Jack had a ritual for how he checked into a room. He tried to scout out places on the internet when he had access, but mostly he asked people at the local diner or tried to let his intuition guide him. Once he pulled into the lot he would go in and inquire about getting a room. Usually the vacancy sign was flashing so he felt pretty secure in obtaining a place to sleep for the night. Once he got the key he put it into an open space he had reserved in his wallet. Occasionally he was given a key attached to a tag and it went into the front right pocket of his jeans. There was that one time he got an old fashioned somewhat skeleton-ish key. That one went around his neck, dangling on the ribbon it was strung on. As he walked down the hall it struck him in the chest in a way that was both annoying and pleasing all at the same time. That reminded him of the sleepaway camp he went to when he was 10. He remembered coming home and swapping stories after the new school year started, only to discover the museum camp he went to wasn’t anything like the canoe, cabin, campfire overnights everyone else attended. He felt like he’d been robbed, like the tooth fairy only left a penny instead of the promised quarter.
When he got into the room the luggage was then opened in the same place. He would set his books and collected talismans on the desk if there was one, the dresser would do in a pinch. It made him feel at home if he could follow through on these simple routines. He liked to sit in the chair for as long as he could, reading or simple unwinding from the day’s driving. You’d think that his body wouldn’t want to sit anymore, but the chair provided the transition. Going straight to the bed never worked. He’d lay there waiting for sleep that wouldn’t come anytime soon. Instead he’d take a blanket from the bed and rest in the recliner. More often than not he read, though very occasionally would he put the television on, more for the sound of another voice then for the distraction a show might provide. He was never one for TV and Katherine had felt similarly. For the longest time they had avoided subscribing to cable, but now people had moved onto to streaming as if there TV screen were just a larger sized computer monitor. He knew he sounded curmudgeonly but he didn’t have any need for it in his house. When Katherine had been so sick he often read some of her favorite books aloud. They had spent quite sometime moving through “A Wind in the Willows,” his voice eventually melding with the cadence and rhythms of the story. She seemed to appreciate all of his voices though some of them sounded similarly. She forgave him.
The patterns of the bedspreads in these hotels often reminded him of Kath’s quilt. It had been made from the t-shirts and clothes she wore as a kid. Once, after she had started chemo, she told him about the different materials; it was like a guided tour of her childhood. There was the peach block with the tiny floral pattern from the shirt she wore in her second grade photos, there was a stained glass pattern that had been from the curtains in her bedroom, some stripes that had been a lovey and a doll’s dress that contained embroidered polka dots. Her favorite square was a handkerchief that had belonged to her great grandmother. Her memories of the woman were fuzzy, but when she had been given the handkerchief it was as if a great honor had been bestowed. She always fingered this one reverently as if she could actually touch the past. Jack never knew who had sewn the quilt, though he was sure it wasn’t her mother. Whoever it was had obviously loved her like a daughter to go through all of the trouble of sewing such a large and beautiful keepsake.
And here he was again, sitting upright in a recliner nodding off to sleep. But this time there was no one to look out for; no middle of the night medicines, or sheets that required a magician-like skill to change. No, this time he was alone, finishing up the day. Hoping that when he woke up he’d head right back to it. Perhaps tomorrow there would be doughnuts for dunking.