was. If I remembered correctly, we had worked together at a Burger King for a few years during college. He didn’t have much of a distinctive face, only his eyes stood out, brick red, dark enough to look somewhat natural, but strange enough to stick out.
“Hey, are you — do I, know you? You’re Mike right?” He continued to stare as if I was blocking something from his view. “Uh, I must’ve gotten you confused with someone else. Sorry to bother you!” I lifted my hand from the table, silently acknowledging the depth of the fingernail dents I had made, and went back to waiting for my food.
As I began to leave, I heard who I thought was Mike mutter, “You!” The sound didn’t seem like an invitation. After turning back to find “Mike” staring blankly at the drinks lining the back wall of the bar, I collected my belongings and left. Upon turning the last corner to the hotel, I bumped right into a small young woman. She stumbled, looking flustered as she collected herself.
I threw my hand up, “Lillian? Hey! Funny to see you here!”
She paused, then, without hesitation, embraced me in a hug. “Richard! Oh, it’s been so long! How have you been?”
Our parents had been friends when we were kids, and naturally, we too became close, though it had been many years since I last saw Lillian. We caught up for a just few minutes, as she was apparently expected at home, where her newborn child lay waiting for dinner.
“I was going to tell you, I was! But you know, it can get pretty crazy.” She said, referring to the baby.
I awkwardly waved goodbye, and continued off to the hotel. I had an urge to shower again, but thought better of it.
The next morning, I opened my room door to find a small bouquet of daffodils on the carpeted floor outside in the hall. I picked them up gingerly, carefully examining the exterior. I didn’t know anyone in Salt Lake City. I had merely come to escape.
Life in Reno was draining, cluttered even. Friends and family seemed to always find me, at the grocery store, the post office or gas stations. The city was even dubbed “The Biggest Little City in the World.”
The day was filled mostly with walking and eating, exploring the unfamiliar city. When I arrived back at my hotel, I was greeted with yet another “gift.” However, instead of flowers, it was a small unsigned box of chocolates. I stepped over the box and into my room, where I then phoned the hotel lobby and asked if gifts were regularly delivered to guests. The receptionist on the other end replied with a definite “no.” I thought perhaps someone had mixed up room numbers and delivered gifts to the wrong door. I quickly scrawled a short note on the hotel stationary paper explaining the situation:
To whoever is leaving gifts at this door, you must have the rooms mixed up as I am not expecting any gifts, nor do I know anyone who would do such a thing. Sorry about that! (P.S. if you would like the previous gifts back, just knock!)
I stuck the note on the front of the door, turned the TV on, and soon fell asleep to the sound of a tense cooking show.
When I opened the door the next morning, I found a large unpotted cactus lying on it’s side, dirt spread across the carpet. With that, I began to pack my belongings, and rushed downstairs to the lobby. As the elevator door opened, I could see a man walk out the door and turn to walk down the street. He glanced my way, and I could see the unmistakable eyes I knew I recognized. I stepped up to the lobby desk.
“Who is that man that just walked out the door? Have you seen him before?” I hurriedly asked the receptionist.
“Hey, this city is small, but not that small,” She said, rolling her eyes, “Yeah sure, that creep. He’s not staying here? He sure comes around often.”
“I don’t think he stays here.”
“Well, heard he was knocked real hard on the head couple years back. Strange guy huh?”
I nodded and told her I would be checking out early. Halfway out the door, I turned around and shouted across the room, “There might be a bit of a mess in the hallway of the third floor!”
I raced to my car, and decided to take a different route back home, one with no deserts.