Do You Always Want to Move Me?
Nina walked through the room wearing only underwear, and she stopped at
the window, pulling aside a curtain that looked like a thinning
bathrobe, sheer and holey, and lit up a cigarette. Instead of inhaling,
she held it at her side, letting the smoke crawl up her arm and fill
the room. I had never seen her actually smoke one, and if she had ever
inhaled, it hadn't been around me.
"How long until we move again?"
I could feel her looking at me for a moment before returning her
attention to the outside world, a crumbling parking lot that also
housed a Denny's, and just beyond the Denny's was the rushing
interstate, the sound of which had been keeping me from sleeping at
"Never mind," she said. "I don't know why I keep asking you."
Nina had long, dark blonde hair, green eyes that elicited involuntary
truthfulness from men like me, and I felt dangerously close to telling
her something I wasn't supposed to. I looked over and watched the
cigarette smoke rise, wondering why it was always described as blue in
books, hued blue in certain movies, the lazy line of smoke making its
way to the ceiling.
"I used to hear about people living in hotels, and I used to think it
was... I used to think it was just great, y'know? You get someone to
clean up for you, make your bed." She turned and gestured to the two
full beds in the room, ruffled and unmade. We hadn't left the room in
days, refusing linen and laundry service. Our room did not contain
fresh towels, and instead, we draped wet towels over chairs and hoped
they would be dry by the time we needed a shower next. "But this," she
went on, "I don't know what the word for this is."
Outside it was bright as if a mirror were being held up to the motel. I
squinted my right eye as the sunlight funneled into the room.
"Will you close the curtain? You're not supposed to be standing near
"So, can I ask you," she walked over to her bed, "why do you watch this
show, anyway." She stubbed the remnant of the unsmoked cigarette into
an ashtray next to her bed. "You never laugh. You don't even seem to
It was an old sitcom, dated, with painful colors and patterns
populating the set. The centerpiece was an American family, the
laboring pottymouths full of working-class wit.
"You know, I have this feeling we probably came from the same kind of
place. Suburban houses, parks and big grocery stores. Did you go to
church when you were a little boy? I see you in a padded pew for some
reason. I used to go to church with boys who looked just like you."
"I'm not here. I don't matter to you. I don't exist."
She shook her head, refusing this truth.
"I want to know things about you. Like were you ever in love?"
"You say that as if it's too late."
"That's because you have this look on your face like it is too late."
"I've been in love, yes." I turned down the volume and looked her in
the eye, trying my best not to gaze at her underwear-clad body. Nina
had grown comfortable enough with me to walk around like this, as if I
were her older brother, gross and flaccid. "Who hasn't?"
"What was her name?"
I pictured Nina sitting on planes and buses, making friends with
strangers. Talking to children on sidewalks, cradling a newborn niece
at a christening. I knew she was from Pittsburgh and that her name was
Nina. I knew nothing else, and didn't want to know anything else.
I shook my head and looked back at the TV.
"If I can't know your name, at least tell me hers." After a long pause,
she said, "Okay. Then I have another question. Do you always want to
When she asked me this, I sat forward on the bed and wrapped my arms
around my knees. She returned the look, her eyes burning a hollow point
in the wall I had built between us.
"Don't you ever want to keep me in one place?"
Nina pulled her hair back and fashioned it into a ponytail, not taking
her eyes off me. Until now, she had always wanted to know when I would
move her next, to what city we were moving, how long we were staying in
each motel and hotel.
"The last time you moved me," she said, "I got this feeling about you."
The TV commercials were louder than the TV shows themselves. This was
something I wanted to talk about. There was a commonality to the
subject that she and I could share without her having to be told too much. I
could talk about commercials without revealing my name or where I was
from or what church I went to when I was a boy, or the fact that I was
once in love with a woman named Evie, but Nina wouldn't have wanted to
talk about commercials.
"I can tell." She stood from the bed and pulled on a pair of jeans
that were crumpled on the floor. As she slid into the slender denim
legs, she walked over and stood next to me. She made me nervous when
she stood next to me, close enough for me to smell her deodorant and
lotion. "I can tell that you don't always want to move me."