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Fiction #234
(published July 7, 2005)
Bride For A Day
by Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz
Maria stomps up the stairs, dragging the cleaning cart behind her. The manager's told her to go to Room 313, although the lady just hired had been assigned to clean the top level of the motel.

So, why are they calling me? Maria mutters as she yanks the cart around the corner of the building. It bangs against the wall, chips paint, but Maria doesn't care.

Today just may be the day she tells her boss what he can do with this cleaning job and the motel as well. 'Cause if anybody thinks she's gonna do her job and somebody else's, then they're crazy.

At the room, she knocks. Three, four times. No answer. She knocks again. When there is still no answer, she sighs heavily and pulls out the chain of keys linked to her belt, looking for the passkey for 313.

She unlocks the door, opens it and says, "Hello?"

No one answers.

Maria takes the opportunity to glance around the room, see how the new lady did. Not bad. The new maid might've made the bed up a little better, had the bedspread really hugging the pillows, but it's an okay job. The woman just started, after all.

Maria starts to pull the door closed, wondering if she heard the right room number, when she hears a muffled voice.

"Hello? Do you need something?"

The bathroom door opens a little. Again, the muffled voice.

"You need some towels?" She returns to her cart, gathers hand, face and bath towels and reenters the room.

She heads for the bathroom, but stops when a man steps out of it, a towel over his head.

"You need extra towels, Mister?

The man shakes his head, moving the towel from this head to his neck. "No," he tells her. "What I need is for you to sit down."

What the- she thinks, confused. "Yeah, right, Mister and you can feed me, the kids and my cat when I lose my job." Maria hugs the towels to her body and turns toward the door.

"No, really," the man says. "Please."

Como friegas. "Look Buddy-" she tells him as she turns back slightly to face him.

"Please," he repeats, now pointing a gun at her. "Please."

Maria glances at her watch.

"It hasn't been that long," he tells her.

Maria is sitting on the foot of the bed. "I've got work to do, Mister."

"We all have." He scratches his slight, reddish-blonde beard.

Maria presses her eyes closed. Why today? Why why why?

She thinks of Rosa and Diana. Little Carlos. Willie. Taking a deep breath, she encourages herself: Come on, nothing's gonna happen to you. You got too many kids depending on you. She is surprised, though, at the tears building in her eyes. She has never thought of not being there.

"What's your name?"

"You got eyes." She points to the badge on her uniform.

"Ma-ri-a," he sounds out. "Mary." He smiles.

"So what the hell are you doing, y'know? Like what're you trying to prove?"

"Prove? Prove?" he asks. Shaking his head, he says, "I'm not trying to prove anything, Mary. You don't mind I if I call you Mary, do you? It sounds more American and we are in America, aren't we?"

"You got something against Hispanics?"

"I haven't got anything against anyone, Mary. I was just commenting on our locale."

He is about to say something else when the phone rings. He answers it. "Yes, she is still in here," he says. "We're just having a little conversation . . . No. No, she can't come to the phone right now, I'm afraid. She can't really go anywhere, because if she moves, I'll have to shoot her."

Maria stands at the window, peeking out. In the parking lot and surrounding it are police cars, a van with a satellite attached to the roof, spectators. The man comes up behind her.

"So the guests have arrived," he says.

Maria can feel his smile crawling against the back of her neck. "Guests?" she asks, looking over her shoulder at him. He was so uncomfortably close.

"For our wedding," he says, and then he smiles even more.

This is not happening, Maria tells herself as the man drones on about the life they will have together. It's like a movie, she thinks; at the same time, she wonders when she'll be able to get up and walk back into the daylight.

The man stops talking and within minutes, the room feels too quiet. Maria asks if he'll turn on the radio. He does, even agrees to a country-western station. The musical broadcast is interrupted intermittently by a newscast, updating listeners on what has become "the hostage situation at a local motel."

"A female employee of the Family Inn, is being held in a room by a male guest. Police have identified the man as Lester Anderson Smith. Smith, who signed the register using his real name, has a history of mental problems, and has spent the last three years of this life either in jail or in various psychiatric facilities. The name of the employee has not been released."

Smith snaps off the radio and paces the space between the bed and the dresser.

"The media is what's wrong with this society, you know. They twist the truth; say whatever in order to sell a story. Do they think I'm doing this because I'm crazy?" He sits down on the chair, the gun dangling from his hands between his legs. "I'm not crazy! Don't they understand that I love you? Don't they know that when I saw you this morning, I knew that you were the one?

"I had problems, Mary. True," he confesses. "Serious problems, but that's all in my past. People change - I have. I promise." He looks up at Maria hopefully. "You understand, don't you?"

Maria wants to tell him it's impossible- that, indeed, it is crazy - to see someone, feel something, and call that feeling love. How can you love someone you don't know?

But she recalls Tony. Hadn't she been awed by the size of his biceps; the way his arms seemed chiseled on his frame? And though he, by way of those same arms, pounded - rather than protected - her, hadn't she still called what she first felt love?

Maria looks up and searches Smith's eyes. She is surprised to find something familiar in them.

And yes, people could change. Hadn't she left the shelter that one last time determined never to show a bruised face there again? Realizing that the only thing she really knew about Tony was that he had no plans to marry her, hadn't she then found the strength to leave?

She found an apartment for herself and the kids. A little cramped, but the rent got paid. She worked and, in time, had furnished their home. Not a lot of things, but they had what they needed. And the cat - even something they wanted. She had those admission and financial aid forms at home, laying on the kitchen counter, waiting to be filled out so she could create even greater changes by going to college and majoring in biology.


Despite what she had been through, wasn't she working to become someone other than who people thought she would be? Maria laughs at this revelation.

"Are you laughing at me" His voice takes on a different tone.

Maria shakes her head. "I wasn't laughing at you," she assures him. "I just found it funny, you know. that we are something alike."

She tells him that a person's past doesn't really say anything about them. And, of course, people can change, she says, because he needs to hear it and because it's true.

Smith is busy on the phone again. No hostage negotiations - wedding preparations.

From the window, Maria watches her co-workers set up a table in the middle of the parking lot, which has been sectioned off with traffic barrels and yellow police tape. The table is covered with a white lace cloth before the wedding cake is placed on it. For a moment, Maria is intent on counting the number of tiers, then she shakes her head, thinking: This is so ludicrous.

Behind her, Smith is off the phone once again. It's time for them to go, he tells her. The preacher has arrived.

"I'm Catholic," Maria says, as if that would alter the coming event.

Smith smiles wryly and shrugs. "Short notice; the best I could do," he says, directing her with the gun.

Maria stumbles to the door, her heart pounding.

They step out the door, onto the balcony. Smith curses. "I didn't order you flowers." His eyes land on the cleaning cart, and with the hand that does not hold the gun, he snatches a feather duster from it.

"This will have to do," he tells Maria, flipping the duster upside down and handing it to her.

He is about to turn, to head toward the stairs, when a shot whizzes by and his chest explodes. For one second, Smith has a look of utter disbelief on his face. His smile fades slowly and he reaches toward Maria. . .

The television cameras are rolling, though there is no live feed. Only the people there, at that moment, are witness.

On the evening news, clips of the scene will run. But in the production rooms of the broadcast stations, the journalism personnel, like the police, will watch the video continuously throughout the night, in an attempt to figure out what happened.

Even Maria herself will never know if he knowingly lunged at her. Or if he was simply falling to his death and she, by chance, was in his way. Or if he was reaching out to her for help . . .

Nonetheless, Maria topples over the metal balcony railing, the feather duster slipping from her hands. As she falls, the radiance of the fuchsia, turquoise and canary-yellow feathers reflected in the afternoon sun captures her eyes, and just before she hits the pavement, Maria regrets the wedding she will never have. That she will never throw a bouquet as brilliant.

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