Leah Mueller

Cocktails at Denny’s

Eastern Oregon:
cinderblock motel
squats beside Denny’s.
Parking lot overflows
with late-model automobiles.

Attached bar: main
social hub for a dusty
farming town, vibrant oasis
of liquor and conviviality.

I sprawl outside,
drape my arms across
the leaf-strewn hot tub,
assess my need for alcohol.

Neon light flickers
on and off: cocktails,
no cocktails, then
cocktails again.

Emerging from water,
I pat myself dry
with a scratchy motel towel.
My body reeks of chlorine,
its sharp, pungent acid
penetrates my nostrils.

Inside the lounge, I
order a beer, remember
a different motel bar.
The Neon Cactus,
located inside a Days Inn
near Meadville, Pennsylvania.

Not a succulent in sight,
except me. Men propped
on barstools, eyeing my body
like starving predators.

One of them enjoyed
an afterhours drink
with me inside his room,

then lamented, “We’ll never
see each other again,”
as I wandered down the hallway
towards my own bed,

leaving him alone
with his fantasies. I laughed
and said, “Yeah. Too bad.
That’s how it works.”

So foolish, so lucky.
Tonight, I am neither.
Eight years wear on my shoulders
like an old sweater: ragged
but comfortable. I tell
the bartender, “No,

I don’t need another,”
pay the check, leave him
a small tip. Long drive
in the morning: my rented
mattress sprawls before me

with its worn comforter
and promise of oblivion.
This night will be over
before I know it, and no one
will remember anything.

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