Updated: Jul 29, 2019
A Short Story
The motel was in Nihill; brown bricks with red doors, it had twenty two rooms and a pool. It was situated on the outside of town. If you were driving from Adelaide we'd be the first hotel you'd pass.
Nolene said this was perfect. She said they'd be tired and hungry, even wanting a piss and here we'd be. Look at this town, she'd said. No one comes here to stay. They don't want an expensive hotel, they just want a cheap bed, a meal, a TV and if it was really hot, a pool. And we had one. We were going to be the first cab on the rank.
The hotel was run down. Tiles were cracked so the roof leaked, the gutters were rusty, the rooms stank of dead air and the pool was green. But it was ours. We'd sold everything we had and taken out a business loan.
All we did for those first few months was work. But it wasn't work, it was love. It was falling in love. In all the years we'd been together I'd never spent so much time with Nolene. I was worried we'd fight but instead, as we repaired, cleaned and painted our hotel it was like we were repairing ourselves. The kids were changing too. They were discovering what it meant to be a child in the country, they became explorers. Every day, often several times a day, my youngest, a daughter would bring me things she'd found; parrot feathers, jewel beetles, stones she'd claim were crystals .
Before the hotel I'd been a machinist in an aluminum factory. We produced window frames. The pay was shit, the conditions were shit, the boss treated us like shit and the air conditioner in the staff room was broken and had been broken for years. But it was a job.
Nolene had worked in a newsagent, that's where I met her. She didn't notice me at first. It took me ages to talk to her, she always looked a little sad and all I wanted to do was cheer her up. A year after I first got her to smile, we were married. A year later she left the news-agency to start raising our first child. A year later we had two.
It was not only hard financially but emotionally too, especially for Nolene. When ever I came home she was always down. She wouldn't admit it but she'd take it out on the kids, on me, and herself. She'd eat a lot. A real lot. Within three years she'd put on thirty kilos. My Mum used to say that was because she was happy, content, but that was bullshit. I actually used to worry that someday I'd come home and find that she was gone. Sometimes I was sure the cops were gonna turn up at work and inform me that she was dead, or worse that she'd done the kids too. I never told anyone that. I wanted to but then what could they do? No one could do anything, not even me. All I could do was worry and talk to God. Not that he ever listened, or so you believed until one day you discovered he does.
When I came home she was waiting for me. She was excited. With the kids hanging off me, as they always did, she pulled me to the computer and showed me the hotel. It was on realestate.com. The business section.
I'd worked in my job for fifteen years. No matter how many times she showed me the figures she'd scrawled down on how, if we sold everything, we could just afford the deposit, the more crazy leaving my job seemed. Neither of us had ever owned a business. Not even an Ebay shop. But she was so determined, that that weekend we drove out there for a look.
As soon as Nolene saw it she was like a little kid on Christmas morning. I'd never seen her so happy. Right there and then leaving everything was no longer an issue. Because everything was nothing and I could see that now. The decision to buy was made before we'd even met the owners.
Four incredible months passed. Every night I went to bed excited and I woke up feeling alive. And that was all because of Nolene and I could see that she felt the same. I was in love and I was in love with all of my life.
Trouble was, renovating is expensive, even more so out there. And despite all the work and our apparently great position at the Eastern entrance of the town, we weren't getting enough customers. We had a few good weekends when there was say a big wedding in town, but otherwise it was dead. Often we had no one at all. From our first day we were losing money and I came to understand why most of this town and all the other towns on the western highway looked neglected. Most people flew to and from Adelaide, and those that drove, drove straight through. We were in trouble.
At our kitchen table one night, with the hotel empty again we discussed our options. We could sell, which wouldn't happen unless we found people dumber than us. We could try to keep going until things changed, or we were bankrupt, which by Nolene's calculations was only a few weeks away, or we could go with option three. I hated option three but there was no other choice so this was what we went with.
Option three saw me driving back to Adelaide every Sunday afternoon. Once there I'd stay at my mum's house, in my old room, then I'd work all week at the job I'd left. It was good of them to take me back, though they did so at a lessor pay. And it was good of the other workers not to keep ribbing me. Then, every Friday afternoon I'd drive back. Adding my wages to the money we'd made from the few guests we did get was just enough. Just.
The journey took four hours and when I drove back and forth I'd question God as to why he'd changed things to be like this. I used to get really angry with him. I'd scream in the car. Bash the steering wheel and stuff. Then as the months passed and I realized he wasn't up for explaining anything, I started talking to him again. I wasn't after a miracle, I just wanted a little help because not only was the driving back and forth killing me, but I was missing my family like crazy and I could feel, inside, that no matter how hard I worked things weren't going to get any better.
One Wednesday morning I turned up to find a crowd outside the gates. The factory had been shut down. They hadn't told us anything, they'd just quit. And while I knew it was bad, financially, I was actually happy because I knew this was the end of option three.
That afternoon I was back at our Hotel. It was a beautiful spring day, and with an axe handle in hand I was walking around the hotel and breaking every window as I came to them.
Up until then, I had never reached that point where you suddenly realize that you're about to die. Interestingly, when you reach it, it doesn't frighten you. Instead you go, 'Oh!” and despite all of it being unfair or cruel, it somehow makes sense. It feels acceptable, even expected. That's what surprises you. It surprised me.
I wasn't breaking the windows out of rage. I wasn't even doing it because I wanted to hurt her financially. No, I was doing it because I knew what would happen. I was planning it. And once it happened I knew she would never be able to be happy again. And that's what I wanted.
The cop that turned up to stop me was an old guy. As he got out of his car I asked him to shoot me. I told him to. With my kids locked somewhere in the hotel and Nolene in the office doorway, begging me to stop, I strode towards the officer with the axe handle. I told him, as I did, that if he didn't shoot me I'd kill him. I meant it. I didn’t mean I wanted to kill him, I just meant that I wasn't going to give him any other choice.
Trouble was he never pulled out his gun. He just stood there looking at me, calmly, and when I reached him, with the axe handle raised over my shoulder he just closed his eyes.
When he opened them again he found me looking at him. Then, after that moment passed, he took the axe handle from me. Voluntarily, I handed it over. He then dropped it to the ground and with me listening to my kids crying from somewhere within the hotel, he asked me to turn around. I did. He then hand cuffed me and led me to his patrol car.
With me in the back he drove off. He didn't say anything and I took I for granted he was taking me to the lock up. And I didn't care. At that moment, I didn't care about anything, anymore.
But while I knew I was finished I had no idea that God hadn't finished with me.
Instead of taking me to the station he turned off and drove into the country. I noticed, but didn't care.
But then he started driving faster. And then, even faster. By now he was mumbling to himself. The faster he drove the more I understood. He was swearing. Calling me an idiot, a dickhead and then he cried out “Fark!!” real loud before skidding the car to a burning rubber stop.
Before I knew it he'd got out and had come around to my side. I wanted to lock the door but I was cuffed. He then yanked open my door and ordering me to 'get out', he grabbed my shoulder and yanked me out of the car.
I fought back, it was involuntary but all this did was piss him off more.
Get up you dumb fuck, he yelled as I fell to my knees.
Grabbing the back of my t-shirt, he pulled me up and shoved and then kicked me forward.
The fence was down. I tripped over the wire but he pulled me up again and swearing as he did, he went on pulling and pushing me into this empty paddock until he left me face down on the ground and walked off to a tree.
The tree was dead. Bark-less and grey it had only a few limbs left and was glowing in the dark like a drowning hand.
Who are you? I asked, and I was pissed off. Are you his mate? His father? Well fuck you! I said. Fuck you all!
He didn't reply. He just stood there looking up at the tree as I got up on to my knees and said; Well come on, do it! DO IT!
I was serious. If he wanted to shoot me and bury me out here, fine. And I meant it. I was broken, I had had enough. I wanted out.
FUCKEN DO IT! I yelled.
It was then that he turned, walked up to me and then punched me in the face. Back on the ground I curled up, instinctively, as he started kicking me.
And then he stopped. He stopped and just stood there. When I finally looked up at him he bent down to me and roared.
I can't hear the scream anymore, but I can see it. Feel it. It was more of a cry than a yell. But it was loud and it was angry and even as he did I somehow knew that it wasn't directed at me.
Eventually he ran out of breath.
I didn't know what was going to happen now. This night had become the crazy end of the worst day of my life. It was nuts. This cop was nuts. And with blood in my mouth I didn't move as he turned me over, gently now, and uncuffed me.
Once free, I scrambled up and ran away. Within moments I'd put a load of distance between me and him.
He didn't follow. When I looked back he was staring at the tree. He had his gun out and was aiming it at the tree. At an upper branch. I thought he was gonna shoot it, or himself, but he didn't. Instead he lowered the gun, then he dropped it and staggered forward and slumped, face first against the trunk.
My coming home mid week, unannounced, was meant to be a surprise. I hadn't called. I thought calling her and telling her that I'd lost my job would have seen her fall into one of her depressions. I wanted to tell her in person. I wanted to be there.
I would have been home sooner but I needed to get two new tyres first. It was late afternoon by the time I arrived. I was praying that the Hotel would be full, or even half full. But it was empty. I could tell by the car park. Nolene was asleep and she was not alone. They were both asleep. They didn't even know I was there. I could have grabbed the axe handle and come back and killed them both before they'd woken up. They were arm in arm, and naked. Really close, in a way that we'd never slept. And as I watched them I could hear my kids, who also didn't know I was home, playing in the pool.
Now I was here. I needed help. This copper needed help, but I had none to give him and he had none to give me, and if God was here, he was very fucking quiet, and when I looked around, and I looked everywhere, I knew that there was nowhere I could look that would stop the pain. Nowhere. And so I screamed.
That was three years ago. I can still see that copper's face looking up at me. I see it all the time.
It's Saturday, access day, and I'm in a little park pushing my kids on the swings. My new partner, who I met online, has done it tough too. She's sitting on a bench checking her facebook as her boy, who's older than my two, sits next to her on his ipod. She's nice, she's good and I drive a garbage truck now. That's good too, because not only does it pay better but it's good not to be working in a factory anymore. On the swings my kids are yelling for me to push them. Harder, they cry, come on Dad, harder! And nothing makes sense. Nothing at all. Not one fucking thing, yet despite this my kids' heads are back and their growing legs are out, and with my help they're racing each other to get as high get as high as they can.
Michael Gary Griffith