By the fourth year, I had half forgotten the boy that used to run around my castle with me, helping slay dragons and attending royal galas with outlandish dignity for a teenager. Mum had started losing more of her money in the poker games at the bar and what little she had left she spent on alcohol, cigarettes and breath mints.
I don’t know when she started smoking. I think she tried to hide it for the first couple of months, but it was impossible to shower out the smell. It stuck behind her teeth and in her hair, which now she hardly washed. She used to be a beautiful blonde with hair that bounced and bobbed when it was windy, but now the color had leaked out and was dripping only from her split ends.
The rest of her head was a dull brown that turned almost black with the grease and oil. Aunty always told her off for smoking and said she’d be able to buy more food if she quit. But Aunty herself smoked, so I don’t know what she was on about. Besides, if Mum had a little money left over she always brought herself sweets or chocolate, not bread and eggs like we needed. Most of the time she didn’t have any money left over though.
She had quit her job with the Motel, saying it wasn’t taking her anywhere. I had quietly gone to ask Mr. Wong if I could replace her and he had agreed. I didn’t mind the job much because I got to listen to music while I worked. Mr. Wong had given me the decrepit old iPod a stuffy Indian man had left behind in a drawer. Usually Mr Wong would call the guest and tell them, but this guy had driven into the courtyard in a very low car that sounded as loud as a plane at four AM. Then he had buzzed the reception non-stop until Mr. Wong had come to the door. Then he demanded a room with a big bath, the motel has no big baths and complained when the bath was too small. Then he had left the room smelling like fish, after taking with him all of the towels. So I got the iPod.
All it had on it was big Bollywood movie theme hits, some stuff by Beethoven and a couple of Self-Help Audiobooks.
I think I can almost speak a little bit of Indian now thanks to his music and I’ve listened to all three of the Audiobooks once or twice at least.
I was the only cleaning staff at the motel so I usually started at nine, cleaning the reception, by ten I was in the rooms and at two fifteen I was heading across to Over The Moon to work a shift in the diner for Bernie. I got a crusty blue and white uniform working at the motel, it was a couple of generations old but Mr. Wong said he liked to keep things classy.
I had accidentally worn it to the diner one day because a guest had clogged up a toilet with what was apparently the entire roll of toilet paper and a plastic bag of unidentifiable substance. I chucked all of it in the rubbish bin and raced across the road not stopping to get changed because I was so late for my diner shift.
Bernie was delighted, saying the uniform made the diner a real ‘top-notch joint’ and he brought his own blue shirt to wear to work as well. Dallas, surprisingly, kept to his old ripped t-shirts and stained jeans.
This meant I basically didn’t need to buy clothes, not that there were many options to choose from, but as long as I washed the uniform every couple of days it took another whole cost off the table, which was good because Mum had slowly given up on the rent and I can’t remember the last time she brought me and Hugo food.
Last month had been a big month for me because with the two jobs, I had actually managed to pay off the tab we had with Aunty in the gas-station dairy. Or at least the amount that she had told me was the tab. Hugo and I had made pasta with fried bacon and cheese for dinner that night to celebrate.
I felt my throat contract at the thought of my little brother.
‘Another one Soph?’ Dallas leaned on the bar quizzically. ‘You’ve had a few already.’
I leaned on the counter. It was true I’d had a few but I was nowhere near intoxicated and he knew it. He just got off on making me beg. Which I usually did have to do, he was the only place in miles, emphasis on the for miles, that would sell to me as an underage. His justification was that I didn’t have far to go to get home. Living across the road, I couldn’t exactly even drink and drive.
‘Please Dallas darling?’ I let my smile pull my head to one side. He sighed deeply and turned around, rummaging in his cabinet.
I turned around on my stool surveying the scene in front of me. I let the drunken, vagueness slip from my face for a few moments. You got far in a place like this pretending to be a silly little drunk girl. The truth of the matter was that I could probably hold my liquor better than almost everyone here.
It was the same scene every night. Over in the corner were the group of single women all over forty but looking sixty, their remedy for this beauty dilemma was to turn to the latest twenty dollar ‘Anti-Aging Moisturiser’. While still smoking six packs a day. But it wasn’t the ciggies, no never, the moisturizer just didn’t work. Maybe veganism and yoga isn't the answer. They are unhappy.
Then there were the bikers. Two out of the group were actually in with proper gangs, the other four were just middle-aged men stuck in a midlife crisis. They wanted a purpose and respect. Unfortunately, all they got was cheap beer and low-end prostitutes. The kind that didn’t care about condoms. The midlife crisis guys would probably be back with their unkind wives by the end of the week. Giving up the motorcycle to pursue battery aided cycling. An activity they can do with their unkind wives to 'restart their marriage' and 'bond'. The cycling doesn’t stop them from being unhappy. Why would it?
The tourists, occasionally attractive, but mostly just tired and poor. Fighting for an authentic travel experience. They wanted to do as the locals do, but what nobody in the bar told them is that no locals dared to visit here. No locals probably even knew this place existed. This was the kind of place you drive through when you’re going somewhere else. The kind of place that never pops up in travel albums. A nothingness place. An in-between places place. The exhaustion combined with bad food and intimidating bikers makes the tourists unhappy. They will leave first thing in the morning, only a bad review to remind us that they were ever even here.
The single guys on business trips. They miss their unhappy two kids, unhappy wife and unhappy mortgage on a house they can’t afford in a neighborhood they loathe. They are also unhappy.
The couples playing footsie over by the bar. Her hand betrays a thin strip of pale skin around her middle finger, quietly ignored by her lover. They kiss and drink champagne out of greasy glasses. They will go back to one of the rooms in my castle and fuck later tonight. Fuelled by guilt and lust. They aren’t in love and they know it. But just like an audience pays for a ticket to a theatrical performance, they’ve quietly agreed to both play along with the lie and call it a fairytale. They are still unhappy, but they would prefer to be unhappy and having great sex than unhappy and not. Can you really blame them?
The prostitutes are circulating and the teeny boppers are drinking fruity drinks, drunk on the illusion of adulthood more than anything. One of them will be pregnant in a year, too scared to buy condoms or talk to a doctor about going on the pill. But also too scared to say no to her lovely boyfriend who is at least three years older. Her boyfriend is out of school. He doesn’t need an education he’s more intelligent than the system. And selling drugs, that's a completely stable income. He even gets to manage his own hours.
One of them will kill themselves, come deliberately close or self-harm and tell everyone. They have to keep up with the pregnant fifteen-year-olds.
At least two of them are Instagram models. With pictures of their prepubescent tits plastered all over the internet, in an aesthetically pleasing layout, with a color theme to really bring it all together. Their bio will say something like ‘15, Model, Tacos.’ Something relatable, down to earth, and idiotic.
I can guarantee that all of them are unhappy. They paint on their smiles at the same time they do their eyebrows. It’s all apart of their morning routine, which they blog about on their website. That blog is then turned into Youtube video. They have a total fan base of one-hundred and nine. They are ‘Internet Famous.’ And did I mention unhappy?
I turned back around as Dallas put my glass down with a wink, then a frown as he looks over my shoulder.
‘So Princess Sophie drinks now?’ James says in a low voice from behind me.