Two weeks after attending the Newburyport Literary Festival I am still seeing the world through my Writer ‘s Eyes. The sky needs describing, the woman at the checkout with the muddy sweatshirt demands a backstory, and the fresh raindrops on my fuchsia beg the words to do them justice.
Being surrounded by writers and avid readers for two days both inspired this view of the world and assures me that others have these moments too. My friend Corinne described our time at the Festival as “Being with the Tribe.” This tribe of authors and readers coming together to discuss the written word were all about the need to convey emotion and vision and imagination, and the desire to grab the reader and take them along for the ride. I came away with a new appreciation of how hard it is to get it just right as a writer, and still make it read as if it is oh so easy.
Many laughs, many notes, and some new friends – it was a great weekend. As I dropped Corinne off at the airport to head home, we agreed to each take a shot at writing a short story inspired by our weekend. What follows is my short story. This is a work of fiction. Although there is a hotel in Newburyport called the Shoreline, everything else is a product of my imagination. For the record, the staff there was lovely and helpful, and I would highly recommend the Shoreline as a great place to stay, right on the beach with the ocean outside your door. Enjoy!
The Shoreline by Sandra Courtney
The dull throb in her temples was the alarm clock of the day. Slowly her thoughts muddled together, finally landing on why it was important that she get out of bed.
It was just a few steps to the bathroom and as she hit the switch the gravelly sound of the bathroom fan whirred to life and the light came on. This would be Ronnie’s third summer season working at the Shoreline, and her room next to the laundry was part of the deal.
She lit one of the cigarettes from the back of the toilet and turned on the shower. While she waited for the water to get hot she opened the blinds and winced a little at the glare of the light grey sky.
Taking a long drag from her cigarette, she checked her phone for messages. There was another text reminding her about this afternoon’s check-in for the double queen room. Sherri wanted to make sure she was at the desk at 3:00p.m. Seriously? She had only missed a guest once and it wasn’t really her fault. Whatever.
She put the phone down on the sink, tossed the cigarette in the toilet and shed her oversized Newburyport t-shirt. The heat of the water stung her skin and she wished she had remembered to pick up some Motrin yesterday. As good as the money was, working at the bar until closing time four nights in a row had left her feeling thin around edges. She kind of wished they hadn’t finished the coke; that would have made the afternoon a little easier to face.
Her cell phone croaked out a tree frog sound from the sink as she climbed from the shower. That ringtone had seemed hysterical last night. Now, it was just irritating. “Pls b sure 101A has cofee crm sug thnx!”
Jesus H Christ, just because this was the first guest in more than a week Sherri was acting like she couldn’t remember how to prep a damn room. She messaged Sherri back “Im on it!” muttering to herself “Screw you.”
She pulled on her jeans and grabbed a shirt from the closet. It was almost 2:00 already but if she hurried she could catch breakfast at the diner and be back by 3:00. She started to grab the pin with the Shoreline logo and RONNIE printed in big block letters but tossed it back on the unmade bed. “Screw you,” she muttered again, shoving her phone in her pocket and slamming the motel room door behind her.
The diner was almost empty when she took her seat at the counter. The waitress, Ashlynn, recognized her and walked over with a mug, setting it down and filling it with coffee. Ronnie reached for the sugar, nodding as Ashlynn said “Two eggs and hash?” Sipping the steaming black liquid, Ronnie picked up yesterday’s paper and paged through to her horoscope. “The wild currents begin to settle down again even though you may encounter a few tricky rapids along the way today.” She thoughts about last night – those were some wild ass currents all right.
She slid the paper back across the red Formica counter as the waitress served up the hash and eggs. Ronnie shook the little boat shaped peppershaker until black speckles covered her fried eggs like a diseased lung. She mumbled her thanks as more coffee was poured into her mug, and added more sugar to the inky, hot liquid. She made quick work of the hash and eggs and glanced at her phone as she asked for her check. If she missed this check-in, Sherri would be pissed.
The parking space in front of the Shoreline was empty as she pulled around the back of the motel. Her phone said it was 3:02. Letting herself into the office with the key, Ronnie dropped into the rolling chair behind the counter. Thank God – there were no messages on the machine. She closed her eyes for a moment, wishing she could just crawl back to her bed for an hour. The dull throb in her head had been mopped up with the coffee and hash, and all that was left was the jittery feeling of too much of everything except sleep. She was getting too old for this.
Caffeine, she needed caffeine, and a cigarette. She opened the back door of the office and stepped into the alley, lighting up as she walked to the laundry room. She fed her crumpled bill into the vending machine, punched the Pepsi button and jumped a little as the soda clunked down into the machine’s metal tray. Slowly she loosened the lid and licked her dry lips as the carbonation hissed its escape.
Flicking her cigarette out into the street, she returned to the office and flipped on the TV. Judge Judy was asking some tattooed jerk why he was stealing from his landlord when Ronnie finally found the post-it note she had scribbled on Tuesday when Sherri had called about the reservation. 3:00 4/25 – 413-242-8955 186.50 2Q. The scrawled message didn’t have a name – damn. What if they didn’t show up before her bar shift started at 8:00? Sherri probably told them a late check-in was just fine. Shit.
She dialed the number. “Hello?” A woman answered and Ronnie found herself annoyed right away at the smile she could hear in the voice. “Yeah, this is Ronnie from the Shoreline. They said you was gonna be here by 3:00.” “Oh, hi! We are on our way!” was the incredibly annoying, cheerful reply. “I was told we could check in anytime after 3:00 and well, you know how it is, we got a little bit of a late start. We are outside of Worcester now so it looks like we will get there around 5:00 or so.” Ronnie could picture a perky smile to go with the cheerful voice and it just pissed her off even more. Her gravelly voice grew deeper “But they said you was checkin’ in at 3:00.” “Oh, sorry for the confusion – we’ll see you around 5:00!” Ronnie grumbled out an “Alright” that sounded like sandpaper on a wood fence and hung up the phone.
Judge Judy was really letting the dirt bag have it when Ronnie turned off the TV and locked the door behind her. She lit up as she walked back to her room, set her phone’s alarm clock and pulled the blinds.