I recently decided to quit drinking. No one browbeat me into it. No one heaped platitudes or used twelve step double speak to steer me towards the wagon. I arrived at this choice of my own free will and with a somewhat sober mind.
Last month I'd gone out again with Jeannie. That toe headed squaw who you remember works at Peterson's grocery store. Jeannie and me started the night sensibly enough. I picked her up and drove into Longview for Tex-Mex. We each had a margarita.
And then another.
After that we wanted to pace ourselves so I ordered a round of beers. By this time, Jeannie wasn't feeling good and excused herself to the ladies room. The waiter, this pimply faced kid in chinos, came over and apologized for the delay of our food. He gave some half-acorn excuse about being short handed in the kitchen.
He offered us another round and I nodded. I mean I wasn't going to offend the guy. A hispanic boy came over and refilled the chips and salsa.
All was right with the world.
The new round appeared then quickly disappeared and Jeannie, my sweet Jeannie, still hadn't come back. Being the gentleman I am I asked the waiter to check on her. It was right about then this strange fella came in and we struck up an even stranger conversation.
This dude was a store-bought fat Episcopalian, who wore a diamond studded pinky ring and the son-of-a-bitch kept calling me Andy. Kept asking about my lake house and wondering how Margaret was doing. I didn't want to embarrass him so I played right along. Told him Margaret was doing just fine and thanked him for asking. But as far as the lake house goes, I wasn't sure what he meant. He looked at me queer and leaned in close, "Don't you know what they found out there?"
I frowned and said, “Of course I did and it was a damn shame.”
"Well, Andy don't feel bad about it. I'd avoid discussing it if I was you too. Not every day the police unearth a crime scene like that."
"It's a pitiful disgrace," I added for good measure.
"Amazing what them cold case files can uncover these days."
I nodded and smiled and thanked him for being a good friend. He asked if Margaret and I were going to be at church in the morning. I assured him I wouldn't miss it for the world. He mentioned that he hadn't seen us there for a while, which surprised me--I never figured Andy for being the type to skip out on church, so I smoothed it over and told him how Margaret's mother had gotten the cancer and we had been preoccupied.
"Awful sorry to hear that about Brenda," Pinky ring said, "but it’s good seeing you Andy." He gave me a hearty shoulder pat and off he went. After that I noticed two things: Jeannie still wasn't back and some asshole had drank all her beer. I knew it couldn’t have been me and I hesitated to think ill of Pinky but who else could’ve done it.
The waiter comes around this time with even more pimples and apologizes again for the delay. I'm feeling high spirited and I ordered another round. Why not? But since the night is still young, I make it a round of Mai Tai's. I forget to ask about Jeannie but the next thing I know she's sitting across from me. Damn near hysterics. Couldn't tell if she was laughing or crying. Her mascara ran down her cheeks like eye-black on a linebacker. There's also food in front of us, but I ain't hungry no more. So I says, "Jeannie, whaddaya say we cut out for the house."
She squawks, ”You promised to take me dancing."
"Oh, that,” I says, “I forgot all about that."
“Well,” I says knowing better than to argue with a woman in public, “I'm a-waiting on
I pushed myself back from the table and I'm walking out before I know it. There's no way I'm going dancing but I'd grown tired of sitting in one place. Besides by then I’d completely lost the plot on all that I’d ordered. I was never very good at keeping score. I tell that squaw to follow me and be quiet about it. Especially since I hadn't paid the bill. Hadn’t even seen it to pay it.
Once on the road, Jeannie says, "I don't feel so good."
Before I even had a chance to show any concern she'd upchucked chips and salsa all over my dash. Being the gentleman that I am, I pulled over. At that exact moment, I realized what part of town we were in, and to be honest with you, I got scared.
Nothing’s more terrifying than the suburbs after dark. With their homeowner's associations and manicured lawns. Each one lock step in appearance like marching jackboots. Except these weren't your regular ticky-tacky little boxes. No. Somehow or another I’d managed to slip past an automatic gate somewhere. These McMansions housed professionals with trophy wives.
While I'm taking in the scenic view, Jeannie stumbles out the truck all whiz bang for the DJ. She starts dancing on the front lawn nearly completely covered in vomit and sick. I tried reasoning with her, told her I'd take her home. Well, that must've flipped on her crazy switch cause she starts yelling and cussing and carrying on like Gertie did back in ought nine.
I didn't have time to fool with it. Especially since Gertie had been dead all these years from consumption or what not. Jeannie for her part didn’t notice what I was doing. Not that I looked back or nothing. I figured she’d be safe here. There was a gate after all and how much trouble could one blonde girl get into out in the suburbs?
I don’t know how, but I made it home finally and went to bed. The spinning room didn’t bother me much since the planet spins everyday. I closed my eyes tight and went with it.
Next afternoon around three I awoke and remembered what all had happened. I laid there staring at the ceiling thinking maybe I'd gone too far this time. That maybe my life had gotten out of balance. What gave me the right to impersonate people and then to go around telling tales out of school about their family? Maybe it was lying about going to church that brought the most guilt, but I don’t know. My head pounded harder than a deaf drummer keeping time.
I got out of bed and did a walk of shame to the kitchen. After taking some Tylenol I poured all the booze down the drain, including that limited edition craft brew I'd been saving for like ten years. And you know what? Once all the alcohol was gone, I felt better. I really did. Cleared my head right up.
I told myself, “I was gonna stop being part of the problem, and become part of the solution.”
I made a turkey sandwich to celebrate my turning the corner. I turned on the TV and caught the tail-end of the news. It seems that some grade A idgit ran up quite the tab over in Longview and skedaddled before the check came. They showed a grainy out of focus picture of the guy with some ugly blonde. I leaned in close and saw he looked a lot like me. But it’s hard to tell these things especially since the camera adds ten pounds.
I called Jeannie to check on her but it went straight to voicemail. I ended the call without leaving a message. I decided right then I wasn’t calling her back.
I felt like a new man but now I needed to look like one.
Over the following weeks I got really into fitness. I bought some magazines and that P90X off the TV, but it seemed too hard and unrealistic so I sent it back. Since clearing my head, I found I had time for other things. I still didn’t do them, but at least now I had the time. I could set up a tripod and video my own workouts. Maybe I’d sprinkle some philosophy and life musings in between push ups and who knew maybe even sell ‘em on the TV too. I was gonna help the world see the same light as me. The future was wide open.
Today I had my yearly physical. I told my doctor all about my fitness plan. My Doctor said that if I kept at it, eventually all my vitals would balance out. He then told me some nonsense about how alcohol was of the devil. Drugs were the devil. That fool even said registering your car was the devil. I swear doctors can go on and on.
I told him I agreed but I wasn’t sure I completely understood. I’d seen a light and that’s all that mattered. It was only the straight and narrow for me from now on. He smiled and said, “Drinking and drugging had ruined many a fine young person.”
“Is that a fact?”
“Well sure, I see it all the time,” he said. “A few weeks ago some young lady had too much to drink and caused a ruckus outside my house.”
“You don’t say?”
“We kept trying to figure out which house she belonged at so we could get her home and come to find out she weren’t even from the neighborhood. We had to call security and they tasered that poor gal.”
I was thankful I’d hadn’t left Jeanie a voicemail. It’s hard for a woman to forgive someone for slighting her. It’s even harder if that slight get’s you tasered.
I paid my copay and got in my truck. Then I reached across the seat to get my cigarettes and that’s when I saw the handle-strap in the floorboard. My sweet Jeannie’s purse lay tucked under the seat.
Women are always leaving stuff behind. Earrings, make-up and what have you. It’s like an excuse for you to have see them again.
I thought about driving by Peterson’s grocery store to see if she was there. That way we wouldn’t have to have no awkward reunion, say later--at my house. But then I remembered the Brookshire’s was closer to my home, so I went there instead.
After picking up a few possibles I got in line. The cashier was a pretty young thing. She had thick eyebrows and wore a bandana tied sideways around her neck. Like a stewardess, not a flight attendant.
She laughed and I saw she wore braces, so I said, “You old enough to hold down a job Miss?”
“My name’s Charlene.”
“I know,” I said, “I can read a name tag.”
She giggled, “Yes I’m old enough.”
“Now don’t be offended, but a gentleman knows better than to ask a pretty lady her age.” She blushed, leaning in and purred at me, “I’m old enough.”
I’d asked her out before I knew it and I’ll be damned if she didn’t accept. I’m supposed to pick her up tonight after her shift ends at eight. I took my groceries to the truck and headed home. Along the way, I rolled down my window. Then I took my sweet Jeannie’s purse and tossed it out on the road.
I’d hate for Charlene to get jealous of someone I use to know. Maybe I’ll take her dancing or maybe I’ll just bring her back to my place and tell her about my workout videos.
My road ahead lay clear of all traffic and every red light turned green as I neared. All was right with the world...no...the universe.
J.D. Graves is a recovering Playwright who recently fell off the wagon. His play Tall Pines Lodge appeared at the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival after originally being produced at the 2007 FronteraFEST in Austin, TX. His other play Stanley and Jim received production at the Manhattan Rep Theatre in 2009. His short fiction, The Sweetheart Sour published by the UK's Near to the Knuckle in June 2016. When J.D. is not writing, he's teaching. When he's not doing either he can be found behind his computer begging strangers to read his work. You can follow him on Twitter @JDGravesWriter.