This story is by John C Hughes and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
My small hotel room looked bare in the early morning light. One window and two doors, one door open, the other closed. Morning sunlight filtered in weakly through the window. From my bed, I could only see sky and clouds. The open door allowed me to see part of a mirror. I assumed this was the bathroom. The mirror had a metallic finish, rather than looking as though it was made of glass. Strange.
I knew that we had to decide what to do today, the first full day of our vacation. I say ‘our’, because my mom had come on this vacation with me. She doesn’t usually come with me, now that I’m over 21. But she broke up with dad not so long ago, and she must be lonely. If you ask me she’s a bit depressed. I do what I can to please her, to cheer her up.
There was a knock at the main door – the closed one – and before I could say ‘come in’ this room service waiter came in anyway, with a tray of breakfast. There were waffles with butter and maple syrup, OJ and coffee. My favorite!
The room service guy was wearing a plain white uniform, with his name on a badge: ‘Micky’. There was also a colored patch, with what might have been the name of the hotel, but I could not read it at that distance.
I didn’t remember ordering breakfast yesterday so I’m not sure how they knew this is what I like. The food was hot – it’s good to watch butter melting on hot waffles. But there were a couple of strange things. The knife and fork were made of plastic, like I was on an aeroplane. And the coffee was in a very small paper cup. This must be a really cheap hotel!
I couldn’t see my wallet anywhere – I would have given the room service guy a tip. But he left straightaway, and didn’t seem to pause for a tip or anything.
I thought about plans for the day. Mom and I could go down the beach, maybe go on a tour. Or just relax here at the hotel, in the bar or by the pool. I needed to discuss this with mom, to see what she wanted to do. I tried to remember her room number but could not. I decided to call reception, so they could tell me the room, or put me straight through to her. The phone by the bed was not a normal one – no numbers to dial or punch. When I picked it up there was no dialtone. But a woman at reception answered straightaway. She had an efficient-sounding voice.
She politely declined to give me mom’s room number, but promised to give her a message. I said for my mother to come over to my room, when she was ready. Actually mom arrived almost immediately, with Micky, the room service guy, and another hotel employee in a blue uniform. This uniform was very different from Micky’s white one. The blue uniform included pockets on the shirt and a shiny leather belt – quite smart. And on the belt was a gun. Maybe he was with hotel security.
Mom looked tired and unhappy. But I got straight to the point, and asked her if she wanted to go on a tour with me, or maybe go shopping by herself. Instead of answering she started sobbing. What was wrong?
It took her at least a minute to stop crying. Then she asked a strange question: ‘Honey – do you remember what happened last night?’ And before I could answer she told me that we couldn’t go on a tour that day, and that we probably would not be able to go on a tour for a long time. It did not seem fair to me – we had only just started our holiday, and here she was stopping me from doing what I wanted. My mother is always telling me what I can and can’t do. It’s been like that since I was very young. I love her dearly, but I do wish that she would not try to control my life all the time. That’s one reason I wanted dad to come back home and live with us again – so mom would be happy, and not pick on me so much.
I could see why the security guy was there – he must have known that mom was upset about something, and might cause a scene.
Blue Uniform Man then asked me some questions. No introduction, or reason for the questions. He was pretty rude really. Do I have a cigarette lighter? Do I use matches? Have I ever been camping, and made an open fire? I answered the best I could. Yes, I have a Ronson lighter, with a picture of an American flag, so don’t need matches. No, I never went camping, though I used to make fires in the woods sometimes, when I was a kid.
Then he asked me pretty much the same question that Mom had: ‘What were you doing yesterday night?’
I thought about that. Actually, some things about yesterday were a bit hazy. I remembered arguing with mom about me smoking – the cost, the health thing. Not a long or serious argument, but one we’d had many times. Anyway, I don’t smoke that much.
And I recall that I did drive over to dad’s place. I was going to ask him again to come back, to be with me and mom. When I got there, he answered the door with a bottle in his hand. But he wouldn’t let me in the house. And he said he’d never again want to live with mom. He slammed the door on me.
I was sad and angry, all at once. How could I to get dad to come back?
Then I realised: if dad had nowhere else to live, then he would have to come home! I went round the back of his house, and piled up some cardboard and rubbish and wood from an old fence, against the steps leading up to his kitchen. Ah – my Ronson lighter! Now I remember – I used it to light a fire in the pile of cardboard and all.
I must have stayed long enough to make sure that the house’s weatherboards were well alight. I do remember fire trucks in the distance. It did not matter if they put the fire out – I could see that there was enough damage being done to the weatherboard house, to stop dad living there.
My mind is a bit fuzzy about what happened then. I must have driven home, to wait for dad to arrive. Mom was out, I think at her weekly Church Community Group meeting. Dad didn’t come, but suddenly four cars with flashing lights did. Men came up and into the house. They were the ones who offered me a free vacation. I think that’s what they meant, when they said that I was going away for a long time.
I tried to explain that I had to wait for my dad, but they told me dad was never going to come home. How would they know?
I only agreed to this holiday if mom could come too. I seem to remember the men saying that they would arrange everything, and bring mom as well.
So that’s how I got to this hotel room. With all the questions that morning, I was getting a bit het up, not understanding everything, but really trying to help. Then mom said something like: ‘You may have to stay here in the hotel for your whole holiday.’ Why would she say that? She was controlling me again, even on a vacation.
It was then that I needed to go to the bathroom, and tried to get out of bed, but could not. I realised that my ankles were held by round bracelets, attached to the bed. Like handcuffs, only on my legs. Under the blankets, so no one could see. I asked Micky what was going on? It was when Micky came over to me that I noticed a patch on his white uniform, with the name of the hotel. It was weird: ‘Good Shepherd Psychiatric Facility’. A very strange name for a hotel.
How could I have had a vacation, when these ankle cuff things were such a restraint?
But worse, it was clearly impossible to have a good vacation with my loved, but nagging and controlling mother – she was a much bigger constraint!