A Dark and Stormy Night

The design of this little hotel is interesting. The ground floor is for the cars, and the motel above is turned inside-out, with the doors opening onto a central court, lit by skylights. The rafters over the court are covered with spikes to convince our feathered friends that what would otherwise be an ideal nesting place is off-limits. The building is older, with those little signs of decay that are hard to pinpoint but add up to a feeling that of a place that wasn’t that well-built to start with and has seen better days.

I chose to stay in, and I spent the evening reading and eating snack food. The wind whipped around the building and drummed on the roof. It was downright chilly, so I turned on the heater—one of those gas-fired wall units, about five feet high, the enamel darkened near the top from years of use, the kind that emits carbon monoxide if it’s not adjusted properly. I read until I started nodding off, then turned out the light and fell quickly to sleep.

Quickly, but not for long. I awoke to a series of low, resonant clanging sounds noises coming from the heater. They slowed down over the next couple of minutes and eventually stopped. The metal of the heater was contracting, I guessed, after the thermostat had reached temperature and shut it off. I listened to the rain come in squalls, fierce yet brief, hammering the roof and the tin chimney of my heater. The storm was playing the metal pipe like a musical instrument—no, a band, with percussion and woodwinds. Heavy drops rattled and pinged off the metal while the wind resonated in the pipe with low moans and higher whistles. The whole was punctuated by the periodic smack from the bathroom as the vent louvers opened and slapped back closed with the shifting winds.

I lay in the darkness, having just finished one Pulitzer prize-winning novel and started another, and thought of graceful and floral ways to describe the night. This morning I can’t remember any of them. They sure seemed good at the time, though.

Twice more last night I awoke to the clunk-clunk-clunk of the heater as it expanded or contracted. By the numbers, it was not a great night of sleep, but this morning I feel refreshed, perhaps because I decided not to drive today. That’s right, I’ll be returning to the same place tonight.

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