Stories included in Cityality Stories
An Urgency of Unknown Things • Dance With the Devil • Nose • School Maintenance • Roomies • The Children’s Table • Don’t Eat Much • Remains of the Periodic Table • Daydreams • Dramamine • RSVP Yes No • Midnight, the Grant Hotel • Pretty When You’re Mad • Van den Berg’s Peep • Lefterbridge • The Sixth Morning • Baby Dragon • Jared Twofold • Warsome • A Small Neighborhood Affair • Tides of Old Zealand • Cityality
Excerpted from: Midnight, the Grant Hotel
Miller wasn’t much, so the Ulysses S. Grant Hotel wasn’t much either. It was the best hotel in town before the Davenport sank in the depression, now the only; not much but something.
Carol Finch went to work at the Grant Hotel coffee shop the year she quit Miller High, and in the ten years since no one doubted she had become the best waitress in Miller. Not much, but something. Other waitresses came and went but Carol stayed, and after two years she could name her own shift. She chose swing, four to midnight, because nearly everything in Miller closed up by six—it was a fact for both her and the hotel guests—so she didn’t miss what little there was during the day and tips were better after the cafés closed at three.
She had a boyfriend for a while in high school. Almost everybody did because Miller was so small it was safest to speak for someone early, but it didn’t work out. He was on the football team—about a third of the boys in school always were—and that was okay, but he drank too much from age fourteen on and he hit her sometimes when he was drunk. He only lasted the six months it took her to see it was only going to get worse, but that was long enough for him to get her in trouble. She had to go over to Anthem to get that fixed before her parents found out and her dad killed somebody. There were people who knew, which was the main reason she quit near the end of junior year and maybe one reason nobody was much interested in her afterward.
She wasn’t the only single woman in town but as the years passed, she got closer to becoming the oldest one who wasn’t a widow when others either got married or went somewhere else to try. Daddy died when his liver gave out and Mama moved to Topeka to be with her sister who was a widow too. Carol stayed because she had nowhere to go; because she was the best waitress in town and it looked like the only best thing she was ever going to be, and because things hadn’t worked out like she thought they would at all.
When Mama told her she could stay in the house until Mama had to sell it, depending on how things went in Topeka with Aunt Elma, it sounded almost like an apology for her marrying Daddy and having Carol with a man like him. Maybe so, but both of them also knew the house wouldn’t be sold. Miller was dying and houses could sit for sale until they rotted to the ground. Sometimes Carol knew she should look to her future because the town didn’t have one but looking to her future felt like looking into a terrible storm with high winds and clouds the color of bruises. No one could look to a future like that for long.
Now, the future was coming out of the sky and pressing down on Miller. There were signs that after years of rumor, work would finally begin on the section of new interstate highway that would divert what little traffic there was almost a mile south of Miller and leave the town stranded to bleach like animal bones in the desert. The only bright spot, like a candle’s burst of energy at the bitter bottom of its wick, was that until they moved on, the men of the highway crew would have little choice but to stay in Miller and eat Miller’s food.