This story is by Eric Holdorf and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
He could’ve stayed home. This rushing around felt like a chase, and as he coasted to the end of Cliff Road, he became confused as to which way he should turn on River Road. He rubbed his chin. Suddenly, the car sped up, but the breaks didn’t respond. A horn blared, the car raced through the intersection, snapped a wooden guide post and went airborne. The car hurtled towards the rocks as everything else was slowing. He was sick that this was the end. Before crashing on the rocks, he jolted awake.
He wiped the drool off his chin and his desk. “Wow,” he said. He wiped his hands on his shorts and rubbed his eyes.
Shit! Panic from sleeping on a conference call caught him. There was a consultant and Sally on the call.
“Did you get that?” he texted Sally.
“Get what?” she responded.
“The call with the consultant.”
“Did you fall asleep again?”
What happened was he had a beer with lunch, and sometimes he falls asleep after. He had to stop that during the work week. That’s another problem with Covid – you worked from home. He never drank at the office. There weren’t displays of beer at the cantina, or wine in the break room, and of course your colleagues could see what you were doing at your cube, or not doing by falling asleep in the conference room. The social norms of the office didn’t exist at home. It was you and your reputation, and how you manipulated the video screen.
His watch read 3:02. Fifty-eight minutes to the weekend. Covid hadn’t taken away that feeling of Friday afternoon. Like everybody, he didn’t have plans after work. Getting through another week was enough to celebrate.
Functioning Alcoholic was well named. Like most things on the internet, there was bias. The article claimed it should be ‘currently-functioning” because an alcoholic won’t remain functioning for an extended time. “A currently-functioning alcoholic rarely misses meetings, usually completes assignments, and manages work, homes and relationships.” He rented his place, it was Covid, he was single. Work was his only variable.
He texted Sally: “Was I snoring?”
“No. Don’t shoot the messenger 🙂 You need to leave your video on.”
He clicked between the Reds and functioning alcoholic. He avoided calculating his weekly average because what would he do if it tallied over the five drinks a day sited in the article. Once summer ended, he would cut back. He could rest his liver when he was old. Later in the article he read about obsessive thinking over the next drink. He didn’t think of drinks in the morning, unless it was a hair-of-the-dog situation. Around three pm he had those thoughts of beer. 3:33 on his watch. Close enough, and he rounded up to four pm.
Sitting in the backyard, facing the sunshine, the sun warmed his cheeks and eyelids. A cold beer on his thigh, he could feel it sweat on his jeans. He didn’t worry about anybody shooting at him here. It was private too. The fence was high. Nobody was counting whether that was his fourth or fifth beer, but he did begin to wonder – maybe his reasons for drinking were more associative, like sunny days in August were the last time he saw Dan.
They ran in the same circle of friends in high school. Fate drew them closer. As seniors, they both played football, and both got hurt the first game. Dan broke his wrist. John sprained his ankle. Three days later, September 11 happened. That was their backdrop as classes continued, the weather cooled, leaves fell, and they became best friends watching the team practice.
They were on the college track. Dan was studious. He would be an engineer. John was more a good time guy who would go to college. He didn’t know where. After 9/11, they became more serious, and more patriotic in a vengeful sort of way. In class, teachers talked about their future veering off the road. Before Christmas they joined the Marines.
His parents and Dan’s Mom flipped when they told them. John’s Dad went down to the recruiter and yelled at him, saying he never fought in a war, and his Mom was quiet for two days. Dan’s Mom never did to recover. She had bad feelings about how this was going to end.
In the spring, they both got involved in the senior play, The Crucible. Despite dreading public speaking, Dan got a small part, and John was in charge of opening and closing the curtains. Dan did get lucky in that the lead, a girl named Katie, took pity on his nervousness, and they began dating.
John got discharged, not honourably, not dishonourably. His Dad got him a job in marketing. John liked his boss because he read the paper, kept informed on things going wrong in Iraq, but he didn’t ask any questions. He had seen too much in Iraq, but being a mechanic, John’s life wasn’t under constant threat. Dan wasn’t lucky. When he went out with his company, there were guns behind doors and bombs buried in the streets.
Dan came home on leave, and he and Katie went to John’s for pizza. After dinner, they stayed outside, feeling the night breeze turn cool, and listening to the Reds game on the radio. Behind the reminiscing and the laughs, there was a sense of things being out of sequence.
Dan mentioned re-incarnation after the Reds fell behind in the ninth inning. At first they talked about what might happen, and what they could “live” with. They thought the fire and brimstone version of heaven and hell was bull, but they wanted something. Dan stood up to zip up his coat, and John thought he was going, before he sat back down again.
“The closest you’ll get to re-incarnation, is your kids,” Dan said.
“That’s not good,” John laughed, “we don’t have any.”
“I want a son,” Dan said.
“I’m willing. You gotta marry me first,” Katie laughed.
“If I make it through this tour, you’re on,” Dan smiled.
John’s boss had a team building event at a Reds day game. His boss chartered a bus and the box was catered, and his boss asked them to invite family and friends, so Dan and Katie joined John and fifty others on the bus.
The Reds won. John didn’t remember how. He was talking with colleagues who he didn’t know well, like Mrs. Crandal, who drank beer out of waxy cups, and she talked about Vietnam. Her older brother, who would laugh and rub his crew cut, had lost his eighteen-year-old confidence when he landed in Vietnam, and found himself haunted and abandoned when he returned.
Mrs. Crandal also lost her son Bobby to cancer when he was seventeen. For her, that was the most difficult, more difficult than losing her husband. Every day she thinks of Bobby at least a little. She does little things to keep him around, like Saturday is blueberry pancakes, or MacDonald’s fries when she’s out, and doesn’t want to go home. She doesn’t think of her other children daily. She thinks of them a lot, just not daily.
John has something that haunts him most days, but not tender like Bobby.
The bus ride home was putting mileage on John’s mood. In the back seat, he couldn’t see the sunset as the pale light blurred with the shadows behind the houses. The three of them knew that Dan had two days left on leave.
“You okay, Dan?” John asked.
“I don’t want to go back.”
“It’s your last tour, right?” John asked.
“I can see how it’s gonna go down,” Dan said.
“Are you having nightmares?”
“Yes, but it’s these thoughts. I see this IED, but it’s too late, and I see who’s on recon with me, but we can’t.” He stopped, leaned back, and closed his eyes. Dan’s Mom had this sense when things were about to go wrong, and usually she was right. Sometimes Dan had the same thing. John thought about Katie saying “you’ll have to marry me first,” and hoping that was still true.
Dan was breathing deeper through his nose. He slid down and around on his knees to face the rear emergency door. He vomited against the emergency door.
The next day John went in early to see his boss.
“I’m sorry about Dan’s accident. It’s Iraq. He’s scared.”
“I don’t blame him.”
Two weeks later, John was getting ready for work, procrastinating with his coffee in the morning sun, when his boss called.
“Did you see the paper this morning?” he asked.
“Is your friend’s name Daniel Jensen?” he asked.
“Yeah. How did you know?”
The phone fell through John’s right hand, his left hand didn’t respond, and everything became disconnected, like he was conscious, but separate from his body. From the floor, he heard his boss say, “Stay home.”