Adrienne Unger, author Spider, received her MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University. Her work has appeared in The Harvard Review Online, The Southampton Review, Chautauqua, and FLARE: The Flagler Review, among others.
It began the instant the motel door clicked shut. Frank was pissed and showed his dissatisfaction with a cruel shove between Della’s shoulder that made her stumble across the matted carpet floor. He was like a man with a gun to his head since New Jersey, the night he roused her out of a dead sleep at 3 in the morning to collect her and the duffel he had stashed at her place. The night he pasted her with a black eye for asking too many questions.
The miles from Perth Amboy west sped by like frames from a movie. Wilkes-Barre, Youngstown and Terre Haute, broken up with stops at roach motels. Columbia and Topeka, the same.
The same cigarette smells in the bed covers and curtains. The same lousy food and cheap Scotch they got each night. The same “unpacking” Frank required after he decided which motel looked to care the least about who was paying. He made her shower beforehand—he liked his women fresh, he said—but he didn’t let Della move while he slept off his after-sex glow. Until he sent her out for food, booze and the paper.
All of this mattered less and less. The news had nothing. Frank had cooled down some. Della began to think it wasn’t too much to hope she might live long enough to regret accepting that top-shelf drink from Frank what seemed like a lifetime ago. She thought of the Pacific waves crashing against her toes, the buff surfers on their boards, about how she was only 25 and still could look good when she wanted, and she counted the states between wherever-they-were-now and California.
Della began to think it wasn’t too much to hope she might live long enough to regret accepting that top-shelf drink from Frank what seemed like a lifetime ago.
Reality set in, unfortunately, at the Colorado border and a police checkpoint near Burlington, home of the Kit Carson Correctional Facility. Della was at the wheel and they made it through with her strategically applied concealer, full SWAK pout, Jersey girl accent and half-buttoned shirt while Frank played dead in the back seat faking a snore with his head nestled on the duffle and a .22 tucked under the small of his back.
Despite this success, Della’s suggestive exchange didn’t go over well with Frank. After the first shove, he tossed the duffel next to the bed then pushed her again, putting the heel of his boot into her back as she bent over to pick up the suitcase she had dropped.
“You talk too much, Dee.”
“You wanted to get through without a hassle. We got through, no hassle.”
“You and that mouth of yours. You talked to that cop too long.”
“I was being nice. Cops eat that shit up.”
“I’m the one you need to worry about being nice to.”
I know, I know, Della repeated in her head as she scurried back from the greasy diner and package store in a strip mall down the road from the motel. After their disagreement, she’d headed for the door quickly, under the pretense of giving Frank time to cool off. She had broken the routine and she knew he was hungry.
Back in the room, she set the mass of bags on the table and covered it with all his favorites—meatloaf and gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans and a fat slice of cherry pie.
“Here.” Della pulled out a bottle of Dewar’s.
Sprawled out on the bed, his head on the pillow and the gun hilt peeking out, Frank sat up and gave her a sideways look.
“Consider it a peace offering.”
She could almost hear the gears turning in his head as Frank got up and walked over to her.
“I’ll take it back if you don’t want it…”
“No need,” Frank finally said. He took the bottle and found two glasses.
After two hours, Frank’s twitchiness had been transformed into the beginnings of a good buzz. With one appetite reasonably satisfied, others began to creep through.
“You,” he said to Della, who finished off what might have been her second shot. “Take a shower while I take a piss.”
…there was a time, as recently as that morning, when Della couldn’t bring herself to face down a spider crawling on the wall.
Dutifully, she took off her shoes and undid her bra from beneath her shirt as she walked to the bathroom and turned on the water. Steam floated into the room from the roaring faucet. Frank stood up, holding onto the furniture as he went along. One hand struggled with his fly, the other held onto the frame with a sliding grip. Della met him there, and with practiced hands and a crooked smile painted on her face, she reached down and began to undo his belt.
“You did tell me I better be nice to you,” she whispered in his ear.
“Now, that’s what I’m talking about,” he breathed in her chestnut curls as Della freed him from his pants and rolled him through the doorway into the dim bathroom. She sat him down, legs splayed, on the edge of the filling tub. And as Frank reached up for her open shirt, Della shoved him backwards with a quick, two-handed push.
Caught off guard, Frank exhaled sharply as he fell backwards towards the wall of the tub, and when he tried to straighten his frame, he cracked the back of his head full force against the tile, leaving a thick, moppy patch of red.
He was not as thick-headed after all, Della thought.
Frank’s stunned body twisted and slumped into the tub, submerged face down past his shoulders. Della quickly put her bare foot on the back of Frank’s neck so the next breath he took was full of hot, blood-tinged water. She pressed down hard, feeling his body jerk under her heel, remembering there was a time, as recently as that morning, when Della couldn’t bring herself to face down a spider crawling on the wall. But in that cramped linoleum bathroom lit only by washed-out light, she willed herself to hold onto to what her mother always said: Remember who has the shoe and which one of you should really be afraid.
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