I decided on a place intuitively, Rachamanut, a quasi-mission in the least ordinary district of the midnight city, a place with too many qualities really, full color, neon lights, a former adult theater turned homeless shelter slash youth hostel slash video rental and arcade. It was still raining when we get there and the attendant--all bundled in hooded jacket (strings tight), tutu (a nice touch), and overlarge rainboots--is changing the marquee with a giant pole with a suction cup on the end, stamping letters, lifting them like giant contact lenses to the illuminated sign. Strangeness is our ally at this point. The attendant has also almost spelled out a word: R-E-P-E-N and she has the "T" on her stick when we come up.
"Is your friend drunk?" she asks with a thick French accent. "We can't take drunk people here." I don't blame the girl. Jess does indeed look drunk, is leaning into me, mumbling with her eyes closed. This is a strange poison. She has gone all pale, is mumbling the few Earth words she knows to herself: "eggs," "apple," "bread," "kiss."
"No. She's just tired. Got any vacancy?"
"We have but one bed in ze common hall, but it's four in ze morning, and guests are already fast asleep."
"We'll be extra quiet going in," I say.
"Swaw," mumbles Jess into my neck.
"What'd she say?" the attendant asks.
"She says the common room is fine," I say, handing her a crinkled bill I got for pawning something I'd rather not admit to just yet. "She just really needs some sleep." I grin, flash my teeth.
"But zere is only one bed," she says.
"I'm not sleeping. She is."
Attendant crinkles her brows.
"See, we were on this bus for eight hours." I amaze myself with my ability to lie when I need to. "We couldn't sleep. Not one bit. We had this family behind us with four kids. They just kept quarreling about a video game. Mom kept yelling at them, 'It's your sister's turn now! Your turn will come!' But little runt kept saying, 'She erased my save! She erased my save! Now I have to start all over now! I found special unicorn peacock!' And so dad asked, 'What's a save? Can't you find unicorn peacock again?' and then more tears, and a couple of threatened spankings, and full and middle names used: Annabelle Marie! My friend here (hefting Jess up) is a trooper. A real trooper. After a while, she volunteered to read the kids stories. She read them all the way through this paperback I had of abridged Grimm's fairy tales (I left it on the bus. Can you believe that? Such great illustrations!). She read all the way through, and now she's hoarse and can't talk, but everyone on the bus was grateful, I think."
She takes the money.