|Edition description:||French-language Edition|
About the Author
Willy Vlautin is the author of The Motel Life, Northline, and Lean on Pete, and the singer and songwriter of the band Richmond Fontaine. He lives outside Portland, Oregon.
Read an Excerpt
The Motel Life
The night it happened I was drunk, almost passed out, and I swear to God a bird came flying through my motel room window. It was maybe five degrees out and the bird, some sorta duck, was suddenly on my floor surrounded in glass. The window must have killed it. It would have scared me to death if I hadn't been so drunk. All I could do was get up, turn on the light, and throw it back out the window. It fell three stories and landed on the sidewalk below. I turned my electric blanket up to ten, got back in bed, and fell asleep.
A few hours later I woke again to my brother standing over me, crying uncontrollably. He had a key to my room. I could barely see straight and I knew then I was going to be sick. It was snowing out and the wind would flurry snow through the broken window and into my room. The streets were empty, frozen with ice.
He stood at the foot of the bed dressed in underwear, a black coat, and a pair of old work shoes. You could see the straps where the prosthetic foot connected to the remaining part of his calf. The thing is, my brother would never even wear shorts. He was too nervous about it, how it happened, the way he looked with a fake shin, with a fake calf and foot. He thought of himself as a real failure with only one leg. A cripple. His skin was blue. He had half-frozen spit on his chin and snot leaking from his nose.
'Frank,' he muttered, 'Frank, my life, I've ruined it.'
'What?' I said and tried to wake.
'I'm freezing my ass off. You break the window?'
'No, a duck smashed into it.'
'I wouldn't joke about something like that.'
'Where's the duck then?'
'I threw it back out the window.'
'Why would you do that?' 'It gave me the creeps.'
'I don't even want to tell you, Frank. I don't even want to say it. I don't even want to say what happened.'
'Where are your clothes?'
I took the top blanket off my bed and gave it to him. He wrapped it around himself then plugged in the box heater and looked outside. He stuck his head out the broken window and looked down.
'I don't see a duck.'
'Someone probably stole it.'
He began crying again.
'What?' I said.
'You know Polly Flynn, right?'
'Sure.' I leaned over and grabbed a shirt on the floor and threw up into it.
'Jesus, you okay?'
'I don't know.'
'You want a glass of water?'
'No, I think I feel a little better now.' I lay back in bed and closed my eyes. The cold air felt good. I was sweating, but my stomach began to settle.
'I'm glad I don't puke at the sight of puke.'
'Me too,' I said and tried to smile. 'What happened?'
'Tonight she got mad at me,' he said in a voice as shaky as I've ever heard. 'I don't remember what I said, but she yelled at me so hard that I got up to get dressed but she got up first and took my pants and wouldn't give them back. She ran outside and set fire to them with lighter fluid. I had my wallet and keys in my coat, but the main thing, the real thing, is that I left. Got in my car and started driving home. I was a little drunk, but Jesus, I was okay to drive, and I was just going down Fifth Street, and some kid runs out in the middle of the road on his bike and I hit him. It's fucking four in the morning, there's snow on the ground, there's snow coming down. What's a kid doing riding his bike around at that time of night in that sorta weather? There were no other cars behind me, no one around at all to help. I wasn't even going twenty. There was no stop sign. I didn't run anything. It wasn't like that. He just came out of nowhere. I stopped as fast as I could. I got out to take a look, and the kid's there on the snow and asphalt with his head busted open and blood coming out of his mouth. Jesus, I didn't know what to do. I went back into the car where I got a blanket in the back seat, and I covered him with it. Used part of it to put over his head where the bleeding was. I think he was dead right then. I checked his breathing and pulse, but there was nothing. No one was around. Just the little light coming down off the street lights. By that thrift store, by that old RESCO warehouse. I didn't know what to do. I couldn't leave the kid there so I put him in the back seat, 'cause I was gonna bring him to the hospital. Then when I picked him up I knew for sure he was dead. Part of the inside of his head had come out. I'd never seen anything like it. It was the most horrible thing I ever saw.
'I began thinking of how I was drunk and how I'd go to jail. Jesus Christ. I put him in the back seat anyway, and I get in, and suddenly I see this taxi cab turn on his lights. He'd been in a vacant lot about a block away. Maybe he was sleeping, who knows. Maybe he saw the whole thing, but if he did he would have stopped, wouldn't he? He would have helped me? But he just drove off in the opposite direction. So I start driving to Saint Mary's, maybe ten minutes ago, but the kid's dead. Ain't much use in taking him in, is there? If I'd run a light or something, sure, but I didn't. He hit me more than I hit him. I don't know what the fuck to do. I had the right of way, I did, I swear I did.'The Motel Life
A Novel. Copyright © by Willy Vlautin. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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