TODAY'S PROBLEM

Joseph Dougherty


A and B are traveling together in a car headed east on a road that runs through what was farmland when they were both children.  They did not know each other as children.  They did not live in this community when they were children.  They moved here shortly after they were married.


The road still exhibits its history of effortless hills, but the potato, cabbage, and corn fields it once meandered through were developed into industrial parks and shopping malls beginning about fifty years ago.  Nothing remains to recall that previous purpose except the names of the cross streets.  Apple Lane.  Vidalia Way.  Greenfield Avenue.


At one point, slightly more than half-way between where they started and where they’re going, A and B pass, on the left-hand side of the road, a low, two-story building that has made a slight effort to resemble a barn.  There is a central building with a gambrel roof and faux hay-loft doors.  Coming off to each side of the fake barn are flat-roofed wings consisting of two-stories of open gallery walkways and doors meant to resemble the Dutch doors of a stable.  It is a motel.  More properly, it was a motel.  There are no cars in the parking lot, the flagpoles are without pennant or banner, and the marquee at the edge of the road states The Red Barn Inn is available for lease or sale.


B looks through the windshield as they approach the motel without slowing and remarks to A, who is the driver of the car, “The Red Barn is closed.  When did that happen?”


A replies:  “I don’t know.”


B:  “Looks like it’s been closed awhile.”


A:  “Does it?”


B:  “Why do you suppose it went out of business?”


A:  “Things have been fading around here.”


B:  “It was never really a fancy place, was it?”


A:  “No.”


B:  “Traveling salesmen kind of joint.”


A:  “I suppose.”


B:  “Do they still have traveling salesmen?”


A:  “Maybe that’s why it closed.”


By now the ghost of The Red Barn Inn is behind them.  A watches it shrink in the rearview mirror, eventually sinking below the crest of a hill.


But A continues to think about The Red Barn Inn as the journey continues and B looks for something agreeable on the radio.


A’s mind is considering a problem.  What will happen if A mentions to B, as casually as possible, that A once spent a night at The Red Barn Inn with a person of the same sex as A?


It was a long time ago, or at least A likes to think it was a long time ago.  And now the place where it happened is closed.  Soon it will likely be razed, erasing all evidence of the night.  


Erased except for the occasional memories…not full memories, but shards and fragments of memories…of the night:  The other person’s wrist watch ticking in A’s ear.  The open suitcase on the stand next to the dresser.  The way the headlights of passing cars sliced through the incompletely closed curtains to etch triangles across the “cottage cheese” ceiling above them.  These images occasionally float up from the back of A’s mind to remind A that the thing that happened had actually happened.


B turns off the radio and pulls the folded newspaper out of the pocket molded into the car door.


A rolls down the window to let some air into the car.


They drive on to their destination.


Solve for X in which X = Will the destruction of The Red Barn Inn change anything?


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Joseph Dougherty is a writer living in California.


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