Editor’s Note: January 2016 - we need something to help pass the winter – nothing better than sharing Chris Brock’s imagination. Pour a beverage – sit back and relax. Enjoy.
With permission, we illustrate this article with some of 2015 December’s Photo contest sunsets.
“What the heck is this?” Charles Benson asked his wife from his recliner as he showed her the slip of paper that drifted down from the couple's anniversary card he had just opened.
The paper landed on his coffee-stained T-shirt. He picked it up and held the slip in his outstretched arm by a corner and frowned at it, as if displaying a crab that had just crawled out of his shirt.
His wife, Sheryl, walked over and took the piece of paper.
“It says it’s a gift certificate to the Merry Mohawk Casino,” she said. “One night stay at the Mohawk Comfort Suites and dinner are included.”
“We don’t need that,” Charles said. “What’s gotten into her? Who does she think we are?”
She was the couple’s daughter, Maureen, who mailed them the 45th anniversary card with the certificate. She wanted to do something special for her parents. To the best of her knowledge, they had never stayed in a hotel.
“Why should I pay to sleep somewhere?” her father had once said. “I could sleep in the car. Or in the barn if I had to. You know, I once slept on a roof!”
He was fond of the roof comment, especially whenever times got difficult in the family. For example, if someone got a traffic ticket or broke a bone, he'd say, not to worry, "I once slept on a roof, you know," although he never did explain where this mystical roof was or what circumstances had led him there.
It was a long shot, but Maureen thought her gift might get her parents to thinking of doing something truly special for their 50th anniversary, five years down the road, maybe even leaving the county. She remembered the last time they did so. It was about 10 years ago when she and her boyfriend took her parents to the State Fair in Syracuse. The two couples separated at the exhibit hall and were to meet in front of it in four hours. But when Maureen and her boyfriend returned to the hall, her parents weren’t there. They found them inside the exhibit hall. They were watching a demonstration of the “Amazingly Accurate Swedish Steel Utility Kitchen Knife” guaranteed to make food preparation 35 percent easier or your money back.
“We’ve been here all day,” her father said. “This is that guy’s twelfth show. Imagine that, will ya? He’s pretty good. Every show has been different.”
She figured the Mohawk casino, which just opened about 20 miles away from her parents’ home, would be a good stepping stone to getting more fun, and perhaps culture, into her parents’ lives.
So when she called them that night to wish them a happy anniversary, she was prepared when the subject of the certificate came up.
“We don’t live that way,” her mother said. “We don’t need people waiting on us in a fancy hotel.”
“Tell her she’s wasting money again!” her dad yelled in the background.
But Maureen was prepared. She said she was just trying to do something nice, it wasn’t a too fancy hotel, and that she had planned this for years and they deserved such a treat. She then added some extra persuasion.
“You can’t not go,” she said. “They’re expecting you. And if you cancel, it might wreak havoc with your credit history.”
There was a pause on the other end of the line.
“Dear -- I don’t think we have a credit history,” her mother said.
‘Well, then, you could get a double-negative credit history if you cancel,” Maureen lied. “That’s even worse.”
So that’s why a few weeks later, Charles and Sheryl Benson were sitting in their car in the driveway of the Mohawk Comfort Suites, next door to the Merry Mohawk Casino, under the valet parking sign.
“I think that means they’re supposed to come out and get your car,” Charles said. “But nobody’s touching my car.”
He told his wife to wait near the front door while he parked the Buick.
The front desk attendant gave them a card for room 430. The first thing they noticed as they opened the door to the room was the coolness.
“What a waste of energy,” Charles said. “Someone left the air conditioning on.”
“Oh, try to relax,” Sheryl said. “Maureen meant well.”
Sheryl was on the verge of beginning to enjoy the outing. The people at the front desk were nice and one even complimented her on the hat she wore; the first compliment she’d received in months. One young man even offered to carry their suitcases. But they were small suitcases, and could have been mistaken for large fishing tackle boxes. Her husband waved off the youth, saying he could handle them.
“I’m not as lame as I look,” he told him.
On the dresser was a stack of tokens, which Sheryl picked up.
“Look,” she said. “They gave us 50 complementary gambling tokens for the slot machines at the casino.”
“I ain’t going,” Charles said. “I’m going to stay in and see if that TV works.”
“We gotta go,” Sheryl said. “What would Maureen say? Let’s at least think about it.”
After watching a bowling match on television, they went to dinner at the hotel’s restaurant.
“Our daughter gave us this,” Charles said apologetically as he showed the waitress the gift certificate for the free meal. “She thought it’d be a good idea.”
“Get what you want,” the waitress told them. “And congratulations.”
They ate in silence, thinking about the night to come.
“Charles Benson?! “I haven’t seen you in years! Where have you been?”
The man who passed by the table stopped in his tracks when he saw Charles and Sheryl. Charles immediately could tell the voice was of Harold Okarski. The two were co-workers at the village water plant before they both retired. Harold was wearing a loud purple dress coat and a white tie. The outfit was shockingly different from the basic gray uniform the two had worn at the water plant.
Charles had also thought Harold had gray hair. But it was black now, and fuller. Charles looked at Harold as if he just stepped off a UFO. Harold pulled a toothpick out of his mouth and pointed it at Charles. “I was just coming back from the bathroom, and I thought it was you.” He turned to Sheryl. “I hope this is your wife?”
“It is,” Charles said.
“Mine’s over there,” Harold said, pointing to the other side of the restaurant. “We’ve been going here about once a week since it opened. Hey! Maybe we’ll see you at the casino later?”
Charles started to say something. “That would be nice,” Sheryl interrupted.
“OK,” Harold said. “Until then … see ya around.”
Back at the room, Charles was adamant. He was not going gambling.
“Look at what this place did to Harold,” he said. “Why – he dresses like a clown and tramples through restaurants making a fool of himself. Gambling will do that to a person, ya know.”
“I’m going,” Sheryl said. “If I have to, I’ll go myself.”
“Fine,” Charles said. “Hang around with those gambling fools and see what it does to you.”
She said nothing as she left the room. Her husband planted himself on the room’s only chair, despite grumbling about its hardness He was happy to see “Hockey Night in Canada” was on TV.
“Don’t win all the money,” he called after his wife.
After the first period, Charles had the urge for a snack. He recalled seeing a snack machine on the way to his room. He grabbed his keys and wallet and ventured out.
A sign was posted where the machine had been: “Snack machine moved to laundry room.”
He thought of all the snacks he could have had at home, and at a fraction of the cost. He wandered aimlessly, looking for the laundry room, until he went to the front desk and asked where it was, which turned out to be on the top floor. The fact that he found the machine was nearly empty except for a few Ho-Ho’s also did not sit well.
He inserted coins and waited, almost happily, for his Ho-Ho. But it got snagged on the coils and failed to drop. It hung temptingly behind the glass, as if mocking Charles.
He stared at the hanging Ho-Ho. With each second, it grew more desirable. He couldn’t recall the last time he had such a treat, and he thought it would taste great with a glass of milk. If this trip was worth anything, he thought, surely this was it. Such Ho-Ho opportunities came once in a lifetime. It was time to splurge.
He waited some more, now, perhaps hoping for a miracle. “Why are they called Ho-Ho’s?” he wondered.
Still it hung there, and he realized he having a Ho-Ho was not meant to be.
“What a waste!” he said as he kicked the machine.
As soon as he did so, he wished he had not done it. It felt like his toe was broken. He hopped back on the elevator and headed back to his room, where he found that he didn’t have his hotel security card to enter. He didn’t want to bug the front desk people again by asking for a new one. He found some scrap paper and wrote up a note telling his wife he was sleeping in the car and slid it under the door.
His wife returned from the casino a bit after midnight. It was a good night for her and she was excited to share the news of her $450 winnings. She didn’t see her husband’s note until she slipped on it. Luckily, Harold, who had escorted her to the room in hopes of seeing Charles, was behind her to catch her fall.
She read the note and showed it to him.
“Well -- are you still feeling lucky?” he asked sheepishly.
The rain hitting the car’s roof kept Charles awake. But he refused to go back inside the hotel and finally fell asleep early in the morning after wrapping his toe with the duct tape he kept in the trunk. He was woken up late the next morning by a tap on the car window.
“It’s time to go,” Sheryl said. “I checked out. You have to get the suitcases.”
It was still raining slightly. Charles reached under the seat for an umbrella and gave it to his wife. Sheryl unfolded it. She watched her husband walk down the sidewalk to the hotel.
She noticed he had a slight spring in his step. Or was that a limp?
It was at that moment she decided that indeed; she would tell him about her winnings from the night before, after all.
By Chris Brock
This is Chris Brock's fifth fiction piece for TI Life. Chris is the features writer and a copy editor at the “Watertown Daily Times”, where he has won several writing awards. Writing humorous short stories is a hobby. He grew up on the St. Lawrence River community of Waddington, N.Y. Besides being honored at the North Country Writer’s Festival, Chris' works have been published in “Grit Magazine.” His collection of short stories, "Those Carp People and Other Tales of Life Along the St. Lawrence" is available on amazon.com. Click Here to see his other works.
Illustrations for this article are 1000 Islands sunsets. They were submitted for the 2015 Photo Contest by Irene Sidler, Judy Rapp, Doug Tulloch, Kim Kempton and Rick Cassali.