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Delsion by Evan Goodjohn

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December 31st 2015  |  0  |  Category: Fiction , Suspense  |  Author: geedda  |  1226 views

Though I had graduated from college, got my Master’s Degree and taught English Lit for four years at the University of Maine, I wasn’t prepared for the turn my life would take. I had, over the past few years, become a little less than human; my Master’s Degree useless, a half-forgotten, dead sheet of parchment; a reminder of my failure. Alcohol had brought me to this stage of my life. My tortured soul only anticipates the next, warm, golden drop of bliss or misery. Alcohol addiction is a curse to the working class.

Someone once said, ‘you play the cards you’ve been dealt.’ I had a deadman’s hand.

Formal education long since forgotten; I joined a circus as a roustabout with the E. W. Penney Traveling Circus. As roustabout my job was to set up and take down circus rides and tents. At least, I’m gainfully employed. Most of my days were consumed by hard labor and little rest. But Mr. Penney was the only man who would hire me, because of my drinking. He hired me with this provision, no drinking on the job. Something I wasn’t sure I could do.
My stint with old man Penney began ten years ago, after my position at the college was terminated and I had lived on the streets for two years. I was fired from the university, my department head caught me drinking on the job. It wasn’t the first time; I was on probation for an earlier offense. My tenure soon ended and I was put on the street. I couldn’t see then that alcohol was my taskmaster. I went into a downward spiral, spinning out of control.
Like most people, I started drinking socially. It seemed the thing to do; everybody drank on the weekends. Parties were common among the teachers, and we often met at different homes on the weekends. At first, I had no problem making classes on Monday, after all, I had Sunday to get sober and rest up for the following week.
Into the fifth year of my teaching, I noticed a change in my drinking habit. The taste for alcohol had become an obsession. I denied it was taking control of my life. I guess, I wanted to believe I had my drinking under control.
Months turned to years, and my drinking got worse, to the point, I had to have the alcohol to keep from shaking, going off the deep end.

As I lay on my cot sleeping off a good drunk. I spent most of my days off drinking cheap booze and sleeping. Mighty Jim Baskin, a midget, and good friend shook me. “Wake up, Slip. Wake up.”
“Eh? Who is it? Oh, it’s you, Jim.”
“Hurry, the Ferris wheel is stuck, and there are people stranded at the top.” I got to my feet unsteadily and followed Little Jim to the Ferris wheel. Before we arrived, I could hear the deafening screams.
I checked with the operator, a summer replacement for the regular worker. He was too inexperienced to remedy the problem. “Out of the way,” I yelled. Before I could spot the trouble, the wheel’s electric motor crackled, sparks flew and the mechanism failed to move the huge disk. Fifteen people were stranded. I set up that wheel yesterday; it worked fine. I removed the plate on the motor, rewired it and the people were rescued from their dilemma. But I was fired from my job. Old man Penney said I should have made sure that motor was in good working condition before the wheel was put into use. I had checked it; it appeared to be in good condition. I have no idea what happened to it.
I was on the street again; no place to live, and only forty-nine dollars to my name. I bought a pint of whiskey, drank it all and checked into a seedy motel. The rates were fifteen dollars a night. I paid for two nights and settled in to sleep off the pint I’d devoured earlier. The bed was harder than a cement pad, and I imagined little creatures crawling all over me while I restlessly tossed and turned before sleep overtook me. When I woke, I was thirsty; my mouth felt like I’d eaten a half dozen wool socks, my tongue coated with road tar an inch thick. My breath stunk of stale tobacco and cheap rotgut whiskey.

In that motel room that morning, I came to my senses. As I sat on the edge of the bed, I took inventory; I suddenly became aware, I was an alcoholic. A friend, years ago, had told me about AA and suggested I try it. He had been a drunk for years and got sober when he joined that outfit. So after leaving the motel, I found an AA meeting in a church two blocks away. As luck would have it, they were meeting that morning at ten. I waited a half hour and entered the church at five past ten.
After my first AA meeting, I counted my money, twelve dollars, and sixty-nine cents. One more night at this flea bag or a couple of meals. I figured, without food, I wouldn’t last long. I could stand living out of doors; it was summertime. I chose to eat and went across the street to a dive called the Blue Slipper Diner. I had two eggs, toast, bacon, and coffee. The cost of that fine fare was $4.50 plus a tip. I now had $7 to my name. When I entered the diner, I saw a sign in the window, DISHWASHER WANTED. After finishing my meal, and leaving a tip, I applied for the job and started work the next morning.
It wasn’t that the owners were not good to me, I hated washing dishes. My mother worked to put me through school, and I did the housework after classes. The one job I hated, doing dishes. But I stayed on at the diner for a month, saved a few bucks, and I was glad to be heading back to my home State of Maine.

I loved the town of Bickford; it has all anybody would want; low population, 1200, a drugstore, barbershop and a small grocery store, hardware combined. The one thing I loved most about that place was the quiet. You could hear songbirds warbling without automobile horns, people hollering obscenities at one another and construction equipment howling all day long. Bickford was the typical small town USA.

The day after I got home, Sober three days; I wanted to celebrate. But that would be foolish; like a person on a diet celebrating their weight loss by eating an ice cream sundae. With the seven dollars I had, I bought a cup of coffee at the drugstore. The owner’s wife poured the coffee. “Aren’t you. . . Eh, let me see. . . Delbert McAtee?”
“Yes, Ma’am.”
“Where have you been all these years, Son?”
“I traveled a lot, saw how the other half lived.” I chuckled. If only, she knew.
Mrs. Thompson asked if I had a job. I told her I did not. Would I like to work there again? I said yes, and I got a job clerking at the drugstore.
“You can rent the apartment upstairs, it’s vacant.” I took her up on it; moved in the next morning.
I knew the Thompsons; I’d worked one summer when I was in high school. Stan was a gruff old man who, kept his ‘special’ medicinal cure-all downstairs, and made several trips a day to remedy his maladies.
The old man was a slave driver, made sure he got his six dollars an hour’s worth out of his help. He kept me busy sweeping the floor, washing windows, and his favorite, changing prices if they went up.
It was on a Saturday afternoon. I was sweeping the floor for the third time that day when the door opened and the prettiest girl I had ever laid my eyes on smiled at me. “Can you tell me what time the bus leaves for Portland?” Her beauty was devastating; her long blonde hair was lying glamorously on thin shoulders. Her azure blue eyes glowed like exquisitely rich diamonds. Her small nose turned up at the end, and she had the whitest, straightest set of pearly teeth I had ever seen.
“Er—two-thirty, Miss,” I stammered.
“Thank you. May I have a cup of coffee while I wait?” It was another half hour before the bus would arrive.
“Certainly, Miss.” I poured her coffee. I couldn’t help taking in her beauty. “Are you from around here, Miss?”
“Over in Cumberland Falls. I am going, to Portland, to visit my sister.”
“Oh, how nice.”
“Not really. My sister and I don’t always see eye to eye. My sister is a. . . pain in the you know what.”
Ten minutes and I will probably never see her again. I said, “How unfortunate; not getting along with your sibling I mean, Miss.”
“My, for a soda fountain man, you sound more like a professor. By the way, my name is Joyce Carterson.”
“Delbert McAtee. They call me, Slip.”
“Nice to know you, Slip.” The bus pulled up in front of the store, and she boarded, looking back over her shoulder, a wide smile on her face, she waved.
I couldn’t do much the rest of the day, but I doubt the old man noticed, he’d spent most of the afternoon in the basement.
Suddenly, the urge for a drink hit me like a ton of bricks. I wanted a drink so badly, but I knew if I took one, it would mean two, and then three, then four and then three weeks of sobriety down the drain. I fought it with all my power, and soon the urge left. I didn’t want to do anything to mess up my date with Joyce or lose my sobriety.

Two long weeks passed and no word from Joyce. Buses came and went, but no Joyce. Just as I was beginning to think she had fallen off the face of the earth, she strolled through the door.
“Hi, Slip how’ve you been.”
“Er—good. Good to see you, Joyce.”
“Same here.”
“Er. . . I was wondering. Would you. . . I mean. . . Er. . .”
“Go our with you, Slip?” She smiled. “I’d be delighted.”
“Eh. . . Tonight, seven. I could pick you up.”
“That’d be nice. 134 Elm Street over in the Falls. White Cape, green trim. And the dog doesn’t bite.”
“Good; seven o’clock. I look forward to it.” I didn’t think it would be that easy. What would a beautiful woman want with a down and out store clerk when she could have a doctor or lawyer for a date?
She waved and left. Tonight yearning will meet ecstasy. The date of my dreams. I was so fortunate to be going out with the prettiest girl in the whole state.

I mess up; I went over to the Silver Slipper for one drink to celebrate my dating an angel. I thought one drink couldn’t hurt. I woke up the next morning fully dressed laying on top of the sheets. I got up, undressed, took a long hot shower. The hot water cleared out the cobwebs and I realized I was supposed to have a date with Joyce last night. But, like a fool, I took that one drink, then another and another. There go fourteen months of sobriety down the drain. The feeling of guilt stung my very being; I sat on the edge of the bed and cried like a baby. I had missed the opportunity of a lifetime. I’ll never get another chance with her. I am the world’s biggest moron.

At work, I put on my apron and grabbed the broom. Shaking, I swept the front end of the store. I knew if I didn’t close my eyes, I would probably bleed to death. My head was throbbing like an old fashion washing machine agitator.
Suddenly, the door opened, and Joyce came in. She looked sad. I felt so guilty about last night, yet I owed her an apology. Before I could open my mouth, she said, “Slip, I am so sorry I stood you up last night. I hope you didn’t wait too long for me. My sister called. She was drunk and was going to commit suicide. I spent two hours talking her out of it—as I have so many times before. I heard the doorbell, but was so engrossed with her drunken ramblings I was unable to answer the door. I should just let her do it. It would save me from all this aggravation. I am so sorry to spoil our date.”


“No need to apologize, Joyce. I didn’t wait that long.” Whew! That was a close call.
“I’m glad. You must have many girls on the string; you are so handsome.”
“Er—no, I don’t have any girlfriends at all.”
“You do now.” She kissed me. “Can we go tonight instead?”
“Yes. Same time?”
“Yes.” She kissed me again and left.
This time, I didn’t celebrate. I remembered what some of the members at AA had told me; ‘one day at a time’. I didn’t have time to go to her door when Joyce came out of the house and got in the car. “Boy, am I hungry. I feel like eating Italian food tonight. I know a place down on Main Street, the Pasta Bowl. So we dined at the Pasta Bowl, by admission, her favorite Italian restaurant. The joint was small, twelve tables; red and white checkered tablecloths with empty bottles of Chianti topped with a white candle gave the place an Old Italian atmosphere. Pictures of old Italy hung on the brick walls, with their plaster showing through the cracks. The food was the finest Italian cuisine I had ever eaten this side of Boston.
I ordered for her, eggplant parm with Ziti. I had chicken parm with spaghetti. I offered to buy her a glass of wine, but she refused. “I don’t drink. My father and mother were both alcoholics. I hate drunks to this day. I won’t try alcohol; maybe it’s fear of becoming what they were. If you want a glass of wine, Slip, go ahead. Don’t mind my pontificating, it’s just that—well, my parents and sister.”
“I don’t care for a drink. I don’t drink either.” I lied.
I didn’t question why she didn’t eat her eggplant; she seemed so excited to want the dish. She said she wasn’t hungry. She wanted to go dancing.
The evening was exciting; we danced until eleven and I offered to take her home. She refused the offer. “No, I’ll take a cab.” I insisted, but she won out in the end. She took a cab. Scratching my head, I tried to understand why she didn’t want to ride with me. Was she upset, Did I say something that agitated her? I prayed I hadn’t offended her in some way though I couldn’t think of anything I might have said that would grieve her.
I wondered when I would see her again. I didn’t have to wait too long. The next morning she was waiting at the drugstore for me.
“Morning, Slip” She kissed me. “I had a good time last night.” What just happened? She enjoyed our date? Then, why did she refuse a ride from me? I guess I’ll never understand the female mind.
“Me too.”
“I came to tell you; I have to go to Portland for a couple of weeks, maybe more. My sister is drinking herself to death. She tried to commit suicide last night, this time for real. I wasn’t home to take the call. She is at the medical center. She needs me right now. Please wait for me, Slip.” She kissed me again and left. Could I wait two weeks or more to see her? She consumed my every thought.

Two weeks went by and no word from Joyce. I looked in the Bickford/Falls telephone directory. There was no Joyce Carterson listed. I drove to Portland, two-lane roads all the way, took me an hour. I arrived at the medical center a little after eleven Sunday morning. I stepped up to the reception desk. A small elderly lady volunteer with blue hair and a dour expression on her, way too powdery, face looked up at me.
“Do you have a patient who has been admitted for within the last couple of weeks, probably in P6?”
The elderly lady, looked at me over her half glasses and exclaimed, “Don’t you know about HIPPA, Sir?” I knew it was a set of rules that didn’t allow hospitals and other businesses to divulge information concerning their clients or patients.
“Yes, but this is important. Do you have a patient by the name of Carterson?”
“First name?”
“I don’t know.”
“Sorry, Sir, I cannot help you. You might try the police department.”
I didn’t think the police would be able to help me, but I drove to Middle Street; checked with the desk sergeant. He said I would have to talk with a detective. I waited half an hour, and a man in a dark striped suit came into the waiting area. “Mr. McAtee?”
“Yes.”
“Sergeant Collins. How can I help you?”
I explained the whole story to the good sergeant. He said, “I don’t know of any such woman.” There was a woman a month ago who was taken to the medical center. She tried cutting her wrists. But her name was something like. . . Taylor or Tyler. I read it on the blotter. She was admitted to the hospital, and after she healed was sent to rehab. As far as I know, she is still there. He wrote down the address and passed it to me. I thanked him and left.

As I stood there talking to the nurse, explaining my plight a woman in a white Johnny walked by the desk. “That’s her,” she said pointing to the woman.
“Excuse me, Miss.” She had a blank stare.
“Do I know you?”
“No, Ma’am. Do you have a sister Joyce?”
“No. Why do you ask?”
I explained to her my dilemma. But it was evident she didn’t know, and certainly wasn’t related to Joyce. I told her I was sorry for the mistake. Walking to the door, disappointed at the visit, a woman in a long rose colored robe called to me, “Mister. Were you inquiring about my sister, Joyce?”
She bore an amazing resemblance to Joyce. “Yes, I am.”
“What did you want to know?”
“My name is, Delbert McAtee. I am curious to know when you saw your sister last? I followed her here from Bickford. I just want to talk to her.”
“Are you a medium, Mr. McAtee? Because if you are, I need to talk to her too.”
Confused, I asked her what she meant. “My sister died fifteen years ago—committed suicide. Our parents were both alcoholics. My father was very abusive toward Joyce. I was his favorite, but poor Joyce took all the beatings— she and mother.”
“But I talked with your sister two weeks ago. We had dinner together.”
“Don’t tell me, an Italian restaurant. Right?”
“How’d you know?”
“That was her favorite food in all the world. She ate Italian several times a month.”
Wait a minute, she didn’t eat her meal—said she wasn’t hungry. Had I gone to the Pasta Bowl by myself, with an imaginary woman. I wondered? Not possible. I’m not crazy. She kissed me, and I felt that. Staring at her sister’s wrists, I could see she had no tell-tale signs of slitting her wrists, no scars.
“What did your sister look like Miss Carterson?” Could I be dreaming?
“It’s Kraft, I’m married or was. My husband died two years ago.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Thank you. Come, I’ll take you to my room. I have a picture of my sister on my nightstand. I carry it everywhere I go; we were very close. My sister, Mister McAtee, was mentally ill. I had to watch her every minute. That’s why I married so late in life. She called me at all hours of the day and night, and I had to rush to her side, spend hours sometimes with her. She finally committed suicide as she had promised to do for years. The memory of my sister haunts me to this day.”
There on the nightstand was a picture of Joyce Carterson, the girl of my dreams. My date, my life.
“Joyce, or whoever it was, told me the opposite. She said she had to come, to Portland, to sit with her sister who had tried to commit suicide. She told me you were at the medical center.”
 “I was, Mr. McAtee. I had a knee replacement. I have suffered from Rheumatoid Arthritis since college.”
“You mean, you don’t have a drinking problem?” I asked.
“Heavens no. I saw what it did to my parents and—my sister; she was in and out of rehab for years before—the suicide.”

I went back to work a week later and soon the old man died. I was surprised when his attorney told me he had left the drugstore to me. It was mine, lock, stock, and barrel. All debts had been paid; the store was mine, free and clear.
I made good money, lived inexpensively as possible, and saved my money for a long trip
when I retired a few years from now.

Those years passed quickly, and I was sixty-five. I had never forgotten Joyce Carterson. The enigma still haunted me. Was she real or had I imagined it all. I guess I’ll never know.
I had saved two-hundred-thousand dollars. It was time to plan my trip. Where to, Paris, London, Dublin or Berlin; all places I had dreamed of visiting one day? But first, I decided to see the USA. I had only been in three states, Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. I called a tourist agency, told them of my plans and asked them to take care of all the accommodations.
I toured the States, at least thirty of them, in a bus. I stayed in inexpensive, off the beaten path, motels. After all, a bed is a bed. I don’t need luxury; never had it, didn’t expect it.

Then the day came for me to fly to London where I would then fly to Paris, Dublin and Berlin. Having toured the states, it was time to see Europe. I was so excited to be leaving on my trip, I could hardly wait to board the plane. As I was walking on the tarmac, a hand rested on my shoulder.
“Mr. McAtee. Come with me.” It was a man in a dark blue uniform. He ushered me into a small room and went out, locking the door behind him. Why was I being held here? Did they think I was an international spy or common criminal?
“Come on, Mr. McAtee, it’s time to go home.”
“Home? I just left home,” I said, struggling to free myself from the rugged arms of the two men who were moving me along toward a black sedan at the curb.

“Mr. McAtee, you shouldn’t wander off like that. It’s lucky we knew where to find you.”
“I was on my way to London. I’ve saved half my life for this trip. I demand you let me out of here. I shall not be held against my will any longer.”
“Hello, Delbert,” Doctor Littlefield, chief in residence, said holding the syringe at Slip’s right shoulder. Have a nice sleep, Delbert.”
“Wha—where—?”

“You know, Joyce, it’s a shame. They say Delbert was a professor of English Literature at the University here in Maine.”
“It is a shame. Whenever I take care of him, he thinks I’m some Joyce Carterson, and Jane is a Jane Kraft, my sister.”
“I wonder how much of this is real, not imaginary?” Joyce asked.
“Well, being from Bickford, I know there was a Thompson’s Drugstore there. I used to go there after school, buy candy and soda pop.”

Dreams seem so real to Delbert, or Slip; he lives in a world of fantasy, very little is real. But Delbert’s dreams of a Joyce Carterson keep him alive and in good spirits most of the time. But it is sad to listen to him bemoan his lost love.
To Delbert, Joyce is real, and in his pursuit of her, he finds solace, a needful thing for a man with Dementia.

“Who is that? Joyce?”

“Good night, Delbert, sweetheart. See you in your dreams.” Joyce whispered in my ear.

 

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