Oh no! It happened again. He had promised himself it never would. Where was he? Lying in the cold street with a clear view of the planet Jupiter rising in the sky. He blinked a couple of times, tasted his whiskey breath and hoped to God no one saw him lying there. Could he get up? The world spun like a carousel out of control. He sat up, head down, and went with the feeling.
He was staying in The Philadelphian, a fairly nice downtown hotel, where people addressed him as Doctor Joe, a physician who could not heal himself, as had Doctor Bill and stockbroker Bob, the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Did he really want to stop drinking? This big baby who went to pieces when too many of his patients bit the dust.
Two doors down from the hotel was a cozy little bar. Its neon lights summoned him once again, as he lay staring at a street light. In fact, he could see the bar from his fifth floor window. He had a way of walking so he wouldn’t stagger. After pushing himself up, he held his right arm to his heart, his left stuck into his back pocket.
He couldn’t help thinking of Sheriff Matt Dillon as he walked into the bar. It was dark inside. He hoped he wouldn’t see himself in the mirror, as he took his seat at the bar, but like a stigmata, there he was, ole Joseph A. Gorecki, MD, esteemed cardiologist, with sunken-in cheeks like a cancer survivor, and an emaciated body.
Easy, Joey, easy, he told himself as he balanced himself on a bar stool. Then came the familiar words he couldn’t stand. Hated, in fact, almost as much as he hated himself.
“The usual, doc?”
“Nah, I’ll have something different tonight,” he said to the chubby bartender, Barb, whose breasts wanted a good fondle from ole Doc.
“We’ve got a new beer,” she said with a smile, showing a dimple in one cheek.
She reached into the cooler and produced a bottle of Blue Moon beerHe stretched out his arm and hugged the cold beer with both hands.
“Can’t fool the Doc,” he said. “Belgian white ale. Read about it in the paper. Bet ya didn’t know I can read.” She could smell his whiskey breath.
She laughed. He asked if she wanted to come up to his room after two when the bar closed.
“Why not?” she grinned.
He drank three beers, feeling not much of a buzz.
Soft music played. Jazz. Jimmy Smith on the organ. Gershwin tunes. Joe drummed his hands on the bar, paid his tab, left his usual ten dollar tip, and walked out, clear-headed.
He jingled his keys – minus a car key – to Room Number 503 and switched on the light. His wife, Ginny, had divorced him six years ago. Fine with him. A woman as exciting as a smelly dish rag. He hadn’t seen their three teenagers since then.
Removing every stitch of clothing, he reached into the desk drawer and pulled out The Gideon Bible. He wondered what the hell he was doing.
A light knock on the door and Barbara entered.
“Hey, good lookin,” she said, as she sat next to him on the bed.
He took her hand and kissed her fingertips and painted pink nails.
A silent television shed its light across the room. He had opened up the window as far as it would go. Not very far. Suicide was not encouraged, though Joe often thought about how he would do himself in. Often? Who was he fooling? Every day he thought of the various ways to do the deed. Hanging himself in the shower held a real allure but he was too much of a coward to do it. Nature instead would take its course, every single organ of his body soaked in booze like a rum cake.
Barbara was especially frisky in bed that night. He surprised himself by sustaining a hard-on and ejaculating several times. Not bad for an incorrigible drunk of forty-three. They watched the lights of the city flicker across the walls. They heard a few cars drive by, a train whistle at the Reading Terminal, and a hideous howling of a cat, probably being pounced upon by another cat.
“When you off?” asked Joe, kissing her neck and feeling the tickle of her dangling earring.
“Two more days. Thursday,” she said.
“I need a favor,” he said.
“Sure, darlin’,” was her reply.
On Thursday, they got into Barb’s Chevy convertible and headed out to the Main Line, where ritzy houses spread out as if copying Spanish-style homes of Malibu or Tudor homes of Shaker Heights, Ohio.
“Barb,” said Joe. “I need you to put up your top.” She joked around by pulling down the top of her white tank top, which he didn’t appreciate. He poked her arm.
“Stop it!” she shouted. “That hurt, you bastard!”
“Oh, God. I didn’t mean it, Barbara. I can’t let anything go wrong when we drive by the kids’ prep schools.”The first old stone building had a grandeur like an English castle. Teenagers in backpacks lounged on the huge lawn. Some sat on the grass, smoking cigarettes, with covert glances, hoping they wouldn’t be caught. The kids had a freshness and an optimism about them like in an old movie with Katherine Hepburn and Fred MacMurray.
Joe blew smoke out his window. “That’s my youngest,” he said, with a faint smile, pointing at a young man in uniform: khaki trousers and a blue blazer. “Joe, Junior,” he said. “Hope he doesn’t turn out to be like his old man.”
“Nothing that a little AA can’t help,” said Barb.
“Please, Barbara,” he said. “When I’m ready I’ll find one downtown.”
“St Paul’s Church over on…..”
“Shhhh!” he insisted.
They did the rounds. His girl, Dahlia, was a beauty like the full-petaled flower. And the oldest, Michael, was Harvard-bound. On scholarship. Studying came easy to him, Joe knew, from when they lived together. His son could block out thoughts of his drunkard father.
They returned to the hotel, where Joe thanked Barbara, but said he wanted to be alone. “I need a good think,” he said.
He sat alone in his hotel room and reached for a beer in the mini-fridge. Yuengling, this time. The oldest brewery in these United States, he knew. He laughed. Too bad he couldn’t hold his liquor or he could be a successful salesman.
He lay in bed reading an old paperback “Intruder in the Dust” by William Faulkner. He fanned himself with the pages. It was left over from his medical school days at Columbia. Willie Faulkner didn’t do too badly for himself. He and Hemingway and Fitzgerald all hit the bottle pretty hard. Joe snoozed on and off until dark. He got up, still in his boxers, cut himself a piece of Swiss cheese from the fridge. Then brushed his teeth.
He unlocked the hotel room and took the elevator to the first floor. He longed to say goodbye to someone, but the counter person was asleep in an adjoining room.
He took public transportation to The Brier School where his oldest was undoubtedly asleep in his dorm. How he longed to see him. Hug him. See how he’d grown. Impossible.
When the bus let him off, he walked onto the huge lawn, slightly wet with dew. No one was outside. The school had a curfew. Joe found a shade tree, felt the rough bark – aha! It was a pine tree – and lay himself down on the lawn.
A crescent moon lit up benches, all in memoriam of some dead bastard. Yellow chrysanthemums sparkled under the night sky, and the school even had a reflecting pool. “Hope they appreciate the beauty of the place,” he thought, as he stared across the vast lawn, smelling the faint pungent odor of the mums. The sky was lit up as if he were on a ship in the middle of the ocean. Joe felt a sudden bliss, the way he had felt as a kid.
Lying down under the tree, he heard himself begin to snore. Still, the bliss lingered.
“Bum!” shouted a rough voice in his face.
Joe opened his eyes and found himself face to face with what must be the night watchman.
“Bum! Get the hell out of here,” said the man, whose jacket bore the school’s purple logo on the pocket.
Joe got up, doffed his Phillies’ cap, and did a little tap dance number, thinking of himself as James Cagney.
He pointed up to the sky.
“See that, boss? Way at the back of the sky? He stretched out the word ‘way.’
“That’s Jupiter. Rising. You know how many moons it’s got circling around it? I’d reckon thousands. And, it’s even got a red spot, like a cherry on an ice cream sundae.”
The night watchman simply stared at this strange man.
Joseph A. Gorecki, MD, esteemed cardiologist, picked himself up, felt for loose change in his pocket, and remembered the meaning of the name Gorecki.
Ruth Z. Deming has had her poetry published in lit mags including Literary Yard, River Poets, Blue Bonnet Review and JonahMagazine. She lives in Willow Grove, a suburb of Pennsylvania in the US of A.