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>The Alcoholic – 7

>She signaled the server and ordered him another double and a glass of Cabernet for herself.

“He started hitting me the second year of our marriage. It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been there, but I always felt it was my fault. If only I’d done this better, or said that differently, he wouldn’t have gotten angry. Of course, he understood this and exploited it every day. I felt less than worthless and came to feel that I deserved the abuse.”

“That’s crazy,” he blurted. “Why didn’t you just get the hell out of there?”

The drinks arrived and he grabbed his and took a gulp.

“Why don’t you just stop drinking?” She replied.

“That’s different.”

She didn’t respond, but instead continued her account. “It was my pastor who figured out what was happening and approached me. I denied it at first, but later after my husband broke my arm, I took the chance. He was very understanding and had experience with other women in similar situations. He introduced me to a support group and they eventually helped me get away from my husband.”

“Why didn’t you report him to the police? Get a restraining order?”

She was quiet for a moment and sipped her wine. “I don’t expect you to understand. I just couldn’t. I didn’t have it in me.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I know.”

“So what about now? He just tried to kill you. Why did we run away instead of binding him and calling the cops?”

“And how long will they hold him? Will they believe me over him, with a drunk as my only witness?”

Her words stabbed him and he withered inside. He had almost forgotten his own situation for a moment, as he lost himself in her problems. He felt himself shutting down, pulling away from her.

She spoke softly. “I’m… I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I just–”

“It’s fine. That’s what I am.” He stood up. “Thanks for the drinks. Good luck to you.” He shuffled out of the bar before she could protest.

He was halfway down the block, purposefully heading nowhere in particular. “Hey,” she said as she grabbed his shoulder. “Please stop. You saved my life. Maybe I can return the favor.”

He stopped and looked at her.

“I don’t want to be saved. I want to be dead. And I doubt you have that kind of power. You have no idea who I am or what I’ve done.”

“No, I don’t know you and I don’t personally have the power to help you. But I do understand alcoholism because I watched my father suffer from it and I watched him recover from it. If you want freedom and a chance at getting your life back, it’s possible. You’re not alone or unique. At least try to find help before giving up on yourself.”

He wanted to believe there was a glimmer of hope. Of course he had heard of people “recovering” but that wouldn’t work for him. How could it? He’d tried to quit with everything he had but he’d failed. What more could he do?

He wanted a drink and felt ashamed. People streamed past him on the busy sidewalk, but he only saw her. Her passion spoke softly to him in a way he hadn’t felt in a long time. In fact, he hadn’t felt anything in a long time. Something stirred in him that he didn’t understand, but couldn’t ignore.

“I’ll make you a deal,” he finally said. “You let me help you with your husband problem. I’ll let you help me with my living problem.”

She grinned. “I think we can work with that.”

>The Alcoholic – 6

>”I won’t bore you with the long version,” he began. “I used to have a life. A good job, a family, dreams. Everything seemed to be falling into place for me and I never saw what was coming. I liked to drink, but it seemed to me that most everybody else did too and I wasn’t much different than them. Sure, I drank a little more often and a little bit more than most of the people I knew, but I didn’t understand what it would become.

“I think the trouble began when my wife asked me to cut back and I found that I didn’t want to do that. I told myself that I could quit any time I wanted, but now wasn’t the time. She didn’t understand the pressures I was under at work. She didn’t know about the worst of the memories of my time in the service that haunted me. Drinking helped keep me sane, took the edge off the stress I was feeling. So I took most of my drinking underground. I wanted her off my back but I still wanted to drink my way. I know now that I was only fooling myself. It wasn’t about relieving stress. I liked the feeling that drinking gave me. I liked getting drunk.

“My wife was suspicious of course, and that began the cycle of fights and attempts at reconciliation. I would try to quit and found that I couldn’t. The shame was too much and I would again try to keep my drinking secret. When I lost my job due to my drinking, I stopped drinking for about a week but I couldn’t hold on. I was so depressed and I hated everything about myself. I drank. That’s when my wife and daughter took off. I miss them but in a way I’m glad they left because I was so terribly tired of the emotional pain I was causing them. Now I can’t hurt them anymore.”

“How long ago was that?” She asked.

“I don’t know. The days have been running together lately. Probably a few months. I lost my house several weeks ago and have been on the street ever since.”

“Don’t you have any friends or family that can help you?”

“I ran off all my friends long ago and I don’t have any family besides my wife and daughter.”

She think she knew what he meant. She recalled the painful years of her father’s drinking. His deceptive living, broken promises, isolating behavior and complete narssicism that eventually drove away everybody in his life who cared about him. But the last ten years of his life had been wonderful. He’d finally found an answer to his drinking problem.

“You’re not alone you know. There are many people with your problem and there is help available for you.”

He looked down into his now empty glass and said nothing. He wanted another drink but couldn’t muster the courage to ask her for more. At least his tremors were gone for the moment. Alcohol was no longer his friend and he didn’t derive any pleasure from it. There was no feeling of drunkenness or escape from problems. The only thing drinking did for him today was to temporarily push back the horrible symptoms of physical withdrawal. When he drank enough, he could slip into a black sleep for several hours. It was the only peace left for him.

“I’m beyond help. I just want to–” He stopped himself from finishing, but she knew what he was going to say. “What about you?” He asked. “How’d you get mixed up with that psychopath?” He wasn’t sure he really cared to know, but he didn’t want her to leave him just yet. It had been weeks since he’d had any conversation with somebody. He usually just wanted to be alone with his misery, but not today. There was something appealing about this young woman and he was curious how she had gotten herself into such a situation.

>The Alcoholic – 5

>His tremors eased considerably as he started into his fourth drink and he began to feel more at ease. He hadn’t wanted to enter the bar with her and had tried to convince her to just buy him a couple bottles and leave him alone, but she’d insisted. Street people who looked and smelled like him didn’t enjoy warm welcomes in business establishments and it had been no exception when they’d slipped in and took a small table by the front window. Several patrons made their disapproval known with hostile glances and whispered remarks.

“Thanks for the drinks,” he said, watching her sip coffee.

She didn’t say anything for a moment and just looked into his eyes. He awkwardly shifted his weight and looked down into his glass. “It’s the least I could do. Back there, I thought I was—“ Her voice choked off as she forced down a surge of emotion. She swallowed and quietly said, “You looked like you needed it.”

He felt ashamed and wanted to be alone, but he wanted another vodka even more. “How did you know that?” He asked.

“I saw your hands shaking. You were sweating despite the chill.”

He was grateful she didn’t include the fact that he reeked of booze.

She continued, “My father was an alcoholic so I’m all too familiar with the symptoms of detox.” She caught the attention of the waitress and ordered another double. He gulped down the last of the one he clutched.

“Who was that guy?” he asked.

She hesitated, then seemed to make a decision. “My ex-husband. Apparently his obituary had a few facts wrong. Like that he’s dead. I’d been running from him for a long time. About a year ago I heard he’d died and looked up the obituary to be certain. I settled here and have started to come out of hiding.”

“Which is how he found you.”

“Yeah. I almost wish you’d killed the bastard. He’ll never give up trying to find me.”

The waitress set a drink down with a smile and bounced away to another table. He drank half of it in a few swallows. “Why don’t you go to the cops?”

“I can’t.” She didn’t elaborate and shifted the conversation. “So how did you happen to be in just the right place to save my skin? I didn’t see you in the alley.”

“I was there. You looked my way when you were searching for that door, but didn’t notice me.”

She seemed to accept that. “So what’s your story? You’re too sharp to have been out on the street long.”

He thought about what to tell her and decided to try the truth for a change.

>One Paragraph Challenge

>This might be fun. Write one paragraph that tells a story. Develop the storyline and character(s) as much as possible, but keep it short. Let’s all try it out and discuss each other’s work. My entry follows and I don’t claim that it’s a good example :)

***

The next time Suze killed somebody she’d be sure to skip breakfast. Her mother would disapprove of course. Big advocate of breakfasts. But all the begging and blood spatter is enough to cause pretty bad indigestion so she figured she’d risk the empty stomach. Random other thoughts distracted her as she ran through the dark. Her upbringing had really sucked but it was no excuse. She just couldn’t stop herself, it was weird. Thirteen victims just this month and those idiot cops still hadn’t figured it out. She longed for the end. Perhaps she’d do alot of reading in prison. She didn’t have time to read since her killing spree had begun and she sort of missed it. How many books could she get through before the lethal injections? Lights ahead indicated that the road was close. She stopped running and walked out the edge of the woods to the gravel and stuck her thumb out. It shouldn’t be long.

>The Alcoholic – 4

>”It’s not my business,” he thought to himself even as he stepped back into the alley. He glanced back over his shoulder toward the busy sidewalk. Pedestrians streamed by, oblivious to the noise he had heard. Someone else heard it. She’s okay. Need a drink, can’t help. Rationalizations rattled through his mind, which was clearing slightly in reaction to adrenaline. Still he continued forward and in moments stood before the door and reached for the latch. He jerked his hand back when he touched it as if it burned. “What the hell am I doing?” he wondered. As if in response, the sound of sharp voices penetrated the door, the words indistinct. He could hear a woman’s voice laced with panic, staccato bursts that brought the image of a trapped animal to his mind. He grabbed the door handle and slowly pulled, slipping into the darkness.

He faced a partition that formed a short corridor leading to his right. Light spilled into the space from a room past the partition. A woman desperately cried, “It can’t be you! Y-you’re dead! Stop, don’t do this!”

He peaked around the corner of the partition into the room and took in the scene. The brunette lay near the far wall in a jumble of steel bins, a metal shelving rack on its side on which they had apparently been stacked. She looked up from the floor at a figure, her eyes flashing with panic, her body writhing backward but making no progress through the debris. The figure was the back of a man and he approached the woman, a large knife clutched in his right hand.

“Surprise sweetie,” his deep voice rattled, the knife pointed at her.

Hands trembling, the drunk spotted a thick wooden dowel on the floor between him and the man, the furthest of several that were scattered from the direction of the toppled shelves. His mind went blank and he acted out of training and instinct that he had thought were long dead, drowned by the years of abuse. He strode forward, grabbed the dowel and raised it like a club. In a split second, the woman saw him and his presence registered on her face. The man stopped and began to turn. The club came down on the side of his head and he instantly dropped to the floor.

Time flowed once again. He stared down at the prone body, wondering if he’d killed the man. Apparently wondering herself, the woman crawled forward and touched his neck for a moment.

She looked up at her rescuer. “He’s alive. Let’s get the hell out of here.”

>The Alcoholic – 3

>He struggled to keep up with her brisk pace. His head pounded in time with each unsteady step he took and hot pain shot up his right thigh and through his hip. The pink hair tie suddenly disappeared in front of a woman’s scarfed head and he craned his neck to one side to try and spot her again. He startled a bit when a pink blur shot out the side of the stream of pedestrians and entered a gap between buildings. He stopped just short of the corner of the marble facade on his side of a service drive and placed his right hand on the cool surface of the stone. His right knuckles still ached and a cold sweat had by now broken out on his brow. He felt like puking and a wave of dizzy nausea left him panting. A young man in a sharp black and gray suit strode past him and glanced his way, quickly dismissing him with a disgusted look.

He didn’t give the business man a second thought and slowly peaked his head around the corner, trying to focus on the dim alleyway. A dry breeze hit his face, smelling of garbage and oil and further chilling the sweat on his face. The brunette was there, walking uncertainly away from him, scanning the face of the building on her left, looking for something. “What the hell is she doing,” he wondered as he watched her. “It’s not safe for a woman like her down here.” Momentarily concerned for her welfare, he almost forgot about mugging her, but an uncontrollable tremor in his arms brought him back to his desperate need for a drink. He slowly stepped around the corner and approached her as quietly as he could.

She stopped suddenly, staring above a door at an orange smudge of paint just above the metal door frame. He froze, then slowly tried to blend into the building opposite of her. She glanced right quickly, then left toward his direction, but her attention turned immediately back to the door. He had gotten a brief look at her face and recognized the raw fear in her wild eyes. She stepped up to the door and knocked, a short, tentative motion. Waiting a moment, she knocked again, this time harder, and he heard the muffled sound that her small fist made on the steel door. It jerked open and she visibly jumped back half a step. He squinted but couldn’t make out the figure standing in the doorway. She started forward slowly, then stopped as if reconsidering entering. She looked down at her feet, then up again at the open doorway and stepped inside. The door immediately slammed shut.

He sighed and slumped against the wall behind him. She was gone and so was his chance at some quick cash. At least from her. He steeled himself and turned back toward the city street where he’d first spotted her. Just as he took a step, a horrible scream pierced the morning air followed by a loud crashing sound of metal. His head jerked around back down the service street and he knew without a doubt the noise had come from behind the door marked with orange.

>The Alcoholic – 2

>He stirred from his stupor, eyes darting left, right, down at himself. He was lying on pavement next to a rusty dumpster. He wondered what the yellow sludge streaking down the side of the container used to be. His back hurt and he couldn’t feel his legs. They were numb, probably from laying there too long. He didn’t know where he was or how long he’d been out. Had he been dreaming of Amanda? A shadowy image of her flitted through his sodden mind then was gone. Replacing it was a familiar thought, the one that dominated during his waking hours. “I need a drink.”

As he struggled to scoot up further on the wall against which his upper back and head had been smeared, he scraped the knuckles of his right hand on the pavement. His knuckles took the brunt of his weight and his hand was wrapped around the neck of an empty bottle. He lifted the bottle closer to his face and squinted his bleary eyes at the label. Husky Corn Whiskey. Vile stuff, but cheap. Apparently it did the trick. He tossed it aside, much like the booze had tossed aside his life, worthless and useless to anybody now.

He had to end this, but had never found the courage. It was much easier to reach once again into the oblivion of the next bottle than it was to actually kill himself with the finality of a violent act. He had a vague hope of combining the two ideas but he needed to get his hands on some cash. He’d never robbed anybody yet, but today that would change. He didn’t care anymore, had lost his last shred of self-respect weeks ago. Get money. Get enough drink. Drink enough before passing out to slip into the final darkness from which he’d never awake. Good plan.

He somehow managed to get on his feet and stumble out of the narrow alley onto a wide city sidewalk. People strode past, in a hurry to reach their jobs, their buses, their stores, their families. He was a ghost to them, a non-entity that nobody appeared to see. He almost felt that they would walk straight through him if he stepped out into their path. He began to scan the passersby for his mark. Within minutes, his eyes landed on a young, petite brunette who skittered past him nervously. She briefly glanced his way, a look of nervous tension in her eyes and a quickening of her step. He waited a moment for her to pass then stepped out into the stream of people and followed her, concentrating his will on keeping his eyes focused on her pink hair tie that bobbed in and out of his line of vision through the people separating them.