I crush decapitated Q-tips as I enter the motel. It’s a lot easier than dodging empty handles and beer bottles, so I don’t mind.
I’m clutching the food stamp card in one hand and the bag of gas station groceries in the other. If you can call anything bought at a gas station ‘groceries.’ Stomach growling, I pocket the card and unpack the bag on the TV stand with no TV. My ukulele is there, too. Dad used to give me lessons before. Before the drinking. Before we moved out. Before I only saw him out of necessity. I reach, fingers running against the rough strings.
Plink. Plank. Plop.
I smile and then move on. Running water from the bathroom muffles my movements, so I start my treasure hunt, bagging one of the Q-tips with no cotton. They’ve been on the floor for three days, and I’m sick of seeing them. Five Q-tips bring me to a shoelace next to the bed; the shoelace points to an empty lighter on the bed stand; the lighter reveals the hiding spot behind the bed frame: three needles, one full. Pulling down my sleeves, I place them into the bag, too.
I knot the bag, open a drawer, and set it down. I hesitate, and then put the food stamp card on top of it. As I close the drawer, the running water stops. Something falls onto the bathroom floor, echoing past the closed door and into the rest of the motel room.
The dry heaving starts.
I close my eyes and sigh, adding my own noise to the apartment. Not wanting to be forgotten, the drawer slams as I close it, the table trips me as I pass, and the scratchy sheets caress me as I lie down.
The running water starts again and then stops. My brother tumbles out of the bathroom, face as pale as cotton. He collapses on the other twin bed, holding his head.
“You know, you’re not supposed to find your own hell on earth,” I say.
He groans and swats a hand in my direction. “Hell found me, not the other way around.”
“If you say so.”
It’s a long time before he speaks again. “Did you leave me the rest of the card?” His voice is as small as I feel.
“Yeah. It’s in the drawer.”
“Thanks. I’m sorry. I’ll try to last a week next time.”
“Yeah, yeah. Goodnight.”
The morning light filters through the broken blinds, and I stretch, ignoring my empty stomach. I look over; he’s already gone. Standing, I make my way to the bathroom.
My eyes fall on a decapitated Q-tip, right where I left my ukulele.
I walk over to the still-open drawer. The card’s gone, but the bag’s still there. It rustles as I undo the knot. Reaching inside, I feel around until I find it.
The full needle.
I tap it three times.
Plink. Plank. Plop.
Kaitlynn McShea is a teacher and writer from Indiana but currently lives in Ireland for her MA in Creative Writing at the University of Limerick. When she isn’t teaching or writing, you can find her sipping on a green tea latte in Starbucks or in the corner of a library. Discover more at kaitlynnmcshea.wordpress.
–Art by Marina Ćorić