Cynthia Burgess

Wednesday, 2:00 a.m.

In the artless sterility of an unsterile motel room, water gurgles and drains through the pipes overhead; sirens and traffic sounds leak in around the dead-bolted door's frame. A woman's sweater and a man's shirt hang on a rod near the cracked sink. From above the wavy mirror, a garish fluorescent light casts wide its greenish glow.

A man and a woman are in bed. Their bare, weighted bodies pool to the middle of the mattress and their backs touch. They do not breathe in synch. They are helpless to separate. The woman has discovered she does not even know this man, and the man, that he does not need to know her. Sleep comes for him, quickly, soundly; for her, fitfully but finally.

They are sharply awakened by repeated pounding on their metal door. The man is startled. The woman is startled by her vulnerability. His hand reaches to cup her breast -- an action meant to calm them both. The knocking stops. Their rapid heartbeats slow, she measures her breathing against the clock's jerking second hand, eventually they sleep again.

In the morning the man closes the motel door behind him, leaving the woman sitting at the round table near the window. A heavy, one-piece curtain shrouds the glass pane. There is no way to see out, no way to see in. It is a relief to them both.

Cynthia Burgess has published numerous nonfiction articles in a variety of national magazines, as well as several hundred book reviews written during her past 14 years as a newspaper book editor. Other essays and reviews have been published on the Web in Vagabond Monthly and Discretion.

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