Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Easy Does It

The day after Frank got out of prison he jaywalked on a busy downtown street and was hit by a car. His right leg was broken both above and below the knee, requiring a massive hip-to-foot cast.

This pathetic sight, his youth, his taped-together state-issue glasses, and his humble manner earned him sympathy at the Alano club where he attended AA meetings. He’d park himself in one chair, and stretch out and rest his injured leg on another. He was scruffy, a little overweight, and wore ill-fitting miss-matched thrift store clothes. The other members brought him coffee refill after coffee refill, gave him cigarettes, and kept telling him how much they appreciated his honesty when he shared at meetings.

He never said why he’d been in prison, and no one ever asked.

The club was located in a poor section of town and most of the members were “low bottom” drunks, with little or no income. One exception was an elderly woman named Margie, who owned a Mercedes and wore expensive clothes and jewelry. Margie took a special liking to the soft-spoken Frank. She drove him to meetings, bought him clothes, and paid for his groceries. Margie’s AA program was strong on service.

Frank was often worried about Margie. She lived alone in her large house. Her husband was long dead and her grown children, estranged because of her abusive behavior during her drinking days, never came around or checked on her welfare.

He convinced her to buy a gun – for protection. They went to the store together. Frank picked out a beautiful snub nosed Smith and Wesson .38 Special, one with a polished wood handle; the exact model he’d always dreamt of owning. He made sure she bought the right kind of bullets and helped her complete the permit paperwork.

The mandatory waiting period expired the same day Frank’s cast was removed. Margie picked up him at the hospital and they went straight to the gun store. Afterward, sitting in the passenger seat, Frank slowly loaded the revolver.

Startled by the sound of the hammer being cocked, Margie looked over at Frank. He’d changed in the past months: lost his fat and shaved his beard. He had on nice clothes she’d bought him, and he’d recently gotten an expensive haircut. The glasses were gone, replaced by contact lenses — also paid for by Margie. And it was his eyes that really frightened Margie at that moment.  The person who was now pointing a gun at her face had the coldest, emptiest eyes she’d ever seen.

Margie shuddered, suddenly aware that she was in the presence of something truly evil.

“Just keep driving,” he said.  “Easy does it, first things first. One day at a time and all that bullshit, right, Margie?”

Margie didn’t respond. Frank leaned over and smacked the side of her face with the barrel.

“Right, Margie?”

Crying, Margie said, “Right, Frank.”

Frank leaned back in his seat and sighed. He kept the gun pointed at Margie, and watched the blood stream down her face and onto her silk blouse.

“Margie,” he said, “I am truly grateful to you and everything you’ve done for my program of recovery. You are an inspiration and I don’t think I’d be clean and sober today if it wasn’t for you.”

Frank looked lovingly at the new gun, enjoying the weight of it in his hand.

“But, Margie,” he said, “just because I can walk now, that doesn’t mean your service is complete. To prevent a relapse, I’m going to need a little more help.”

He told her to go to the bank and to empty her accounts. They parked across the street, in the middle of a busy block, and Frank kept the small gun in his hand, hidden in the pocket of his new leather jacket.

Neglecting to look both ways, he quickly began to walk toward the bank.  Sensing that Margie was lagging behind, he turned back, never realizing that he had stepped directly into the path of a huge truck.

The paramedics had to pry the pistol from Frank’s hand before zipping him up in the body bag for the trip to the morgue.