The cabin at the top of a hill. We pulled into the dirt driveway off the dusty road. Dark. Dark in the way that countryside towns outside of major cities cultivate darkness as a kind of tourist attraction itself. The moon would come out later that night, shocking how bright it could be. Up the driveway and into a parking area, the dust hovering around the car.
The cabin’s front porch lit with globe-style holiday lights. The kind in every hip restaurant with a patio. Strong in a lazily-arranged crisscross. Inside the front door, a kitchen with appropriately outdated kitchen cabinets and a gas stove. In the center of the main room, which had two couches across from one another with a knock-off Oriental rug, a wood-burning wrought-iron stove. Just like in the pictures of the cabin on the rental website.
Friends arranged on the couches across from one another as we approached. I wanted to tiptoe outside, looking into the orange glow. Not telling them, just for a second, that we’d arrived. I wanted to know what we were going to be feeling, how deeply relaxed. I wanted to observe them in the middle of reading something, forgetting to look at their email inboxes. Enjoying the space constructed for a very particular type of getaway, of not caring, of purposefully unplugging.
The wi-fi password on the fridge, though. Easy enough.
Two bedrooms and a bathroom with a shower curtain that had the requisite seven or so dots of mold. Do these rental things enough and you know what they’re going to smell like. What the silverware will be like in the drawers. You know that the mugs will be mismatched and that they’ll give certain clues about the owners. Clues that either the owners leave on purpose to remind you that they exist somewhere, and that they have lives that you need to respect. Or alternatively that they’re unaware serve as clues for guests.
This place had more books than usual, but all in the right genres. Short story anthologies of the twentieth century. Popular histories. Novels written by the our moment’s most popular and mainstream smart people. Safe books. Books that convey taste that is quaint in its just-offness. Or its too intentioned just-rightness. Books that smell like books in rental houses. Books that thoughtful renters leave behind, grateful to have had time to spend with a book for once. Books left behind in the final minutes of cleaning the place up a bit before leaving.
They say, “I’ll leave it here for someone else. It was such a good book. I really enjoyed it.”
Books they tell their friends about for the next several weeks. Then forget about. Then, weirdly, have a dream about six months later. And when they wake up from a nightmare, realize that it was the only book they’d read in years. And that there are so many unread books. That they can’t possibly only read when they’re spending time in the mountains.