Matador Review

A Quarterly Missive of Alternative Concern

joseph johnston

nostalgic cheap motel, Part I

I was out on the interstate during a merciless blizzard so I checked into the mercy of Nostalgic Cheap Motel and I asked it if I could put my suitcase on the stuffed chair. Nostalgic Cheap Motel said that was fine and so I settled atop the comforter which had images of log cabins on it and immediately fell into a deep dream which ended with black SUVs surrounding my childhood bedroom and executive cops in black suits with sunglasses and earpieces moving in on me. I woke with a start and Nostalgic Cheap Motel asked if I was okay. I recounted my dream and then I asked Nostalgic Cheap Motel if it had any stationery. It didn't, but said I could write on the back of the taco take-out menu because it was just a one-sided photocopy. I thanked Nostalgic Cheap Motel and began writing a feverish blues of that day on the interstate and all the semis jackknifed in the median. I asked Nostalgic Cheap Motel why the ServiceMaster vans were always yellow no matter what city you were in. The sun was beginning to come up, poking through the remnants of the storm, that thin line of unholy red, like a volcano in a kid's picture book about geology. But the grave clothes of February sky extinguished all color just as the coffeepot shut off. 

nostalgic cheap motel, Part II

I didn't understand proportions and fractions of a whole as a kid. My little brother did and he used this knowledge to torment me. He was four and I was five and our mother had cut my little brother's candy bar in half while simply giving me the whole thing. She often did this sort of thing because she was worried he'd choke as he was a dumb boy always choking on stuff. 

            I ate my candy bar and went out to the swings and my little brother followed me with his uneaten half of candy bar. He said "I got two and you only got one because I'm better than you and I'm going to save my second candy bar for tonight after That's Incredible." I was pissed and I ran inside to complain about the unfair candy bar distribution. Mom tried in vain to explain fractions of a whole but I just cried and fell asleep on the kitchen floor.

            I convey all of this to Nostalgic Cheap Motel while puking into the toilet. Nostalgic Cheap Motel is uninterested and just wants to make sure my hair is kept out of the way. It explains the toilets might freeze tonight. It explains I can sleep on whichever half of the bed is most convenient. I can sleep crosswise or on the floor in front of the stuffed chair. If I want, I can even sleep the sleep of the rotten on the bathroom floor by the toilet, but Nostalgic Cheap Motel doesn't recommend it. I just puke again. I puke and cry.

nostalgic cheap motel, Part III

He disappeared into the bathroom of Nostalgic Cheap Motel, deliberately locking the door and checking it twice. Retrieved the gun metal tweezers from his Dopp kit and assumed the position in front of the mirror. Tiptoes, leaning now, over the sink, far in. Close enough for a Narcissus kiss. He plunged the tweezers into the crater over his right cheek, fishing for whiskers that just weren't there. Nostalgic Cheap Motel asked what he was doing.

            "None of your business. Go away. You're not even supposed to be able to be in here with me. It's against the rules."

            "What rules?"

            "The rules posted on the door! The placard. The statement on the innkeeper's liability and the addendum about the strong box the fire exits and weekly rate and the fine print about staying the fuck out of the bathroom while I pluck my biggest pockmark."

            "I'm not the innkeeper."

            He ignored Nostalgic Cheap Motel and continued digging into the oversized scarred follicle. It was his forty-first birthday. From below he'd always viewed forty as the apogee and everything thereafter as extra innings. Sudden death overtime. He'd made it to forty, barely. There was no time for a midlife crisis. Not like those other saps. Everything now was borrowed. His sole directive was to remove the perpetual imperfections of his face and his retirement plan was nothing more than a desire to die before going hungry. This winter seemed longer than others. Like it wouldn't end. Like he'd been hungry since pitchers and catchers reported three weeks ago.

Joseph Johnston is a writer and filmmaker from Michigan. His poetry, prose, and video literature have appeared in Midwestern Gothic, Arcadia, and SHANTIH Journal and his book Winterlong was a semi-finalist in Iron Horse Literary Review's 2017 chapbook contest. He resides in the Detroit area with his wife and two children and is working on a novel about the life cycle of telephone poles.