Wayne Michael DeHart (February, 2021)
Mary’s Motel is a lackluster, lemon chiffon 11-unit bargain basement lodging establishment that sits at the edge of a small, stagnant pond on the west end of Sundown Road, known to the locals in Sharonsburg, Maryland, as “Roman Road” – because the only way tourists find it is if they are roamin’ around looking for a place to snap photographs they can show to friends back home.
The wooden structure was built in 1978-79 by two brothers who had been damage controlmen in the Navy.
Though Mary’s name graces the property, it has always been run by a Dick.
Richard “Dick” Cesar Marlon was born on November 12th, 1951, in Lewiston Maine. Over his father’s objections (“You been messin’ around with one of them foreigners down in Portland?”), his mother, Margaret, had given him that unusual middle name after watching the actor Cesar Romero, Jr., play a character named “Pretty Willie” in the 1950 movie “Love That Brute”. She really did think Romero was the prettiest man she had ever seen and often called the young boy by his middle name when her husband was nowhere around. Unfortunately (or not), her husband Mark, a brutal spouse, ceased to be around at all after exiting solid ground while riding a horse on a “cowboy vacation trip”, whatever the hell that was, to Cody, Wyoming, with his buddies in October of 1955.
About a week after the guys headed west, Margaret got a call from one of his drunken friends, known around Lewiston as “Crazy Charlie”. He was excitedly slurring his words but she had learned over time how to understand him and his message was deemed to be of major importance. Mark the Monster had “gotten all lickered up” and rode a horse off a cliff and “got broken up real bad”, and Charlie left the image right there. Long pause. “Charlie, is he dead?” “Of course he’s dead, woman, he rode a horse over a cliff.” Margaret told him to hold the line while she composed herself and he said “okay, but hurry up ‘cuz the guys are payin’ for this call”.
She set the phone down and walked into the kitchen, where her sister Val was making brownies. She blurted out the news and then took some deep breaths and played with her hair. She returned to the phone and said she had one more question, and then he could hang up because she would call the authorities in Cody the next day for more information. “Go ahead, ask”, said Charlie. “How’s the horse?” The phone slammed down hard on the other end, but Margaret was quite sure she heard “something-something-bitch” before being cut off. She went back to the kitchen where Val was now sitting down at the table. Their eyes met and Margaret smiled and then Val smiled and said “ Welllll, shit” and both started laughing like fools.
Sis cautioned that Mark may have put Charlie up to a sick prank, since no one had properly notified her as next of kin. “We’ll know for sure when I call out there in the morning.” After a few moments of silence, the ladies grabbed some Cokes, pulled the brownies from the oven, and toasted the cruel bastard.
The next day, some sort of “spokesperson” for the Cody Police Department came on the line and said he was sorry to inform her that a man identified by his companions as one Mark Marlon, 33, of Lewiston, Maine, husband of Margaret Marlon, had indeed fallen to his death the day before while erratically riding a horse named “Soothsayer” at breakneck speed along a ridge overlooking the Shoshone River Canyon outside of town. He then extended the obligatory heartfelt sympathies to the newly-minted widow and asked her if she had any questions. She asked if she had to go to Wyoming to claim his body, but was told his friends were making arrangements to bring the body home. “No hurry” she said. She then asked, “How’s the horse?” “Ma’am, the horse went off a cliff with your husband on his back, a man who was all lickered up and acting crazy. Many people in this town knew and loved ol’ Soothsayer and are mourning his passing. Your husband, quite frankly, not so much.” Margaret said she understood and extended her own heartfelt sympathies for the town’s loss and the conversation abruptly ended.
His death confirmed, Margaret Mary Marlon hugged her two young sons, and told them gently that Daddy had an accident and had gone to live with God (she almost choked on those last five words, but it was the right thing to do at the time). Conducting herself with dignity and grace in their presence, she refrained from calling young Richard “Cesar” that day as a sort of parting nod to the man who had, to his only redeeming credit, provided her these two fine boys. Val came by to take the kids for a few hours, and Margaret went and sat on her living room couch and turned on the radio. Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That A Shame” rang out across the room. She cranked up the volume and let the sweet irony of the timing and the words sink in.
Suddenly, she was on her feet and doing the 1955 version of the Happy Dance. Ding, Dong, the sonofabitch was gone. No more physical or verbal abuse. No more vicious insults. No more threats. No more bruises to explain to the neighbors. When she said her prayers that night, she asked God to forgive her for her joy in the passing of one of His children, and she knew He would. She also said a prayer for poor Soothsayer and thanked him for giving his life for others. Her final prayer was that she would be able to get through the funeral and the immediate days thereafter without betraying her inner urge to smile like the Madwoman of Chaillot from beginning to end. And she did – not the smiling part, but the getting through part.
(Writer’s Note: It is suggested, if time allows, that the reader watch the YouTube video of “Goodbye Earl” by the artists formerly known as The Dixie Chicks for a 1999 perspective on Margaret’s irreverent response to Mark’s passing. Link provided at end of story.)
Dick Marlon’s younger brother, Joseph Jerome, shared his November 12th birthday, born on that date in 1953. Dick and Joe, two years apart, grew up with no real memories of their deservedly-dishonored dad. When they were in their early teens, Margaret married a man that reminded her of a young Cesar Romero, though not as pretty of course. She had kept her late husband’s surname, not wanting the boys to carry a different last name than her, even though she previously pondered going back to her maiden name (Atherton), Her new husband was well-to-do Bangor businessman Marcus J. B. Mead – making her Margaret Mead. No relation to that “other” Margaret Mead, she’d tell the women at the Ladies Guild meetings, and they would all smile at that, though few got the joke.
Margaret Mary Atherton Marlon Mead died unexpectedly and undeservedly from a ruptured brain aneurysm at the tender age of 43 in the summer of 1969, shortly after Joe graduated from high school. Dick had struggled through school but managed to get his diploma on time with the class of ‘67 and was kicking around at a dead-end construction job in nearby Auburn while waiting for the local draft board to get him. (Some said Marcus Mead had “influenced” the members to bypass him each month, while others believed that, even with the manpower demands of the war, they simply didn’t want to embarrass Lewiston.) Both boys took her passing hard, as they had felt close to and respected their mom. They liked Lewiston and they liked their stepdad but decided it was time to go, and joined the Navy together that Fall. They never came back. To Maine, that is.
After seeing the world and leaving the Navy, they both settled down in Allegany County, Maryland, a location they chose completely at random one night after hooking back up when they resumed civilian life. Dick later admitted “at random” meant using the pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey approach to a mid-Atlantic map hoping the dart would land much closer to Washington, D.C., rather than on the far western edge of the map. Joe wanted a do-over but Dick reminded him that there had to be a reason for the wayward toss. Joe ceded to his older brother and was glad he did when he met the love of his young life there just months after arrival.
Her name was Mary Portia Mathews, and she was his Angel of the Morning.
Dick and Joe built the small motel together, mostly using trust fund proceeds they had claimed upon reaching age 21 (Marcus and Margaret had planned well for the boys), and Mary, in her off-hours from her bakery job, contributed endless energy, sweat and humor to the endeavor in the “go-fer girl” role she chose and embraced. The brothers had planned to name it “Margaret’s Motel” in honor of the only Margaret Mead that mattered to them.
On the morning of March 15th, 1979, with completion of the project just weeks away, Mary Portia’s ‘75 Chevy Monza was struck head-on by a car whose driver was “all lickered up”, just as Joe’s father had been that day in Wyoming. She died instantly. To say that Joe was grief-stricken comes up short. He was devastated. Despondent. Distressed.
He asked Dick if it would be okay to change the paperwork and the unprocessed sign order for the motel to read “Mary’s Motel”, as she had poured her own heart and soul into making their dream become a reality. Joe told his brother that their mother would have wanted it that way, because she was who she was, and Dick unhesitatingly concurred. After Mary’s funeral, the name change was formalized, and plans for the opening were finalized.
When the red & green neon sign arrived, it was attached to double posts that straddled the roof above the office. That night it was lit up for the first time and Joe completely lost it. Dick tried to console him, reminding him that visitors for years to come would speak of their stay at Mary’s place, and her name and her spirit would be ever present. By the time Joe prepared to go home to the apartment he had been sharing with Mary, he had calmed down and even gave his brother a thumbs-up as he drove out of the motel parking lot.
As he reached the road, and just before Dick turned back toward the office, Joe suddenly threw his Chevy C10 into reverse and slowly backed up to the office door, where he got out and hugged Dick, something the brothers rarely had done. Dick could hear Joe sobbing, feel him shaking, but said nothing, and just held the hug. After what seemed like minutes, but was probably not, Joe looked up at the sign and literally shrieked, “Yeah, Mary, this IS your place”. The outburst and its guttural tone was unsettling to Dick. Joe released the hug, firmly shook Dick’s hand while looking away, and gave him one of those familiar arm punches they had exchanged so often as they were growing up, though this one was much harder, reflecting the adrenaline rush he was surely feeling. Then he slowly turned, got back in his truck, and drove off again, this time not looking back.
The call from the sheriff’s office came shortly after midnight. Dick never blinked. He knew Joe had a shotgun, thus he wasn’t surprised. No note was left. That scream, that prolonged hug, the tender spot on his arm – he understood. The only thing that really surprised him was finding a diamond ring in a small box in a bag behind the driver’s seat in the truck. The receipt was dated March 12th, three days before Mary met her fate. Joe had always told him everything, and he knew an engagement was somewhere on the horizon, yet finding the ring that way didn’t sit well for some inexplicable reason. Dick felt anger and hostility – toward Joe, toward life, toward everyone and everything he saw and heard and touched. It was at that moment that Richard Cesar Marlon fully and forever morphed into Mark Marlon’s spawn.
He asked himself why Joe had not given the ring to Mary right away. She would have known that moment of bliss before she had no more moments. She would probably have looked at it a dozen times as she drove to work the morning of March 15th. Waiting stole her chance for one last glance at her left hand on the steering wheel, and the smile that would have come with it, The next day, however, he told himself that Joe was probably afraid that Dick might unintentionally spill the beans to Mary about the ring, and that was why he didn’t tell him about buying it. He also chose to believe that Joe was likely waiting for Opening Day at the motel, or the night before, to propose since that was going to be a special time for all three of them. With that, he was no longer angry with Joe – but the rest of the world was still on his shit list. The sudden deaths of his mother, his brother and his future sister-in-law had blackened his soul and his mood.
Unlike Joe, Dick had not really made any friends at all in Maryland. Even before these new tragedies, he was a different breed of cat. As time had passed, he had already begun to show warning signs that despite not remembering much about his father, he was his father’s son. Joe, on the other hand, was the more mature and responsible of the two and was one of those guys everyone liked immediately. Mary actually met Dick first in Sharonsburg, at the bakery, and he was the one who introduced her to Joe.
At 27, Dick had never been in any kind of significant relationship. A Navy “psych” had suggested that relationships might always be difficult for him because he took the loss of his mother so hard and had subconsciously thrown up protective walls whenever he was attracted to a woman. But that did not explain not dating in high school at all or in the immediate years thereafter. He was attracted to girls back then, and now to women, but he always felt judged by them and kept his distance. He admitted to himself that he was attracted to Mary at the bakery that day and that he felt some degree of jealousy when she and Joe connected instantly.
Away from work at the motel, Joe had spent less and less time with Dick, and while Mary often suggested double dating and hooking Dick up with one of her Cumberland friends, Joe cautioned her against it, without saying why. He cared about his brother and would have been thrilled to see him find a special lady, yet he had seen some dark changes in Dick since they moved to Maryland. Their mother had shared with them some of her “experiences “ with their father when they got old enough to understand, and while Dick just shrugged it off, Joe had aligned with the feelings of the people of Cody, mourning the horse and damning the man. Despite their overall closeness, on those occasions when their father’s name came up, the tension was evident – one was a Hatfield and the other was a McCoy.
Joe was buried in the same small Maryland cemetery as Mary, a decision that did not sit well with Marcus Mead, who insisted that Joe would have wanted to be buried in the family plot in Lewiston, next to his mother. (Mark Marlon had been buried in his own family’s section of an Augusta cemetery and in recent years, Dick questioned why his father and mother were not buried together, even after his mother had told him about the sins of his father. Margaret had made clear to her sister soon after Mark’s passing that she did not want to be laid to rest anywhere near him, for the things he had done to her.)
After they were married, no-siblings Marcus bought a burial plot that could accommodate up to eight decedents – he and Margaret, the two boys and their future spouses, and Val and her partner. At the time of Joe’s passing, only Margaret had taken her place there, and Marcus was adamant that Joe join her. Dick had not told Marcus, or even Mary’s family or friends, about the ring. So even though Joe had loved his mother dearly, he almost surely would have chosen to stay forever with Mary in Maryland. Had he left a note, he could have included that detail, along with a reference to planning to ask Mary to marry him, so everyone would know. Marcus would probably have honored that wish, but there was no note, and Marcus did not know how serious the Joe-Mary relationship had been. Thus, burying him out there irked the man who had created the significant trust funds that not only built the motel, but provided the brothers with more than generous living expenses in the interim. Marcus and Val traveled to Sharonsburg for Joe’s funeral, and even though the motel had not officially opened yet, Dick offered them rooms there and they accepted out of respect for Joe.
Before leaving for home, Marcus asked Dick about the sign. “I thought I was funding “Margaret’s Motel” in honor of your mother. Did Joe ask for the name change? If so, I get it. But now that he’s gone, I’m willing to pay for a new sign and business papers to change it back.”
Dick, somewhat slow-witted and one who was often unprepared for the unexpected, had already thought this matter through, and was ready with the best answer imaginable; “I appreciate the financial offer, but there are two good reasons for keeping the name as it is, and one of them should make you feel better about this. First, Mom’s middle name was Mary, though it didn’t seem to come up very much. So, in effect, the motel is still named for her, right?” Marcus nodded and asked for the second reason. It was only then that Dick told him about finding the ring and how Joe had asked for the name change when Mary Portia died, and that Joe had specifically said that his mother would have wanted it that way because that’s who she was, and he (Dick) had agreed.
The response completely changed Marcus’ viewpoint and when he told Val about it as she packed her things, she cried. The good kind of crying. She had often called her sister by her middle name when they were young because “Margaret” sounded so stodgy, but when Mark Marlon came into her life, he controlled damn near everything she said and did, and got heated if someone called her Mary ( “Went out with a Mary once, said I was a slob or something like that.”) just as he did later whenever he was reminded his first son’s middle name was Cesar. People have first names for a reason, he asserted, and that was that. It also happened that Mark Marlon had no middle name, not even an initial, and to him that served as proof that middle names were irrelevant and “not worth speakin’ about”.
Dick’s superlative and calm explanation regarding the name change, and the resulting acquiescence of Marcus and approval of Val, suggests that in April of 1979, Richard Cesar Marlon may have stepped away from the abyss, and let some light into his life.
After a few last-minute delays, “Mary’s Motel” officially opened for customers on Saturday, April 28th, 1979, with nine of the eleven rooms rented. Dick served as manager and maintenance man, and a local woman worked part-time as bookkeeper, receptionist in Dick’s absence, and because she displayed a contagious and constant smile, became the face of the business. She had emigrated from Greece, as reflected in her given name, Clio. Her expressive dark eyes sparkled and she talked with her hands. Now on her own, she was divorced with no children. Over the years, Dick and Clio developed a close friendship that led them to get married twenty years later, though neither ever expressed feelings of love for one another. They had simply become comfortable confidantes who got tired of living alone as they approached age 50. There was no proposal, just a “we might as well get married” agreement over meatball subs in Frostburg.
For those first twenty years, Dick had worked hard and suppressed his dark Mark Marlon side. He started drinking heavily, but gradually, over that time span and while it bothered Clio, he seemed otherwise stable and “safe”, so she made the commitment. Marcus Mead had come out two or three times a year for the first ten years or so after the motel opened, but he developed health issues and retired, rarely traveling even down to Boston any more to see his beloved Red Sox play. Val moved in with him as his caretaker and companion, but there was no funny business involved. One or both would call the motel now and then in the 90’s to speak to whoever answered the phone, but that was the extent of the contact. Dick and Clio got married on the motel lawn with only a few locals attending, all at Clio’s request. Brunch was ham sandwiches and chocolate cream pie and then see ya later.
After the wedding, however, business at the motel dropped off significantly as Dick sloughed off his duties and building and grounds maintenance noticeably suffered. The pond was emitting a foul odor and there were always dozens of beer cans floating around. Kids would park across the street from the motel and drink and make out there. By 2008, with the economy flailing and failing, the drinkers had become druggies, income was scarce and Dick ordered Clio out to get any kind of employment she could find. She bounced down a road of temporary part-time minimum wage jobs, hating them all. Her glorious smile had become a vacant stare and she was finally openly rebelling against his antics, which enraged him. Then came the abuse, the insults, the bruises. She called Marcus regularly for moral support (they had met soon after she started working there and he thought she was potentially the best thing that could happen to Dick – if he didn’t screw it up.).
She didn’t leave because she had no place to go. She considered the office at the motel her safe space and kept a cot there, and even when all the rooms were vacant, she pretended she had to be there because there were rumors some people might be coming. Dick sat around their shabby apartment outside of town and cursed his wife and his life. Marcus had told Clio the details of Mark Marlon’s death in Wyoming back in ‘55 and on bad nights she would ask someone above to send Dick to Cody so the descendants there could exact their revenge for the loss of Soothsayer.
By early 2021, Marcus Mead and Val were long since dead and buried next to Margaret.
Dick was now 70 with severe cirrhosis and a fat gut that hung below his belt. The ramshackle motel was a local joke, yet still considered open much of the time. Clio had “escaped”, taken away by a nice couple from Richmond who spent a night at the property when they essentially got lost while roamin’ around and exploring the countryside. Dick reported her missing but the local cops only pretended to look into it. Clio had, in fact, reported to them that she was living safely now “far away” and they wished her well and never made a record of the call. Dick is sure she ran off with some foreigner to be a maid or a cook, and good riddance to her.
Before Marcus died, he contacted an associate in Boston in March of 2001, and that associate sent one of his men up to Lewiston. The two men talked for the better part of three days, and the man left with a significant deposit for future services. Marcus asked that the man create a “calling card” identifying himself as Marcus Junius Brutus, which he told the man was his real full name “back in the old country”, showing him his “J.B.” middle initials on an ID card, noting that he added the American surname Mead because he “liked the nectar on occasion”. He told him about Mary’s Motel in Sharonsburg, Maryland, how to get there, and he described the man who ran the place. He told him that a woman named Clio might contact him some day after his own passing and ask for a favor, and she would know how to get the balance of the payment to the man.
In the here and now, Clio placed the call to Boston on February 26th.
There is a better than even chance that on March 15th, at Mary’s Motel, Richard Cesar Marlon, a real-life Dick, will be disrespecting the memory of his mother, his brother, the young love of that brother’s life, and the Lady Clio by sitting soulless and heartless on a filthy couch midst the crumbling premises, his only company his own misery. He will not be riding a horse, but will surely be “all lickered up” and oblivious to things that go bump in the night.
Beware, Cesar, ‘tis the Ides of March, and Brutus draws near … slight not the one called Soothsayer.