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The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Life Stories
Thanks I'm All Right
The dusky road gave way to a soulless night. He shouldn`t have knocked down the damn whiskeys and co, but couldn’t stop himself. Perhaps Charlie had wanted a challenge. Prove that he could make it home in his pick-up without ending up in a ditch with severed bones.
Charlie couldn’t get over how black the sky was, how nothing seemed to click inside and out. Not even the stars could hold a pattern. His breath buzzed and his heart thumped like his overdue truck.
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He could have had her. Redhead Cheryl had a manic crush on him and she would have loved to take him to her bed for a night of cheap magic. He felt like her eternal crush, maybe an unlikely saviour of some kind.
Routine got everybody down at some point and Charlie was no exception. Perhaps spending the night with that other chick in the too-tight jeans would have helped put things into perspective. But how could it? Sleeping with her wouldn`t allow much talking, much less clarity in the grand scheme of things.
Charlie saw his mother giving him the eye. She had one pudgy arm against the wall, the other was limp. She was disappointed but also sympathetic as mothers are supposed to be.
“Hi Ma,” he said groggily, struggling not to feel sorry for himself.
She gave a mild smile. “I made you breakfast.”
Breakfast consisted of greasy French toast with fake maple syrup and a glass of juice under her gaze of gray concern. Breakfast would mean sitting by the sun-drenched window feeling like deadwood.
Charlie rubbed his forehead, which felt sandpapered through. His neurons were all out of whack, buzzing around like dying flies. Why had he Fender Bendered himself again? He would attempt to heal, only to crash again. He`d kill the pattern if he knew how to.
But how was he supposed to explain this to his sixty-year-old mom? On the ceiling, he could visualize the words “fuck-up Charlie” written in his own dark sickly blood.
His mother stared at him with paper-dove eyes. When Charlie turned over, his arm ached badly as though his veins had knotted into a hard sausage.
Instead of telling her that food was the last thing on his mind, he said, “I`ll be down in five minutes.” It would take longer of course.
Charlie made out the frown on her face. Then came her famous sigh followed by a symphony of repressed words. “Why did you have to give in? Couldn`t you just stop yourself?”
He clearly remembered being aware of relapsing last night. Of having had the choice to drink.
Then he recalled Cheryl whose lips he could have kissed with resurrected passion. He remembered the despair that emanated from her aged but still lovely face. Still, those foolish days were over.
Charlie had quit his job and driven to his mom’s house to get better. He`d managed a stable life for the past two years, but his big-ass relapse had ruined things. Instead of checking into a rehab center, he decided to stay at his mother’s for three months or so.
Barely two weeks into his makeshift cure and he`d already gotten drunk. The only thing that had prevented him from passing out was the bartender who`d stopped serving him drinks.
His addiction had gotten pretty bad over the past five years. Charlie hated the thought of leaving his job as a Construction Supervisor but had no other choice. There was no such thing as being a functional alcoholic.
“You need to tackle the root of the problem,” his long-term girlfriend Kayla had said.
His mother`s bulk settled in the chair. “How`s breakfast?”
Charlie ate slowly and each morsel felt like a lump in his throat. He`d dragged himself out of bed to do something right for a change. “It`s great, as usual, but I won`t be able to finish it.”
She made a face. “You still feel like puking don`t you?”
He`d love to run outside and jump into the lake even if it meant he would drown.
“I ain’t feeling good. I`ll get better as the day goes on.”
“I shouldn`t be tolerating this anymore and you know it,” she said. “What could be worse than watching your child destroy himself?”
“Ma, I need a…” He wanted to say “break.”
As his arm trembled, he imagined his tattoo falling from his arm like a dead leaf. Sometimes, the wayward boy in him prevented him from being a man. What did being a man mean anyway? Why did he feel so shitty and twisted on the inside?
“I won`t drink today,” he stated firmly. “I`ll get off it. Just give me some time.”
Alcoholics were hard to stomach by other family members.
He stepped outside, holding a mug with a lobster logo. Speaking of fish, he could smell the ocean spray which reminded him of summers spent in Cape Cod. He used to order fried fish nuggets and Coke. Back then, he`d considered becoming a fisherman for the rest of his life.
His hand quivered relentlessly. His mother stepped onto the porch, her silvering hair coiffed so stiffly it barely moved. For a moment, he kind of felt sorry for her. Also because he knew how hard it was to be loved back no matter what you did.
Her breath was weary but not resigned. He was too proud to ask for a hug or a pat on the back.
“There`s mass at noon. I`ll be leaving soon,” she said.
“I`d go but it starts in half an hour. There`s no way I`ll make it,” he said.
She looked disappointed, as if she`d just used her last life line.
“It’s not that I don`t believe in God. I`m just messed-up right now. I`ll go sometime during the week.”
A sliver of a smile appeared on his mother`s face. She was still hopeful after all. Her hope glimmered like fireflies in the night.
Charlie felt nauseous. He knew his body well by now: the spells of emptiness, dizziness and vertigos of self-pity.
She placed her hand on his shoulder. “I`m going to church. I`ll be back later. Get some rest.”
The truth was he didn`t want to die, off himself like some guys he`d met during stints in rehab. One had died from having fallen down a balcony, the other from alcohol poisoning and another from a suicide attempt. Rich, Nick and Kevin respectively. The cycle would have to be broken somehow. Perhaps he`d have to try harder with God and put less trust in other people.
It was always about getting rest that never satiated. Recovering in order to get normal again when the concept of normal had evaded him.
Two days later, the dizziness and clumsiness were mostly gone save for some trembling. Charlie could now canoe across the lake without feeling like he`d keel over. He could drive the truck without worrying his ma to death.
One night he decided to go for a drive. He found it hard being in the house with his mother around, not that she spoke much. She spent most of her time reading books, cleaning the kitchen and tending to the three dogs named after Biblical prophets. His father was still in the picture and at sixty-six, worked full-time at his hardware store. But men of few words didn’t help any.
“I`ll be going out,” he said vaguely, grabbing the car keys.
His mother looked up from her book. “Where are you going?”
An air of suspicion emerged from his temporary gatekeeper. Charlie picked up on her dread. “I ain’t going out drinking.”
“Trevor called you know,” she said apprehensively.
“I’m not meeting him tonight. Besides, he knows what I`m going through. And he wouldn`t invite me to a bar of all places.”
Her gaze turned gritty, since she assumed he had ulterior motives. There was no room for negotiating. An alcoholic just had to learn to say no.
“I trust you know what you`re doing. I`d like to believe you have self-control.
“I know what I`m doing.” His voice was shaky, suspicious even to himself.
With that he left the house. The three labs followed him out but turned back when his mother called after them.
Driving along the coast, past cranberry bogs and picturesque homes of a thousand secrets, he realized he had too much free time on his hands.
Charlie began analyzing so much that he feared veering off the road.
He lit a cigarette and took a deep breath. He considered stopping by the coast but it was getting cool and windy. In fact the sky had turned dark and he`d ended up far enough.
Charlie realized he`d stopped for an Angus burger with cole slaw and onion rings at a roadside diner. He`d spent about two hours there, then filled up on gas and bought the cheapest cigarettes, after which he pondered the possibility of surviving the rest of his life without the shit.
The sun had almost finished setting when his truck crapped out. He tried kick-starting it back but nothing could be done. A tow truck was the only solution, although he`d leave it there if it wouldn`t feel like a crime.
Charlie remained behind the steering wheel in a hunched position. Several cars zoomed by. Drivers glanced curiously without stopping.
“Fuck you,” he felt like hollering. Fuck them for peeking and not bothering to ask if he was all right, what the problem was at least. He didn`t exactly look like a freak and he was on the attractive side, if Kayla hadn’t bullshitted him.
The wind swished past and the moon stared back like a vicious eye.
His truck was a dead rump. He`d have to buy himself another second-hand car within the next two weeks at the latest.
He slammed the door and stomped out. Charlie remembered when he was eighteen and stranded in Pennsylvania all by himself, when his car had decided to break down along an old mining town he`d driven past. The car hadn`t actually decided to give out on purpose of course; it was his fault for leaving in haste and not getting things checked. He`d been too eager to see the world without thinking twice.
He should have brought his cell phone but he`d left it with the charger. The moms were always right, at least when the kids got stuck.
A layer of sweat had formed on his forehead and something told him it would stay a while. His muscles felt atrophied from lack of exercise and always trying to heal from something he felt he couldn`t.
He trekked down the murky road. He`d never paid much attention to these parts. It was kind of gloomy but charming at the same time. Beer had never really made him feel good to be honest, at least not in the way that dawn and dusk made him feel.
The plan was to call for a tow truck. As he trudged further down, the first house he noticed was a typical New England-style number with a wooden porch and white shingles and a US flag to boot. It was well-kept and inviting enough. To his surprise, nobody answered the door though a light was on.
He realized he was thirsty more from despair than physical thirst.
“Why is this happening?” he whispered furiously. About thirty yards off, he saw another house he had to take a chance on. He hated feeling like a freaking ghost on the quest for peace.
The path was beaten and the house looked rather abandoned, a kind of gray zone. An old Buick was parked in the driveway. Little plants and herbs sat along the porch. He recognized sage and lavender and maybe mint leaves.
A dog that resembled a husky appeared at the door, its muzzle pressed against the screen. Charlie almost got the feeling that he`d need to utter a password before getting any further.
A woman came into view. She was wearing jeans, a T-shirt and walked barefoot. She was either in her late twenties or early thirties at most. Her fierce gaze stunned him.
“Can I help you?” she finally said.
Her voice was a hint raspy like Janis Joplin meets Demi Moore.
He noticed a man`s boot filled with earth and small daisy varieties growing out of it. It was morbidly beautiful, like a stone angel in a cemetery on a gray day.
“Yeah I`m having some car trouble.”
Charlie momentarily forgot what he was doing on her porch. He swatted the mosquito on his arm.
She didn`t seem welcoming until she said, “How can I help you?”
“Can I use your phone?”
The woman studied him further, wary face behind the screen door. “Okay, come in.” Charlie speculated she had a knife close by in case.
His heart was revved up. He couldn’t help scope out the place. The interior was a bare-bones abode with a few picture frames here and there, as though sprinkled with the remains of a past life. Several Native American artefacts stood about, not to mention the other things that populated this village.
In one of the picture frames he could make out a man coupled with this lady of the house. In the photo, she seemed so alive.
“The phone`s right here,” she said, motioning the kitchen counter.
“Okay thanks.” Charlie slowly made his way toward the counter.
The woman switched on the radio as if to show she wasn’t alone. For a moment, he figured she was one of those post-modern wiccans who`d rather be married to nature than anyone.
“I just realized I don`t know which number to call,” he said, scratching his forehead.
“Well what happened to your car? Did you get into an accident or something?” she asked, still palpably suspicious.
He felt like saying he wasn`t a killer--that he`d never thought of killing anyone but himself. “No it wasn`t an accident. My car gave out.” Piece of shit, he wanted to say.
“I see,” she said stiffly. He got the impression she hadn`t spoken to a person in a long while.
If the woman was married, he wondered where the husband was, what he did for living and whether they were still in love. There was no sign of kids and she seemed too young to have older kids.
She handed him a phone book that covered the county and its surroundings.
“I won`t be here much longer,” he assured, flipping through pages. He wondered whether she was frightened of him.
“Take your time.”
He now recognized Bob Dylan in the background. Charlie didn’t know what he was looking for so he called the first number in the list. As luck would have it, the garage closed at ten.
“I`m Delilah by the way,” she introduced herself, “but people call me Lila.”
The mention of her name gave her more depth.
“Delilah as in the Biblical name,” he remarked.
“Yeah,” she said. “From the Bible I guess.”
“Nice to meet you, Charlie.”
Lila was getting prettier by the minute. She no longer came across as a loner with a barren heart. There was something deep and broken about her, and he found himself wanting to know more about her.
He made the call. His truck would be towed within the hour but he wasn’t even sure how to get back. The only way was to call his mother or father for a lift. Good luck with that, he thought sarcastically.
“They`ll fetch the car in about an hour,” he said after hanging up.
“So that`s good news.”
“I just need to call my dad a minute.”
“I can drive you,” she offered to his surprise. “Where do you live?”
“Thanks but I live pretty far from here. I`ll just call my father.”
“Really, I can drive you halfway and he’ll meet you at a service station.”
He considered her offer. “Okay but I don’t want to put you through more trouble.”
“It`s no trouble, believe me. Would you like something to drink?”
“Just a glass of water,” he answered.
“Sure,” she replied, heading toward the cupboard.
Charlie wanted to know why she was alone because his interest in her had gone through the roof. He basked in the sweet silence.
When Lila drove him to the closest service station, she pulled the car into the lot.
Her pretty eyes were a lush forest. “Thanks for driving me.”
“No sweat,” she said. Never before had he felt such a strong urge to kiss a woman.
Charlie reached the conclusion that she was unmarried. And if she had a boyfriend, she didn`t seem to care.
“I feel like I should pay you,” he said, taking out his wallet.
“For what? I don`t need the money really,” she answered.
A moment with Lila had brought back the human touch, however fleeting.
“So my dad should be here any minute,” he half-lied. Knowing his dad, it would take a while.
“It was nice meeting you,” she replied. “Best of luck with everything.”
As Charlie stepped out of the car, he felt bitter disappointment. “Sure, thanks Lila. Thanks for trusting me.”
“Maybe I’ll see you around,” she said mysteriously.
An image of them sipping hot cider by a fireplace kindled the darkest part his soul.
© Vanessa Telaro July 2011