Broken Spell

Stegner sat in the only chair in the room, a swivel rocker covered in fabric. He stared intently at the armrest, the pale blue background of the threadbare cloth decorated with hideous brown and green dancing bears. It was something his grandmother might have liked, he thought, though he had never known his grandmother. But he knew enough about her to think she might have found the foul colors and fouler designs appealing.

The room was tiny, just large enough for the chair, a side table big enough to hold a drinking glass, a double bed, a small chest of drawers with a mirror, and barely enough space to move between the pieces of furniture. A sign on the door knob emphasized check-out time was 11:00 a.m. “No exceptions; late check-out will result in one additional night’s room rental.”

There was no telephone, no television, no radio; just a bed, a chair, and a dress. The bathroom consisted of a vanity, with a sink, across from the bed and, through a narrow door to the side, a toilet and bathtub.

“So, this is it, huh?” Stegner asked the question aloud, then waited, as if expecting an answer.

“Yes,” he continued, “this is it. You’ve pissed away every goddamned opportunity. You’ve ruined every life you’ve touched. Your wives either died or went missing or left you for something else, anything else. Your daughters hate you for good reason. You have no friends.  The frickin’ motel clerk won’t even smile at you!”

As he glanced in the dresser’s mirror, he cringed at his reflection. His pasty white face behind two-days’ growth of meager beard made him look ill and weak. Stegmer’s unkempt grey and light brown hair, coupled with his frail complexion and wet, bloodshot eyes contributed to what, the thought, looked like a scene from a hospice.

“Well, that’s sort of what this is, isn’t it?” Stegner uttered the words before he realized he was speaking. “Shit! I guess this is what happens when you’ve finally decided to pull the plug, as it were. Verbal hallucinations. Ah, well I have to settle down. This is not going to be the result of madness. It’s going to be the result of considered choice.”

Stegner stood and walked to the vanity, where he found a stack of four individually wrapped plastic drinking cups, hidden behind a beige plastic tray with a beige plastic ice bucket. He tore the wrapping from one of the cups, and walked back to the chair, where his bottle of Seagram’s Seven Crown whiskey awaited him. He poured an inch into the cup, sat in the chair, and held the whiskey to his lips for a moment.

“Yes, goddamn it, le jeu n’en vaut pas la chandelle. The game really isn’t worth the candle anymore, not for me, not for anyone. Maybe it never was.” Half the whiskey disappeared with the first swig, then the cup emptied with the second. Stegner filled the cup again, two inches this time.

“How is it that a man can reach his sixties without knowing why he’s such a bastard? How is it that a man who should have died in his thirties can live this long? Is it because he deserves the time to reflect on all the shit he’s caused? Is it retribution?”

“I’m not going to talk myself out of it again. I don’t deserve any more chances to make amends. This time, it’s time. This time, I have to do it. It’s the only gift I can give them, now. It’s the only apology that can have any meaning.”

He glanced at his reflection in the mirror again. This time, he saw his eyes awash in tears, just as they began to run down his cheek. But his face was the same. Hard, expressionless, and void of emotion, except for those eyes.

Stegner kicked off his boots and then took off his socks. He leaned back in the chair for a moment and sighed.

With his left arm, he reached over to the side-by-side double barrel shotgun in the center of the bed. He cracked open the barrels to check that both chambers were loaded, and then put the stock on the floor, with the barrels pointing toward his face. He lifted his right foot and reached for the trigger with his great toe.

TAP, TAP, TAP. “Housekeeping!”

Stegner shouted, “Not now! Come back in an hour!”

“Okay, so sorry,” came the reply from the other side of the door.

“Shit.” Stegner listened for the housekeeper’s cart, but heard nothing.

“I don’t believe in destiny…so…” Stegner hesitated. He looked down at the shotgun and tried to move his great toe toward the trigger. But the spell was broken, at least for the moment.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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