The next phone booth we did come to, as a matter of fact, was outside the Mustang Motel. I drove by slowly and checked the place out, but the guy in the office didn't look too promising.
There were four or five motels pretty much in a row, their little glass-fronted offices shining out over the highway like TV screens. Some of the offices were empty. In the Broken Arrow Motor Lodge there was a gray-haired woman. Bingo.
I parked under the neon sign of a pink arrow breaking and unbreaking, over and over, and went into the office.
"Hi," I said to the lady. "Nice evening. Kind of chilly, though."
She was older than she had looked from outside. Her hands shook when she lifted them off the counter and her head shook all the time, just slightly, like she was trying to signal "No" to somebody behind my back, on the sly.
But she wasn't, it was just age. She smiled. "Winter's on its way," she said.
"Yes, ma'am, it is."
"You been on the road long?"
"Way too long," I said. "This place is real nice. It's a sight for sore eyes. Do you own this place?"
"My son owns it," she said, her head shaking. "I'm over here nights."
"So it's kind of a family thing?"
"Kind of like. My daughter-in-law and me, we do most of the cleaning up and all, and my son does the business end of it. He works in the meat-packing plant over at Ponca City. This here's kind of a sideline thing."
"You reckon it's going to fill up tonight?"
She laughed. "Law, honey, I don't think this place been filled up since President Truman." She slowly turned the pages of the big check-in book.
"President Truman stayed here?"
She looked up at me, her eyes swimming through her thick glasses like enormous tadpoles. "Why no, honey, I don't think so. I'd remember a thing like that."
"You seem like a very kind person," I said, "so I'm not going to beat around the bush. I've got a big problem. I can't really afford to pay for a room, and I wouldn't even bother you except I've got a child out in that car that's wet and cold and looking to catch pneumonia if I don't get it to bed someplace warm."
She looked out toward the car and shook her head, but of course I couldn't tell what that meant. She said, "Well, honey, I don't know."
"I'll take anything you've got, and I'll clean up after myself, and tomorrow morning I'll change every bed in this place. Or anything else you want me to do. It's just for one night."
"Well," she said, "I don't know."
"Let me go get the baby," I said. 'You won't mind if I just bring the poor kid in here to warm up while you decide."
The most amazing thing was the way that child held on. From the first moment I picked it up out of its nest of wet blanket, it attached itself to me by its little hands like roots sucking on dry dirt. I think it would have been easier to separate me from my hair.
It's probably a good thing. I was so tired, and of course I was not in the habit anyway of remembering every minute where I had put down a child, and I think if it had not been stuck to me I might have lost it while I was messing with the car and moving stuff into the little end room of the Broken Arrow. As it was, I just ended up carrying it back and forth a lot. It's like the specimens back at the hospital, I told myself. You just have to keep track. It looked like carrying blood and pee was to be my lot in life.
Once we were moved in I spread the blanket over a chair to dry and ran a few inches of warm water in the tub. "First order of business," I said, "is to get you a bath. We'll work out the rest tomorrow." I remembered the time I had found a puppy and wanted to keep it, but first Mama made me spend thirty-five cents a word to run an ad in the paper. "What if it was yours?" she had said. "Think how bad you'd want it back." The ad I wrote said: FOUND PUPPY, BROWN SPOTS, NEAR FLOYD'S MILL ROAD. I had resented how Floyd's Mill Road was three whole words, a dollar and five cents.
I thought to myself, I'd pay a hundred and five to get this one back to its rightful owner. But what kind of ad would you run to find out if anybody had lost an Indian child?
All of the baby's clothes were way too big, with sleeves rolled up and shirt tails wrapped around, and everything wet as mud boots and as hard to get off. There was a bruise twice the size of my thumb on its inner arm. I threw the soggy shirt in the sink to soak. The child's hands constantly caught my fingers and wouldn't let go. "You little booger," I said, shaking my finger and the little fist. "You're like a mud turtle. If a mud turtle bites you, it won't let go till it thunders." I hadn't any sooner gotten the hands pried loose from my fingers before they grabbed onto my shirt sleeves and my hair. When I pulled off the pants and the diapers there were more bruises.