Lake Effect, Spring 2018, Volume 22: "East Montana"

East Montana

by Steve Coughlin


Twenty miles outside of town Adam can’t hear
the refrigerator’s rattle, there’s no hardware store
to walk the aisles holding a cracked sprinkler head. He
    drives north
up highway 21, past the cold sadness of failed towns. Adam
    understands the grey
indifference of factories, the grey-white smoke drifting
   from smokestacks.
He enters the safety of a cheap motel room--an ashtray on
    the nightstand,
a rectangle of fluorescent light from the bathroom. How
    many other anonymous bodies
have slept under these stained sheets? A man yells, a woman
    yells louder.
But none of it matters because tomorrow there’s a different
    motel room,
takeout pizza, another man and woman in the room next
    door. Adam drifts
through the high plains, the rolling flatness. And what if she
    told him
there would be a child? What if she told him only a week
    before? None of it matters
in east Montana. Just roads where nothing
gets named, houses fall into ruin. Night brings
    cable television
with complimentary HBO. A free Styrofoam cup of coffee
    in the lobby.
He wanders the neon glow of a parking lot, 2:00 a.m.,
past a rusted car with Arizona plates, a pickup truck with a
    tarp covering
used furniture in the bed. The wind blows, a motel
   door slams
as Adam listens to eighteen wheelers rumble into darkness.
How could anyone--his Eve, your Eve--ever
   think different?