'Most' was tucked up in the left-hand corner of the sign, as a small threat in an otherwise accepting culture of Sweetgum County. Rainbow flags were flying, head shops with glass-cock inspired pipes, and BCD oil was readily for sale. Enough candles to set the wood constructed historic town ablaze, all nestled in and around the grounded glass front establishment. If a fire broke out, the shops, inns, and homes stamped on top of each other like Lego bricks would be consumed quickly, leaving only the tortuous layers of limestone foundations, worn and jagged to the end. The mixed scents of the many candle and soap shops would melt into an aftermath headache.
"Let's get married," Moira pulled at David's sleeve.
"We are married."
He was striving for his tone of finality, the one he used with the kids, but there was a breeze of willing persuasion at his sentence's tail end. Moira tugged him towards the building with an unusual sign. As they neared, they saw recreated photos in 8x10 to 11x14 pasted up in the windows. Every picture featured a child, or a whole family decked out in mid-western late 1800s costume. A smaller sign on the front door beckoned olde tyme daguerreotypes inside. Moira and David paused but soldiered on in as the oddity of the situation unfurled.
"Excuse me, what does "most" marriages performed mean?" Moira asked.
"We do Christian marriages. No Catholic or Buddhist ceremonies," said the woman in her early 50s with long gray hair and a wrapper of fat around her middle. She delivered her sentence with conviction and a hallmark of challenge.
This wasn't offensive to Moira and David personally, but it was repugnant. They exited Judge Roy's shop without a renewal of vows or a staged daguerreotype featuring Moira working in a women's oldest profession and David as a bank robber. Suddenly, all the smiling photos, babies included, were sporting a sinister grin that crept off their faces and wielded a decided slice through humanity, cleaving the decency they thought to protect in half, felled onto the floor of bigotry. As tourists, Moira and David dutifully walked and climbed through each store. Peeling away at the most common characteristic of humanity, hypocrisy. Stores that carried hand carved crosses also featured tintype signs of hate speech.
The Marshalls scrutinized this historic old town of Sweetgum County. A series of checks and balances blistered their tongues in the conversation's stagnant air; they sat asunder the noonday Sun drinking their lemonade measuring their ethics against this hodgepodge town. Should they leave? Should they inquire about a few ounces of pot? How did the extremely left liberal shopkeepers live in communion under the dense cloud front of bigotry? Two shops further down, Moira bought a fig and milk brick of soap. It was big enough to hurl through a plate glass window.
Moira and David's stop in Historic Downtown Sweetgum was premature. They'd not yet registered at The Matterhorn Motel. Upon arrival, their parenting kicked in gear at the awakening just seven steps away from their motel door. With no lifeguard present, Moira looked over her shoulder at the children's baptism in the pool. Two little boys and a girl, all tweens, like their children, joyfully took turns dunking one another and making underwater passes.
As David unlocked the red wooden door with a sizeable window covered in a dingy cotton curtain, Moira and David stepped inside the closet size vestibule and were greeted with three more doors. Per the chatty motel manager's directions, they ignored the entrance to the right, the one straight ahead, and turned their attention to the left where there was a paint flaked white wooden door. Their suitcases drug across the overly plush rose-colored carpet that ran wall to wall, including the toilet and jacuzzi. The room was musty, and it looked like Great Grandma Marshall's meets Bed, Bath, and Beyond clearance. The white woodwork was painted on thick, the kind you could absent-mindedly pick and chip. Given the age of the room, Moira decided lead paint was a definite possibility. There was no headboard, just a gap butted up near a well-covered window. One nightstand was claimed by David for his C-PAP. His obesity had rendered him unto the services of the C-PAP. He was actively trying to lose weight, and he had made a steady decline to 250 lbs.
The room was a pale greenish-yellow in most places. It was clear that the room was painted with the furniture intact. Dovetails of white peeked out from the edges of the furniture. There was a wall and a 1/3 covered with tile where the jacuzzi tub was framed in with scraps of a darker board. The telltale sign of thickness exuded grout, which betrayed the secret of long-leaning plumbing problems. Moira knelt down to check the mattresses for bedbugs. Stalwart by a black pillow-top Serta mattress, which proved to be too soft with the arrival of the morning and aching lower backs. The coffeemaker didn't work. The floor space at the foot of the bed was covered with an overly sizable beige rug framed in white. Its position reeked of concealment. What was under the rug? The Marshalls decided ignorance was best and left the suspicious rug in its conspicuous spot. They wedged into the jacuzzi and watched SNL from across the room. David watched head-on, while Moira viewed in the Mirror. It was impossible to turn the TV to a volume that could carry over the tub's jets and the a/c. As crappy as the room was, Moira and David would not let it come between them. It was their 20th anniversary.
The affection in the jacuzzi had to relocate to the bed. Moira and David were collectively too big to make a go of it in the tub's water rinsing lubricant. As they gained weight over the years, various positions were eliminated due to feasibility issues and what Moira felt had become unflattering positions. The latter of these could be performed in an adequately dark room. Moira had stopped giving head as David's girth increased. But now she attempted to give him a blow job on the ugly room's aquatic-themed, king-sized bed. Her forehead made a soft smack sound every time it met his low hanging gut. It was a small sick sound like one of their children vomiting in the car on the way to Great Grandma Marshall's house.
The sexual reunion did little to erase the mark between them. Each of them uneasy and carrying the crowded room that had become their daily life. The Marshalls cut their trip short. David continued to mentally revisit Moira's death grip, and right foot plant on the floorboards with every hairpin turn into Sweetgum. Moira didn't mean her death grip and stomping, pumping of an invisible break as a commentary on David's driving. She had a death grip on most things in life. Moira fervently clung to all her loved ones; thus, choking her family and friends out of her life.
As they drove away from the cliff-based historic downtown of Sweetgum, every recognizable store, made it harder and harder to breathe. They saw the ordinary Wal-mart and McDonald's. Icons of both the country setting and home. It was too much. It was a long-distance reminder of home, the grocery shopping, the fast food on busy nights of softball and baseball, and the never-ending commitments to everyone and everything, but them. David turned the car around at a Dickey-Hub's and picked-up speed back toward the Matterhorn, the outlander of Sweetgum's historic downtown. With the advent and passing of a Kum and Go gas station, David increased his speed. Moira kept her hands in check in her lap, no clinging to the door this time.
As the Matterhorn rose over the ridge, they could breathe deeper and cleaner than they ever could at home. Bowed heads, they returned and asked for their room back, never mind the room had yet to be cleaned. It was their own filth. Moira and David had returned to the musty, shaggy room with the gurgling window unit and disrobed. The closed curtains in full daylight, let in plenty of light. Moira and David had a renewal of their wedding night. The tender touch, coupled with the forceful thrusts, led Moira and David back to a time before their marriage was a performance for the kids, the family, the community. They were blissfully alone in their union.
(c) Leah Holbrook Sackett