I slipped the key through the card reader on the rusted red door. The light blinked green and the door opened with a slight protest. The room smelled of must and industrial cleaner. I flipped the light switch on the door frame to the on position and the room was lit by an upright floor lamp in the corner next to the window. A faux oak table and two chairs sat next to the lamp on the left wall with a nightstand and king size bed. A long low chest of drawers ran the right wall supporting a large, gold framed mirror and a television set that still had an antenna.
"You get what you pay for," I said to myself.
I walked further into the room and kicked the door shut with my foot. I put my black duffel bag next to the dresser and laid my messenger bag on the table. I put my keys down beside it. I shivered with the cold air in the room and rubbed my hands against my arms to create friction. The air conditioner was on low and sending a stream up towards the ceiling. I turned the knob over to low heat. It cut off with a slight groan and turned over to heat. Soon a blast of warm air was emitted from the vents. I looked at my watch reading nearly one in the morning. My right leg was cramping in the upper thigh and I rubbed it gently to get rid of the twinge. I went to the duffel bag and pulled out a blue long-sleeved sweater and a pair of black, loose lounging pants.
When I unfurled faded, dark-wash blue jeans down my legs, I looked at the indented red scar that ran ten inches down the outside of my right thigh from below my hip to a couple of inches above my knee. I ran a finger down the scar and a tear formed in my eye as I remembered the sound of screeching tires and breaking glass. I shook my head and swiped the tears from my eyes and pulled the jeans the rest of the way off. I stood there in nothing but my oversized green sweater and my underwear.
I decided to forgo changing into sleeping clothes and instead sat on the bed pulling a pillow to go behind me and a pillow to hold in front of me. I opened up the nightstand drawer and found a Bible and a yellow phone book. I pulled out the phone book and quickly flipped it to the O section for Pace Springs. There were no O'Donnell's listed. I flipped to the Syracuse section and found the same thing. I finally found a listing for Gabriel and Michelle O'Donnell living in Poinset, ten miles up the interstate. They were living down Browns Ferry Road. I wrote down the address and phone number on the paper pad on top of the nightstand.
I curled up on the bed listening to the speeding of traffic on the interstate next to the hotel. I heard the fast creaking of the bed in the room next to mine. I was tempted to bang on the wall and tell them to knock off, but I decided against it. I closed my eyes and let familiar sounds lull me to sleep. My body started to relax and my mind took over. I relaxed even more and saw brief glimpses of memory.
I was in the backseat of a car. It was the one my mother owned, a white Toyota Camry. My eyes were closed and I could hear the sounds of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" play through the speakers. My older brother, Caleb, was driving and my father was in the passenger seat. They were both singing off key to the song.
"Sweet home Alabama, where the skies are so blue," they sang together.
I opened one eye to their singing and stifled a giggle. It was no use in telling either of them that they could not carry a tune in a bucket. I rolled my window down to let some air into the back. My brother was coming to a stop at a red light at the intersection of highway 75 and highway 16. He was the first car at the white line.
"Does your conscience bother you?" my father sang.
"Where's my Kid Rock CD?" Caleb asked.
The light was still red. He looked in the back, winked at me and looked towards the floorboard. He found the black leather CD case underneath my feet. He reached for it and I looked at the window to see that we were moving.
"Almost…got it!" He said triumphantly.
"Cale, watch out," I yelled at the same time.
"Where the skies are so blue," the radio played on.
I felt the car come to a jerking stop and looked to my left and saw the chrome radiator cover of a large black 18 wheeler loaded in the back with full timbers headed straight for us. We were right in the middle of four o' clock traffic. It hit in the middle of the small car on the driver's side. I felt myself jerking to that side, but the seatbelt caught snapping my collarbone and breaking from the strain. I heard the high screeching of breaks from far away. Suddenly the car was impacted from the passenger's side near the front door and fender. I was catapulted back to the other side and my head hit the open window. In that moment, forever happened. I looked at the blue skies above, red dots dancing in my vision.
"Where the skies are so blue," I whispered before succumbing to shock…
I shot up in bed quickly, sweat coating me underneath the sweater. I had not had a dream of the accident in nearly a year. My heart was beating fast and I could feel it in my neck and every pressure point. I swiped the sleeve across my forehead to get rid of the sweat. My body shook as I took deep breaths to calm myself. The floor lamp was still on and morning light was streaming in through the crease where the dark red curtains did not quite meet.
I lumbered to get out of bed, and walked on shaking knees to get to the sink. I pulled one of the small plastic cups from its wrapping and poured water into it from the tap. The water was bitter and tasted of iron but it was cold and refreshing against my parched throat. I looked at my watch and saw ten thirty blinking back at me. I held the cool cup against my forehead making myself think of whether I would stay there for another night or go on to Poinset to find Michelle.
I could still feel coming to and the hands of the rescuers pulling me from the wreckage, all the pain and my leg being caught under the seat where my dad had sat. I took another sip and remembered someone yelling about our family being the Hendersons in the car. Nearly five years, and I could recall most of the details of that day.