By Lisa Lepovetsky
Angel began the discussion by saying, “Johnny came to the house high last night.” Her lower lip trembled, but her voice was clear. All of us around the big oak table turned in her direction.
“His head was cut,” she continued, “and there was blood all over him. I don’t think he even knew how it happened.”
Peaches said, “Your divorce was final last spring. Why come to your house?”
Angel shrugged. “He still comes home when he needs help.” She paused, and nobody said anything, but that word “home” hung in the air like fog. “He doesn’t have anyone else. I can’t help it, I still love him.” A tear escaped to creep down her chin, onto her large red polyester bosom, and spread into a dark circle there.
I said, “We know you do, Angel.”
She wiped at her eyes angrily. She turned to me. “I told him he had to go to the hospital, Sherry; I said I didn’t want him dying on my living room sofa. But I was in a panic after he left. What if he died out there? I’d feel so guilty.”
“You did the right thing,” I said. “He has to take responsibility for himself.” The other six women murmured in agreement.
We discussed for a moment how the alcoholics in our lives try to control us with guilt. The new woman, Rosie, sat beside me and nodded, but said nothing, her long dark hair hanging like a veil beside her face. She shakily lit a cigarette, despite the happy-face sign (“Thanks for not smoking”) hanging over the framed eight-by-ten glossy picture of Jesus over the old piano. Nobody corrected her.
Then I said, “Yesterday, an insurance salesman came to our house. Mickey lost his job again, so we need to get our own insurance. The salesman asked how much Mickey drank – he had to fill out some kind of form. Mickey leaned back in his chair and said, ‘Maybe a beer or two before dinner.’”
I took a sip of coffee from my Styrofoam cup before continuing. “Of course, it’s about ten times that – three beers before dinner, four after, and then a couple of martinis to relax before bed. Well, I couldn’t just sit there, so I said, ‘I’ve joined Al-anon, if that tells you anything.’ Mickey glared at me and I saw his fists clench, but I didn’t care. I wanted the truth out there.”
I laughed, without much humor. “You know what that salesman said to me? He said, ‘I don’t care how much you drink, just your husband.’ He had no clue what we’re about.”
I noticed Rosie chewing on her thumbnail. Then she spoke in a soft voice. “But how do you get them to stop drinking?”
Nobody answered right away, so she continued. “I mean, my Rob is fine when he’s not drinking, but that’s almost never anymore. Since we moved here last summer, he just sits in front of the T.V. with a bottle next to him. Hour after hour, day after day. He’ll only go out to play poker with the boys some nights or go to his hunting camp, but he drinks there, too. And he insists I go along to keep him company. I hate those trips – I mean, a drunk with a gun, what could be worse? I try to get him to stop drinking, but the more I say, the less he listens. Sometimes he gets really mad when I criticize him and he…”
Her voice trailed off and she looked down at the table, but I thought we all knew what the rest of the sentence was. At least, I knew.
Erica shook her head after a pause and said, “There’s nothing you can do to make him stop drinking.”
Rosie’s head shot up. “Then what the hell am I doing here? Isn’t that what Al-anon’s all about?”
There were some sympathetic chuckles around the table, then Peaches said gently. “Don’t worry, we’re not laughing at you. We’re laughing at ourselves – at each other. We all came here for exactly the same reason, to get our users sober. We didn’t have the problem, they did. If we could just get them to stop using, everything would be alright.”
Rosie tucked her hair behind her left ear, and I noticed a dark bruise under her eye. She nodded. “Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. How do you do it? What’s the secret?”
“There is no secret,” I said quietly, putting a hand on her shoulder. “That’s why we say the Serenity Prayer. You can’t change the alcoholic – that’s one of the things we have to accept – but you can change yourself. Sometimes you just have to leave, if things get too bad.”
I stopped talking, listening to what I was saying. I knew it was right, in theory, but I also knew how difficult that advice was to take. Sometimes you just had nowhere to go. I was still with Mickey, after all – and things had gotten pretty bad lately. My bruises just weren’t as obvious as Rosie’s.
“This is ridiculous,” Rosie sputtered. “I’m not the one who needs to change. I can’t take this anymore – it has to end.” She stood up, and before anybody could stop her, she grabbed her coat and stormed up the cement stairs.
I got up to follow her, but Peaches said, “Let her go, Sherry. She needs some time to process what we told her. She’ll probably be back after she thinks about it.”
But she wasn’t back the next Tuesday, or the one after that. I worried about Rosie, wondering whether she might harm herself. I wanted to contact her, but because of the anonymity of Al-anon, I didn’t know who she was. Even in a town as small as Harrods Run, not everyone knows everyone else.
Then Mickey got so depressed and angry about not finding another job that I became immersed in my own problems with him and nearly forgot all about Rosie. Until I saw the article in the local paper, headed “Area Man Dies in Hunting Accident.” Robert – Rob – Wilson of nearby Bakerstown had been found in his hunting camp on Warrior’s Ridge with a bullet in his head. He had apparently been cleaning his rifle while intoxicated when the gun misfired. His body was discovered by some hunters who saw his vehicle parked in the drive and stopped in to get warm. He’d been dead at least two days. The article ended with the words, “his wife Rose survives.”
I took the news story to the meeting that Tuesday night and read it to the group. Then I asked the question that had been on my mind since I’d seen it: “Do you think this Rose Wilson might be the Rosie who was here a few weeks ago? She said her husband’s name was Rob.”
Angel popped a piece of gum in her mouth and said, “I hope it is. That would mean she’s finally free of him. Sometimes I wish something would happen to Johnny.” She waved a hand in the air before anybody had a chance to respond. “I know that’s a terrible thing to say, but it would sure make life a lot easier.”
For a moment, nobody said anything. The ticking of the mantle clock seemed very loud in the silence. Then Peaches spoke quietly.
“It’s not a terrible thing to say. But it’s, well, counterproductive to wish someone dead just because they cause problems. Accidents like that don’t happen often, so we have to find another way to deal with a difficult reality.”
“But what if it wasn’t an accident?” Erica asked as she twirled a lock of her long blond hair around her finger.
“Oh my God,” Angel said. “You think he killed himself?” She put one hand on her bosom as though she were having palpitations and murmured, “Poor Rosie.”
Peaches stood. “I’ll get you some water, Angel,” she said. “Keep in mind that we don’t even know this is the same Rose who was here a couple of weeks ago. And we certainly don’t know it wasn’t an accident.”
But I knew that it wasn’t an accident, and that it wasn’t suicide. And I knew Rose Wilson was Rosie, who had sat next to me and tried to hide the bruises on her face. I said nothing to the others; for some reason I didn’t want to talk about her anymore. Instead, I put the newspaper clipping back in my pocket and changed the subject by talking about Mickey, and how I nearly called the police when he threatened me with his revolver over the weekend. Of course, the next day he apologized and promised it would never happen again, like he always did.
The other women commiserated with me, and said encouraging things, but I barely heard them. I couldn’t stop thinking about Rosie, and imagining her at that hunting cabin, with her drunk husband threatening to hurt her again. And that rifle leaning against the wall.
And then I pictured Mickey, back at the house, drunk, waiting for me with his fists clenched and his temper boiling over. I thought about that revolver in the desk drawer, where I hid it after last weekend. And I remembered the last line of the newspaper clipping, “his wife Rose survives.”
Suddenly I couldn’t wait to get home.
Lisa Lepovetsky has been published frequently in anthologies and magazines, including EQMM. She holds an MFA in writing from Penn State University. She also writes and hosts mystery theaters under the name “It’s A Mystery!” and has published a novel, SHADOWS ON THE BAYOU.
Copyright © 2014 Lisa Lepovetsky. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!
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