We pull off the road where a hand-painted sign with an arrow says, "This exit, the Miracle," and eat with the truckers at the all-night diner in the lobby of the Day's Inn outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. The drivers sit alone in overalls and flip flops, T-shirts and biker boots, breathing hard on their all-you-can-eat chicken fried fried chicken and charred black coffee in heavy china mugs as thick as your thumb. Most of the men have long beards, as if they've been on the road for weeks, and talk on tiny cell phones to their girlfriends, looking no one in the eye but the lovely Marlene in her starched pink apron and white spangled Press On Nails, red-haired Marlene of the long legs and tenor voice who volunteers part time, she says to the family in the next booth, for the Wild Animal Rescue League by nursing wounded squirrels for the winter in the warmest corner of her laundry room.
Marlene brings my midnight breakfast of fried eggs and margarine-yellow toast, saying, "Watch out; that plate's hot."
"If you can hold it, so can I," I say, wanting her to think I could wait tables too, if I had her legs.
"Girl," she says, "I've been handling hot plates so long, I got no fingerprints left." Ah, I think, imagining I know her already – a woman who puts her hand in the fire is also likely to be burned in the matters of the heart. I begin to miss her when she disappears into the kitchen, laughing with the cook and shouting out, "Lord, Jesus! Praise His name!" Then out of the blue, she brings my lover a free slice of peach pie on a heated plate.
"What did I do to get such a sweet dessert?" he asks her, and she says, "Handsome men don't have to do anything, Honey."
"Hmm," I say, sotto voce, just wondering, allowing myself to imagine a new geometry of love. Then I watch her, watch her moving through the backyard garden of weedy, home-grown men, watch my lover watching her (and he knows that she knows it). When he finally asks for the check, she says, "Sure thing, Darlin'. You come back now."
We buy a hip-pocket bottle of white Bacardi at the package store, where "wearing concealed weapons is strictly prohibited," then find room 103 (king bed, smoking) near the ice machine under the stairs, and I worry about the skinny old Shepherd/Lab Retriever sitting in the driver's seat of a battered Ford Fairlane in the harshly-lit parking lot, but as soon as we bolt the door, draw the smoky curtains closed and lie down, I lose the world, blanketing my eyes even in the darkness, ready for the radiance of his lips and fingers traveling the length of me. I turn away from him, on my side, and listen for the sibilant rush of his breath, forgetting my manners and the rules of grammar 'cause I need him real bad now, and stick out my tongue like one of the nasty girls with plucked eyebrows wearing nothing but a pair of sheet-shredding spiked heels and plastic hoop earrings big enough to jump through.
In the morning when I wake, his hand on my thigh,
the world comes back to me, blessed world. He makes coffee in the four-cup
pot that fills only two small Styrofoam cups, and we don't get dressed
until the very last minute. When it's time to check out, we pass the ancient
hound, still behind the wheel, and there's Marlene at Registration. I know
she remembers us. Even so, I say, "You were our waitress last night." She
smiles and says, "I do a little bit of everything around here." Then she
turns to my lover, tilts her head, considering, looks back at me, and says,
"Don't you forget me, next time you're passing through. Two's company,
like they say, but three can make a miracle."
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