A Tip for Mabel

The first thing Scott, the handyman, shows Mabel at Green Valley Motel is how to rob the coin boxes on the vibrating beds. Just jam the room key here, he points, then shake it. Mabel does, and a bunch of quarters spill out. Won’t they miss it? She asks. Nah, he says, Consider it a tip.

Mabel is between jobs. Between adventures, she tells herself ironically. It is late spring when she sees the Help Wanted sign in front of the motel on Route 9. The office is pretty ratty, frayed carpet and peeling Formica, but the 10 tiny cabins scattered in the pines, each with a stone pathway, please her. The whole place looks like a run-down fairy land. Mrs. Parker, the owner, hands Mabel a white polyester uniform. In the storage room, she finds the rolling vacuum cleaner and a cart filled with spray bottles and scratchy towels.

Sometimes Scott leans against the doorframe as she cleans. He has frizzy hair that sticks straight up and a goofy smile. He’s been working here since high school. 10 years. Since before he had three kids. Since before Mr. Parker died.  That’s interesting, Mabel says, as she Windexes a mirror. It is anything but interesting, Scott corrects her, It is the curse of being a Townie.

Mabel likes to open the windows of all the cabins, then shut them later before she leaves. Scott is walking by. That’s a nice touch, he says through the curtains. Don’t try it in the winter. She pictures winter, the little rooftops covered in snow. But it is now summer, the stone pathways absorbing the heat. Mabel leans out the cabin window, shakes her hair. Hey look, she calls to him, I’m Rapunzel.

What happened to the last maid? Mabel asks. She and Scott are having lunch on the picnic benches out back. What happens to anyone? Scott answers. They get on Route 9, he makes a sweeping gesture with his arm, and go back where they belong.  Mabel thinks for a moment. I don’t actually belong anywhere. Scott sighs, That might be better than belonging somewhere.

The cabins are never full. Maybe in October, Scott says, when people drive up to see the foliage. He shakes a finger at her, But if you’re hoping for more tips, keep robbing those vibrating beds.

Mabel’s been working there for 5 months. She hasn’t found another quarter in the coin boxes. Not one. Today, there’s a nip in the air. She wears a sweater over her uniform. She heads toward the back cabins. Hey Scott, she calls, I’m Gretel. She points to the rolling vacuum, This is my buddy, Hansel.

The sun is low through the pines, Mabel stamps the snow off her boots outside the office door. She is picking up her last check. Scott strolls down from the storage room. He’s got a big woolen scarf around his neck. Shoving off, huh? He says. Yup, Mabel answers. They stand awkwardly for a few moments, then exchange a quick hug. She points the car towards Route 9, rolls down her window, and takes one look back at the motel. It’s true; the rooftops do look sweet covered in white. Hey, Scott calls after her, Cinderella escapes.

Photo by Nicolas Cool on Unsplash