The Magnolia Inn and Saloon (A short story by Kim Norris)
There’s always someone here at the Magnolia Inn and Saloon. One never gets lonely for company. This has been my place for years now. You might say I’m a fixture. We all have our reasons for coming and staying. I came here for a woman, but that was years ago. Sherry was her name, and she was sweet like the wine. When she left Waco to come to Coulterville, I followed. How could I not?
Joey is a failed novelist. He came here to finish his epic. It finished him. He sits at the far end of the long wooden bar, nursing a Bloody Mary and holding his head like it aches, which I am sure it does. How could it not? Nora and Eddie rendezvoused at the Magnolia for a lover’s tryst, thinking no one would look for them here. It’s the only inn for miles, though. Where else would they go? They slow dance most nights, although the jukebox hasn’t worked in years.
The Dawson gang are the rowdiest, both upstairs, where the boarders stay, and down here in the saloon. Some nights, they take to fighting and carrying on, and then the glass starts breaking. Jasper, the youngest one, hangs from the center chandelier, a wagon wheel with hurricane lamps on each spoke. It sways and trembles like he’ll pull it down, but it holds. All these years, and it still holds every time. As he swings he yodels, and the spectacle makes the others, Jesse, Johnny, and Jake, quit fighting for a spell.
We mostly hang out in the saloon, but upstairs, Jake Dawson’s the worst hellion. He throws furniture when he’s in a mood. Sometimes, the hooker he fancies screams at him. I guess he beats her. No couth. I’ve never raised an angry hand to a lady. I’ve got too much respect for them. Even with my reputation as a ladies’ man, women trust me. They lie down for me whenever I ask. I like to start at the bottom and work my way up.
It’s sunset, and we’re all hanging out, like we always do here at the Magnolia Saloon, when she arrives. A hot draft of dry air follows her through the front door like an urchin begging for a penny, clinging to her legs beneath the flowery skirt. I catch a whiff of jasmine as she walks by. She smells like Sherry, the woman, not the wine. How could I not move closer? Then a man walks in behind her, carrying a suitcase.
Now I’m not the type of gentleman who will steal another’s lady. It’s disrespectful. But to tell the truth, I haven’t smelled jasmine in a long time. Her hair is beautiful and red, and twisted into a bun so I can see her neck elegantly protruding from the scooped peasant blouse. I’ve always liked necks.
She shivers as I approach her. I have that effect on women.
“It’s cooler in here than I expected,” she says to the man. I like the sound of her voice, lilting and southern.
“This place is creepy.” He looks around the saloon. Jasper clenches one fist. “Are you sure you want to do this?” The man’s voice is not as pleasant; it’s harsh, and deep, more like a carpetbagger than a gentleman.
“Oh yes,” she replies. “It’s supposed to be creepy. Let’s go upstairs and see the room.”
“Room 20 is the nicest,” I tell her, but she ignores me. Nora and Eddie stop dancing for a moment and scowl, but Joey looks intrigued. It’s the first interest he has ever shown in any of the visitors. I wave him over and we follow the two up the stairs. Jasper watches us go, but Jesse, and Johnny act like they didn’t see anyone come in. They can be sullen like that.
Jake Dawson is standing at the top of the stairs, arms crossed, and he looks angry, like he could throw this latest couple down to the ground if he wanted to, but he lets them walk right by. I see his hooker peering down the hallway, but she doesn’t scream at them. I stand next to the lady and Joey stands next to the man as we all walk down the hall.
“Feel how cold it is?” she asks. I see gooseflesh on the nape of her neck, and I want to kiss it. Joey grins at me with this insane-looking grin like he would like to see me kiss her neck. Maybe I should have left him in the saloon. He keeps bumping into the man; the gesture is callow and pointless, like the stories Joey writes.
“Room 20, right?” the man says.
“Right. It supposed to be ready for us.” She stands patiently while the man fumbles with the brass key. I lean in to sniff her hair – clean-smelling, like a stand of pines in the morning dew just before coffee and a biscuit. The man smells like horse sweat. Joey leers at him behind his back and puts his thumbs in his ears, waggling his fingers and drawing a face like a rodeo clown.
I’ve always been partial to Room 20. It has a nice view of the mountains, and Sherry laid down with me, once, in Room 20. The room has changed since then, but not the view. The woman and I stand at the window and enjoy it for a moment, but the man goes straight to the water closet, turning taps and inspecting the cleanliness.
“I think I’ll shower,” the man says. “Knock off the trail dust.” He opens the suitcase and pulls out a fresh change of clothes.
The woman nods and then walks over to the bed. She sits down, bouncing slightly to check the spring and softness. Finally, she lies down and sighs with contentment. Joey follows the man into the bathroom, and when the shower starts, he begins to bang on the pipes. The sound of it annoys me, but it makes her smile.
“Old pipes in an old hotel,” she mumbles.
“It’s Joey,” I tell her, but she ignores me.
She closes her eyes, still smiling, so I lie down beside her. How could I not? I let her rainbow aura wash over me. She shivers, and I’m sure she feels me. She is my lady. I place my hand gently on her throat, stroking her Adam’s apple.
It’s a compulsion. I can’t help myself. I’ve always liked necks. My fingers tighten around her throat. She gasps a little, but then the hooker down the hall screams and my lady bolts upright in the bed, shaking off my hand. Her own hands clutch her throat, massaging it.
The shower turns off, and I hear the man holler, “What the hell? Where’s that fucking towel? I put it right here…” Joey comes out of the bathroom kicking the towel and grinning like an ape.
The hooker screams again. It sounds like she’s in the next room. I hear Jake push some large piece of furniture against the wall. It shakes the floors in the old inn, and the rocking chair here in Room 20 begins to rock from the vibration. My lady stands, mouth agape, screaming without a sound. Damn Jake! Now she looks upset.
The man emerges dripping wet, spots the towel, and picks it up. “Did you scream?”
My lady shakes her head, pointing at the chair. The man pales visibly and begins to dress, although he is not completely dry. Joey swipes at the man’s testicles. He has no respect. What an oaf!
The hooker screams a third time. Darkness falls, and the man dresses faster. He shuts the suitcase.
“I’ve had enough,” he tells her. She nods, still clutching her throat. He says, “Fucking ghost adventures! Thank god we didn’t bother to bring more luggage.” She opens the door to Room 20, and they exit without closing the it behind them, so I shut the door. They jump at the sound of it. She lets out a small yelp.
Joey and I follow them down the stairs. Jake and the hooker stand at the top, laughing as they look down. I shake my fist at the hussy who ruined the moment for me and my lady.
Back in the saloon, Nora and Eddie stop dancing long enough to watch the newcomers leave. Jasper sits beneath the chandelier, staring at the wall. Jesse and Johnny spin an empty bottle on the bar top. Joey goes back to his Bloody Mary. It’s just another night at the Magnolia Inn and Saloon.