Heather

poetry by Ashlyn Sharp

Heather

The day after Harambe died, I was stripping beds

at the Comfort Inn with Heather. I flinched at hints

of smoke on her breath, shrinking away

from her voice, the early gray of her hair. But she

taught me everything I needed to know

about cleaning. She had been clean

for one year. Heather’s twenty-something daughter

was going on three months herself by virtue

of a job with her mother at a hotel. Heather flipped

 

on the news in each room as we went, shedding

mattresses and pillows of their skins like snakes. She laughed at the red

-lipped newscaster showing the video of Harambe. “Everyone’s

mad about this,” I said, “The gorilla was just in its cage. The zookeeper

was only doing his job.” She laughed, that yellow-toothed, meth-stained

laugh, like she knew a thing or two about that. Heather’s daughter

 

left a crack pipe in a housekeeping cart. I left two

jugs of milk sitting out by the refrigerator and said I didn’t do it. Someone

just bought more milk. Heather never made excuses.

 

She didn’t blame the child on the gorilla, she blamed the addict

on the mother. Either way, the gorilla got shot and her daughter

got fired and I just kept coming in to work. Heather

 

learned my mother’s name. Heather sang to me on my birthday, scratchy

and off-key, each note echoing down the hall between rooms 219 and

225. I caught her crying the day after they let her daughter go. Heather

didn’t mean for any of this to happen. Heather wanted so much more

for her grandbabies: a mother who wasn’t an addict, a grandmother

who wasn’t a felon, who could get jobs other than cleaning up

 

after sixty-six dollar guests, who could keep her teeth white, her paystubs

in neat stacks next to receipts from the grocery store. But I

 

was only eighteen. I scrubbed ashtrays for tuition

money. I dragged bags of broken glass bottles dripping

out to the dumpster knowing no one was waiting for me

at home. On my last day at the Comfort Inn, I didn’t

 

see Heather. I didn’t say goodbye. I just lumbered

through the sliding glass doors, spotless where I had washed

them, like a zookeeper walking out

of a gorilla’s enclosure, gun

still in hand.

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Ashlyn Sharp

Ashlyn Sharp is an undergraduate student of Creative Writing at Utah State University, where she interns with Sink Hollow Literary Journal. In 2018, she was named a finalist for the Swenson Legacy Poetry Contest, and has work appearing in Whale Road Review and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter @ashjenn6.