Highway 50, fiction by Murray Dunlap

Lincoln Highway at Middlegate NV

pho­to by dav­e­meis­ter­moab

Two AM. High­way 50. Ely, Neva­da. We laughed out loud at the Break-a-Heart Hotel in Sil­ver Springs, flew past the Last Chance Saloon in Austin, then passed up the Par­son­age House in Eure­ka. A coy­ote dart­ed across both lanes a few min­utes ago, and I've seen more road-kill in one night than in a life­time of dri­ving. We're low on gas. From here, the next decent stop is Delta, Utah, and that's one hun­dred and fifty three miles up the road. I've got a job in Den­ver to get to, but we won't make it tonight.

Ely it is.

The Prospec­tor is full. So are the Park-Vue and the Cop­per Queen. Hotel Neva­da is no dif­fer­ent, so I ask where else we should look. Jessie stays in the car with the doors locked. The girl behind the desk looks to be in her late teens. Her name tag reads: Rose Ellen. She's wear­ing a red tank top with black bra straps show­ing and her breasts are so large, they move papers around on the coun­ter­top while she talks. This is her job.

"The Jail­house Motel, I guess," she says. "They always have a room left."

"It ain't the best," I say.  "But any­thing would be fine. Can you call them for us?"

"Sure, baby."Rose shouts into a dark room over her shoul­der where the blue light of a tele­vi­sion blinks against an obese man's face. "Get up, Bull. What's the num­ber for Lola at Jail­house?"

Bull opens his eyes, scowls, and turns to Rose. "Look it up, bitch." Bull shakes his face, loose fat jig­gling in his cheeks. "Jail­house?" With con­sid­er­able effort, Bull stands up. Dark wiry bangs stick to his fore­head and a long jagged scar trav­els the length of his chin. He walks into the door­way, fill­ing it, and looks me in the eye."You're not going to stay there, are you?"

"Every­thing is full," I say.

"You feel­ing lucky?"

"Not espe­cial­ly."

"I wouldn't go to Jail­house with­out a buck­et of Clorox and a body con­dom," Bull says. Then he laughs from some­where deep in his throat.

Rose dials the num­ber and twirls her hair. "Lola," she says. "You got more rooms open? I got a pret­ty lit­tle cou­ple here needs a rest." She paus­es and licks her fin­ger. "All right then. I'll send them to you."

I walk back to Jessie, hop­ing the job in Den­ver will give us a bet­ter life. I jin­gle the change in my pock­et and won­der how cold it will be tonight, sleep­ing in the car.

Mur­ray Dunlap's work has appeared in Vir­ginia Quar­ter­ly Review, Post Road, Night Train, Red Moun­tain Review, Silent Voic­es, The Bark, Fried Chick­en and Cof­fee and many oth­ers. His sto­ries have been twice nom­i­nat­ed for the Push­cart Prize, as well as Best New Amer­i­can Voic­es, and his first book, "Alaba­ma," was a final­ist for the Mau­rice Prize in Fic­tion. He is cur­rent­ly work­ing on a nov­el-in-sto­ries called "Bas­tard Blue." The extra­or­di­nary indi­vid­u­als Pam Hous­ton, Lau­ra Dave, Michael Knight, and Fred Ashe taught him the art of writ­ing.

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